A river runs through it: UC scientists teach rural youth about river health

Rivers are an important part of our communities. However, some agricultural practices can detrimentally affect river health and water quality. The University of California Cooperative Extension conducts research and extension to educate growers about science-based practices that can reduce the impacts of agriculture on river health. These practices include such things as nutrient management, integrated pest management and conservation grazing. At the same time, local communities may not be aware of the choices that growers make to protect the environment.

River Camp Firebaugh is a summer camp for first- through eighth-graders in western Fresno County, and is managed by the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust. We were invited to teach the campers about agricultural science and conservation practices. The camp directors wanted to connect agriculture with the river ecosystem because most of the campers are from families who work in agriculture.


We developed and taught 15-minute fun, hands-on lessons on three agricultural topics and related them back to river health:

  • Beneficial insects for biological control of pests

  • How differences in soil texture affect management

  • Riparian area grazing and erosion risk

To accommodate the large camp size – approximately 60 campers – the campers divided into three groups and rotated through the stations for 15 minutes at a time. We started the event by providing a brief overview of the University of California system and the role of Cooperative Extension in their community.

This event provided young campers with a hands-on experience that exposed them to key agricultural practices and highlighted their relationship with the San Joaquin River. We communicated the importance of grazing management to reduce soil erosion, the relationship between soil composition and nutrient loss, and how biological control helps to reduce the need for pesticides.

The camp directors and sponsors who attended the lessons expressed interest in inviting us back to teach more lessons like this in the future, with the potential to have one or more lessons during every week of camp over a six-week period. With about 60 campers per week, these events could reach up to 350 or more children each summer.

Outreach at this camp contributes to improving youth scientific and agricultural literacy, especially for residents in the rural/agricultural communities of western Fresno County. In this way, we extend UC ANR's reach and improve equity, inclusion and diversity by educating a local community.

This was an opportunity for young people to engage with practicing scientists, hear about our activities and work in their community, and learn about career opportunities in agriculture beyond production. Public outreach activities like this are critical and provide an opportunity for UC ANR to strengthen extension partnerships as we highlight the linkages between agriculture, rural communities and natural resource stewardship.

By Houston Wilson
Author - Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist
By Rebecca Ozeran
Author - Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor
By Phoebe Gordon
Author - Orchard Crops Farm Advisor
By Rob Straser