Learning About Agriculture at the City Farm
Students from the Pacific Beach Continuation High School during Farm Class at City Farm.
Agriculture is a large part of life on the Central Coast of California but may not be well known by most of the population. We see farm fields as we drive down our country roads but know little about life on the farm or how our food is raised. The educational program at City Farms aims to change that.
City Farm SLO is a 19-acre parcel of class-one irrigated farmland located along Highway 101 between the Madonna Shopping Center and Los Osos Valley Road. The property is owned by the City of San Luis Obispo and is managed by the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, City Farm SLO, under the terms of a 20-year lease with the City. Central Coast Grown subleases separate parcels of the City Farm property to four small independent organic farmers.
Farmers supply fresh organic produce to farmers’ markets, restaurants, the SLO Food Coop, SLO Veg and the San Luis Coastal Unified School District’s Food Services, which serves City Farm vegetables in school lunches.
Teresa Lees is an educator with the Farm and her passion is Eco Literacy and Eco Farming. Lees has conducted the Farm Class for the past four years. This is a program held for students at Pacific Beach Continuation High School. City Farm has partnered with San Luis Coastal Unified School District to provide at-risk students hands-on twice-weekly classes in planting, harvesting, and cooking crops.
A farm box program began in 2019 with students harvesting, washing, packaging, and marketing the vegetables they grew at the farm that went to 30 satisfied customers four times before classes had to be shut down due to COVID- 19. The farm is continuing the farm box program until the students can return and has shifted it to a CSA model whereby shares are prepaid to support future production.
Lees explained that in recent years they held a SLCUSD Prepare Program that was also on hold but now has been granted a special waiver for in-person classes and the first one was held in September for Therapeutic Horticulture. She will also be starting an after-school program on Fridays called Family Fun on the Farm.
Since the suspension of most classes, production on the one-sixth acre School Garden has increased. They have harvested a total of 2,361 pounds of trimmed organic vegetables and 681 pounds have been donated to the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, Food Bank, and Salvation Army. Retail sales through the Farm Box Program has resulted in 1,680 pounds of vegetables sold and wholesale to the school district’s food services, the Avila Valley Barn, and the SLO Food Coop.
Another offering at City Farm is the Global Family Farm and the Family Educational Garden. Here elementary students and their families can learn about worldwide food cultures and food cultivation methods. At City Farm they believe “we are all part of one family,” and they demonstrate with this program that brings people to the farm to participate in co-creating the “commons” of sharing global horticulture, permaculture, agriculture, and indigenous culture. They promote global unity and permaculture design principles by growing food crops from the four corners of the globe through regenerative agriculture techniques. With seasonal community farm celebrations and volunteer projects, the public can join these endeavors aimed at bringing indigenous food cultures into the lives of local families.
The striking bounty of this summer’s harvests shows that the farm’s experiment with improving soil health and sequestering carbon is now working. Rather than rototilling, disking, or digging, they have covered the heavy clay dirt with soaked cardboard and planted directly into a thick application of compost, allowing soil microbes to do their work undisturbed and enriched.
The farm’s no-till technique has been used successfully by tenants Katie iKard and Teresa Lees and is also advocated by Cal Poly professors of soil ecology, Charlotte DeCock and of agroecology, Nicolas Babin, who visited City Farm in July. It has been supported by an “Existing Activity Payment” just awarded by the National Resources Conservation Service thanks to assistance by Soil Conservationist Cheryl Zelus and her staff.
Despite the ravages of COVID-19, the school gardens and subtenant farms are burgeoning. The public is invited to visit and take home a bag of veggies. Sign-ups are done at the website for scheduling, small-group, socially distanced, face-covered one-hour walking tours. Group size is limited to six people. All attendees need to wear a face covering. Learn more and RSVP at cityfarmslo.org/events.
You can learn more on their website at www.cityfarmslo.org. You can also call 805-769-8344.