A five star day

Grant Union at Yanci Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley |February 13, 2020

Participating School
Grant Union High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms

Mentors
Kathy Rightmire, Director of Development, Center for Land-Based Learning
Dani Gelardi, UCD Graduate Student
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
MJ Farruggia, UCD Graduate Student

Summary of the Day
“How did today go?”
“FIVE STARS!”
After each Field Day, I ask this question of our mentors and project partners in order to get feedback and look for ways to improve the SLEWS Program. Never have I been met with such an enthusiastic response! Read on to see what happened on this beautiful, five star day.

We started with a game of PVC golf before heading down to the restoration site to finish our part of the project. On their Field Day two weeks prior, Pioneer High did not have time to finish planting all of the native plants on their irrigation line. Our priority was getting these plants in the ground, so Grant Union students took this on, planting 65 native plants. Another priority was installing emitters along the line so that each plant would receive a consistent water source (especially as it’s been a very dry month!). Once emitters were in, we turned the irrigation system on to make sure it was working properly. Usually when we do this check, we find multiple “geysers” along the line – spots were emitters were not installed properly and pop off due to the water pressure, spraying water everywhere. Shockingly, we found no geysers! Grant Union did a perfect job! We also were able to plant 24 plug plants, but since the ground was too hard to use a dibble, this was done with trowels.

On our very first field day, we noticed a tall hill that looked accessible, so after lunch and a last-field-day celebration of SLEWS-themed cupcakes, we began the trek. The walk was not far but it was steep, and we all had to catch our breath at the top – especially those that chose to literally run and race up the hill!

I figured there would be a decent view from the top, but was absolutely blown away by the stunning panorama that awaited us. The excitement atop the hill was palpable – after taking some time to soak in the view, we passed out supplies for students to design and write a thank you card to someone who made their SLEWS experience possible. Many students wrote to their mentors, and others wrote a general thank you to all who helped plan their field trip.

We had our closing circle at the top of the hill where we shared our favorite memories from all three field days we had shared. Popular answers included hiking to the top of the hill, being out in nature, installing emitters, planting trees, seeing wildlife, teambuilding games, and enjoying the beautiful weather. Michael Felipe of Yolo County Resource Conservation District had come upon many tiny bones at the top of the hill, which we realized came from raptor casts or owl pellets – he shared his finds at closing circle.

It was amazing to close out the day with a view of not only our project, but also earlier phases of the restoration efforts at the site – we could clearly see how our piece connected to the rest of the wildlife corridor.

An invertebrate-heavy day in Winters

Winters High School at Putah Creek Dry Creek Confluence
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 10, 2020

Participating School
Winters High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Valerie Whitworth and Michael Barbour

Mentors
Josh McCabe, Restoration Coordinator at ACRT Pacific
Lea Pollack, UCD Graduate Student
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
Our second field day at the confluence of Putah and Dry Creek in Winters brought us many eager students, both familiar and new to the program.

A guest speaker joined us for opening circle – Jessa of the Xerces Society, an organization focused on invertebrate conservation. She spoke about the alarming decline in the population of the Western Monarch Butterfly (population down 86% from 2017 to 2018) and how the results of this restoration project will help support monarchs in their migration. We finished our opening circle with a game of “Where the Wind Blows” to identify similarities within our group.

After dividing into mentor groups and gathering our tools for the day, we headed down to the project site for our planting demonstration. Amy Williams of Yolo County Resource Conservation District began by introducing students to four of the plants we’d be planting that day – deerweed, toyon, fuschia, and wild rose. As these plants were passed around, students learned their ecological benefits and how to identify them. Then Amy demonstrated the main task of the day, planting trees, shrubs, and forbs. Each plant would be planted in specific spots along the irrigation line, and an emitter would be installed next to it to provide the plant with adequate water.

Mentor groups enthusiastically tackled this job in different areas, with some groups following to install “spaghetti” line to ensure the water would reach the plants. Once groups finished planting the larger plants, Amy showed them how to plug plant smaller “plugs” by poking holes in the ground using a “dibble”. We were all impressed by how much we accomplished by lunchtime!

