Curious goats milled around the masked elementary school students who were raking out the livestock stalls. After a year of social distancing due to COVID-19 precautions, the goats were enthralled by the youngsters who visited UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Elkus Ranch Environmental Education Center in San Mateo County.
“The animals were missing kids, they're used to getting more loving,” said Beth Loof, 4-H youth community educator at Elkus Ranch. “Goats are really social. They get distressed when they are alone.”
Tucked behind the rolling green hills of Half Moon Bay off state Route 1, Elkus Ranch is a working landscape that, in a normal year, hosts people from all over the San Francisco Bay Area for field trips, conferences, community service projects, internships and summer camps.
During the pandemic, UC ANR has limited visitors to “social bubbles” of children and adults for outdoor education at the 125-acre ranch, which has implemented a variety of COVID protocols for the safety of visitors. During Adventure Days, young people spend four hours caring for animals, tending gardens, making a nature-themed craft project and hiking around the property.
“We would love to bring children from urban areas of the Bay Area to Elkus Ranch,” said Frank McPherson, director of UC Cooperative Extension for Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and San Francisco counties. “So they can learn where food comes from, before it gets to the grocery store.”
On a sunny spring day, 11 students from Share Path Academy in San Mateo visited for Adventure Day, as their first field trip of the year.
“Coming here and having the hands-on learning, being able to hold objects, touch objects, interact with things, it's all part of learning,” said Erin McCoy, a Share Path Academy teacher. “In science, you can talk about certain things in classes, but when you come out here and you actually apply it to what they're doing and it's tactile for them, at this age, it's really important.”
The group – composed of McCoy, nine fifth-graders, a fourth-grader, a sixth-grader and a couple of parents – spent the day outdoors petting the donkeys, goats, chickens, rabbits and sheep and learning about the animals that live at Elkus Ranch.
“I think it's been a great opportunity for our children to be outdoors and to enjoy nature, to reconnect with the environment – animals, plants, just the outdoors,” said parent Christina Cabrera. “It's great for the children and the adults accompanying them.”
Inside the barn, Loof invited the students to sit on straw bales – not the hay bales, which are food for the livestock. She showed the students how wool that is sheared from sheep's coats is spun into yarn. First, they carded the wool. “You're going to card it like this. It's like brushing your hair, but it has a little resistance so it can be a workout,” Loof said, cautioning the students wearing shorts to be careful not to brush their skin with the sharp, wire teeth of the tool. “Get all the fibers nice and flat, lined up, going one way. Fibers are what we call all the strands of wool.”
After twisting the wool by hand into yarn, the students fashioned the natural-colored fuzzy strands into bracelets.
“We love Elkus,” said McCoy, whose son has attended summer camp at the ranch. “This place is awesome.”
Taking a break for lunch, the group walked down the dirt path from the barn past the livestock pens to wash their hands, then sat at primary-colored picnic tables to eat next to a garden.
After lunch, the students exercised their creativity with buckets of clay to mold into animals or roll out and cut with cookie cutters.
In the chicken coop, Loof, who is one of four community educators who work at Elkus Ranch, shared animal science facts such as, “Eggs are viable for two weeks after the hen sits on them in the nest.” She also told funny stories such as how Dora, the white bantam, escaped the coop and ate all the chard in the garden.
“I wish this was my school,” said one student as he held an egg-laying hen.
The visit ended with a garden tour and a game of hide and seek among the raised beds of onions, squash and other vegetables.
“Being outdoors is an important counterbalance to being on a computer,” said Cabrera, who is also a San Mateo High School wellness counselor. “It's a great addition to what we're doing. Just to be with animals.”
Elkus Ranch is still offering Adventure Days for children; the cost is $425 for 10 people. Small groups are also invited for 90-minute visits.
“If all goes well, we plan to offer a three-day mini-camp Monday through Wednesday of Thanksgiving week,” said Leslie Jensen, Elkus Ranch coordinator.
- Author: Ricardo Vela
For more than 200 youngsters in California, including 45 Latinos, the last weekend of January was a unique experience, full of physical activities and workshops that will help them build a successful future. Under the theme “Be a leader, Be a hero,” they participated in the 4-H Youth Summit carried out in several California counties. The event showcased the efforts of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources to increase the participation of young Latinos in its 4-H Youth Development Program.
“We are very excited that for the first time 45 Latino youths participated in the Youth Summit,” said Lupita Fabregas, 4-H assistant director for diversity and expansion.
The participating youths, ages 11 to 19, enjoyed hiking and other outdoor activities at the various 4-H camps. Among the camps were Mountain Center, located in the San Jacinto Mountains in Riverside County; YMCA Camp Jones Gulch in La Honda, located in the Santa Cruz mountains in San Mateo County; and Wonder Valley Ranch in Sanger, located in Sierra Nevada Mountains in Fresno County.
