Wind and rice and everything nice

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | October 29, 2019

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Colin Fagan, Lab Assistant, Williams Lab
Dana Stokes
Miles Daprato, Environmental Steward for UCD Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship Department
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA
Ryan Bixenmann

Summary of the Day
On Tuesday, October 29th, the Sacramento Valley SLEWS season began! Florin High students made the journey to River Garden Farms in Knights Landing for the third year in a row. This time, rather than planting hedgerows alongside a levee road, students gathered in the middle of a walnut orchard. Powerlines above the orchard make a strip of land unsuitable for trees. River Garden Farms saw this as an opportunity to create a corridor of native vegetation to increase biodiversity and provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators. Yolo County Resource Conservation District helped plan the project – 5 parallel rows of plants, with the outer two being mostly deergrass and the inner 3 being native shrubs and vegetation. The irrigation line was already in place, and students would be tackling the rest of the project.

After warming up with hot cocoa and breakfast, we got familiar with each other’s names with a game of group juggle. Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District introduced the group to the project and the task of the day – removing flags where there would not be plants, and installing emitters and spaghetti tubing onto the irrigation line. Students divided into their mentor groups and tackled the project at hand, despite very windy conditions. Much to everyone’s amusement, the hot pink irrigation poker tools that Alex initially made fun of turned out to be the best tool for the job and were highly sought after!


Though it was windy and sometimes challenging to access the irrigation lines through the weedy overgrowth, students had incredibly positive attitudes throughout the morning and it was truly a joy spending time with them. Some mentor groups even came up with team names to stay motivated – I believe I heard one group call themselves “the Scarlet Dragons”.

After lunch, students boarded the bus to make their way to River Garden Farms’ Tyndall Mound Warehouse. Warehouse Manager Joe took showed students how they weigh and sample shipments as they head out on the trucks before leading us on a tour of the rest of the facility. The highlight was DEFINITELY the warehouse – students were able to climb and play in an enormous warehouse full of loose, unhulled, dry rice! The rice drying machine was also fascinating – rice slowly travels downward over many, many stories as airflow helps it to dry out. 

We had to end the day in a hurry to get students back to school on time so we went around our closing circle to share just one word to describe the day. What was by far the most popular word? FUN!

A rainy day at River Garden Farms

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 15, 2019

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Audubon California
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Aaron Haiman, Environmental Scientist and Tribal Liaison, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy
Esther Tracy, Environmental Scientist, Department of Water Resources
Fanny Ye, Soil Conservationist, NRCS
Xerónimo Castañeda, Conservation Project Associate, Audubon California

Summary of the Day
Our second day at River Garden Farms wins the award for wettest Field Day of the season so far! As soon as students arrived we had them gear up in rain gear and mud boots before having breakfast under a canopy. We did an opening circle and played “Where the Wind Blows” to learn more about each other, before playing a round of “Steal the Native Plant” to learn more about some of the species we’d later be planting.

On our first Field Day we installed a drip irrigation system, but unfortunately this area was too muddy for us to access this time. Luckily, Dominic Bruno (Assistant General Manager of River Garden Farms) had another project up his sleeve – maintaining the native plant hedgerow that classes of SLEWS students help install in years past. He demonstrated the proper way to trim the deergrass bunches, plant milkweed seeds, and replant some of the plants that did not survive.

Two mentor groups set off, clippers in hand, to trim the deergrass. One group pretended they were working in a barbershop, giving “haircuts” to the bunches of deergrass on the levee. As one student put it, “we gave haircuts to 33 customers and not a single one left us a tip!”. Two other groups ventured in the opposite direction, replanting some of the plants from previous years that hadn’t survived. Finally, the fifth group worked on planting “companion” milkweed seeds next to established plants. These milkweed plants will be a crucial resource for migrating monarch butterflies. By the end of the day, Dominic estimated that students trimmed 45 deergrass, planted 100 milkweed plants as associates, and replanted 50 native trees and shrubs!

The rain continued to come down throughout the morning, so we decided to shelter for lunch. After taking off raingear, students loaded back up onto the bus to ride to the shop area for lunch. On the way, avid birder and mentor Aaron Haiman led the students in a birdwatching activity facing some flooded rice fields. Flooding the rice fields breaks down the rice stalks for the following growing season, but also creates artificial wetlands that provide habitat for migratory birds. River Garden Farms has added another level of restoration to this effort, growing “Fish Food” for young salmon in the Sacramento River. You can learn more about this awesome project by watching the short film “A New Way Forward” at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miIhs-mc_40.

Students enjoyed lunch in River Garden Farms’ shop area, eating at tables amongst rice harvesting machinery storage. Students especially enjoyed warming up by the heater after a chilly, wet day!

A productive day at River Garden Farms

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 4, 2018

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Audubon CA
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Aaron Haiman, Environmental Scientist and Tribal Liaison, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy
Esther Tracy, Environmental Scientist, Department of Water Resource
Fanny Ye, Soil Conservationist, NRCS
Jacob Byers, Partners Biologist, Sacramento NWRC

Summary of the Day
We had an ambitious project in line (no pun intended) for our first SLEWS day this year at River Garden Farms – installing a complete drip irrigation system! This includes rolling out irrigation tubing, “stapling” it into place, measuring the line to place a flag every 10 feet (marking the areas where plants will go), cutting 12 inch sections of spaghetti tubing and connecting emitters, and finally poking holes in the drip line to attach the spaghetti tubing and emitters which will provide water to each plant. As one student said, it “looks like a long sprinkler”! River Garden Farms had prepared 4 1000 foot sections – nearly a mile –  of line, but anticipated that SLEWS students would install just 2 of these sections.

Upon their arrival, students changed into rubber boots before walking past two former SLEWS sites on the way to their project site. After our opening circle, mentor groups divided up to tackle various tasks – two groups rolled out drip irrigation tubing, which was a knotty challenge, while two other groups followed them, measuring, flagging, and stapling the line into place. A fifth group assembled spaghetti tubing and emitters in the meantime, and other groups joined as they returned. This task was especially challenging – the cold weather meant the plastic spaghetti tubing was quite stiff. The completed emitters were then installed along the dripline. We still had plenty of time after completing 2000 feet of an irrigation system, so why not continue?

By the end of the morning, students had fully installed an impressive 3000 feet of a drip irrigation system, with another 500 feet of dripline rolled out – 1500 feet more than we thought possible! After lunch, mentor Jacob Byers introduced the group to the site of the two former SLEWS projects at River Garden Farms, and discussed project planning, and impact on the area – he was part of the team that planned these restoration efforts. Students wanted to know if the project will be continued by even more students next year! To finish the day, the group spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the day in their field journals – it was difficult to get them to stop!

Thanks for a great day, Florin High, mentors,  and River Garden Farms and Audubon CA staff!