- Author: Mike Hsu
UC Cooperative Extension team in Sutter and Yuba counties showcases UC ANR programs, community partners
When dozens of elementary schoolers gathered to watch a live calf birth at Tollcrest Dairy in Yuba County, their comments ranged from “disgusting but cool” to “I saw something that maybe I'm too young to see.”
Expanding horizons, growing knowledge and gently pushing some limits were at the heart of a four-week day camp, Ag-Venture, organized by the University of California Cooperative Extension office serving Sutter and Yuba counties.
Throughout July, more than 80 campers – ages 5 through 12 – explored agriculture and science topics through field trips across the region, hands-on activities and lively presentations by UCCE advisors, UC Master Gardeners, 4-H specialists, UC Master Food Preservers and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC educators. All these groups fall under the umbrella of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
A grant from The Center at Sierra Health Foundation funded this day camp for underserved youth focused on agriculture and natural resources – the first of its kind in the area. Exploring the themes of “Interesting Insects,” “Foods and Farms,” “Woods and Water” and “Awesome Animals,” the campers learned directly from community experts and UC ANR scientists.
“Some of the kids might think scientists are only wearing lab coats and working with genetics and DNA and human-based science, but here they got to see agricultural scientists and natural scientists,” said Rayna Barden, the 4-H community education specialist who led the camp. “It was a cool way to showcase what ANR does and what we have to offer.”
Youth gain wide range of experiences, knowledge
Visits to local farms and ranches – with many chances to greet the animals – were a highlight for many of the camp participants.
“I liked learning about agriculture and the interactive activities,” said a fourth grader. “I saw a baby cow coming out of its mama, and they [farm staff] had to use a tool. It was cool.”
A sixth grader said: “I learned that feed is made up of everyday items, like almond shells and beer hops!”
“Sheep, cows and goats have one stomach and four chambers,” added another sixth grader.
That digestive tidbit was absorbed by the campers after a visit with UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor Dan Macon at Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center, a facility operated by UC ANR in Browns Valley.
“We have 4-H kids and FFA kids in high school who still don't know how the four chambers work!” Barden said. “These kids had it and it was so cool to see that they remembered that from a previous day.”
Time and time again, Barden said she was amazed at how much the campers retained. After a visit to Bullards Bar Reservoir, a seven-year-old was able to explain why the dam is curved. Another young boy could draw his own interpretation of the water cycle. And several campers talked about the rice presentation for weeks.
Whitney Brim-DeForest, UCCE county director for Sutter and Yuba counties and a rice advisor, had the participants touch and feel different rice seeds and varieties. The campers also got to plant a few rice seeds to take home.
“But their favorite part – and what they talked about for the rest of camp – was the tadpole shrimp,” Brim-DeForest said. “We brought some live and preserved specimens, and they loved them!”
Sparking ideas for future careers
One third-grade camper said she enjoyed learning the differences between agricultural pests and beneficial insects.
“And you can do stuff to help the good bugs,” she said, adding that she would like to pursue a career working with animals and nature.
Expanding awareness among young people of new career possibilities was exciting for Ricky Satomi, UCCE forestry and natural resources advisor for Sutter and Yuba counties. Using interactive exercises (such as those developed by California Project Learning Tree, another UC ANR-affiliated program), Satomi shared his knowledge about resource competition, watershed filtration and fire behavior in forest ecosystems.
“It's always a pleasure to introduce students to the natural resources where they live,” Satomi said. “This is particularly critical given the current workforce shortage we face in forestry; I hope their experience at Ag-Venture will spark interest in future forestry careers, where these students can work to better their local forest communities.”
Young people from local colleges and universities also gained invaluable experience during the camp. Four students helped prepare the camp: Yasmeen Castro Guillen (Chico State), Alana Logie (Yuba College), Jayla Pollard (Folsom Lake College) and Adam Yandel (Chico State). Three more helped lead the camp as counselors: Hector Amezcua (Yuba College), Alyssa Nott (Butte College) and Jillian Ruiz (Chico State).