The adolescents had the opportunity to learn skills to help them develop their potential in addition to other topics of interest.
“Participants also had the opportunity to learn about engineering design process and the importance of bees to the environment,” said Claudia Diaz-Carrasco, 4-H advisor in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
The increase of Latino youth in these 4-H camps, is the result of an initiative that has been implemented within the last couple of years.
Seven California counties including Kern, Riverside, Merced, Monterey, Orange, Santa Barbara and Sonoma were selected to participate in a pilot model to increase the number of young Latinos participating in the 4-H program.
The model was designed to ensure that young people living in urban areas could receive the same benefits as those who have participated in 4-H since it was founded in 1902 in Ohio.
“The original goal was that young men and women learned leadership skills through interaction with farm animals and food conservation,” added Fabregas.
For the 21st century, 4-H has designed new methods for young people in rural communities, urban and suburban areas based on the same original principles – offering leadership skills to its participants.
"The 4-H participants learn about issues of global importance such as food security, climate change and sustainable energy. It also teaches them about other issues, such as childhood obesity, and basic finance," said Diaz-Carrasco, who has seen a considerable increase of Latino participants in the 4-H programs in the Inland Empire.
“It was hard, we had many challenges,” said Diaz-Carrasco, who works in a county that is 50 percent urban and its young population is almost 59 percent Latino. Lack of transportation, time and money were the biggest threats to the success of the pilot model.
In 2016, Diaz-Carrasco was selected to participate in UC ANR's Latino initiative, under the direction of Lupita Fabregas. The first step taken was to hire the first bilingual educator of the 4-H program and establish the first bilingual club in a community center in a heavily Latino populated part of the city of Riverside.
"These new models have had an impact on the program in the seven pilot counties," said Fabregas. Two years later, there are three bilingual clubs in the county.
The response from the Latino youth has exceeded expectations. In 2015, the California 4-H program worked with less than 1 percent of children in the state. By 2017, participation in the program grew 16 percent and the participation of Latino children increased 89 percent.
Parents of these young Latinos participating in the 4-H program are seeing positive changes in their kids. According to the parents, 4-H gives their kids an opportunity for social and personal interaction. “It enables young people to understand who they are and prepares them to choose what they are going to do with their life as adults,” said Sergio Sierra, whose children are participating in the 4-H program in Indio, California.
Studies have shown that young people participating in the 4-H program are 1.9 times more likely to get better grades in school and 2.1 times more likely to report being engaged in school activities.
California leads the country with more participants in the 4-H Latino Initiative than other states. In spite of the gains achieved, there is still more outreach to be done, Fabregas said.
As part of her job with the USDA, Joyce Hunter often attended meetings focused on using open data from the government to solve problems related to food and agriculture. But she noticed a distinct lack of women and young people at those open data meetings. Hunter was told there just weren't many who were interested.
“I thought to myself, well, they aren't looking in the right places,” said Hunter, an African American woman and former chief information officer at USDA. “Maybe we ought to encourage youth of different cultures and colors in order to ensure the pipeline is filled for the future. So I went to my CIO and asked her if it would be okay to set up an open data camp for youth, particularly underserved youth.”
By partnering with The Governance Lab at New York University and other agencies, Hunter organized summer camps for youth to experience science, technology, engineering, agriculture and math, or STEAM. This summer, she brought the STEAM camp concept to Sacramento. For two weeks in July, about two dozen high-school students went on field trips and engaged in STEAM-based activities as part of the California Open Data STEAM Summer Camp.
“One of the things I love about it is the kids are so curious and they're coming up with their own research questions, with their own challenges,” said Melanie Weir, a STEAM camp instructor. “They're asking questions about why agriculture is important to them. Why food is important to them.”
Adam Low, a sophomore at Franklin High School in Elk Grove, was one of the camp participants.
“I chose the water and drought group because as a Californian, we know California was most recently in a drought. And I wanted to see what this data camp could teach me about water and how it affects agriculture and other topics,” said Low.
“They're traveling all over,” Weir said. “They went to different places. They went to Russell Ranch, they saw the drones, they're really excited about it. They saw the UC Davis laboratory and the UC ANR researchers. They saw helicopters. They saw these big machines that have 35 cameras that do 3-D dimensional pictures of crops and what's out there. They also went to the Cannery and they loved hugging the chickens. They thought it was the greatest thing in the world.”
The California Open Data STEAM Summer Camp was made possible through a partnership between USDA, The Governance Lab and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Since adopting the stretch along Sausal Creek in Dimond Park in 2012, 20 4-H members ranging from 5 to 12 years old have been pulling out the invasive plants and replacing them with native plants.
“Friends of Sausal Creek provides us with all the plants and gives us guidance on what should go where,” said Genesta Zarehbin, the 4-H adult volunteer leading the project.
