Teachers got a hands on education on agricultural production in El Dorado County during a three-day workshop held in June.
Sponsored by the nonprofit group, El Dorado County Ag in the Classroom, 14 people participated in the program including teachers from different schools, an EID employee and a produce manager from Raley’s Supermarket.
Michael Marks, known on TV as “Your Produce Man,” kicked off the training program the first day and was also a participant.
Called the Teacher’s Ag Summer Institute or TASI for short, this was the second year the program was offered. It was developed by El Dorado Ag in the Classroom and the University of California Cooperative Extension in partnership with the El Dorado County Office of Education, the Folsom Lake College El Dorado Center, El Dorado County Farm Bureau and local agricultural producers.
Karen Owen, who is the Executive Director of El Dorado Ag in the Classroom, said, “The purpose of the program is to increase understanding of the importance of agriculture, where our food, food, clothing and shelter comes from, and also understand how local agriculture contributes to the community. Agriculture is a major economic sector of the community.”
This is borne out by information from the California Agricultural Statistics Review 2011-2012, which places the total value of agricultural production in El Dorado County, including timber production, at $35 million.
“What’s unique about the program,” said Owen, “is that educators have the opportunity to go out into the field and learn from farmers and ranches. In the program they experience real world examples of agriculture. We took them to Smokey Ridge Ranch. The learned about the diversification of agriculture, about pest management and how it’s addressed in this county. They even used hand-held magnifiers to look for insects.
“They (also) learned about irrigation, water policies, direct marketing by local farmers like the owners of Rainbow Orchards. They discussed land use and ran through an activity they can use in class showing uses and demands for water.”
Besides field trips, the program included in-class activities for participants and multiple take away activities they can use in the classroom.
Owen said part of the program addressed nutrition so teachers can instruct children on the connection between food in the market and the ag industry.
“It’s a great connector to the community for kids who often have a hazy idea of where food comes from,” she said. “Kids are fascinated and engaged when they can experiment with the real world of agriculture and their intrinsic connection to the earth. We offer field trips for kids as well. I remember one little boy saying after a field trip that ‘whenever I eat an apple, I think of Rainbow Orchards.’”
Participants in the program were enthusiastic about what they learned over the three-day workshop. Avis Jolly is one of those who went through the TASI program.
A Garden Coordinator at Green Valley Elementary, she works with children in first through fifth grade in the school garden and in the lab.
A first time participant in the program, she said the most important aspect of the program was that it was done in El Dorado county and they were taught things that were relevant to this county.
“We learned where our food is coming from and what our county provides,” she said. “They gave us 15 to 20 exercises and I can use all of them in the classroom.
“One of those exercises asks the kids to pretend they won the lottery and can develop some river front property any way they want. Once they develop their property, they lay it on the table and connect the pieces. Everything that’s a pollutant generates a bead. Slowly they figure out how many pollutants come from their developments as the beads mount up. Afterwards there is a discussion of how to take care of our watershed.”
“We learned more about environmental sustainability,” she said. “What ag producers are doing with water and making sure it’s clean and safe and maintaining the land. A lot of these farming families have been here a hundred years. Many have had to diversify. Apple Hill, for example, started out as a pear growing area. I go apple picking myself every year.”
Kathy Roberts of El Dorado was another person new to the TASI program. A first grade teacher at Gold Oak School, she said she’s been bringing agriculture into the classroom for a long time using classroom activities and field trips.
“The best thing about the program was visiting different ag producers,” she said. “One day we went to a logging site. It was fascinating to get background information on how they take down logs. They had Forest Service people there to explain the reasons for logging including clearing away the lower tier of growth. This is performing a service and making the forest healthier. Now I have a lot more nuanced view of harvesting wood than I had before.
“We also visited the Bacchi Ranch. I knew of the ranch but I didn’t know about beef production. It was nice to talk to Mr. Bacchi himself and find out first hand how hard he works. He talked about how he’s had to change the breed of cattle they sell because when they sell meat to Japan, the meat has to come from cattle with black hides even though the Japanese don’t use the hides. They also move the cows around a lot. Some are actually up in Oregon.
“The business is more complex than I thought. The business side was interesting and helps me to present more information in the classroom. Protecting watersheds by those in agriculture was interesting and learning how good management can affect water quality. Growers work together to avoid negative runoff. It was a very productive use of time.”
Owen said one way they assess the effectiveness of the class is by surveying the teachers afterwards regarding their use of the TASI materials and exercises in the classroom.
“We want the information to be shared and to get their feedback,” she said.
For more information about TASI or other programs offered by the agency, contact El Dorado County Ag at 2460 Headington Road, Placerville or call 530-334-6585.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or email@example.com. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.