The Center for Land-Based Learning describes its wonderful SLEWS Program (Student and Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship) as “engaging California high school students and teachers in meaningful environmental stewardships that allow students to practice scientific skills, learn from natural resource professionals, and expand on classroom concepts, while accomplishing real habitat restoration projects on farms, ranches and open spaces.” We at River Garden Farms thought this would be a perfect match for our Riparian Habitat Project. Working with agencies that include Audubon and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this multi-phase project intends to plant a variety of grasses, shrubs, bushes and trees along a multi-mile section of levee on the ranch that will serve as habitat for several native species.

Twenty students (along with their Environmental Sciences teacher) from nearby Woodland High School who are participating in the SLEWS program were bussed to River Garden Farms on Thursday, October 26 for the first in a series of visits to begin work on the project. On hand to assist and mentor the students were representatives from the Center for Land-Based Learning, Audubon, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the USDA, as well as UC Davis grad students and River Garden Farms staff.

The first task at hand was laying three rows of irrigation hose for the first 3/4 mile phase of the project.  The students’ mission was to work in teams to spool and unspool manageable sections of hose in straight, unkinked lines. Hose couplers were used to connect the hose sections to achieve the full 3/4 mile desired lengths. Once all three rows were achieved, the students then installed flags along each hose at 15’ intervals to mark where the emitter hoses will be attached, as well as provide guidance for future planting spacing.  It was exciting to see the kids take to their tasks with great enthusiasm, determination, and no small amount of competitiveness.

The following video is an aerial shot to show the scope of laying the hose (be sure to watch it in high-res if possible!):

Once the work was done, as students took a much-deserved break for lunch, General Manager Roger Cornwell gave the students a short background on the history of River Garden Farms, as well as an overview of the variety of careers in agriculture that are available today.  Roger and other River Garden Farms staff also gave brief testimonials on their respective roles at the farm and the path that lead each here.  Many excellent questions were asked by the kids, and our hope is that they walked away with a better understanding of what a modern career in agriculture could entail.

The day concluded with a brief tour – a visit to a nearby rice field to see our harvesters in action, and then up to our Tyndall Mound Warehouse to learn about rice drying and storage.

At the end of the day, we consider our first SLEWS Day a resounding success! A lot was accomplished, and to see all of the students’ hard work – their pride and sense of ownership in their work – was truly inspiring. We also greatly appreciated all the folks that were on hand:

Matt Lechmaier and Nina Suzuki from the Center for Land-Based Learning
Matthew Danielczyk from Audubon
Fanny Ye from USDA
Jacob Byers from US Fish and Wildlife Service
UC Davis Grad Students Ross Brennan, Laura McGowan, Katy Dynarski, and Jared Borba

They were able to keep the students focused and on task, resulting in a very productive day.

The students will all return next semester for the second part of the project – planting. Stay tuned!