A wintry finish in Winters

Winters High School at Winters Putah Creek Nature Park Extension
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 5, 2019

Participating School
Winters High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Putah Creek Council
City of Winters

Mentors
Alex Tremblay, Project Manager, Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Karin Young, Education Program Manager, Putah Creek Council
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA

Summary of the Day
Our last Field Day at the Winters Putah Creek Nature Park Extension brought us many more students – some who were participating in a Field Day for the first time! We were introduced to these students in our opening circle, the start of a very cold morning on a very cold day. We attempted to warm up with a game of PVC golf, a game in which each student is given a half piece of PVC pipe. A golf ball must pass through each student’s piece – without letting the ball drop or stop – before making it into the goal at the other side. This is trickier than it sounds – many groups found themselves just one step away from the goal when the ball repeatedly dropped, sending them back to the starting line!

After our morning icebreaker, Tanya Meyer of Yolo County Resource Conservation District instructed us on our tasks for the day – plug planting, straw mulching, and building and installing bluebird boxes.

Plug planting came first, which proved to be much more difficult than usual! Sticky, muddy conditions made the dibbles (the tools which pokes holes for the tiny plants) difficult to remove from the earth but students persevered and planted 1500 grass plugs by the end of the morning. Our next task was straw mulching, which will help prevent moisture loss and discourage weed growth around plants we planted on our second Field Day. At least 1 flake of straw hay needed to go around each of the 200 plants, yet it felt like this task was accomplished in just a few minutes! Winters students were great at working hard, and working together.

Guest speaker Hanika of the UCD Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology joined us to speak about cavity nesting birds. Naturally occuring tree cavities can be difficult to come by for native bird species, especially with competition from invasive cavity nesters. Installing bird boxes tailored to specific bird species is one way to increase nesting opportunities for native species. To put the finishing touch on our restoration project, each mentor group would be installing a bluebird box on the south side of the site, near Putah Creek. Installation was a bit tricky, but mentor groups worked together to put up 4 bluebird boxes. Come spring, we’ll be able to see if any birds have taken up residence.

After lunch, students were given the opportunity to interview mentors about their education and career paths. Small groups of students rotated between each mentor, asking great questions about the steps they had taken to get to where they are in their careers. SLEWS is a great way for students to gain hands-on restoration experience, but it also provides exposure to professionals in the fields of agriculture, restoration, and environmental science.

To wrap up our SLEWS project at Winters Putah Creek Nature Park Extension, students wrote a Thank You card to someone who made their SLEWS experience possible – perhaps a mentor, funder, restoration partner, or their teacher, Ms. Roberts. At closing circle, we reflected on our favorite moments of our three days together – for many of us, it was exploring Putah Creek and seeing the spawning salmon!

I am thrilled to have completed three field days with the stellar, hardworking students of Winters High and our project partners, Yolo County Resource Conservation District and Putah Creek Council. Because these students are Winters locals, they will be able to return to this site many times in years to come – one student remarked that “it’ll be so cool to see how this place changes once the trees grow!” and I must say, I completely agree!

Another day on the “Pharm”

Woodland High School at Pharm Schaer
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 24, 2019

Participating School
Woodland High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Candice Schaer

Mentors
Fanny Ye, Soil Conservationist, NRCS
Gina Radieve, Environmental Scientist, California Department of Water Resources
Miles Daprato, Environmental Steward for UCD Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship Department
Susie Bresney, Staff Scientist, Stockholm Environment Institute

Summary of the Day
Just two weeks after installing irrigation at Pharm Schaer, we were back for the second phase of our project – planting the native trees and shrubs that will provide habitat and increase biodiversity on Candice Schaer’s property in Guinda.

We were once again treated to a brilliant, clear day in the Capay Valley with beautiful views of the hills. We began our day with an opening circle, playing “Where the Wind Blows” to learn more about one another. Then mentor groups learned to identify some of the plants we would be planting that day, including manzanita, Cleveland sage, coyote brush, fuschia, and toyon. Woodland High students played the most enthusiastic, competitive version of “Steal the Native Plant” I’ve seen all year – we had to modify the rules to prevent collisions!

Next, Brandon Baker of Yolo County Resource Conservation District led the students in a planting demonstration to learn the proper way to plant a native plant. Then students broke off into mentor groups, planting along the southern and eastern perimeters of Pharm Schaer. While planting, students were excited to see the sheep and llama that were providing weed control on the property! By the end of the morning, students had planted 120 native plants, buried two sections of irrigation line, and even started mulching the plants to reduce moisture loss and weed growth. We’ll finish this mulching project at our final Field Day in a few weeks.

