On October 22, students from Jane Nikkel's Environmental Science classes at San Lorenzo High visited the Sunol Ag Park to continue their investigation of agricultural systems and to help install a hedgerow habitat to support organic farming and permaculture projects.
The field trip was part of a series of visits between the school and the non-profit organization, Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE). Earlier this year, students visited the Ag Park to learn about the natural history of the area including historic flooding patterns on the alluvial plain that led to rich agricultural soils. Recently, educators from SAGE visited the high school to work with students on the design plan for a hedgerow installation at the Ag-Park. The program, Youth Bridging Nature and Agriculture, will culminate with a career day in the classroom where students will continueto meet professionals whose work spans nature and agricuultuure.
For Nikkel, a veteran teacher, the partnership provides a valuable kick-off to the school year. "This course is designed around four major themes: Systems, Waste, Energy, and Independent Projects," explains Nikkel. "To better understand the broad concept of environmental systems, we are studying a range of agricultural systems to investigate their environmental impacts and the relationships between humans and natural systems. Additionally, this partnership provides students with hands on experiences and exposure to a range of career possibilities that include environmental principles."
Upon arriving at the Ag-Park, students were welcomed by a team of SAGE educators led by Suzanne Pegas. Pegas reviewed the plan and purpose for the hedgerow, reminding students that hedgerows provide valuable habitat for farm-friendly creatures, especially pollinators.
SAGE educators provided an overview of best practices for planting, then divided the group of students into teams who immediately set to work planting over sixty native plants into a 100' section of hedgerow. The efforts of San Lorenzo High School are part of a broader partnership between SAGE and local high schools which has resulted in 400' of planted hedgerow in the past two years.
An important aspect of the program is raising career awareness for high school students. The group was joined by Farmer Shawn Seufert, the owner of Terra Bella Family Farms which leases 3 acres from the Ag-Park for organic farming. Farmer Shawn provided an overview of his business model which includes a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) delivery service, direct contracts with local restaurants, and direct sales at farmer's markets. Farmer Shawn also worked side by side with the students installing the hedgerow, offering planting tips and encouragement for the students as they worked.
By lunch time, the hedgerow was fully planted and students retreated to a shady area of the farm to enjoy a lunch of squash soup prepared by a local restaurant using produce grown at the Ag-Park.
After lunch, students divided into two groups to continue working at the Ag-Park. One group worked with Farmer Shawn to harvest late-season tomatoes and peppers, while another worked with Susanne Pegas to set out the planting flags for the next group of students from Castlemont High School who will plant the next 100' of hedgerow.
Throughout the day, students made a range of important observations. One student noted the connections between the work at the Ag-Park, and her experiences on her grandfather's farm in Mexico. Other students made plans for the school garden in San Lorenzo. Each gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for their food and where it comes from.
SAGE receives funding for the Youth Bridging Nature and Agriculture program from the San Franncisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), the American Honda Foundation, Alameda Coutny Clean Water Grant, and The Clorox Foundation.