Written by: Lucas Hill, FoodCorps Service Member with UCCE Central Sierra
When I first stepped onto the 2 acre parcel that would become the focus of my service, way back in September, it was overflowing with tomatoes, squash, eggplant, and cucumbers. This was the abundant harvest of the previous summer, the first growing season at the Calaveras High School Farm. But, almost immediately after I stepped into my new role as school farm coordinator, the weather turned and suddenly I was fighting to keep meager lettuce and kale alive through biting frosts and short, cloudy days. Trying to run a farm or garden at a school means following the academic calendar. So, how do you build a farm program against the inevitable seasonal misfit? While I can only speak from my own experience, I think others might find some nuggets of useful information from what we have been working on for the past several months at Calaveras High School. Soon after arriving, I took stock of the resources we had. Looking around the barn filled with random irrigation supplies, broken tools, and years of dust, not to mention the aging junk piles that littered the property, I realized this was going to take some time. Soon, I realized the more important resources were not the tools and supplies (though these are of course essential) but the people that would be using and building the space alongside me. Being at a high school has certain advantages in that the students bring such a high degree of competency in numerous skills; all they need to apply this skill is a bit of direction and encouragement. Over the past couple months, the students who work at the farm every day have taught me and each other as much as I have shared with them.
As the weather turned cold, we moved the base of operations from the field to the greenhouse. Though somewhat rickety and rotted, our greenhouse allowed us to incubate dozens of baby plants through the winter which were planted outside as soon as the weather permitted (giving us about three weeks head start over direct seeding outdoors, plus a more reliable crop). After getting the greenhouse up and running, we turned our attention to the bigger vision for the farm. Only about a quarter of the land was in cultivation. We had another acre or so on a south facing slope just below the main garden area that apparently had been untouched for years. The dry weeds were waist high, but there was something promising about the space. In a visioning session with the students, we decided that we would expand the farm, creating more beds for veggies and planting an orchard. We thus took advantage of the unfavorable growing conditions and used the winter months to work on farm infrastructure.
We built beds, spread compost, ran irrigation lines, seeded a cover crop, and planted over 500 onions and garlics to set over the cold winter months. These will be ready to harvest just before school lets out in May or June. We enclosed the entire field in 7.5’ deer fence, which allowed us to safely plant leafy greens and other delectable plants that deer would munch in the night. The last thing on the list before spring is to get our bare root fruit trees in the ground. It’s always a race against time on the farm. Though it has taken close to six months, we have laid the groundwork for a very productive season. I can’t wait for spring!
About the Author:
Lucas Hill comes to the Sierras after receiving his B.S. in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems from UC Davis this past spring. As an undergraduate, Lucas participated in on-campus events and partnered with student-based organizations including UC Davis Student Farm, the Domes, Tri-Coops, and SCHA, Hearty Fork Farm, and the SAFS class of 2015. His background in agriculture has led him to serve with FoodCorps CA in partner with UCCE Central Sierra. In his service, Lucas is primarily focused in a high school setting partnering with FFA students and supporting the Calaveras High School student run farm.
The University of California Cooperative Extension of the Central Sierra territory provides science-based information and educational programs to solve local issues in areas of agriculture, natural resources, nutrition, and youth development that improve the social, economic and environment quality for all residents.The University of California Cooperative Extension office of the Central Sierra currently has three programs, which operate with the help of volunteers. These programs are 4-H, Master Gardeners and Master Food Preservers. To learn more, please visit their website.
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. To find out more, please visit their website.