While a new sign is the first indication that things are progressing at the Turlock Unified School District Agricultural Farm, donations from generous community members have been put to good use and those driving by the Taylor Road property can now see the beginnings of a working farm.
In February students were taught the appropriate techniques used for pruning and training almond trees that are on site, but the most notable difference on the farm is the erection of a hoop barn.
The barn's first occupants — a handful of hogs — were delivered last week, with more soon to come. A total of 16 market hogs will be the first animals to call the school farm home.
Local FFA students purchased the hogs to show at the Stanislaus County Fair in July. The students are responsible for the daily feeding and care of their animals, under the advisement of their Turlock and Pitman high ag teachers.
Pitman High sophomore Mary Wright was out at the TUSD Farm on Tuesday feeding her hog.
"I used to do rabbits for three years, but I wanted something bigger to expand my experience in agriculture," said Wright.
Wright said she is a "city girl" and the first person in her family to do anything agriculture-related. She was encouraged to get involved in FFA and ag classes by PHS agriculture department chair Krista Vannest. She is now considering a career in the ag field.
Pitman senior Ryan Brewer was also out at the farm feeding his hog on Tuesday. This is Brewer's fifth year raising hogs, he also raised a steer one year.
"Pigs are a lot easier to handle (than steer). They're more fun and have a lot more personality," he said.
Pitman High ag teacher and FFA advisor Nicole Silveira said that it takes a lot of work from the students to raise a hog and get ready to show at the fair. The first week the kids get the hogs she tells them to just sit in the pen with the animal so they can get used to each other. Then they gradually learn how to walk the hog around another pen and then out in the open. She said sometimes a hog will be in the show ring for up to an hour.
The handling training comes on top of the students' working to find the right feed and learning how to keep their animal healthy.
"It's a lot of time, responsibility and money," said Wright about learning to care for her hog.
Eventually, the TUSD Farm will also house sheep and goats. The next big project coming up, however, will be the establishment of a 1-acre vegetable garden, according to Turlock High ag department chair Joe DiGrazia.
The first harvest from the garden should be in time for the fair, with future crops possibly making their way into school lunches.