The Colusa County Office of Education’s Farm to School project has moved into the third phase and the plan is to include more than just the students. Plots of land north of the Education Village in Williams are earmarked to become community gardens. The land was turned and leveled by farmers Francis and Stacy Hickel. Alsco-Gyer provided irrigation, and now the plots are ready for planting. The plots are free but CCOE is asking for those interested to fill out an application found on their website. Those selected will be notified by May 15.
“We try to identify things that fit our facility, our area, our students, and especially the land there and how to utilize it. So we came up with those four phases,” said CCOE’s Craig Richards, who is also a retired biology teacher from Colusa. He said with students attending school at home, the project was too much ground to cover by himself, so the CCOE opened it to the public. The 4,000 square-foot plots are spacious enough to ensure ample social distancing while getting some time in the sun.
“What we’re trying to do is connect students to their food, to local agriculture, promote the use of local food, and the cafeterias,” said Richards, who likes to get in there and get his hands dirty. “(Farm to Fork) is something that definitely could take hold and grow. It’s very connected to growing local food.
The USDA Farm to School Grant funded the program with four phases, including: the native planting area planted by students. Next the greenhouse and raised bed production area yielded a profit when the fruits of the student’s labor were sold. Currently, phase three will bring in the community to assist in times when students are not in school. Lorilee Niesen, who oversees the program, said that phase four is tentatively scheduled for this fall which consists of lining the area with a native tree fence along a walking trail. “The S. William Abel Community School Students will continue to work in the garden area growing produce for the cafeteria,” she said. “Last year we were able to provide the cafeteria with fresh vegetables for student’s meals. In the event we begin to grow more than our cafeteria can handle, we will tackle that great problem when it arises.”
Richards added that another part of the grant was to educate kids.
“It works, I saw it in action,” he said. “We grew potatoes last year. And the kids thought that was kind of cool. Then we made breakfast burritos, loaded with their potatoes.”
Restoration of Well No. 9 has taken precedence over other projects for the city’s beautification and the CCOE’s irrigated plots will be a welcome project. “To have something broader through the Office of Education is even better because of the educational aspect of it,” said Councilman Sajit Singh. “It’s a chance for people to get to know each other, people rooted in that sense of community, a sense of place.”
Several groups and individuals have expressed interest. Tanner Bloom, English teacher for the Williams Junior/Senior High School is also the advisor of the garden club said all of the hard work his students had done was about to come to fruition when the school had shut down. “The school garden was my original hope for kids to just have access to a garden,” said Tanner. “We could go there once or twice a week, planting things, harvest whatever we need to, and ultimately just trying to get kids to take all of the food home that they need.”
“We’re trying to retrain youth that there’s a healthier and better alternative that tastes really good. That is another big emphasis of the Farm to School program,” Richards said.
PHOTO CCOE Garden 1 & 2: Jennifer Blue
Maddie takes a walk with her owner down the path of a native garden planted for the Farm to School program, behind her are plots of land for the upcoming community gardens as a the next phase of the program.
PHOTO CCOE Garden 3: Submitted Photo
An aerial view of the areas that are included in the phases of the Farm to School program shows the Phase 3 plots of land that are earmarked to be community gardens.
PHOTO CCOE Garden 4 &5: Submitted Photo
Williams soil readied for the next phase in the Farm to School’s program will provide a learning experience and sustenance for students.