After lunch, mentor Lea Pollack gave a presentation on the work she’s doing in her Ph.D. program. She studies behavioral ecology and works with black widow spiders. Students were surprised to learn that black widows have personalities! The more “aggressive” (not to people – to other spiders and prey) spiders build their webs in a different way than less aggressive individuals, and you can actually see the difference when the webs are sprayed with water! Mentor groups were each given a misted web (without a widow in it) and counted the number of “gum footed” lines in the web to figure out whether the spider that made it was aggressive or not.

During closing circle, students reflected on what they had learned that day. Many students shared facts about monarch migration, others shared the planting techniques they learned, and even more mentioned black widows – that they have personalities, that only the females build webs, and that the web structure can tell us about their behavior!

The land calls yee-haw!

Mar Vista High’s Poseidon Academy at the Tijuana River Valley Community Garden

SLEWS Program | San Diego County | May 11, 2019 | Field day 3

Participating School: Mar Vista High School

Location: Tijuana River Valley Community Garden in Southwest San Diego

Land Manager: Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County

Mentors:

  • Samantha Cook, San Diego State graduate in Sustainability
  • Christine Lambert, Associate Archaeologist & Project Manager, Petra Resource Management
  • Emanuel Storey, San Diego State doctoral student in Geography
  • Thomas Strand, Environmental Planner, Chambers Group, Inc.

Summary of the day

Mar Vista students and their teacher arrived for our third and final SLEWS field day on a drizzly Saturday morning. Despite the light rain, everyone seemed ready for a day spent outdoors and not a single complaint was heard!

As usual, the day started with an icebreaker activity. This time, we divided the group in two for a friendly game of ‘flip the tarp’. Students had to stay on the tarp, working as a group to figure out how to flip it over without stepping off. This definitely got everyone moving and thinking!

The field work of the day was centered on planting. We returned to the hedgerow first to survey the plants and bee nesting blocks installed last time, then divided into mentor groups for our legacy project. Each group planted a pomegranate seedling into the hedgerow, made a gopher cage to protect it, and designed a plant marker for their tree. Some groups even named their tree! We hope students will come back over the years to visit the pomegranates and watch them grow. While planting, we observed many insects – most notably a wolf spider mother with her babies riding on her back. This was a first time sighting for most of us, and a really fun and interesting discovery.

Next, we moved to the Carbon Farming Demonstration plot which the students learned about during their first field day. Each group planted a bed of either broccoli, leeks, bok choy, or red cabbage and leaned about growing from starts. This led us up to lunch. As students filed out of the plot, they were invited to pick snap peas to taste. Some commented they had never picked and eaten fresh vegetables before. They seemed to really enjoy the experience!

We gathered for our lunch of sandwiches from Jersey Mike’s (on the request of the students), and chatted while we ate. After lunch, we headed back to the hedgerow for a plant ID activity and to further investigate the differences between the plants growing there. Then it was back to the carbon farming plot to sow some sunflower seeds, with the intention of attracting beneficial insects to the plot.

Last field day we ran out of time for reflection and wanted to be sure we included ample time for this element. Students gathered back into their mentor groups and worked on haikus about their SLEWS experience. They were encouraged to both write haikus on their own and with their group. Students and mentors volunteered to share their haikus at the end. It was fun hearing what everyone came up with. Here is one example: The clouds were sad today | Promise looked beautiful, now | The land calls yee-haw!

After reflection, it was time to wrap up our SLEWS experience with Mar Vista. We held our final closing circle, inviting everyone to say one word about the day or their experience as a whole. Words like fun, amazing, thank you, beautiful, sunshine, and gratitude were used. We certainly are grateful for our inaugural SLEWS program – to Mar Vista for participating and for our mentors for being such excellent role models. We can’t wait until the next time!

Accomplishments:

  • 4 pomegranate seedlings planted, gopher caged, and mulched in the hedgerow
  • Planted 4 beds of veggie starts in the Carbon Farming Demo Plot
  • Planted 2 beds of sunflower seeds in the CF Demo Plot
  • Many awesome haikus written – each student wrote three on average

A day of habitat creation in San Diego’s Tijuana River Valley

SLEWS Program | San Diego County | February 23, 2019 | Field day 2

Participating School
Mar Vista High School

Location
Tijuana River Valley Community Garden in Southwest San Diego

Mentors

  • Samantha Cook, San Diego State graduate in Sustainability
  • Christine Lambert, Associate Archaeologist & Project Manager, Petra Resource Management
  • Emanuel Storey, San Diego State doctoral student in Geography
  • Thomas Strand, Environmental Planner, Chambers Group, Inc.

