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Experiential Learning’s Impact on the Local Food System

"Can you ask the rancher if I can volunteer to take care of the animals?" a fifth grade student from Guerneville Elementary proposes of Gilardi Ranch in Bodega, where her class is visiting for the day. She and her classmates are part of the TEAM agricultural education program managed by the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District (RCD) with funding from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. Gold Ridge RCD has been taking elementary students to west county farms for the past three years, and demand for these field trips is soaring.

The TEAM program themes emphasize not only the significant role that natural resource stewardship and land preservation play in the sustainability of our local food system, but also the critical importance of investing in farmers themselves.

While one hundred percent of us require food to live, less than one percent of the US population claim farming as their full time occupation, and the average age of those few farmers hovers around fifty-eight*. As members of the TEAM, students are invited to consider how they are in relationship with the local environment and food produced in the communities where they live.

The TEAM program aims for experiential learning, and is designed to encourage as much sensory engagement for the students as possible. For instance, third graders who visit the Bianchi Dairy in Valley Ford are greeted by the smell of cows and vinegary silage; they touch the protruding bones and warm udder of an adult milking cow, and finally, taste the award winning cheese produced on the dairy. It's this tactile exploration of a working dairy that gets students excited about participating in local agriculture as a consumer, or even a potential producer.
The success of the TEAM field trip program is largely measured by qualitative feedback from the kids, so when a student asks "How old do I have to be to work here?" of the Bianchi Dairy, or declares that "No one can live without farms," we trust we're doing something right.

By Krista Lindley, Gold Ridge RCD


Krista Lindley is a member of the Sonoma County Food System Alliance and serves on the Ag and Natural Resources Pillar Team.