It is an old adage which Oakdale Joint Unified is becoming known for, ‘If you build it they will come.’
Oakdale Joint Unified School District recently wrapped up completion of several projects cited as priorities by its Facilities Committee. Now as they look ahead to the next three years, priorities varying in size and scope are being assessed. Perhaps one of the largest projects, with significant impact to the community will be the School Farm.
OJUSD School Board members recently took a field trip to Modesto Junior College for a visit and tour of their school farm. The tour was led by MJC Department Chair of the Agriculture Department and Oakdale High School alum John Mendes.
“He led us on this field trip,” District Superintendent Marc Malone said of Mendes. “He really talked about the opportunity that high school kids have coming into the MJC Ag program and the increased opportunities our kids will have as a result of the school farm.
“I wanted it to make sense to them,” Malone added of the planned field trip for the board.
The planned School Farm will be developed on 26 acres situated between the north side of Brady and Crane road. The land is owned free and clear by the district.
Malone shared the current plans are to develop the front 13 acres with a production crop of trees, the remaining 13 acres will be used for the School Farm hosting row crops, varying barns to hold livestock and an 80 ft. by 110 ft. ‘hoop barn.’
“We can raise animals out of this hoop barn,” he said of the space. “We can put temporary stalls in there and we can configure them however we want. So the 13 acres in the permanent crop, the road in and the hoop barn really is Phase 1.”
Before any of this can happen, a gravel road must be put in to access the land. Later this month OID will be laying a gravel road in conjunction with an irrigation pipeline project they had slated. The road will originate at the North Crane entrance and offer easier accessibility for the process to begin.
“We have accrued some developer fees and a big chunk of that will go to this,” the superintendent said, “as long as the board prioritizes it. I believe that they will.”
Malone shared the district hosts an Ag Advisory Committee and now a separate School Farm Committee will be an offshoot of that. Fundraising efforts, as well as partnering with local business, as well as Ag businesses will also help see the project through. He noted that once the 13 acres of orchard matures, profits from that will help fund the 13 acre School Farm. Overall he anticipates the project to take three years for completion.
“One of the key things that we need to make sure the community is aware ... this is a community project,” he said. “What this does, is this now allows kids that live over on Oak Street, that live on these other streets that would normally not be able to raise an animal or be exposed to agriculture. Now it’s being opened up to them.”
The land has been property of the district since 1998. It’s a parcel, Malone said, that is no longer needed to be preserved for a future school site.
“The district has other land which can serve that purpose if needed,” he said, noting that the addition of the School Farm is properly suited to the new State standards of ensuring students are College and Career ready upon graduation.
“They’re going to hold us accountable,” he said. “We’ve got to do something and in doing something this farm is a natural. In our area Ag is a gigantic industry.”
While it will be three years for total completion, Malone shared the completion of the gravel road will give the district the green light to begin Phase One, which will make parts of the farm available within the 2016 year.
“We’ve done the Environmental Impact Report,” he said. “Our Environmental Impact Report says that we can do this school farm as long as these activities are consistent with the current activities that are going on in the area. That’s why we’re able to do this.
“It’s not a matter of us impacting somebody and doing something different,” he continued, “that would really increase the traffic on Brady Road. It’s just really important for people to know, that we have done our environmental impact work and as long as we’re doing activities that are consistent with the area, we’re good to go with the School Farm.”