After lunch, mentor Miles Daprato led a discussion about native ecology and read an excerpt from the book “The Ohlone Way” to help students visualize what this area might have been like thousands of years ago. This helped to put the restoration effort into context – though we won’t be able to get this area to look like it did back then, the hedgerow they installed will help provide resources to species whose habitat has been reduced.

Since we had seen so many birds on our first Field Day, I brought binoculars for our second Field Day and mentor groups explored the property, binocs in hand. Groups were able to spot Western Bluebirds, Say’s Phoebes, Western Scrub-Jays and more – even some cows grazing on the hills! Then, students found a quiet spot to reflect on the day and write a postcard to themselves about their experiences.

At closing circle, one student summed up her experience wonderfully, “I liked that we weren’t just planting, we were helping wildlife too!”. Thanks for another great day, Woodland High!

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!

Planting and salmon spotting along Putah Creek

Winters High School at Winters Putah Creek Nature Park Extension
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 11, 2018

Participating School
Winters High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Putah Creek Council
City of Winters

Mentors
Corey Shake, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS
Karin Young, Education Program Manager, Putah Creek Council
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA

Summary of the Day
Two weeks after installing a complete irrigation system, Winters High students returned for a day of planting trees and shrubs. After a rainy first Field Day, we were rewarded with picture perfect weather for Field Day #2!

It was chilly in the morning, so students warmed up with hot cocoa before we gathered for our opening circle. A game of “Where the Wind Blows” allowed us to identify commonalities within the group and learn new things about the members of our SLEWS team. Mentor groups learned to identify redbud, toyon, coffeeberry, valley oak, interior live oak, and bay – 6 of the native plants we’d be planting to create native habitat. Then it was time for “Steal the Native Plant”, a lively planting day tradition in which students race to be the first to correctly identify a native plant and earn points for their mentor groups.

Alex Tremblay and Tanya Meyer of Yolo County Resource Conservation District led a planting demonstration where students learned how to properly dig a hole, pack down the soil, and install a plastic tube that will protect the young plants from wind, critters, and weed control. Students set off in mentor groups to begin planting, and found that digging was quite time consuming – luckily, Brandon Baker of Yolo RCD was busy using an auger (a piece of heavy machinery that resembles a giant drill) to dig holes for the larger shrubs and trees. Students followed with native plants and before long students had planted an impressive 177 plants – 135 trees and 42 shrubs! Since these students are Winters locals, they will be able to watch these trees and shrubs grow for years to come.

After lunch, Amy Williams of Putah Creek Council led students on a tour of a nearby mitigation area that is protected due to the presence of elderberry trees. The trees themselves are not protected, but the endangered and endemic Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle depends on the tree for every phase of its life cycle. Students also recognized mature forms of some of the plants they had just planted. They noticed redbud trees with seed pods, the familiar lobed leaves of Valley Oaks, flowering coyote brush, and a dazzling toyon displaying thousands of bright red berries! Though they had just planted these plants, it can be hard to imagine what the space will look like when the plants are tiny and hidden by tree tubes. Seeing the plants fully grown allowed students to realize the impact their work will have on the area in coming years.

We hiked down to the creek where students spread out to reflect on the day by writing and drawing a “Postcard from the Field”. When it was time to head back, several students wanted to keep writing! As we headed back to the bus, mentor Corey Shake pointed out something very exciting – a spawning salmon. We missed them on our first Field Day, but on this day everyone got to see the adult fish that has come to Putah Creek to breed – a thrilling end to a great second Field Day!

 

A little mud never hurt anyone…

Sacramento Charter High School at Clark Ranch 1
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 5, 2018

Participating School
Sacramento Charter High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms
Bruce Clark

Mentors
Bob Ream, retired
Dana Stokes
Jess Rudnick, UC Davis graduate student
Lea Pollack, UC Davis graduate student
Sarah Gaffney, UC Davis graduate student

Summary of the Day
We prepared for a bit of mud on our field day at Clark Ranch but we didn’t anticipate just how much mud Tuesday night’s rain would create! It was a muddy, sticky, day – but a ton of fun.

After putting on the now-ubiquitous yellow raingear and mudboots, we crossed a metal footbridge to our location for the day – Clark Ranch. The Rominger Brothers Farms team farms the land owned by Bruce Clark, and our project site was alongside a young almond orchard. After some breakfast and hot chocolate, we opened the day by learning a little more about each other and playing “Group Juggle”, a name game. We also got a introduction to our restoration project – planting native plants on the edges of Clark Ranch to increase biodiversity.

