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Oakdale Ag Program Awarded $500,000 Grant
A sign of the times, as the Oakdale School Farm remains locked and unattended, with students not on site. During the shutdown due to the pandemic, the OHS Ag staff, as well as ag businesses, have worked to keep the projects at the farm moving. Teresa Hammond/The Leader

Things may look a lot different around the Oakdale High School campus for the 2020-21 school year, yet as different as they may seem some things must remain on task. Hence the work of the OHS Agriculture Staff as they work to not only maintain the program, but the learning centers as well.

Earlier in the school year, the department was awarded a grant exceeding $550,000, which will be funded over a three-year time frame. It’s a K-12 Strong Workforce Grant to aid with the transition from high school to community college, provided to build a partnership with Modesto Junior College to guide students via classes, experience, etc.

“We’ve had a lot more going on than just this grant,” Ag teacher Grace Tobias shared. “Sure the grant has been huge; the grant is going to be huge for us. Amidst distance learning our kids are still participating in things, even though they’re virtual, we still have kids achieving things. We’re still doing lots of stuff.”

Among the many things which have continued with the department was a successful wrap to the 2020 fair season, unprecedented with a virtual auction and now having students jump into a variety of new projects.

“We haven’t stopped,” Department Chair Isaac Robles shared. “A lot like athletics we’ve kept going on.”

Reflecting back to the fair, Robles shared the experience was the first true taste of how the program would need to transition during the time of uncertainty.

“I’ve worked harder at this time, whether it’s been in or out of the classroom, what we normally do has been tough,” Robles continued. “It hasn’t been perfect, it’s been tough.”

Among the “out of classroom” work the educators have had to maintain is at the Oakdale School Farm. According to Robles this year was to start the first active year of the Farm Management class, offering the students hands on experience.

“Where we have kids who would be attending the farm every single day, doing anything from weeding, to setting up pens, to managing the farm,” Robles said.

“If I wasn’t a farmer before, I am now,” he added, noting that while students have been able to go out and tend to some of the work solo (under the current guidelines) the remainder of the work falls to the staff.

Equally instrumental as the work continues, are the help and contributions of local farmers and ag businesses who continue to show their support to the OHS program. Earlier in the semester, Robles shared, the Osmundson family visited the farm and spread fertilizer to prep the ground and OID donated for an irrigation system.

The prep work will be instrumental for the success of the planting of a vineyard and trees later this winter.

“The biggest part of this first year will be getting the grape trellis system put in. Getting the grapes planted and getting trees planted,” Robles said, noting that both Burchell and Duarte nurseries have helped with the project as well.

Ag department staffers are working hard to keep the students engaged “virtually” and also enjoyed bringing them together earlier this school year for a ‘drive thru’ ice cream social.

“We had a line out the parking lot and that was neat,” Robles shared. “It’s been different, not ideal by far but we’re making the best of it we can.”

“I think some of the biggest things is even though things are virtual, when they’re interacting when it’s not school based,” fellow Ag teacher Matt Marshall said, noting group activities via Google Classroom. “So even though it’s on a device, when they’re doing FFA things that are social, but on-line at least they’re spending time on-line in more of a social way.”

In addition to the day in, day out operations of instructing the students, the team must also look to its future participation in the 2021 Stanislaus County Fair. An event which Fair organizers have indicated will include a livestock show, yet the OHS instructors are not yet sure what that will “look like.”

“We do have some tough decisions to make in the coming months,” Robles said. “Kids will start buying projects in February and March. We saw a tremendous amount of community support for last year’s fair, but with the economy going the way it is, we can’t count on that and we wouldn’t want to count on the community for that. We know, it’s tough times for everyone.”

Looking to the year at hand and the next couple of years to come that will see growth supported by the grant, Robles acknowledged the gratitude as well as a feeling of good fortune.

“We have to look down the road,” Robles said of the Ag team. “You know it’s amazing what we have to start with when it comes to the farm, to add a half a million dollars in improvements and augmentation, it’s really the next phase. This grant is putting the cherry on top of the sundae. It’s going to allow us to really envision what the district’s vision was for that farm.”