To enrich the community’s connection to fresh, locally grown foods, the Colusa County Office of Education has been expanding their Farm to School program for the last two years.
“The whole point of the program is connecting students to local agriculture and the show them where their food supplies come from,” said Craig Richards, Farm to School teacher.
According to Richards, the program was started after CCOE received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service targeted specifically for getting things up and running.
Among just four districts within the state to receive funding, CCOE received the $45,000 planning grant to develop a comprehensive plan to incorporate locally grown foods into students meals, both at school and at home.
Lorilee Niesen, director of Educational Services for the Colusa County Office of Education, was tasked with setting up the program when she started her position with CCOE in 2018.
According to Niesen, the project was divided into four phases that are all located outside of the Education Village campus in Williams, the first of which is a green house where seedlings are grown and cared for by the students at the community school located on-site.
Phase two of the project features a raised bed garden for leafy greens and vegetables, all planted and cared for by students as well.
“The students built the raised beds,” said Richards. “The entire garden layout was designed by them.”
Neisen said all of the crops that are harvested from the raised bed garden go right into the on-site cafeteria to be incorporated into the school’s daily meals.
CCOE is now accepting applications for phase three of the project: community garden plots. Freshly prepped by Alsco-Geyer Irrigation and Francis and Stacey Hickel Farms, the nearly two acre plot of land has been divided into five garden areas to be used by the community.
Richards said the hope is to have local Future Farmers of America and 4-H groups use the land, as well as community members.
Applications for garden plots are will be accepted until May 15 and can be found at www.ccoe.ss9.sharpschool.com/cms/one.aspx?portalId=675832&pageId=36016515.
The fourth stage of the project is a laboratory pathway of native grasses, shrubs and trees that can be used as a science classroom by both students within the district as well as the community.
“The goal of this area is to connect native plants to modern times,” said Richards.
Niesen said the next stage of the project is to apply for an implementation grant, which allows CCOE to continue developing the project, including adding signage and benches along the native plant trail and walking path located near the raised garden beds in phase two.
“We want it to be an educational resource,” said Neisen. “And it is available to anyone that would like to enjoy it.”