As the construction of the District Farm continues to flourish with the help of community support, Turlock Unified School District took the time on Tuesday to both thank past donors and encourage future contributors to step up in order to take this long-awaited dream one step closer to fruition.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Joe DiGrazia, head of the agriculture department at Turlock High School. “I just completed my 30th year of teaching in agricultural education and the fact that I have a chance to be here while this is going on is tremendous. I’m very pleased to see the District go in this direction.”
DiGrazia, who took to the podium to list all the benefits the farm would provide to all students throughout TUSD, was just one of many to voice his support for the future District Farm during an update that was presented to the TUSD Board of Trustees.
“Quite a bit of progress has been made over the past couple of years,” said Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Mike Trainor. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of support from the community and staff.”
“It’s incredible how much interest there is in this community to get this project going,” added Trainor.
The idea of the District Farm originated in 2012 when TUSD realized that there was both an interest and a need to purchase a farm where students could hold their fair animals, as well as take advantage of various animal facilities, miscellaneous fruit and nut orchards, open pastures and a garden area.
After researching other district farms in neighboring areas, the District eventually decided to purchase a ten acre parcel with a 1,400 square foot residence at 625 Taylor Road.
Director of Maintenance Operations Scott Richardson said that with the help from agricultural teachers from both high schools, students, and staff, the District was able to transform the parcel from a site that was littered with old mattresses, broken stoves, and sullied rugs into a pristine location more fitting for the future farm.
“It was a disaster when we moved into it,” said Richardson. “I can’t say enough about the student involvement. Without the help of those departments and those kids, it would not have happened.”
With the focus of the District Farm over the past couple of years having been on infrastructure, the District installed an agricultural well and residential well, as well as switched out an open ditch canal for underground piping prior to the physical development of the property.
“The ag well is all ready to go, we are just waiting for Don Pedro Pump to come in and put in new pressure tanks,” said newly appointed Farm Manager Damon Coelho. “We are planning on some work days to get students out there to help put the rest of the irrigation in.”
Additionally, thanks to donations that the District has received for the farm, the property’s residence is now almost unrecognizable with a new roof, new gutters, a fresh coat of green exterior paint, and a completely redone interior with new paint, flooring and countertops.
Workers also took out the old driveway outside the residence and replaced it with a new cement driveway. Now that school has started, Coelho said that the next step is to get a pavement driveway installed from Taylor Road to the residence.
In addition to construction, TUSD has also set its sights on finding someone to supervise the residence, a caregiver, as Trainor reported that the District quickly discovered after purchasing the parcel in 2013 that the residence was a prime target for vandalism and theft.
“Literally every single week that we owned the property, we had somebody breaking into that house,” said Trainor. “In the condition that it was in, there was no value to it at all, but they were finding something—they were stripping wires, breaking windows, and tearing the place apart.”
Trainor said that Richardson, Coelho and other volunteers have been supervising the project while the District considers applicants for the caregiver position.
“The idea behind the residence is to get a caregiver, somebody that will live in the home at a reduced rate in exchange for supervision,” said Trainor. “We just want to get somebody in the house to be the eyes on the property.”
With the residence nearing completion within the week, Gary Mallory from FF & J Architects said that his company was able to solidify the master plan for the District Farm.
The plan includes almond trees that span close to 2.77 acres, orchards that cover 1.88 acres, a pasture at 0.63 acres, and a garden that takes up close to one acre. The property will also include a gravel parking area for volunteers to park while they continue to develop the project.
The first building that is scheduled to begin construction is the beef and dairy building, which was prioritized by school sites according to Mallory. This building will include storage for supplies, an area for animals to lie down in the shade, and food and water distributors at each end of the building so that the animals are prompted to walk back and forth for exercise.
Following the beef and dairy building, workers will delve into building one of the two swine centers, as well as a sheep and goat building, market poultry structure, small animal structure, and a multi-species care center. According to Mallory, the order that each building is constructed depends solely on the community.
“It’s not so much that we don’t want them all to happen right now, but the District and the Board is looking to the community to support this program,” said Mallory. “A lot of it is going to predicated on who comes to the plate first and wants to hit that home run as to which building gets built first.”
“We have to wait until he community steps up and says where they want to get involved,” continued Mallory.
Mallory said that he believed that once the beef and dairy building is completed, the farm will draw in a significant amount of attention and propel other potential donors to contribute.
The update on Tuesday was widely accepted by the Board of Trustees, all of which voiced their approval of the District Farm.
“I think this is great,” said Trustee Bob Weaver. “This is something we’ve talked about for years and it’s finally coming to fruition. I’m excited as it gets further along.”