A year ago, California Rangeland Trust celebrated the renewal of funding for the Where Your Food Grows & Grazes youth ranch tour program that gives school kids a behind-the-scenes look at where their food comes from. The program, funded by Raley’s and AT&T, busses urban youth to a Raley’s or Bel-Air store and culminates in a visit to a nearby ranch. With less than 2% of the population working in agricultural production, urban populations are increasingly disconnected from the cultural, economic, and ecological benefits provided by California ranchers. California Rangeland Trust has found that visiting a ranch is a transformative experience that builds appreciation for ranchers and fosters a love of land and animals.
The Rangeland Trust’s Community Outreach Coordinator Jenna Lamberta set up five tours during the summer and fall of 2016. Once again, the land, animals, and ranchers did not disappoint. Thanks to the Garamendi family of McSorely Ranch, kids that were scared to eat something they had picked – having never done it before – loved berrying once they literally got a taste. At O’Connell Ranch, Dan and Barb O’Connell organized an extraordinary line-up of presenters – including California Cattlewoman President Sheila Bowen, Jerry and Sherry Maltby, and Colusa FFA – who inspired high schoolers to pursue a career in agriculture. At Yolo Land & Cattle Co., first graders fell in love with Scott and Karen Stone. They initially wanted to be rock stars and firemen when they grew up, but after petting horses, branding boards, and a cattle demonstration, decided they wanted to be “farmers” instead. At the Wood family’s Wood Ranch, high schoolers witnessed an action-packed working dog and cow horse demonstration orchestrated by Darrell Wood, Bubba Kelley and Pete Fracchia. Thanks to Mark, Abbie, and Ryan Nelson, students learned about the Certified Angus Beef and seedstock operations at Five Star Land & Livestock. A highlight was when football team members tried a hand at roping a dummy. Later, one of them still sporting a grill in his mouth and pants down to his knees, told his friends he was going to be a cowboy when he grew up. Some of them had never seen a cow before.
There’s no question that the incredible efforts of these ranchers and volunteers changed kids’ lives and the Rangeland Trust saw an opportunity to build off these successes through Spring 2017.
The first field trip of 2017 brought a group of kids with a variety of disabilities to Pope Taylor Ranch in Ione. The students piled off the bus and were greeted by Emily Taylor, the CRT staff and individuals who work on her ranch. After a brief history of the property, students broke off into groups of 12 and rotated through the six stations; “Coop to Omelet,” “History of the Texas Longhorn,” “Busy Bees,” “Pasture Raised Chickens,” “Horse Shoeing 101,” and the “Life of a Goat.” A first for many of the students, whether it was nailing a horse shoe onto a hoof, picking up a goat or making an omelet with eggs straight from the coop, this introduction to a working ranch helped shaped these students vision of how someday they might be able to participate and be part of a working landscape. One student now wants to be a farrier.
Emily said of the tour, “I feel very blessed to be able to share the feeling of being on a working ranch with students that might not otherwise have the opportunity. To give them the opportunity to experience the empowerment that comes from being surrounded by nature and open space. This message to me seems more crucial than ever. ”
Concurrently, a group of Rangeland Trust volunteers has been hard at work, crafting messages that address and dispel misconceptions surrounding ranching in California. While these messages were resonating with the land trust and ranching communities, this group believed there was a way to turn these messages into hands-on experience.
This was the inspiration behind the conservation activity piloted at Bob Slobe and Kim Mueller’s Spring Valley Ranch tour in Williams. First, Matt and Julie Griffith provided a great introduction to the beef industry and the students learned about conservation efforts on the ranch. Then, Rangeland Trust staff conducted an activity that connected the ecological benefits of grazing with private land ownership and conservation easements. As inner city kids discovered the way rangeland sequesters carbon and recharges groundwater for themselves, excitement skyrocketed.
“Are ranches important?” the Rangeland Trust’s Alyssa Rolen asked the group of kids standing in the hot sun.
“Yes!” they yelled.
“The dirty water got to the ranch, and then… and then it disappeared!” a young African-American girl shouted.
The teachers were so impressed that they want to begin using real-life examples and case studies from agriculture to bring STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects to life. “AT&T is dedicated to helping advance the education of our young students,” said John Jefferson of AT&T California. “We are proud to support CRT’S efforts to promote STEM education and the changing world of agriculture, which will help prepare students for future success.”
It’s not just inner-city kids who are learning from these tours. With momentum building, the last ranch tour of the 2016-2017 school year brought the tour back to Wood Ranch and saw the addition of an activity that addresses myths in the beef industry. Even though this was an animal science class from a more rural area, much of the information was new to the students.
After a brief overview of the beef lifecycle, students played the role of a rancher, making cattle stocking, processing, and treatment decisions experiencing how modern ranchers are able to produce more with less. They also played a game that showed how myths and half-truths spread. A highlight was a visual representation of the amount of estrogen found in four ounces of peas, cabbage, and beef from both a steer with a hormone implant and a steer without. Bubba Kelley of Crooked River Ranch Horses, who provided ranch horse and cow dog demonstrations with Austin Prince, said, “The visual of the hormone levels, along with the quiz, was very eye-opening for the kids.” The teacher will be even using these materials to continue to dispel beef myths in the classroom.
Becca Whitman, Raley’s Community Relations Manager & Executive Director of Raley’s nonprofit Food for Families, was able to attend the Wood Ranch tour with Megan Riggs, Raley’s Community Coordinator. Becca said, “Raley’s is proud of our partnership with the California Rangeland Trust – our program, Where Your Food Grows & Grazes, allows so many kids to understand where their food comes from and see firsthand the importance of land preservation. Together, we help our next generation of healthy eaters understand the importance of sustainability and food literacy. The California Rangeland Trust is a hard-working, dedicated group that shines as a responsible steward of our community investment.”
With the close of the 2016-2017 school year, the youth ranch tour program is beginning to see impact beyond the ranch. Having attended two of the ranch tours this spring, Rangeland Trust CEO Nita Vail said, “We are so grateful for the incredible support from our community – from Raley’s and AT&T to our ranch hosts and volunteers – that has helped this program develop into something far greater than what we had initially imagined. As we look to the future, we are excited to see where this program leads.”
First published in the July/August 2017 issue of California Cattlemen’s Magazine