Students learned the name of 5 of the plants we’d be planting – buckwheat, sage, fuschia, wild rose, and manzanita – before competing to see who could be the first to identify the species. Sacramento High students were awesome at this – we didn’t have one misidentification through the whole game!

Alex Tremblay of Yolo RCD gave a planting demonstration before mentor groups set off in opposite directions, spreading out along the previously installed irrigation line. To say conditions were muddy would be an understatement – shovels, trowels, and gloves were quickly covered in sticky goo which made planting quite a challenge, especially as some of the plants were quite large. The farm manager intended to have a crew come in to finish the work that students were not able to complete. Much to everyone’s surprise, Sac High students finished the entire project – 230 plants!

After all that hard work, students enjoyed a lunch of burritos before reflecting on the experiences of the day as a group. Before long, it was time to shed the raingear and head back to school.

I can’t wait to see how much our plants have grown when we return at the end of January!

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!

An impressive day of planting at Sequoia Farms

Davis High School at Sequoia Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | November 30, 2018

Participating School
Davis High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District
National Center for Appropriate Technology
Sequoia Farms

Mentors
Amanda Lindell, UC Davis graduate student
Arthur Barros, UC Davis graduate student
Claire Kouba, UC Davis graduate student
Elaine Swiedler, California Farm Academy Apprenticeship Program Coordinator, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
After a very rainy Thursday, I was concerned about the weather for Davis High’s first Field Day at Sequoia Farms, an organic walnut orchard located in Dixon. Luckily we were treated to a gorgeous day, with a bit of mud for good measure!

Since the orchard perimeter was too muddy to access by vehicle, students donned yellow rain bibs and mud boots for the walk to our field site. On the way, students got an up close view of the orchard, and asked great questions about walnut grafting (“Why does the bottom of the trunk look different than the top?” – we prefer to eat English Walnuts, but native Black Walnuts are more resistant to regional diseases and pests; fusing them together gives farmers the best of both worlds) and walnut growth (“Where are all the walnuts?!” – they had recently been harvested).

At our opening circle, mentors and restoration partners introduced themselves and their education and career paths, and we played a game of “Group Juggle” to learn everyone’s names. Rex Dufour of NCAT gave a great presentation on some of the beneficial insects that our plants will help attract. Then we split into mentor groups to learn the names and characteristics of 6 of the native plants we’d be planting including toyon, coffeeberry, deergrass, rabbitbrush, lilac and coyote brush. We played a game called “steal the native plant” where mentor groups competed to be the first to identify the native plant.

Next it was time to learn how to plant! Rex Dufour gave an informative demonstration on the best way to plant these natives to give them the best chance at survival and groups of students spread out with their mentors to get started. Davis students completed way more of the work than we thought possible and by the end of the morning they’d planted 600 plants!

After lunch, each student chose a walnut tree to lean against as they reflected in their Field Journals, writing a postcard to themselves about the day. After the walk back to change out of raingear, we had a brief closing circle to end the day. Students remarked that they would remember the hard work they did, and that they felt helpful and productive restoring the ecosystem.

A very blustery day at Clark Ranch!

SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | November 8, 2018

Participating School
Grant Union High School

Location
Clark Ranch 2 in Davis, CA – the southern of two projects at this site

Partners/Landowners
Yolo Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms
Bruce Clark

Mentors
Amelia Munson, UC Davis graduate student
Jen Metes, Research Associate, Consero Solutions
Julea Shaw, UC Davis graduate student
Ha Truong, NRCS Agricultural Engineer
Mandi Finger, Associate Director, Genomic Variation Lab

Summary of the Day
The morning of our first SLEWS Field Day of the season brought an unexpected and unwelcome surprise – 25 MPH winds! Luckily, Grant Union students arrived with great attitudes and were eager to get started on the restoration task of the day.

Using a barn as a windbreak, students enjoyed breakfast before we gathered together for a SLEWS tradition – the opening circle. Bruce Rominger, President of Rominger Brothers Farms, joined us to introduce the project site and talk about how the restoration work the students were about to begin would positively impact his almond and walnut orchards. Students, mentors, restoration partners, and Center for Land-Based Learning staff introduced themselves, and we played a game called “Where the Wind Blows” to identify commonalities within our group.

After opening circle, it was time to brave the wind and get started on our project for the day – installing a drip irrigation system! Drip irrigation will provide each plant with an individual water source, preventing excess weed growth and conserving water. Staff from Yolo Resource Conservation District showed the mentor groups how to poke holes in the line to push in “emitters”, which will regulate the water flow to each individual plant. Each group installed emitters on a section of the planting area, and when everyone finished it was time to check their work. Alex Hasbach, Farm Manager of Rominger Brothers Farms, turned on the irrigation system much to everyone’s amusement – in spots where emitters weren’t properly installed, water shot everywhere! Luckily, Grant students did an excellent job and there were few of these “sprinklers” to be found.