“They did such a fantastic job, mentoring the kids and serving as positive role models, and we have seen tremendous growth in all of them, too – in confidence, skills and knowledge,” said Brim-DeForest.
A true community effort
Barden emphasized that the sweeping scope and in-depth, intertwining lessons of the camp were only possible through broad support from the greater community. Brim-DeForest highlighted the partnership with Yuba City Unified School District, as well as with Sutter County. Camp HQ was in Ettl Hall, a Sutter County building; campers visited the Sutter County Museum; they also met Yuba-Sutter public health officer Dr. Phuong Luu.
Additional collaborators included Melissa Ussery, CalFresh Healthy Living, UC nutrition program supervisor; Rene McCrory, 4-H secretary; Johnny Yang, UC Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver program coordinator; Matt Rodriguez, 4-H youth development advisor; and Nicole Marshall-Wheeler, 4-H youth development advisor.
“Honestly, we could plan all of this, but without the community's support, our program never would have worked smoothly,” said Barden, who grew up in the small town of Sutter. “Having all of our guest speakers, having all the people who were willing to have up to 50 kids on their property – it just shows how much our community is about our youth.”
Brim-DeForest said Sandy Parker, the camp nurse, exemplifies that spirit. A UC Master Gardener and 4-H alumna and volunteer, Parker also invited the campers to her family ranch, where she introduced the children to her farm animals and Great Pyrenees guardian dog.
The campers certainly appreciated the generosity, teamwork and energy that went into Ag-Venture. Barden said that many of the participants originally had only signed up for one or two weeks – but loved the camp so much that they asked to register for more. And she added that the “vast majority” of them said they want Ag-Venture to come back and would attend in the future.
“Our youth are just so resilient and so willing to learn,” Barden said, reflecting on the camp overall. “Whereas adults, we're usually a little more timid at things, these kids just were willing to dive in, head first, and be in that moment and try to take away as much as they could from what they were offered there at camp.”/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Saoimanu Sope
A typical day for Dee Keese starts with a 10-mile walk at 5 a.m. and her morning wraps up with a swim. Although Keese is in her late 70s, her daily routine would not surprise you if you knew what she has been doing for the last 48 years.
For nearly a half-century, Keese has been the 4-H community leader for the Palos Verdes Peninsula (PVP) club in Los Angeles County. A youth development program managed through local University of California Cooperative Extension offices, 4-H uses hands-on learning experiences to empower youth to build self-esteem and connect with their communities as emerging leaders.
“When you're pushing 80, working with young people helps to keep you young,” Keese said.
4-H has been a game changer in many ways
In the 1970s, Keese moved to the Palos Verdes area with her first-born son who had a learning disability. Others treated him differently in school, and it didn't help that he was the new kid in town. A neighbor encouraged Keese to enroll her son in 4-H.
“She told me, ‘You've got to put your son in 4-H so he can feel good about himself,'” explained Keese. “And let me tell you, it changed my life.”
In 1978, two weeks before her fifth child was born, Keese became the 4-H PVP club's community leader and has been in the role ever since.
While reflecting on her earlier days with 4-H, Keese remembered when most members were boys. Girls were not intentionally excluded at the time; clubs just didn't attract them. When girls eventually joined 4-H, it was a game changer.
“All of a sudden, the program shifted focus from solely agriculture and animals to include home economics like cooking and sewing,” Keese said. “Now, all my sons do the cooking in their homes. It's a good thing! Because we're moving away from traditional domestic duties, men and women are sharing roles, as they should be.”
The PVP 4-H club offers activities like archery, sailing, surfing and geocaching. “Everything we do is to help our youth be better as adults, out in the real world and in the workforce,” said Keese. “We're relying on the internet too much. Kids need to get outside and do things.”
Over the years, Keese has taken members – who range in age from 5 to 19 – on numerous hikes in places like Havasupai Indian Reservation and Mt. Whitney. She's taken them kayaking on the Colorado River and, these days, co-hosts old-fashioned card game nights on the weekends with other community members.