Land Manager
Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County

Summary of the Day

Mar Vista students and their teacher arrived for our second SLEWS field day on a sunny morning following a rainy period. The site was pretty muddy, but no one seemed to mind too much! Students mingled and snacked while the team geared up for the day’s activities.

We kicked things off with an invigorating game of Where the Wind Blows, which got everyone moving and laughing. We then headed off to the hedgerow for our morning of restoration work. Last field day, the hedgerow was divided into four sections – one for each mentor group. Groups returned to their sections to observe the plant life already in the hedgerow. They then spent some time weeding around existing plants and where new plants would be planted (thanks to the rain, weeds were plentiful – especially in section 4!). The groups then planted the plants allocated to their section – 45 native potted plants and ten mulefat cuttings taken from the surrounding area were planted. After planting, students created a watering basin and mulched around each new plant.

The Community Garden is located in a historically agricultural area. Although few farms remain, there are several stables in the area, including one adjacent to the garden owned by the family of a teacher at Mar Vista! The teacher, Mr Jara, rode by the garden during Field Day 1 and saw the students, and invited us over for a tour on our next field day. After our planting project, we headed over to the horse ranch to meet some of the horses and hear about what goes on at the ranch. Students (and mentors) even got to take turns riding a horse!

After our tour, we returned to the garden for lunch – we had burritos in response to a request from the students. Following lunch, we built native bee nesting blocks and installed a barn owl box. At the first field day, groups decided which project they would work on this time. Three selected bee boxes, and one selected the owl box. Students had lots of fun using power tools to drill holes in the nesting blocks and attaching a roof. They even decorated their nesting blocks before installing them within the hedgerow. The group that installed the owl box had an interesting time examining the box, which had been used before and still had remnants from the previous inhabitants! They attached a metal pole to the box, dug a hole for the pole, and erected the box. Hopefully by the next field day we’ll be able to observe wildlife utilizing their new habitat.

By the time the owl box had been erected and the nesting boxes installed in the hedgerow, we could see the bus pulling up. How was it 2pm already? After a quick group poem to reflect on our day (each participant said one word that summed up their experience of the day), the students headed back onto the bus.

We all had a great time and are excited for Field Day 3!

Accomplishments:

  • 55 native plants planted in the hedgerow
  • Weeding and mulching of the hedgerow
  • 3 native bee nesting blocks and 1 barn owl box installed on site

Davis Senior High School at Gilmer Farm

Participating School
Davis Senior High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Nick Gallegar, NCRS Rangeland Management Specialist
Beth Hellman, UC Davis graduate student
Amanda Lindell, UCD graduate student
Laura McGowan, UCD graduate student
Ha Truong, NRCS Agricultural Engineer

Our third and final field day at Gilmer farm was a huge success both for our students and our hedgerow. After arrival, our day started off with a fun game of group juggle to get everyone moving a bit and thinking about each other’s names. Once we were all familiar, we jumped right into our plant pressing activity! Students walked along Dave Gilmer’s already established hedgerow, collecting a number of different native species as well as some invasive. Upon returning to the barn, students wrote descriptions of there plants on the back of cards and get them and the plants into our plant presses. Once those are dry and mounted, students will have their own plant pressings to take home and remember SLEWS with.

After plant pressing, everyone headed out to our hedgerow to see how many of our plants survived, as well as weed around our native plants. Students were diligent to make sure they removed as many weeds as possible without damaging their plants.

Following lunch, students had a full afternoon filled with learning activities. We began the afternoon with mentor interviews, a amazing chance for students to get to know their mentors a bit more and ask them in depth questions about their chosen field and how they got to where they are today. With interviews wrapped up, students got to encounter some wildlife in the form of our current native mammal and birds nest collection. After an initial inspection, each mentor group was assigned two animals that they got to present on to the rest of the group. To wrap up the day, students did a blind taste test with different kinds of citrus, some from the store and the rest local. After comparing the different fruit, everyone did made their best guess at which fruit was which.

We would like to thank our SLEWS mentors for enhancing the students field experience, and our gracious hosts at Gilmer Farm for engaging youth from Davis High School in their habitat restoration work.

Accomplishments
Weeding entirety of the hedgerow

“It was great to interview the mentors because it taught me it is okay to not know what I want to do for a career now, I can figure it out as my interests change.”