- Author: Saoimanu Sope
Before Brent Flory, 22, started bagging fruits and vegetables at his local Stater Bros. Market, he picked them at the University of California South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine.
In partnership with Saddleback Unified School District's Esperanza Education Center, an adult transition program that provides independent living and life skills training for students with disabilities, South Coast REC hosts students on its 200 acres of land and introduces them to careers in agriculture.
Flory recalls picking avocados as one of his favorite moments from the program at South Coast, one of nine RECs across California operated by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. “I picked a huge avocado and got to bring it home. It was the size of a medium pumpkin,” he shared.
Field work doesn't warrant business attire, but Flory said that working at South Coast REC taught him the importance of dressing appropriately for work. In this case, it meant pants, closed-toe shoes, a shirt with sleeves, and sunscreen or a hat if working in the sun.
While program managers hope that participating students would pursue a career in agriculture, South Coast REC is more concerned about providing opportunities for students to gain real work experience in a unique setting.
“This is the first time I have had the opportunity for my students to work at a job site in the agricultural field. We never really thought of the agricultural industry as an option for our students,” said Esperanza's education specialist, Michael Seyler.
Esperanza's partnership with South Coast REC began in October 2019. Since then, nine participants have been assigned to work at the research center where they help create seedlings, plant and harvest crops, and learn plant management.
Ray Bueche, Adult Transition Program coordinator and Career Start administrator at Esperanza, is proud of the creative energy it took to develop the program and unite partners, crediting Jason Suppes, South Coast REC's community education specialist. “Working with Jason and UC ANR has inspired me to continue to reach for unique partnerships in this field and elsewhere,” Bueche said.
Dylan Shelden, 19, another past participant, said that the program revealed how important it is for him to choose a career that makes him feel happy and independent. “You are responsible for yourself,” he said. “So, don't quit on the first try.”
Shelden currently works at Party City as a store organizer. Even though he prefers working indoors, Shelden described working with plants and being outdoors as refreshing. “Working in agriculture makes me feel good,” he said.
When asked what advice he would give incoming students, Shelden said: “Be kind, mindful, and thoughtful to others.”
“Things are constantly changing at the farm and follow seasonal patterns. Students get to work with different types of produce depending on the season. So many of my students only thought about jobs in retail or food services industries,” said Seyler. “This has opened their eyes to other possibilities.”
The soft skills learned while working at South Coast REC has helped other students secure paid competitive employment during or following the program. It has also inspired program staff like Bueche and Seyler to consider other unique opportunities for their students to connect the skills they have learned on the farm to other types of jobs.
To learn more about the Adult Transition Program at Esperanza Education Center, visit: https://www.svusd.org/schools/alternative-schools/esperanza/about/why-esperanza
Our hearts are with the victims and what we can do to help.
But we briefly stepped out in the backyard yesterday (Oct. 10) in Vacaville to see a sun and sky we did not recognize. Nearby, the brightly colored orange Gulf Fritillary butterlifes (Agraulis vanillae) continued their life cycle on the passionflower vine (Passiflora), their host plant. So unreal to see:
- An egg on the tendrils.
- A caterpillar munching leaves.
- A newly eclosed Gulf Fritillary clinging to its pupal case.
- An adult spreading its wings in the eerie light, ready to start the process all over again.
Mother Nature is not kind. Neither is Father Time./span>
They didn't get the memo.
Summer is over. Fall is underway. Winter is coming (Dec. 21).
But the Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) are still laying eggs on the passionflower vine here in Vacaville, Calif. The eggs are hatching. The caterpillars are eating. The 'cats are pupating. And the adults are eclosing from the chrysalids.
And then the cycle of life begins all over again: from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult.
Actually, we've seen Gulf Frits here year around--even photographed them laying eggs on Christmas Day. Gulf Frits don't go through diapause here. They mate year around.
Of course, the survival rate is low. An estimated 95 percent of all butterflies don't make it from egg to adult, scientists say.
We've seen why. Spiders, praying mantids, yellowjackets, European paper wasps, birds, diseases, and such parasitoids as tachinid flies and wasps that lay their eggs in the caterpillars or bore into the chrysalids.