“We planted lots of native plants, such as strawberries, bee plant, ninebark, iris-leaf rush, wood rush, and thimbleberry, that look really cool — but it still gives the appearance of more ivy and spiderwort,” said Zarehbin, who lives in Oakland.
“They have field journals and do research to complete a plant page,” Zarehbin said. “The younger kids do observation -- how many leaves does it have? What color is it? How tall is it? It's a natural discussion when you're out there.”
After removing the invasive, nonnative plants, the 4-Hers had the opportunity to redesign the stretch of trail by choosing and planting natives. At monthly meetings held at the creek, the members regularly weed, water and mulch the plants and pick up trash.
“My kids really get into it,” said Zarehbin, whose children include 9- and 11-year-old sons and twin 6-year-old daughters. “They recognize cow parsnip and soaproot when we go out on hikes. In some areas they'll say, ‘This looks like people are taking care of it.' It gives them a sense of place and how humans shape the environment.”
“The first year, everything died,” said Zarehbin. “The second year, we supplemented the water, and we have a number of plants that survived.”
The creek project is educating the 4-H members, and the 4-H members, in turn, are educating park visitors about the vital work of protecting our natural resources.
“Since our work site is in a very visible location, our 4-H members have been able to enlist the assistance of community members and they frequently have the opportunity to share information with curious onlookers,” said the 4-H project leader.
Zarehbin appreciates the autonomy that Friends of Sausal Creek has allowed, something that enables the kids to develop a sense of ownership. “They let the kids control how they want things to look,” she explained. “The Friends of Sausal Creek are willing to work with young kids and let them work hands-on and contribute in a meaningful way.”
The organization often leads middle school and high school students on field trips, but 4-H is one the few long-term relationships they have with younger children.
Friends of Sausal Creek, which manages a 2600-acre watershed with two permanent full-time staff members, depends on the help of others to preserve and protect the creek.
Groups typically work on an adopted site a few times a year, whereas the 4-H members tend to their site at least once a month. At the last 4-H work day, 30 people participated, said Zarehbin.
“Their recurring workdays enable them to maintain the site – weeding around the native plants and watering them until they are established,” said McAfee. “Their work helps to increase the biodiversity in these urban wildlands.”
McAfee hopes the kids' enthusiasm for nurturing the natural environment will spread to other people in the community.
Every year the 4-H club hosts an Earth Day event for a local public school to share what they're learning with other kids their age. Last year, 90 students from Sequoia Elementary School participated, making nature-based crafts and pulling invasive plants to widen the trail. This year the 4-H members have invited Glenville Elementary to join them at Dimond Park on March 12 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
To learn more about participating in 4-H in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, contact May McMann, 4-H program representative at email@example.com or (925) 646-6543. To find a UC Cooperative Extension 4-H club near you, visit http://4h.ucanr.edu/Get_Involved/County.
For more than 100 years, the University of California Cooperative Extension researchers and educators have been drawing on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. UC Cooperative Extension is part of the University of California's systemwide Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Learn more at ucanr.edu.
Because studies show that the habits we start early in life often carry into adulthood, UC Cooperative Extension reaches out to teenagers to develop money-management skills with a program called Money Talks. After completing the UC Money Talks program, teens are more likely to find easy ways to save money.
One feature of Money Talks helps teens improve their eating habits at the same time they work on their financial health. “Hunger Attack!” teaches youth how to buy food and save money.
This curriculum was developed to address connections between poverty and childhood obesity, explained Katherine Soule, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for youth, families and communities in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
“When young people are hungry, they are likely to buy food from the most convenient location,” said Soule. “That could be a fast food restaurant or a vending machine, rather than buying nutritious food at a lower price at a grocery store.”
The Hunger Attack program suggests writing a list of the food items purchased and the price so teens can see how the expenses add up. They may reconsider whether they really need to buy an after-school snack.
“We designed Hunger Attack to provide the teens with consumer facts, as well as develop their decision-making and reasoning skills to make the best nutrition decisions for themselves while making good financial choices,” Soule said. “In other words, we're teaching teens to look for the best nutritional value for their food dollars.”
Money Talks provides money management techniques in magazine-style teen guides and an interactive website that features educational games and quizzes. The topics include money personality, easy ways to save money, shopping skills, car costs, developing skills for the workplace, buying snacks, savings accounts, checking accounts, e-banking, obtaining credit and credit cards.
Here's a sample quiz question:
The best time to go grocery shopping is when:
A. I'm really hungry.
B. I'm not hungry.
C. Everyone else is going
The answer is B. You're likely to buy more food when shopping on an empty stomach.
There is also a classroom curriculum for teachers, with leader's guides to accompany each of the teen guides. The leader's guides contain learning objectives; background information; discussion questions; activities with handouts, visuals, and links to the web site; a glossary of important terms; and additional resources. All of the materials are available in English and Spanish.
For more information, visit the Money Talks website at http://moneytalks4teens.ucanr.edu.