Finally it was time to break for a much-anticipated (and much-deserved) burrito lunch. After lunch, Caring for Our Watersheds Coordinator Beth Del Real led students in an activity to help them visualize the earth’s water supply, and why water conservation is so important. Students were each given a blank puzzle piece representing an area of land to develop as they wished – some built giant mansions, others created water reservoirs, and one student even built an ice cream shop! Once we assembled the puzzle, we had a great visual of a watershed and discussed how the developments they made might affect the water supply.

Thanks for an incredible first Field Day, Grant Union students, mentors, and project partners!

Terminus Dam

Title:  Food grows where water flows

Program: FARMS Leadership

Region: Central Valley Central

Field Date: October 23, 2018

Location of Field Day:  Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:  Shane Smith, KDWCD

Theme:  Importance of Water in Agriculture

On Tuesday, October 23, 2018, the Central Valley Central FARMS Leadership students from Patino High School and Sunnyside High School of Fresno Unified School District met for the first time of the 2018-2019 school year at the Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District.  Shane Smith, Project-Administrative Manager with the KDWCD met with the students at the home office. We then caravaned to the US Army Corps of Engineer office at the Dam. While here Mr. Smith led a presentation about the Kaweah Delta Water Operations, What the district does, Groundwater Recharge, Stormwater Layoff and storage facilities.  He also explained the importance of irrigation and Fuseaes known as Tipping Buckets and Flood Control Activities. Students were able to walk down and see the 6 – 1 million pound tipping buckets up close. After lunch students spent time in leadership activities. They learned how to properly shake hands and learned how to successfully introduce another student to the group.  Students did a great job and we all enjoyed our visit to the Dam! Giovanni Chavarria, a student from Patino high school said, “This was one of my favorite trips because I learned how dams work. Also, this was the first field trip I had EVER been on and I enjoyed every moment.  I learned how to correctly shake hands and how to introduce someone in a professionally.”

All about Cotton!!

FARMS Leadership| Central Valley | October 9, 2018

Participating Schools
El Diamante High School, Visalia; Mt. Whitney High School, Visalia; Lindsay High School, Lindsay; and Hanford High School, Hanford.

Location
Tulare & Visalia, CA

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors
Farm Credit West, Tulare; Cardoza Farming Company; Mid-Valley Cotton Growers, Inc. and USDA Cotton Program Classing Office, Visalia

Summary of the Day
On Tuesday, October 9, 2018, the Central Valley South FARMS Leadership Program students enjoyed a fun-filled,  field day learning about the Cotton Industry. The students who consist of Lindsay High School, Hanford High School, El Diamante High School, and Mt. Whitney High School, started off at 9am meeting at Farm Credit West in Tulare. We were welcomed by Jonathan Kennedy, Senior Vice President.  Here students covered a few leadership activities such as practicing, how to properly introduce a host and thanking them for their time and sharing their knowledge with our students.

Next, the group caravanned to our field located south-west of Tulare where Cardoza Company was harvesting a cotton field.  Here, Curtis Lafler, a student from Hanford High School introduced Mr. David Cardoza, President of Cardoza Company. Mr. Cardoza talked with the group about the growing, maintenance and harvesting of cotton. Next, the group headed to Mid-Valley Cotton Growers, Inc., in Tulare, where we were welcomed by Stan Creelman.  Stan showed us the entire process from unloading the truck to accepting the cotton. It takes approximately 2 minutes of travel time to where the seed is removed and the cotton is put into bales ready to be shipped overseas where it is typically made into clothing.

One student said they learned how cotton farming is a sustainable practice, “I learned about how everything is recycled and reused, so nothing goes to waste”. Another student learned, “the fiber on the cotton seeds helps the cows digestion.” This fact refers to the nutrition component that we cover in the program. Finally, we traveled to the USDA Classing Office in Visalia, CA where we enjoyed a quick lunch provided by FARMS. Finally, we spoke to Greg Townsend, the Area Director of the USDA Classing Office. The students learned the process of how the machines now classify and grade the cotton.  We learned that this process used to be done completely by people and the last part of grading still is. We definitely enjoyed our day and thanks to all of our partners for the day; Farm Credit West, Cardoza Company, Mid-Valley Cotton Growers Association Inc., and the USDA Cotton Program Classing Office in Visalia, CA.