As a lifeguard and water safety instructor, Keese gives free training to interested 4-H members to become lifeguards. Training courses usually cost well over $200 per person. “If they're interested, I train them and they have another skill to use. And it benefits our club,” said Keese. “When we have pool parties or beach days, my kids are prepared to step in and help.”
‘She will help anyone and everyone at any time'
Ace Yeck, former president of the PVP 4-H club, met Keese 12 years ago and decided to become a 4-H member when he was in fourth grade, following a convincing conversation with her. “She just kept giving me opportunities,” said Yeck.
Currently a third-year undergraduate at Loyola Marymount University studying entrepreneurship, Yeck credits 4-H for preparing him for college. “I got all my community service and public speaking practice through 4-H. I remember doing beach clean-ups, feeding the homeless, helping out at the Christmas fair, and all kinds of events,” he shared.
During his years with 4-H, Yeck was elected to the state board as an ambassador before he went on to represent 4-H at the national level. “Dee encouraged me every time, so I kept going,” he said.
Keese admitted that her life is so full and fun because of 4-H. Her motivation stems from the growth and progress that her students experience. “My kids let me know when I've done something to impact their life. It keeps me motivated,” she said.
While thinking about the members she's had over the last 48 years, she couldn't help but stress how important it is that they feel safe. Keese recalls one student who is gay and had a challenging time getting his parents to understand because of religious and cultural barriers. “The family's priest called me and told me that this student felt like I was the only one who loved him,” she said.
“I can talk about Dee forever,” said Yeck. “One of her best qualities is that she will help anyone and everyone at any time. She wakes up at 5 a.m. and goes to bed at, like, 10 p.m. During that time, she's always helping people,” he added.
Because Keese comes from a different generation compared to the kids in her 4-H club, she attributes her successful impact to her ability to adapt. “If we want to keep kids in this, we've got to be flexible! And you've got to do things they like. We can't do things the way it's always been done before,” said Keese. “We have to be flexible.”
To Keese, 4-H is not just an opportunity to teach life skills or introduce kids to agriculture. It's a chance for them to build community.
“That's what I think my generation does well, having grown up in the '50s and '60s,” Keese said. “We're all about that communal living.”
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
“There is much we can learn from a friend who happens to be a horse.” — Aleksandra Layland
“Training mustangs is just so much fun,” said Aubrielle, as a chestnut-colored filly named Zuri nuzzled the 4-H member from Shasta County. Six months earlier, the young wild horse was wary of being touched. Now she was sporting accessories in her styled mane that matched the teenager's turquoise jewelry.
Over the past few years, UC Cooperative Extension in Modoc County has partnered with Modoc National Forest to provide public outreach and education to support the placement and care of wild horses from Devil's Garden at the northeastern corner of California. Adopting foals reduces overpopulation of wild horses, which can harm rangeland and the health of the mustangs themselves.
This year Laura Snell, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor in Modoc County, assigned weanling wild horses to 40 youth between the ages of 9 and 19 from all over the state. The mustangs were 4 to 6 months old in January when they were picked up in Alturas and taken home by California 4-H and FFA members, who feed and care for them.
“The moment when I got to touch him for the first time is probably one of the biggest parts of training as well as my progress with him,” said Morgan of Monterey County, who spent hours in the stall with Bowie trying to gain his trust.
“It was really amazing to me that I was able to touch him on day 5,” she said. “In the videos I watched leading up to getting him, most of the time it took one week to three weeks for the people in the videos to touch their wild mustangs. At that moment is when you really start to make that bond with a wild mustang.”
“The moment when I got to remove his tag was a huge part as well because at that moment you know that the mustang trusts you enough that he is letting you get that close to remove the tag,” Morgan said.
The young trainers teach the horses to wear a halter, to load and unload from a horse trailer and to navigate through obstacles. Some participants also work on tricks such as laying their horse down, walking the horse backward and walking under the horse. In June, the participants gathered in Alturas to show their progress.
