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Progress continues to grow at school farm
TUSD farm pic1
Turlock Unified School District introduced student work days last year as a way for students to help out at the District Farm. Students helped install drip irrigation systems and plant the garden at the site. - photo by Photo Contributed

It just takes one drive down Taylor Road in Turlock to realize that the Turlock Unified School District Farm has come a long ways since its inception approximately four years ago.


On Tuesday, the TUSD Board of Trustees received an update on the farm, including information on its latest project, the beef and dairy structure, which is nearing completion on the site at 625 Taylor Road.


“I think this is fantastic,” said Trustee Bob Weaver. “It’s more than a farm, it’s a learning center.”


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.


After researching other district farms in neighboring areas, TUSD eventually decided to purchase a 10 acre parcel with a 1,400 square foot residence in 2013. Fundraising and planning for the farm began shortly thereafter and a farm cohort was created.


In 2014, Farm Manager Damon Coelho said that trees and crops were planted, plans were drawn for the beef and dairy unit and initial irrigation was installed. The farm’s irrigation system was finalized in 2015, as well as the farm house. Coelho was hired as farm manager during this time, and the cohort introduced a farm newsletter and student work days.


“The school year started and we got the students out with Mr. Soiseth and Mr. Richardson and they had a work day to put in drip irrigation,” said Coelho.


A hoop barn was installed this year and the barn's first occupants—16 hogs—were delivered in March, marking the first animals to call the district farm home. Local Future Farmers of America students purchased the hogs to show at the Stanislaus County Fair in July. The students were responsible for the daily feeding and care of their animals, under the advisement of their ag teachers.


Over the summer, Coelho said that he hired four student employees to work part time on the farm, two of which were Pitman High School sophomore Carolyn Boster and Turlock High School senior Armen Nersis.


“We got to do a lot of cool things. I’ve never got to pour concrete before, but I learned that and it felt great,” said Nersis. “Every day when I would go home after those four hours I just felt accomplished. It was the best summer I’ve spent.”


“My experience at the school farm was a great learning experience,” added Boster. “I learned a lot, including how to plant a garden from basically nothing and how to do various types of irrigation. We just had a lot of fun.”


In addition to the completion of the hoop barn, Coelho said that the garden was designed and planted and construction has begun on the beef and dairy unit.


“We started it and it was going really well until we were a little short on supplies, so we’re waiting for the rest of the pieces to be in,” said Coelho.


Looking ahead, Coelho said that the district farm will continue asking for donations towards the completion of the beef and dairy unit, including concrete and other materials, and both pasture and perimeter fencing to lessen access to the facility. The district is also considering the idea of selling individual stalls to raise money.  


“The last couple of months we’ve been talking to groups about raising money for the farm,” said Coelho. “Right now with the beef and dairy unit, there’s some stuff that we need.”


Other future projects include building a pasture for cattle, poultry unit, shop and swine unit. The district is also slated to hire a School-to-Garden Educator in the spring.