As tractors scraped down the ground Tuesday morning, Thoming could envision fruit trees, grapevines and row crops on what will become a farm run by students from New Jerusalem and Delta Charter schools.
“I could kick myself for not thinking about doing this sooner,” Thoming said. “We live in one of the best agriculture areas in the world. People are losing touch with where the food is coming from.”
Plans for the farm started about three years ago, Thoming said. Incorporating agriculture into the curriculum was an easy choice at a campus whose neighbors include almond orchards, tomato fields and rows of bean crops.
On June 2, tractors and graders began working two acres of land next to the New Jerusalem and Delta Charter schools at 31400 S. Koster Road. The farm will share the space with 12 new classrooms for Delta Charter School’s elementary and middle-grade students. The Delta K-8 Home School and Delta Online School, previously housed on Grant Line Road, are moving to the Koster Road campus, too.
Roughly one acre, nestled between the new classrooms and existing almond orchards, will provide room for 200 cage-free laying hens, a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse and raised row gardens. A section will also be set aside for grapevines and fruit and nut trees, which are being donated by Duarte Nursery in Ceres.
Thoming said students in all grades would have an opportunity to work and study on the farm and teachers receive training from the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom to prepare hands-on projects using math and science skills.
“We want our teaching to revolve around ag,” Thoming said. “There are so many opportunities for kids to learn and experiment in this.”
Thoming hopes to open a stand to sell fresh eggs, fruits and vegetables, vinegar and plants from the garden.
“The prime time is when kids aren’t here, so we are going to do a lot of winter crops,” Thoming said. “Our plan is to plant ornamentals and vegetables and have our own salad bar where we are using our own produce.”
New Jerusalem Elementary School Principal Don Patzer said that students at his school, from kindergarten through eighth grade, would help with age-appropriate chores on the farm, from weeding to planting.
“It’s very exciting, the idea of incorporating a school farm where kids can see where the food comes from and all the work, effort and care it takes,” Patzer said.
The new classrooms are expected to be ready when school begins Aug. 13, and the farm will gradually take shape as trees and crops are planted. Thoming said the greenhouse and poultry unit would be completed before the winter break.
Thoming said the farm could ultimately give students throughout the region a taste of farm life.
“Our goal in developing this is schools that don’t have a farm can take field trips to the site,” Thoming said. “We want them to see from seed to store what’s involved. There is a huge disconnect.”
One of the first steps was renewing the New Jerusalem 4-H Club chapter, which had lapsed. Members of the re-established chapter will use the farm for some of their projects.
Long-term plans include a landscaping project in which Delta Charter High School students would take skills learned at the farm into the community to help low-income families keep up their yards.
Watching the tractors preparing the ground Tuesday, Patzer said that tying agriculture into New Jerusalem classrooms was a smart move.
“It makes sense — we are in the middle of the greatest ag land. If we were a school on Wall Street, we would be studying finance,” Patzer said.
Thoming said the farm should be up and running in six months.
• Contact Glenn Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or 830-4252.