A new kind of SLEWS Field Day

Patchwork Farms/Capay Valley Lavender
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 3, 2020

Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Sherri Wood – Patchwork Farms/Capay Valley Lavender
Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation

Bryn Levitan
Jen Metes
Joel Jorgensen
Anna Tolle
Joshua McCabe
Corey Shake
Gina M Radieve
Randy Wittorp
Beth DelReal

Summary of the Day
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March, it seemed SLEWS had lucked out – with only 3 field days left, we had completed the majority of the 2019-2020 season. We had no idea, however, for just how long COVID-19 would impact our lives. Schools began the 2020-21 school year distance learning with no end in sight, so we had to figure out a new way to implement the SLEWS Program.

We’ve had a few former SLEWS mentors create videos to share with SLEWS classrooms (check them out here: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLipS9UPaDvdYj5GapCpy0XM1a55b5Dndk), but it seemed highly unlikely that students would be able to attend field days in-person anytime soon. Even though our field days are entirely outdoors, transportation from their school/home to the project site was impossible to pull off while adhering to state guidelines.

A new plan emerged: we will host community volunteer field days to keep our planned restoration projects moving forward until students are able to participate in person. We hosted our first field day on December 3, 2020, at Patchwork Farms, an organic lavender farm, in Capay.

A volunteer crew with Putah Creek Council had planted the first half of the native plant hedgerow, so our SLEWS volunteers’ goal was to finish the planting portion and install irrigation. Nine volunteers worked hard to first lay out an irrigation line and install emitters, and then put in 170 plants, affixing a protective tube around each with a bamboo stake. This was easier said than done – the ground was rock-hard and had to be loosed up with a pickaxe in order to dig an adequate hole! These plants are part of a pollinator kit from the Xerces Society, and aim to support the declining Western Monarch population, along with other native pollinators. Throughout the morning, teacher Jerry Delsol from Woodland High School walked around, giving his students at home in their “virtual classroom” a feel for the Field Day, interviewing mentors and explaining the project details. It was fun to finally interact with high school students after so many months! After a long morning of hard work, volunteers enjoyed a burrito lunch (classic SLEWS!) before heading home for the day. Next at this site will be mulching around the hedgerow!

Emitters, plugs, and fun on day one

Pioneer High School at Yanci Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 24, 2020

Participating School
Pioneer High School

Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers

Corey Shake, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS
Amanda Lindell, UC Davis Graduate student
Elaine Swiedler, California Farm Academy Apprenticeship Program Coordinator, Center for Land-Based Learning
Jen Metes, Conservation Programs Administrator, The Freshwater Trust
Dominic Carrillo, Development Associate, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
Though I had the flu on this Field Day, Caring For Our Watersheds Coordinator (and former SLEWS Coordinator!) Beth DelReal saved the day by stepping in to lead this day. Thanks a million, Beth! From my conversation with her, here’s what happened on the day.

Since this was Pioneer High’s first field day, landowner Bruce Rominger gave an introduction during opening circle to the property and his philosophy of land management. He and Rominger Brothers Farms really make an effort to be stewards of the land and create corridors for wildlife, as evidenced by many restoration projects and SLEWS sites over the years. Corey Shake introduced the project and the importance of wildlife corridors, explaining that the work they were doing would help connect the habitats together. Beth added on by connecting this to the restoration cycle we talked about during the classroom visit and what piece they are now fulfilling.

After a fun round of group juggle to learn everyone’s names, the group headed down to the project site to get a demonstration from Joanne on emitter installation. Five mentor groups divided along the irrigation line to install 210 emitters before gathering together again to get a demonstration on how to plug plant. Beth asked students why might it be bad for chunks of earth to flow down the creek, which led to a great discussion with project partners about the importance of erosion control.

Mentor groups dibbled and plugged away, planting between 400 and 500 plugs of plants to help stabilize the soil in the area. As they planted, students asked great questions about soil, the species of plugs we were planting, and why certain species were being planted in certain locations. Kudos to Pioneer students for being such an inquisitive group!

After lunch, students spent time with their mentor to learn a little more about them before reflecting on the day by creating a postcard – drawing on one side, writing on the other. At closing circle, everyone shared one word to describe the day.

Thanks again to Beth, Joanne and the RCD team, Bruce, mentors, and teacher Ms. Lumbard for making this day happen!

SLEWS returns to Yanci Ranch!

Grant Union High School at Yanci Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 12, 2019

Participating School
Grant Union High School

Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms

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

Summary of the Day
Yanci Ranch, a cattle ranch about 7 miles north of Winters, has hosted three SLEWS projects in the past – and this year, the project is large enough that we will have two schools adopting the site! Grant Union High kicked us off with the first field day, two years after their classmates completed a project on the same property.

A foggy morning obscured the beauty of the site, which includes a picturesque pond and views of the hills (though that made for a fun surprise when the fog cleared later that morning!). We began our day as we always do, in an opening circle. Landowner Bruce Rominger introduced the site to the students and Amy Williams of Yolo County Resource Conservation District shared the project details before we broke the ice with a game of group juggle.

After gathering our supplies and putting on mud boots, we walked down to the project site. Bruce had used a slip plow to pre-bury a line of irrigation, so our first steps would be to measure along the line and place flags every 10 feet. One mentor group tackled this, while the others followed and installed emitters and spaghetti line at each flag. This was harder than it sounds as the line was buried – to access the line, students had to first dig down to it! Grant Union student’s keen eyes noticed many signs of wildlife throughout the morning, from deer on the way in to millipedes, centipedes, and frogs along the planting area. We even found some cow bones – this is a cattle ranch, after all! After installing emitters (!), Bruce was kind enough to give students a demonstration of how the slip plow works. He showed students how the spool of irrigation tubing fits on the back, and as he drives the tractor, the line is buried under the soil.

One irrigation was complete, students plug planted sedges and rushes in an area susceptible to erosion. These plants will help alleviate this problem while also contributing to the quality of habitat.

After a well-deserved burrito lunch, students got a chance to talk with each mentor about their education and career paths. Since they will see these mentors at each field day, it was also a great opportunity to get more comfortable with our Yanci Ranch team!