“It provides them an opportunity to seek out adult mentors who are horse trainers, learn responsibility, and learn a variety of things about caring for a wild horse and learning more about themselves in the process,” said Snell.
“We find that the youth do very well with wild horses. It's really a two-way street, with the horses learning just as much as the youth are in the six months they are in training,” she added.
Sisters Kailey and Maddi in San Benito County both adopted weanling horses. Removing the tag after about three weeks was a turning point for Maddi and her horse Fiona.
“The significance of getting the tag off was we hadn't been able to get near her at all,” said Maddi. “She had some aggression toward people out of fear. So getting past that, getting to the point where she trusted me and I could get that halter on her and get close enough to get that tag off was just a huge achievement. After that, once she trusted me, she started doing really, really well and flying through her training.”
Because wildfires are part of life in California, she taught Fiona to step over flames so she won't be afraid if they need to evacuate, Maddi told KSBW reporter Brisa Colon.
“It has been amazing to be able to share this experience with another very close family,” said Aubrielle's mother Ashley Phipps. “Our daughters have gone through the entire journey together starting with visiting the corrals to pick horses together, all the way through the training process. My daughter is older than Brooklin and has been a great mentor to her, teaching Brooklin and her horse along the way. It has been such a confidence builder for my daughter! Our girls will never forget this experience!!! And I loved every moment of watching them grow through the ups and downs. This program is such a blessing.”
To qualify for the program, applicants must fill out an application which includes being enrolled in a horse program such as the 4-H Equine Project, show they have facilities and feed for the animals, designate a mentor and have their parents' approval.
The trainers and their horses competed in the Devil's Garden Colt Challenge on June 18 in Alturas, vying for awards in halter, showmanship and obstacle course with youth from 13 counties participating. Prizes totaled over $3,000.
- Author: Mike Hsu
Commitment of $690,000 supports UC South Coast Research and Extension Center, 4-H programs
During a “GROW Field Day” when 100 high school students enjoyed harvesting and tasting avocados, the Orange County Farm Bureau announced a $690,000 gift to expand University of California-affiliated programs that introduce young people to agricultural careers.
The students from four schools across Southern California participated in the GROW program on May 13 at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources facility that organizes and hosts these educational programs.
“Part of the mission of Orange County Farm Bureau is to support the development of the next generation of agriculturalists,” said Casey Anderson, executive director of OCFB, in announcing the five-year commitment that will begin in 2023. “Through our partnership with South Coast Research Extension Center and support of Orange County 4-H, we are thrilled to provide opportunities to young people to directly connect with food production and myriad research and career opportunities in agriculture.”
Hundreds of local youth are served every year by Orange County 4-H, a part of a nationwide youth development and education program, administered in California by UC ANR.
“OCFB contributions to our Forever 4-H Endowment will soon provide sustaining funds every year, indefinitely,” said Rita Jakel, Orange County 4-H program coordinator. “And their commitment to our Program Support Fund will help ensure that 4-H will continue to have the capacity to impact the youth of Orange County.”
GROW program introduces youth to agriculture careers
The GROW program, originally conceived by OCFB as a way to make agricultural experiences more accessible to more young people across the region, has engaged over 1,000 students from nine schools – many of them in urban areas where knowledge of agriculture is limited. The program builds on a strong history of collaboration between OCFB and South Coast REC, dating back to the early 2000s.
“UC ANR and South Coast Research and Extension Center are grateful for the trust the Orange County Farm Bureau continues to place in us to not only deliver agricultural education to the people of Orange County, but also to open the eyes of young people to fulfilling careers in agriculture,” said Darren Haver, director of UC South Coast REC.
“To me, it's like a great big outdoor classroom,” said Tammy Majcherek, a South Coast REC community educator specialist who coordinates the GROW program, along with colleague Jason Suppes. “There are so many possibilities of what we can connect to.”
