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Agriculture tour grows awareness for education programs

Local and state officials visit Del Oro High's farm facility
By: Martha Garcia, Loomis News Editor
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A small but thriving farm got a visit last week by decision makers from throughout the area. “Growing … The Next Generation” was the theme for this year’s Placer County Agricultural Tour, which was hosted on June 16 by Del Oro High School. There, members of town and city councils, commissions and school boards, local and state representatives, county supervisors and other agency members got to see the workings of the high school’s farm facility. The annual tour dates back to the early 1990s, according to Mark White of the Placer County Resource Conservation District, one of the tour’s major partners. “In their normal day-to-day decisions, we want to make them (the decision makers) aware of current agricultural issues,” White said. This year’s tour focused on agricultural education, he said, “because some of the education programs are starting to wane a little.” Funding at some high schools and colleges has not been as extensive as it once was, White said. “We want them to be aware of how valuable ag education is … and something that should be maintained.” Regina Dvorak is the Del Oro agriculture science teacher and FFA advisor. She led the tour of the school’s farm facility, which included presentations by FFA members. Dvorak said that when she was hired in 1998, the farm had only a small garden and a tool shed. Through the years and as a result of numerous senior projects, as well as support from groups such as the Loomis Lions and the American Legion, the farm now includes a barn and a greenhouse, surrounded by fruit trees, roses and other landscape plants, and garden boxes filled with thriving vegetable plants. The farm, said Dvorak, is a learning laboratory, where students practice small farm management, as well as soil and landscape management, and hone their skills running small equipment. Students Emily Cady and Vance Williams, both FFA members, plan to incorporate the farm into their senior projects in the fall by growing produce for the school’s culinary arts program and holding some type of “iron chef” competition. In the future, Dvorak said she and her students are working on the greenhouse’s sustainability. “I have a student (Emily) working on catching all the rain off the greenhouse roof, and putting it back in the system on the farm. We have eight solar panels we will be installing to feed the greenhouse and all the other electrical needs we have.” Currently, the greenhouse is used only for propagation, but Dvorak said she’d like to start cuttings from landscape plants to sell during the annual plant sale. Brittney Bowen, a Placer High School sophomore and FFA member who attended the agricultural tour, explained that her group is no longer referred to as Future Farmers of America. “They changed it to the National FFA Organization because it entails more than farming now,” Brittney said. “You learn a lot of leadership, public speaking … and career development,” she said. Tori Latham, also an FFA member and Placer High sophomore, said FFA “helps you step outside of your comfort zone.” Recent Del Oro graduate Trevor Schmidt said he was an FFA member all through high school and in 4-H before that. He is headed for Brigham Young University and plans to continue his involvement with agriculture by becoming an ag teacher. His family has a small farm in Loomis, where they raise pigs and chickens. “I have a breeding herd of cattle; I want to continue that,” Trevor said. After lunch in the school’s cafeteria, Bryan Kaminsky spoke about internship opportunities available at his Natural Trading Company. His involvement in FFA in the 1980s, “changed my life,” he said. Even though he tried other endeavors, Kaminsky said he eventually returned to agriculture and now owns the 40-acre organic farm in Newcastle. He told the students to “follow your dreams.” Del Oro junior and FFA member Tyler Comer plans to do just that. Even though his family runs a 900-acre rice farm in Sheridan, Tyler plans to sign up for Kaminsky’s farm internship. It comes with a small stipend and a lot of work but a huge opportunity to learn what it will take to become a successful farmer.