A new garden in Williams at the Colusa County Office of Education is the second phase of the Farm to School program.

On Wednesday afternoon, students of the Environmental Science Academy from Colusa High School installed a temporary drip system to help kickstart the newly planted 250-300 plugs and rhizomes (roots) of indigenous plants.

The plants will, after a year, become self-sufficient without an irrigation system, and were chosen for their attraction to pollinators that will help the growth of produce that is intended to be utilized in the school’s kitchen.

These plants will also benefit the migrating monarch butterfly. Liz Harper with the Colusa County Resource Conservation District has been putting forth efforts toward monarchs in their different life cycles.

“The western monarch migrates from the Colorado Rockies to the coast of California,” said Harper, “It’s a big trek. We can control feeding them along the way and make sure they have breeding habitat. It’s ecology; humans are a big part of it.”

Harper said that the project was funded due to a senior who had applied for a pollinator kit through RCD, which was awarded from the Xerces Society, who had gifted all the plants.

On an annual basis, USDA awards competitive Farm to School grants to be used for training, supporting operations, planning, purchasing equipment, developing school gardens, developing partnerships, and implementing farm to school programs. Through the 2018 Omnibus Bill, the Farm to School Grant Program appropriated additional funding.

In 2019 and continuing through fiscal year 2020, the Office of Community Food Systems will release approximately $7.5 million to help reach more communities seeking to incorporate local products into the school meal programs, integrate agricultural education into the classroom, and cultivate and expand school gardens.

John Wirt, who teaches biology and environmental science at Colusa High school and is the teacher for the academy, said that the theme for his class is illustrating how everything is connected.

“The whole world is interconnected,” Wirt said, “You can never do just one thing.”
Wirt is also mentoring his student, Jacob Arce, with a senior project centering around composting science.

“So we’ve got this closed loop of just bringing the food from the garden to the table; bring the compost back to the garden, put it back into the food, a lot of cool things happening,” Wirt added.

The students applied for the academy in their freshman year, and now that they are all seniors, Wirt is excited to have them spend their senior year getting hands-on experiences.

“They’re getting ready to graduate,” said Wirt. “They are acquiring skills now. They’re building resumes. They’re writing grant proposals; all sorts of cool stuff.”

Craig Richards, retired teacher and Wirt’s predecessor, is heading the project.

“We’re trying to build our connections between local schools,” Richards said. “Community kids have been involved in a lot of this and also Colusa High, and, hopefully, that’ll keep expanding. Everybody’s invited to the party.”

On March 30, 2019, Richards told the Pioneer Review that the acorns students planted last winter were starting to sprout.

The next phase of this Farm to School project will be to plant the young oak trees the Community School students started from acorns last winter, in the new garden.

Colusa County Superintendent of Schools, Mike West, was also present to put in some sweat equity, helping to clear the weeds. As he wiped his brow, he said that he hopes that locals who walk along the school’s track will also enjoy the paths along the new garden that will be open to the community. ■