Programs spotlight diversity of agriculture-related fields
Gina Cunningham, a teacher at Westminster High School (part of the Huntington Beach Unified School District), was excited to bring the 20 freshmen in her agricultural biology class to the GROW Day, where they get a glimpse of potential pathways in agriculture that “are not directly farming-related.”
“This gives kids an opportunity to see some things that are available to them that maybe they never have thought of – and there are a lot of things out there that I might not have thought of, either,” said Cunningham, who has degrees in animal science and agricultural education.
Thanks to OCFB's long-term commitment to the program, GROW coordinators Majcherek and Suppes said that in the coming years they would like to bring more students with career aspirations outside of traditional agricultural roles. In particular, they hope to reach out to young people with interests in culinary arts and food service, as well as in technology and engineering, which intersect with food production in the form of drones, robotics and artificial intelligence.
Regardless of their background, however, almost all of the students love harvesting crops from the South Coast REC farm, whether pumpkins, potatoes, or – during the most recent GROW Day – avocados. Majcherek said it's especially rewarding to hear the students talk enthusiastically about older siblings who went to a GROW program and came back with enduring memories – as well as some fresh produce.
“You know it's cool when they're taking selfies with their bounty,” she said.
Community members interested in joining the Orange County Farm Bureau in support of South Coast REC and 4-H programs are encouraged to make a donation on UC ANR's annual Giving Day, which runs from noon to noon on May 19-20./h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Due to the Dixie Fire, the traditional Plumas County Fair was canceled; however, volunteers are working hard to make the Plumas-Sierra Junior Livestock Show happen. 4-H and FFA youth will show their prize-winning livestock this weekend at the Sierraville Roping Grounds. The showing of animals is scheduled to take place on Aug. 13 and 14 with the Junior Livestock Auction on Sunday, Aug. 15.
“We really hope junior livestock supporters in the region and beyond will raise their hands often this year to support the youth livestock producers of Plumas and Sierra counties,” said Megan Neer, Plumas-Sierra Junior Livestock Auction chairman.
“The kids have overcome the challenges of COVID and now face another year of canceled county fair due to the Dixie Fire,” Neer said. “Many of our youth have been directly impacted by the fire evacuations and some even have lost homes to the catastrophic fire. We are really looking to the community and beyond to support our youth during this difficult time.”
Profiles of participating youth can be viewed on the Plumas-Sierra Junior Livestock Auction Facebook page by clicking on “Photos." Interested buyers can participate in the livestock sale on Sunday, Aug. 15, and help reward the young people for their hard work in raising steers, lambs, swine, goats, rabbits, turkeys and other animals.
On the Plumas-Sierra Junior Livestock Auction website there is an option to donate to the Dixie Fire Relief Fund. There will be opportunities on sale day to support the 4-H members who were affected by the fire. In addition, there is an option for add-ons to support a child separate from buying an animal – for both 4-H and FFA members – that are in the sale.
“We would like to thank volunteers and sponsors for coming together on such short notice to host the livestock show event for my fellow 4-H and FFA exhibitors as well as myself,” said Kristin Roberti, Sierra Valley 4-H president, who has a steer entered in the event. “I will be joining over 100 other youth exhibiting livestock at the event this year, including a number of friends who have been impacted by the ongoing Dixie Fire and the Beckwourth Fire last month.”
UPDATE Aug. 24, 2021: The auction raised over $500,000.
"It was an amazing day, and life changing for many youth that were impacted the hardest by the Dixie Fire," said Tracy Schohr, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor in Plumas and Sierra counties.
"Also, the day before the auction I worked with the Plumas-Sierra Cattlemen to host an impromptu dinner and auction to support ranchers impacted by the Dixie Fire - over $30,000 was raised that will go to ranchers who lost feed, hay, fences and many who have incurred tremendous costs the past month while the fire has burned around them," Schohr said.
"The weekend activities were a true reminder of the support for agriculture, support for youth in agriculture, value of community and the true power of social media."
For more information about the auction, visit plumas-sierrajla.com or contact Jane Roberti, advertising coordinator, at (530) 249-4036 or (530) 993-4097.