Working farm offers students agricultural experience

Winters High School students worked to pour concrete for the foundation of the greenhouse out at the ag site. (Courtesy photo)

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The working farm plot is a keynote feature of Winters High School’s agriculture department. Alongside its educational value, cultivating it is perhaps the best way for WHS students to celebrate this year’s Ag Day theme of ‘Growing a climate for tomorrow,’ year-round.

Although the Joe Aguiar WHS Agriculture Department facility has been around since the 1980’s, it wasn’t until 2013 that the working farm plot began sprouting into what it is today. Under the guidance of an ag advisory committee comprised of local farmers, and truck loads of donations and volunteer efforts from local businesses and farms, the plot became WHS’s most unique classroom.

“With that committee we looked at what we could do with this farm to make it align more with job opportunities and crops being grown in the area,” said Donnie Whitworth, ag teacher. “One of the key things in play was getting the grant money for a new well drilled for the ag site. Without that, nothing was going to happen here. Then Four M Contracting re-lasered and leveled the ground for free, Rominger Brothers Farms donated equipment to till the land, Dan Martinez donated the trencher to put in the irrigation, and the list goes on.”

With the farm in place, WHS students get a literal hands-on, experiential education. From the idiosyncrasies of farming to cultivating a hard work ethic, every aspect of taking care of and building upon this farm is a learning opportunity.

“We teach a lot of welding, how to drive tractors and use a lot of cool machinery in the shop. In addition to teaching these specific skills that relate to careers, we’re also teaching them about work ethic. They’re called ‘soft skills’ but I call them hard skills because students need to learn how to show up on time, work hard and be a good employee,” Whitworth said before explaining the importance of student involvement. “Right now, the ag mechanic class is making tables for the greenhouse we have out here. Even if it takes longer than hiring professionals to do it, to me, it’s more meaningful to have the students get involved in as many work-based learning projects as possible.”

As it turns out, the farm yields more than just learning opportunities. Flowers, mandarins and pumpkins grow and — most recently — the farm just produced 60 pounds of olive oil (pressed for free by Capay Organics). Once it’s
bottled, it’ll be available for sale, which is another step towards Whitworth’s ultimate goal for the agriculture department.

“The goal is to have the students construct an ag store building. I can see possibly next year is when we see the first boards for the store and maybe fall of 2023 we start selling some of our first products out of it,” Whitworth explained. “I’m thinking the store would be open once a week, and maybe running it can be an annual senior capstone.”

To Whitworth, witnessing the transformation of initially-reluctant students to ardent ag enthusiasts is one of his favorite parts of the job. That, and alumni coming back to visit and talk about their careers related to what they learned in ag classes in high school.

The farm patch, of course, would only be growing weeds — and remain non-existent — if it weren’t for the efforts of many local farms and businesses.

Whitworth listed multiple local businesses and individuals who have contributed toward the creation of the working farm. Four M Contracting leveled the property. Alsco-Geyer designed the irrigation system. Amiad donated the irrigation filter. Ample Electric donated labor for wiring the greenhouse and donated the use of an excavator. Capay Organics donated mandarin trees. Capay Valley Ranches, along with Joe Armstrong, assisted in the design and development of the orchard and also donated the pressing of the first olive oil harvest. Martinez Orchards donated the trencher for the irrigation system, a fertilizer spreader and soil analysis. Netafim Co. donated all irrigation hoses for the orchard. Nova Vine donated an Arbansana variety of olive trees. Pedro Gonzalez donated the installation of end posts for the orchard trellis system. Rominger Brothers Farms donated equipment for deep ripping property and the GPS system for marking tree locations. Sierra Gold Nursery donated a Coratina variety of olive trees. Mike Smaystrla donated time in orchard development. Ciarlo Fruit and Nut helped set up for the first bottling of the oil harvest along with barrels, and Pure Honey donated the location to bottle the first oil harvest.

Although Ag Day is celebrated once a year, the students’ day-to-day spent working and learning on the farm is a homage to the work ethic and selflessness that went into creating it.

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