For sisters Clarissa and Kai Bourchier, the Turlock Unified School District Farm represents much more than a plot of land. For the two Pitman High School students, it is a chance to raise their very own farm animal — an experience that living in the city did not make possible for them.
“We don’t live out in the country, but I really love farm animals. I’m very fortunate to have an opportunity to keep an animal at a school farm and do what I want to do,” said Clarissa, who currently has a steer named Henny on the farm. “My family isn’t really into this and they don’t have a farm or anything, so being able to come out here is nice.”
“I think it’s important to have this out here, especially for people who don’t live out in the country,” added her sister Kai, whose pig named Ozzy lives in the farm’s hoop barn. “It’s really nice out here.”
The Bourchier sisters were one of many students out at the TUSD Farm bright and early Tuesday morning to feed their animals. While Kai said that she visits twice a day to feed and walk with Ozzy, Clarissa said that she stops by the farm in the morning, after school and in the evening to refresh Henny’s food and water.
Clarissa said that before Henny moved to the TUSD Farm in February, he was housed at a different, less-than-ideal facility down the road.
“It was really bad,” said Clarissa. “It was all muddy and they were knee-deep all the time, so I’m very thankful that we got to move him over here.”
Located at 625 Taylor Road, the TUSD Farm is a 10-acre parcel with a 1,400-square foot residence. The idea of the TUSD Farm originated in 2012 when the district realized that there was both an interest and a need to purchase a farm where students could house their fair animals, as well as take advantage of various animal facilities, miscellaneous fruit and nut orchards, open pastures and a garden area.
“The overall goal of the TUSD Farm is to provide students with an opportunity and the facility to apply their skills in an authentic working farm environment,” said Career Technical Education principal David Lattig. “We can only teach so much in the classroom where much of the learning experience tends to be theoretically based.”
“It is our goal that students TK through 12 will benefit from this facility in a number of ways,” added Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Mike Trainor. “Although not a school, we envision the Farm becoming an extension of traditional classroom instruction — an agricultural and science-based ‘learning lab’ for all students.”
Over 20 students from both Pitman and Turlock High School currently house their animals at the TUSD Farm. The farm only has pigs and cattle at this time as Trainor said that the farm can only house so many animals until the rest of the facilities are built.
“That being said, we have a desire to house sheep and goats in a couple of the pens pending space availability,” said Trainor.
In addition to the number of animals on the farm, the facility also has a relatively large variety of trees, according to Trainor, who said that there are currently 2.5 acres of almond trees, 29 walnut trees and 1.5 acres of fruit trees, including apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums and pluots. There is also a garden, hoop barn, and the base structure of the beef and dairy barn, which is nearing completion. Trainor said that architectural planning continues for the swine facilities, and the district is looking to provide electrical services to all of the future facilities.
“Our hope is that the farm will become an ag-hub for all science and agricultural learning for TK through 12 students and an opportunity to bring textbook knowledge and our new standards to life,” said Trainor. “Our school gardens will become a microcosm of this farm so that they can experience the productivity and maintenance of such as each school site.”
Lattig said that TUSD is also slated to offer a new Farm Management course for juniors and seniors at both high schools this fall. Designed as a capstone class, Farm Management will emphasize the application of skills learned in prerequisite classes and address essential skills in farm maintenance, animal husbandry, and plant husbandry.
“The Farm Management course is kind of the culmination opportunity to practically apply everything they learn in class and the idea is to use what they’ve learned on the farm three to four days a week,” said Lattig. “We want to give students in an ag engineering class who are learning how to weld an opportunity to actually go out to the farm and weld corrals together, or do landscaping projects through the ornamental horticulture pathway.
“The potential out there is just incredible out there right now because we are really building from the ground up,” continued Lattig.