Ag students plant trees, restore local creek habitat

Luke Felsen, Angel Mora and Skyler Neal plant a native oak tree next to a mule fat bush. (Courtesy photo)

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The Winters FFA organization is known for its hands-on, outside-the-book educational experiences. One of which included a SLEWS (Student Landowner Education Watershed Stewardship) field day where Winters High School students were immersed not only in the waters of the Putah Creek Nature Park, but also a lesson in local ecology, wildlife and habitat restoration.

How it works is the Center For Land-Based Learning identifies a landowner who could use some habitat restoration. Next, the Center For Land-Based Learning gets ahold of grant money and funding, identifies an agricultural program to work with — in this case the Winters FFA — and a SLEWS Day ensues.

Jackson Bronson preps a hole to plant an arroyo willow tree. (Courtesy photo)

The first field day was held in December on the former Four Winds nursery which is now utilized by Putah Creek Council and owned by the Solano County Water Agency. WHS Agriculture teacher and FFA advisor Kayla Mederos said students planted over 1,200 plugs and called it a “hugely successful first field day.”

“It was so successful, in fact, that the second field day they said, ‘you guys did too much, we need to find another location for you to work on because, holy moly, you got a lot done,’” said Mederos. “Our second site was the Putah Creek Nature Park. There, we were able to plant over 300 trees which was much harder than planting plugs of native grasses. But we got to hang out in the creek and look at the native watershed, aquatic species like the fish, crawdads and the different wildlife and how they interact with each other and the ecosystem.”

Guiding and educating the students in this ecological enterprise was Allie Dumas, Center For Land-Based Learning SLEWS coordinator. Alongside her dishing out knowledge and know-how were other mentors including industry professionals from Yolo County Resource Conservation, UC Davis as well as doctorate students from UC Davis. All of these are walking, talking examples of potential career paths the students can take later in life.

“Students learn how to put irrigation lines together and the importance of proper placement and planting. Then they also bring in somebody who’s an expert in the local watershed we’re working in and they give a presentation to the students about the watershed they’re working in. So, they’re giving back to their local ecosystem and their community, which is really important,” said Mederos. “I get really excited seeing how hard the students work and how proud they are of the work they did at the end of the day.”

Mederos took about 30 students between her Introduction to Agriculture and Agriculture Biology classes. She said it was exciting to see all of the work they accomplished and that it was “really fun to watch them forge relationships with the mentors and get excited about what they do for a living”

“They learn a lot more about non-traditional agricultural careers they can get into. A lot of these students don’t know there are people that are professionals in rangeland conservation. They don’t understand there are people who study fish and wildlife all day. So, they get excited and their eyes are open to possibilities in their future,” said Mederos.

With such a unique learning opportunity that weaves seamlessly into the mission of the FFA, Mederos is eager for the next SLEWS field day later this month.

“The three-circle model of agriculture education is the hand, the heart and the brain. In the classroom we utilize the brain and teach them these agricultural and scientific concepts, but one can only learn so much seated in a classroom,” said Mederos. “That’s why I think it’s important to provide these hands-on, learning opportunities so they can use the hand part of ag education and see these concepts in action. The heart part comes into this activity because they’re in their local community and I saw kids get excited planting trees and say, ‘I’m going to come back in 30 years and show my kids I planted this tree.’ They’re giving back to their community and being servant leaders and activity learning by applying concepts from the classroom. It’s a perfect example of why agriculture education is so successful because it brings in every circle.”

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