If you look closely, you can sometimes see the parasitoid evidence (hole), such as the one below. Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology and an expert on butterflies, says that judging by the size of this hole, it was a large parasitoid--probably a big tachinid fly or an ichneumonid (wasp).
Just part of the cycle of life...
If you look closely, you'll not only see the cycle of life in your garden, but art as the center of life.
Take the Gulf Fritillaries. They're a stunning orangish-reddish butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) with silver-spangled underwings. It's a delight seeing them laying eggs on their host plant, Passiflora (passionflower vine), watching an egg develop into caterpillar, a caterpillar form a chrysalis, and an adult eclosing.
If the light is just right, the tiny yellow egg, about the size of a period at the end of this sentence, glows. Then see,,,
- A caterpillar inching along on a passionflower vine
- An empty chrysalis or pupal case hanging like a broken chandelier.
- A male and female becoming one
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, says this is a good year for Guld Frits. He has studied the butterflies of central California for more than four decades. Check out his research website, Art's Butterfly World.
Shapiro says the Gulf Fritillary is a long-time resident of California. It was first documented in Southern California in 1870s. "It first appeared in the vicinity of San Diego in the 1870s,” he says. “It spread through Southern California in urban settings and was first recorded in the Bay Area about 1908. It became a persistent breeding resident in the East and South Bay in the 1950s and has been there since.”
Shapiro says it “apparently bred in the Sacramento area and possibly in Davis in the 1960s, becoming extinct in the early 1970s, then recolonizing again throughout the area since 2000.”
Thank goodness for Gulf Frits!
For a couple of months now, we've been watching the monarch caterpillars slowly disappearing from our milkweed plants. We'd see fifth instar 'cats one day, and the next day, they'd be gone. Then we'd see the Western scrub jays flying through the yard and landing near the plants. Culprits!
Okay, we thought, we'll get some bird netting to circle the milkweeds. The net kept the birds out but not the 'cats. They crawled out of the bird netting right into the beaks of the birds.
Okay, we thought, how about some tulle or wedding veil-type fabric or those zippered hampers to pop over the plants? Those worked better. Not as many escapees.
But what really worked was bringing the caterpillars into the house and placing them into the butterfly habitat containers (from the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis). Daily we'd feed the 'cats bouquets of fresh milkweed tucked into a narrow-throated, flat/wide-bottomed bottle. I think that in its other life, it was a tequila bottle. It went from borrowed tequila bottle to butterfly bottle.
The first one to eclose was a male. The second one, a female. Releasing them was pure joy.
Then today, two more eclosures. First, a male. Then a female. As soon as their wings dried, we released them. The male fluttered rather clumsily (okay, it was his first flight). The female preferred to soak up some sunshine as she clung tightly to a butterfly bush.
If we hadn't brought the caterpillars into the house, would they have reached the adult stage? Probably not. Scientists say that only 10 percent make it from egg to adult in the wild.
Watching the transformation from egg, to caterpillar, to a gold-studded jade-green jewel (chrysalis) to an adult is just plain exhilaration and jubilation. Such bliss. No wonder monarch conservations are addicted. It's like watching the miracle of life unfold.
Hollywood actors and actresses who deliver their acceptance speeches at the Academy Award ceremonies have nothing on us.
We Monarch Moms and Dads can deliver A-'Cat-emy Award presentations, too. (Of course, we have butterflies in our stomachs because we're not used to being on stage.)
"First we'd like to thank the nursery for providing these narrow-leafed milkweeds. Then we'd like to thank the Good Earth for providing such a healthy environment to allow the growth of these plants. Then we'd like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Monarch for..um...getting together, and Mrs. Monarch for kindly laying her eggs on these plants. Mrs. Monarch, that was really very nice of you! Thank you so much!"
"And finally, we are here to tell you that change is good. It can transform you. You say you don't believe that a leaf-munching caterpillar can become a glorious butterfly? Let us tell you what the word, metamorphosis, means to us. Met-a-more-for-us. More for us. More for the world. (Applause, standing ovation) Thank you, thank you! Monarchs rule!"