Hands-On Exploration of the Food Chain in Sonoma, CA

Our middle school students traveled to Sonoma Broadway Farms to learn what farm-to-table really means.

“So far, I’d enjoyed the beauty of this organic food chain. I’d watched as the sun fed the grass, the grass fed the cattle, and the cattle fed the chickens. There was one more link in that food chain. However. That last link was when the chicken fed us.”

-Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

During our field study to Sonoma, CA we kept asking our students the question, “what separates man from animals?” The students discerned that we humans have the unique capability of altering our environment to meet our needs.

Throughout this Learning Expedition we’ve investigated how we have innovated agricultural technology and the impacts of those innovations on natural ecosystems. We’ve experienced what goes into designing and running a permaculture farm, how we restore ecosystems damaged by farming and reduce the effects of satiating our hunger for innovation by learning from nature’s closed loop model.

The learning targets for this field study included:

  • I can describe how humans alter their environment to meet their needs.
  • I can compare and contrast permaculture, natural ecosystems and industrial agriculture.
  • I can exemplify gratitude and respect for the food we eat while working on the farm.
  • I can show responsibility by making sure work is divided equitably on a group task.

Did we acheive those targets? Below is a glimpse into the experience from the student perspective that tells us we did. We asked the students to provide titles and captions for these photos to create their own personal narratives.

First Stop Safeway!

We were both finding where the produce came from. We noticed that most of the produce was grown in America, some of it was grown in Mexico. We also realized that Whole Foods was fresher and more organized than Safeway. Whole Foods was also more expensive! The prices were higher because it had higher quality food than Safeway. I really enjoyed learning about where all of the food came from, then getting to see it in action on a real farm. I learned that stores only take the perfect fresh grown items, this creates a lot of waste.

I’m a Goat

I’m not a big veggie guy but no this trip i tried a lot of things I did not like before. In this i was taking a bite of a cabbage plant like a goat It was probably one of the times I smiled, the cabbage tasted ok at first then it tasted bitter at the after taste. I was having a lot of fun on the first day and this was probably the first times i’ve been on a farm and it was a good experience for my first time at a farm. The pumpkin in this photo is named Philpay and he was on my porch on halloween. When i took a bite of the plant it was very interesting as in I had a realization that I bit a plant, and they can be eaten. That is crazy that we can eat plants!

Cycle of Life

In this photo, there was, well, as you can tell, a plant. The fungus growing in the dirt with the roots, and the worm squirming around in the dirt, all help the plant continue to grow at an empowered rate. At the same time, the plant can assist the worm’s and fungus’s growth rate as well. Now, since we ripped this weed out of the ground, it won’t be growing anymore. This can be related to our learning target because this is one of the ways that plants can grow without the assistance of industrial ecosystems. In these industrial ecosystems, the plants will grow without many bugs or fungus helping them, then only the best plants will go to our stores. Now with the natural ecosystems, the plants will grow with assistance from other sources, then will be eaten, even if they aren’t the best of the plants.

What it’s Like to be a Farmer!

What it’s like to be a farmer! Our crew received the opportunity to work on a beautiful fresh farm. We split up into groups, some went to make a rock path, others pulled weeds, and the rest took away a growing section to compost because it was dying. First I worked on compost, it was very enjoyable, but at the same time very challenging. We ripped apart all the hay, soil, and greens. I learned that you have to have a fifty fifty ratio of greens and browns. Ripping it apart and throwing the compost into the wheelbarrow was fun, but transporting it across part of the farm was challenging. It required some strength and perseverance. As you can see in the picture I also helped pull weeds that were surrounding the onion. As the process continued I became better and better, but it was probably one of the most demanding parts of the farm. I did not get to completely finish, but when I looked over at the two farmers they did it perfectly, I could not believe my eyes. It’s probably because they had way more experience than we did, but it was still really cool to try.

The Lori and Lara Tree of Death

As you can see this is an tree, it’s not just an ordinary tree on the bottom branch of the tree is where we hung the chickens to prepare the chickens for eating. We never think about the process when we are in the store we just buy a chicken. I always thought they let the chicken die of old age then take them to eat them. But they have to take them when they’re young. The process of the chicken getting killed very sad because you have to slit the throat and it makes me sad that we had to take their lives. And they sacrificed their lives for us, to keep us alive. They could have had little eggs to take care of and have chicks. This experience makes me want to be a vegetarian because if we don’t eat meat they won’t make money off meat and stop killing animals. Also we had to work as a team and divide and conquer the task at hand which was killing the chicken.

