Although it's been over 20 years, I still vividly remember some of the things I learned. I remember learning about using legumes to replenish soils because they can provide nitrogen fixation depleted through farming. I learned how worms can positively be used in sustainable agriculture. I also met several barn owls that Craig (McNamara) showed us from the little owl houses he had built. He explained how they are used for pest control for on his walnut farm. He even let us ride on and operate (to some extent) the machinery that was used to shake the walnut trees during harvest time. I remember how I thought it was so interesting that the "arms" have padding, like those used in gymnastics or wrestling, to protect the trees' bark from damage by the metal arms. And of course, we got to ride and "operate" a tractor.
In between our visits to the McNamara Farm (Sierra Orchards), we did experiments at school with soils and learned about the chemistry and biology behind various ag-related science experiments. We also did experiments on the farm with worms and soils to make connections between the science of agriculture and the practice of farming. At the end of the program year, FARMS students were even invited with our teachers as chaperones, to spend one night at the McNamara's home. During our stay we got to meet their children and to see what life is like for a farm family. It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget. The McNamara's are among the nicest, most down-to-earth and unassuming people I have ever met. And though they're very successful in farming, they were not only concerned about the economics of their agriculture business, but they also took the time to educate FARMS Leadership students despite their already busy schedules.
From the start it was clear that they were forward-thinking environmentalists who cared so much about the land and the whole eco-system. It was passionately communicated to us as students that sustainable farming and environmentally responsible agriculture are very important for several reasons. We owe it to the land we harvest our food from and to our children who will inherit our State, to take care of our planet, starting from our own backyard and our local farms. We were always encouraged to educate ourselves about how to live sustainably whether or not we end up going into a career in agriculture.
Even though I did not end up with a career in science, the FARMS Leadership program made a huge impact on me. It solidified my determination to be the first college graduate in my family. It made research applicable to real life for me. I realized that research in academia is not an abstract endeavor, but practical and useful for everyone in their everyday life. I went on to graduate school at Sac State and obtained a Master's degree from UC Davis. Programs for high school students, such as FARMS Leadership, are especially important to first-generation college students and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The experiences are pivotal in their education journey.
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