Nearly completed site preparation work at College of the Redwoods Del Norte Campus is designed to pave the way for future agricultural programs and a working food forest.
Youth Training Academy students are reaching the end of a project, working to get a 1.5 acre site north of the campus ready to become a food forest and classroom.
YTA Instructor and site manager Ben Zumeta and the Youth Training Academy have been working on the site and installing pipes and irrigation in the 1.5-acre site, owned by College of the Redwoods.
“We’re in year three of the four-year project, and we’ll be wrapping the project up next September,” Brittany Rymer said. “The college is introducing their first agriculture class, which is plant propagation and production.”
Erika Partee explained the food forest site came about through a grant from the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, called Shvm (hii) Mvlh Ghee-saa-ghit-na’ which, translated, means good food makes us all healthy. She said it’s a four-year U.S. Department of Agriculture food grant designed to increase healthy food access in rural communities in Del Norte and on tribal lands. Its other purpose is to increase the self-sufficiency of those people.
“It’s operated in partnership with the Community Food Council of Del Norte Tribal Lands,” she said. “This is one of four food forest sites. We have another in Smith River, another down in Klamath and one up in Weitchpec.”
Rymer said mini grants are provided to all Del Norte Schools applying through the four-year course of the project and a public education initiative provides for free gardening workshops and agricultural education.
She said the food forest will be built up by the Tolowa Dee-ni’ and Food Council over the grant period and will be handed off to CR to reinstate and agricultural education program.
Adjunct faculty member Kathy Horgan will be teaching plant propagation inside a recently-constructed hoophouse on the site.
Horgan said that along with the textbook and hands-on propagation curriculum, she would like to educate students on local agricultural issues. Class starts Aug. 18.
See the forest
Zumeta explained the site is mostly hardscape, with a great deal of runoff water flowing over it every year. However, he said, with a little work food bearing trees can thrive.
“Trees grow very well if you just provide them the things they need to grow,” said Zumeta, noting that local trees will have different needs than those in southern California. “We have plenty of water and an immense amount of resources that most people want to set on fire, like brush piles and organic matter, which is really what’s lacking most.”
Zumeta’s philosophy of “soil instead of smoke” means it’s better to use woody debris to bury in soil or use for raised beds.
“Once the site is more mature, it will be producing food as part of the agriculture program and also fresh produce for the community, said Partee “We’re going to be planting a lot of fruit trees, apples, pears, plums, varieties that do well on the coast. Also a lot of perennial shrubs, things like pineapple guava vines, kiwis … and we will also have an annual component on all of these garden beds where we will be growing annual crops as well.”
Zumeta said in the polyculture garden they will be growing as many varieties as possible by “stacking” elements, or using trees as trellises for other plants.
“You strategize so that your trees are being benefited by the things you are growing underneath them,” he said. Zumeta noted that when the irrigation was dug on the site, the trench was refilled with woody debris, a drain pipe, to facilitate water absorption and nutrient release into the soil, turning it into a more forest-like environment.
He said the class will highlight and solve challenges of growing food in this area, where one often has too much water and compacted soil.
“It could have a much bigger impact than just the food we produce here,” he said. “It could be helping people ‘learn to fish.’”
Future use, classes
Trees will be planted on the site this winter. Youth Training Academy students Ellen Durkee and Alex Ritter said they are pleased with their experience on the project and would do it again.
The vision for the site is that it will become an outdoor learning environment for the college. Rymer said the county currently does not have a venue for more advanced agriculture education. Rymer said the hoophouse was constructed specifically for the propagation class, along with an outdoor classroom space on the site.
“There are a lot of ways the community can be involved in this site,” she said. “One of them is to take the propagation class, and then we have Fourth Friday volunteers every month throughout the dry season.” She said people of all ages and abilities can find something to do, from basic weeding to more heavy lifting tasks.
She said the current five-week Youth Training Academy is wrapping up for the year, but another will be available next summer.
Partee said the site will also be open to tour and host school field trips. Contact Partee at 707-954-9167 or Rymer at 816-536-7688 or Connor Caldwell at 707-464-0955 for more information.
Rymer said four scholarships are available that cover all fees and books for the course.
For information about propagation scholarships, go to https://www.dnatlfood.com/ag-education-scholarships.html class="Apple-converted-space">