County Office of Education receives USDA grant for AgriEd program

Colusa County Superintendent of Schools Michael West shows stakeholders the proposed location for some of the AgriEd gardens at the Education Village in Williams

The Colusa County Office of Education (CCOE) announced last week that they received a $45,000 planning grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service as part of the latter’s Farm to School Program. The funds will go to support CCOE’s AgriEd program – one of just three programs in the state to be selected for an award.

A group of around 30 stakeholders – including representatives from the agricultural industry, educators, and local government officials – gathered at the multipurpose room of the Education Village in Williams last week, where they heard more about CCOE’s AgriEd program, the USDA planning grant they had received to support it, and how the Education Village will fit into the equation.

The AgriEd program is part of a comprehensive plan that will bring locally grown foods to student meal trays and to their homes, while offering educational opportunities throughout the growing process, demonstrating how agricultural products are grown, maintained, nurtured, harvested, and processed, before it gets to the table, and networking students from across the county with representatives from agricultural businesses in the area to give them a better understanding of the industry.

“Our AgriEd project will allow CCOE to highlight the importance of the varied ag-related businesses of Colusa County, and illustrate how those businesses affect the economics of Colusa County, the State of California, and the world,” Colusa County Superintendent of Schools Michael West said in a statement.

The Education Village in Williams will be the hub of the CCOE’s AgriEd program.
“The vision of what we’re trying to do here at the Education Village is to develop a curriculum overflowing with learning in a Living Learning Laboratory – and in some cases… we have an opportunity to make this happen,” said West.

The plan is to install AgriEd gardens – including a greenhouse for seedlings, leafy greens and vegetables in raised beds, and a small orchard of nut and fruit trees – in about 6.5 acres of unused outdoor space at the Education Village. The gardens will also provide a laboratory pathway of native grasses, shrubs, and trees that may be used as a “science classroom” for programs working to implement the Next Generation Science Standards.

Future Farmers of America programs from around the county will be able to use the greenhouses and science classrooms for training as well.

“This particular part of (the program) would involve some very simple things that are very hard to get by. I’m not going to say this is going to be a piece of cake, because it’s not – it’s going to be difficult… I know that there are a lot of concerns, and a lot of ideas, a lot of issues with how this is all going to come together, and that’s why you’re here,” West told the crowd at the stakeholders meeting. “We have a planning group, and you’re it. This planning grant that we have basically gives us the opportunity to work with experts, to come together and find out who the expert is in which area, and come up with some ideas.”

After working with stakeholders to hammer out the details in the planning phase, the CCOE will apply for an implementation grant in November to make it all happen.

In a statement, West said that the USDA Farm to School grant “will give great focus and opportunity for the education of all students, residents and visitors to Colusa County of the important role agriculture plays in our everyday lives.”

“This grant means so much to our AgriEd program,” West said, adding that the grant probably would have been out of reach if not for the assistance of former Colusa County Supervisor Kim Dolbow-Vann, who was appointed by President Trump to serve as the State Director for USDA Rural Development in California.

“Kim and her colleagues at USDA led us in the best direction to achieve this grant, and we look forward to showing her the fruits of our labor,” West said.

The CCOE’s AgriEd program is one of 73 projects across 43 states, the District of Columbia and Guam that the USDA Farm to School Program supported this year. The USDA’s mission is to bring nutritious, local foods into schools and create new economic opportunities for farmers. The federal program will provide $5.2 million in grant awards, which will affect over 6,000 schools and 2.8 million students nationwide.

“USDA is committed to helping our children build bright futures with good nutrition,” Brandon Lipps, acting deputy under-secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services said in a statement. “These grants expose students to local foods, and the importance of agriculture, while supporting American farmers in both urban and rural economies.”

Brian Pearson is the former Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects included reporting local government and the sports page.