Cleaning the Vegetables

This picture represents many things. For me, it represents teamwork , cleaning harvest, and peace. In this picture, Sofia and I are cleaning squash, kale carrots, cucumber, tomatoes The reason why we are cleaning these vegetables is because we will eat them. The tomatoes were used for salsa. And the other things were used to cook or for other things. You might think that cleaning vegetables were boring will it actually was very fun since we about 1000 vegetables. It was very fun.

Blood, Sweat, Determination, Dirt and Time

This picture is of the the blood, sweat, determination, dirt and time that goes into growing picking and preparing a delicious meal that we worked hard for several hours. I am relating this picture to the learning target “I can exemplify gratitude and respect for the food we eat while working on the farm.” Right after this photo was taken we thanked all of the animals for their sacrifices and we thanked the farmers that had planted and taken care of all of the food until we picked it and prepared it along with the help of Chef Jacob. Also we all worked very hard and were thankful to be able to sit down and enjoy a well worked for and deliciously prepared meal of assorted vegetables and chicken. We were sitting around this big table where all of us could talk and share stories from the day and bond together as a crew. this was some of our first time having a complete meal of fresh and organic food, plus it was one of the most delicious meals I have had in awhile. I reach across the huge cedar table to get the farm fresh kale salad that we had made earlier that evening. My fork digs into the salad and grabs out a huge chunk of kale, carrots, cucumber, and lettuce. I quickly scrape it onto my plate and start to eat. The food has so much flavor and color, in the matter of the fact the whole table had beautiful colors scattered all over. Everything on the table we had picked and harvested that day. Earlier that day I decided to harvest the chicken, it was really hard for me but I realized that it is just part of life and death. I learned I very important lesson that day is that when you go to the grocery store you don´t think of the process of killing a chicken. I am very glad I stayed to see this because it makes me have more gratitude for the animals that give up their lives to feed us.

A Long Two Days of Hard Farm Work

After a long two days of hard farm work we took a picture in front of the barn of where we first meet Preston also known as the farmer. From the time we got out of the vehicles to the time we left the next day. we were eating farm fresh food and working non stop with only short brief breaks. Which included moving compost to the compost pile pulling weeds from the garden and gathering our food for the day.


Pepperwood Preserve Salamanders

“Not another one!” A mob of middle schoolers were crowded around Celest, our guide on the Pepperwood Preserve. We were on our way with rakes and McLeods to create a fire line around the forest that they were going to do a prescribed burn on. We were constantly stopping to check out salamanders. As we got there, Celeste, our guide was explaining about four of the different types of salamanders; the Red Bellied newt, the California Newt, the California Slender Salamander, and the Arboreal. I pushed my way up to the front to take a closer look at the amphibian. It was rough skinned and very slippery looking and I knew this one to be a California Newt. I knew that salamanders were poisonous if you put them in your mouth, but not to the touch. Still, they showed off their toxicity with the bright colors on their bellies. “Can I hold one?” I asked Celeste, and she nodded her head. I gently scooped it up onto my palm and took a closer look at it. “Amazing!”

Shopping at Whole Foods and Memory Lane!

I stand outside Whole Foods in a circle with my crew. I am listening while getting lost in old memories I’ve almost forgot. We are in Sonoma and some of us are going shopping for our next place. A few others and I are taking the location, price, and if they are organic or not. I slowly walk down memory lane as I look around the little shopping mall. I used to go to when we were visiting my great grandma. Now we don’t have time to go as often as we did because of sports and school. When we walked into the store I reluctantly headed over to the vegetable section. Trust me, finding the vegetables location, price, and if they are organic or not is a lot more fun than it sounds. I stay, intensely taking all those vegetables down to my science notebook. Apparently we were only supposed to do fifteen, but I was so excited in being in Sonoma near my great grandma I accidentally did a list of 70. Oops!! That was a very memorable experience because I was near a place I used to go all the time, and I had a whole bunch of fun there. I took a walk down memory lane.

UC Davis Biodigester

The bio digester! On our way back from the amazing field study we stopped at the bio digester. First everything goes in the dodo, then the separator. The separator separates the plastics from everything, the rest we can recycle. It takes almost all of our waste, but unfortunately not the plastic. Because there is too much plastic in the fertilizer they can not yet sell it. Our guide told us that they were still trying to find new technology to stop the problem of too much plastic going to landfill. It would be such a great impact on the earth if we can accomplish the goal of zero non biodegradable waste.

When We’re Ready for a Goodbye

Oh, we will travel far and wide

We go from the farm to the wild

And nothing, oh nothing, could ever quite make me appreciate a place to call home

Because when the rain is all pouring down,

I will always want that familiar place to roam

Those old roots in my town

Something that is my own unique specialty

When you have made the trip from beds to the harsh reality

And must busy yourself with shaking the rainwater from the tarp you slept on that night

There is nothing better than being ready

Oh, because when we’re ready for a goodbye

I have finally seen the light