A sentiment which was once affiliated with the Oakdale High School Corral may have found a new home. As the Corral was once dubbed, “the field of dreams,” OHS Ag Instructor Isaac Robles has similar thoughts on the Oakdale School Farm.
“That whole build it, they will come,” Robles quoted from the popular Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams. “They’re here and they’re not going away.”
The “they’re” the instructor speaks of is a Future Farmers of America program which hosts 500-plus OHS students. With even more students up and coming through local 4-H groups, the Oakdale School Farm on the northwest side of Oakdale has quickly grown.
The once vacant 26 acres of land continues to expand to help support as well as grow Oakdale High School’s agriculture and farming programs. The most recent addition has been the build out and completion of a goat and sheep barn.
“This barn was really, really nice. We put a lot of resources and time and energy into making this barn as nice as it is,” Robles shared of the existing pig barn in contrast to the one which needed growth and improvement.
“It got pretty tough to have anything in there in times like this,” Robles shared of rough winters and stormy conditions.
Rather than approach the school district with yet another project, the Ag team resourced and received a grant to the tune of close to $700,000 in late 2019. According to Robles, the grant was awarded to fund the animal science pathway. That’s an area which the OHS Ag department will expand to in the 2023-24 school year. Animal Science will be offered to juniors and seniors as a UC approved third year science course.
“This was more a department driven plan. It wasn’t something the district foresaw a need for,” Robles said of the goat barn enclosure, as well as the 50x70 addition to the steel building. He added that the success of the program resulted in the previous space being quickly outgrown.
“We knew that the district had already put so much into this property, we thought okay, we need to do our part,” he shared.
Robles further noted, while goats and sheep are more weather tolerant than pigs, creating a more enclosed space was conducive to adding warmth as well as managing drafts for the livestock as well as the students.
“When there was no wall half the barn was soaking wet. Now we can adjust the temperature a little bit better,” he explained.
Continuing to stay connected to the students, the growing program and the needs, the expansion also hosts an open covered area which will be used for the addition of cattle to the farm.
“We had kids with interest,” he said of the plan to add cattle. “Every now and again you get kids with pigs and sheep who keep them at their home, but cattle is really hard.
“Luckily we have an expert on staff,” he continued. “Mr. Hartzell is a cattle rancher himself. He’s done it all his life.”
According to Robles, the Ag team had conferred on if they felt as if all the students’ needs were being met. Recognizing both the interest in cattle beyond judging, as well as the staff expertise, the team felt it necessary to make the addition part of the plan.
“He just does an amazing job with it,” Robles said of Hartzell educating the students in the area of cattle. “This will just give our kids that many more options.”
Yet even with the success of the addition, challenges were still encountered. Awarded at the start of the pandemic, the $700,000 in grant funds don’t stretch nearly as far as they were projected to three years ago.
“Costs have gone up significantly. Barn was almost double what had been budgeted by the time the project was able to be put into action,” Robles reported, sharing that as a result they were only able to do about half of what they had planned three years ago.
“So now we’re going to go find some more money and we’re going to get right back on it again,” he stated.
The Ag teacher openly shared gratitude to the district for continued support with every “ask” or project put before them in the development of the Oakdale School Farm.
“When you hear people say it all goes to sports, that’s just not true,” he said. “We have been supported continuously, at times given more than I would even think to ask for. This district supports this program wholeheartedly.”
And as the saying goes, the ‘proof is in the pudding’ on the 26 acres of developed land.
“We have other schools call and want to come see it,” Robles shared of the pig barn and the school farm. “Once this is done, people are really going to be impressed with what we’re doing. You don’t see anything like this in California. You might see it in Texas but not in California.”