Farm Lab Returns

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Of all the things we did at Petty Ranch in the last year, none has given me more satisfaction than the Farm Lab program put on by our partners at SEEAG.  Working together, we were able to bring more than 2000 local students to visit our farm. These children, mostly 3rd graders, had the opportunity to learn about the insect life on a farm, the living structure of soil, the biology of the plants that feed us, and the journey that our food takes from farm to table. The half day curriculum is based on California STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning objectives, and here’s the best part:

The program is provided at no cost to the students.

Zero.

This is possible because of the generous support of SEEAG’s sponsors, but it is always a challenging task.  The hardest part? Transportation. That’s covered by SEEAG as well. A bus trip to Petty Ranch averages about $250. That’s about $5 a seat.

So here’s my pitch: Will you help? One seat for a local student? Two? Half a bus? A whole bus? Any help, in whatever amount, will make a difference.

Here’s the link to SEEAG again. Look for the “Donate” button.

Thank you.

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Friends in Hive Places #bees

It’s not unusual to see bees around me when I’m in the fig orchard. Figs don’t rely on honeybees for pollination, but the bees do like the flowering covercrop and native pollinator planting that is a part of Farm Lab.

But at a certain point it seemed louder than usual. This is what I saw when I looked up.

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It seems that a colony from our existing hive had decided the time had come to move on. They wanted to settle in the tree I was inspecting, giving me a closer look at swarming behavior than I really expected this morning. (Staying put to take this picture won me a couple of stings.)

We always want a healthy hive at Farm Lab, and had been prepping a new hive in anticipation.  A few quick texts brought Beekeeper Colin to the scene.

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While I understand the concepts of beekeeping, I am happy to involve somebody with better training and equipment… even if I probably stayed closer to the action than I should have.

Branch and bees together went into the new hive, but the bees quickly settled and allowed us to start closing up.

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Final new home pictures will be up in a couple of days, after we relocate the hive to a better permanent location.

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Rooting for the kids

One of the things I find fascinating about our FarmLab educational program with SEEAG is exploring kids’ understanding of agriculture. It comes as no surprise that many are unfamiliar with farming and plants, but it is interesting to see the different ways that lack of understanding is manifested.

I noticed a new one today. One of their activities was drawing a plant, after a discussion and demonstration of the different parts of a plat’s anatomy. They could draw any plant they wished. Most of them looked somewhat like this:

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Yes, even after talking to them about food coming from plants, many ended up with something like a sunflower or daisy… no fruit. Sigh. But… what really struck me was that almost invariably the plant grew from the bottom of the page. Roots were often a hastily scribbled in afterthought. That suggests to me that we missed something… Roots are a vitally important, and often a sizable, part of the plant. We brought out this guy as an example:

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The tap root on that sugarbeet broke off, but probably extends another 8″ or more into the soil, breaking up clay and scavenging nutrients. That’s the sugarbeet’s role in our orchard. Sure, they’re edible (in fact I just ate the one pictured above) but there’s more to it than that. Roots perform so many vital tasks for the plant and for the farm that I really want to make sure the concept sticks.

So as often happens, bringing the kids out to the farm for lesson resulted in a lesson for me. Next time…

Making bootprints with @SEE_AG

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One of my Dad’s favorite sayings was the best thing a farmer could add to the soil was his bootprints. If we want our community to better understand farming, we might be wise to find a way to let our community put down some bootprints as well. That’s why I jumped at the chance to work with a local non-profit that has done a stellar job of reaching out to thousands of school-kids, parents, and educators.

Ventura based SEE-Ag was founded by Mary Maranville 8 years ago. In that time, she has created a resilient organization with a talented team of on-farm educators, and made Ventura County Farm Day a major annual event. A farm-based program that would reinforce Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curricula was the next logical step. We were very happy to be asked to participate.

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Today marked the official “groundbreaking” of Farm Lab at Petty Ranch.

“Groundbreaking” might be a misnomer… with a class of third graders on hand to learn about soil, beneficial insects, and plant a lemon tree and pollinator-friendly plants, it seemed more like a “Grand Opening” to me.

By my count, SEE-Ag should reach more than 7,000 people directly this year with their programs; many more will learn about their work through media. Thankfully, not everyone will need to set foot on our farm… we’re really not set-up for that. Not yet, anyway. Each of those 7,000 + will see their understanding of agriculture increased. A little bit in some cases; a lot in others. Maybe a few will even be inspired to make agriculture a career. But the distance between our rural and suburban worlds will be made just a little bit smaller with every trip.

And that is good for everybody.

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