Cunningham Elementary School student Carlos Galvan said he wasn’t quite sure where the fruits and vegetables he often finds on his dinner plate came from before his campus adopted a school-wide focus on agriculture, but now thanks to time spent on the Turlock Unified School District Farm, the sixth grader is well-versed in all things farming.
“We’re out here learning about the process of being a farmer, which is important because we want to know how to grow things,” Galvan said. “It’s cool to see where food comes from, because I didn’t really have any idea before. I thought it came from a bottle.”
Irrigation is a major part of the farming process, and on Friday, Galvan and his 4th, 5th and 6th grade schoolmates were able to experience firsthand what it takes to produce food thanks to a day on the farm with Laura Brem, TUSD’s coordinator of Applied Horticulture and Environmental Studies.
“We live in the Central Valley and there are so many jobs available in our ag community,” Brem said, emphasizing the importance of exposing students to agriculture at a young age. “A lot of people think working in ag means field labor, but we have some of the best colleges around here with amazing ag programs.”
The District Farm was created with the idea of connecting students to potential future career paths, Brem said, and learning about different types of irrigation at the farm this week could spark in an interest in a variety of occupations for the Cunningham students.
“We want to tie it back to careers, whether it is that they want to be a landscaper or a civil engineer,” Brem said.
Cunningham students learned about all aspects of irrigation, from flooding fields to drip systems, and even learned how sprinklers work. Brem takes care to relate everything learned on the farm to standards that need to be met in the classroom, like social studies, literacy and more.
“There are three different grade levels here, so for one class we related it back to the ancient Egyptians and their irrigation methods, and in another we talked about the Aztecs and the Inca because they used other types of watering systems. In the fourth grade class we talked about California’s watering systems,” Brem said. “We’re trying to encompass all of that, but we also wanted it to be a learning lab.”
After their hands-on learning lab activity on Friday, Cunningham students will return to the farm in a couple of weeks to build their own irrigation system, then will present what they’ve learned to their parents. It’s moments like these, Brem said, that allow what began as a simple farm to connect all aspects of learning under the large umbrella of agriculture.
“Even though we’re out here, and it’s fun, it isn’t just, ‘Okay, let’s all run around the farm.’ I want their education to be tied to it, and I want it to support what’s going on in the classroom,” she said. “This is something that’s ongoing and we’re creating entire units around it.”
Since TUSD acquired land for the farm in 2013, it has grown to serve as an agricultural education hub for TK-12 schools throughout the district. Every first grader throughout TUSD will visit the farm at some point this school year, Brem said, and high school culinary arts students come out to the property once a week to pick fruits and vegetables, taking them back to campus to create treats like peach scones and salsa. Earlier this week the Turlock Junior High School garden club harvested pumpkins and the high schools’ farm management classes are on the site four times a week.
“It’s a rotating door — it doesn’t matter if it’s 4th, 5th or 6th grade or if it’s juniors and seniors in high school. The farm is available for everyone,” Brem said. “It’s like a school campus now, and it’s being utilized for that dream of seeing kids run around out here.”