Califonia Bountiful

Sharing the bounty of the county

November/December 2021 California Bountiful magazine

Young farmers and ranchers create multiple ways to benefit the community

Kern County Young Farmers & Ranchers gather at their annual charity farmers market. This year's proceeds are being used to enhance a garden at a Bakersfield middle school. Photo: © 2021 Henry Barrios

Helping one another is what community and leadership are all about. This is the motivation for a charity farmers market led by a group of young farmers and ranchers from Kern County who, this year, used the proceeds to enhance a garden at a Bakersfield middle school.

"The goal has always been to get produce donated from local growers and distribute it to the public in exchange for donations," said Lindsey Mebane, chair of the California Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers state committee, a leadership and agricultural advocacy program for those ages 18 to 35. "This year, we partnered with Norris Middle School. We wanted to build their biggest wish-list item—a shed for storing all of their garden tools and equipment."

Shopper Angelica Contreras, left, chats with Lindsey Mebane, California YF&R committee chair. Photo: © 2021 Henry Barrios

Generous with time, resources

The Kern County YF&R charity farmers market, an annual event since 2015, involves much planning and many volunteers, farmers and community members to make it happen.

"We're in an area that is very productive, and farmers are very gracious to share that bountiful harvest with us," said Allie Cushnyr, chair of Kern County YF&R. "The event is great because it teaches kids where their food comes from. Food doesn't come from the grocery store shelves at their local supermarket; it comes from farmers, the soil, nutrients, sun and water."

Shoppers at the market select from locally grown foods such as almonds, pistachios, grapes, potatoes, carrots, onions, broccoli, kale, squash, honey and more, sourced directly from farmers and gathered by the young farmers and ranchers. Whatever is left is donated to the food bank.

Juanita Webb arrived early to shop at the market, where choices ranged from fresh fruits and vegetables to honey and nuts. Photo: © 2021 Henry Barrios

Since the event's inception, Kern County YF&R has donated thousands of pounds of produce to the community and, in the process, raised money to benefit schools, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County and homeless people.

"It is really fun to share with the public and educate them about where their food comes from and how it is grown," said Mebane, food safety manager for potato grower and shipper Tasteful Selections. "The company I work for donates to the farmers market, so it is really nice to explain to people how the potatoes are grown and share my favorite potato recipes."

Norris Middle School students and teacher Rebecca Been, second from right, harvest from the school garden. Photo: © 2021 Henry Barrios

Helping the garden grow

After this year's event, which was held in July, the young farmers and ranchers began working with Norris Middle School on building the garden shed and more. The school's leadership teacher and district librarian Rebecca Been is the advisor for SLED (Students Leading Education) and oversees the school garden. She said the students, teachers and staff are excited about the improvements and many possibilities to expand the garden's reach.

"The young farmers and ranchers are going to put in a shed and fruit trees with irrigation, so we're excited," Been said. "Having a shed will make our work easier and adding fruit trees will really increase our ability to share more produce with students and staff. Oranges or other fruit, for example, would be very easy for us to incorporate into our cafeteria."

Hayden Hernandez, an eighth grader at the school, said, "The garden is a place where you can learn about plants and growing food, but it is more than that. We learned how to make a plan and create a new area in our school that everyone can use."

Eighth grader Maddy Campbell said she enjoys watching what she plants turn into flowers and food.

"I think it is really important that I am learning how to plant and grow my own fruits and vegetables," she said. "This is something that I can use now and later."

As part of the school's leadership curriculum, Been explained that SLED students are given instruction on skills that will help them "through high school, college and beyond," noting that these skills are taught through the vehicle of the school garden. The other benefit, she said, echoing YF&R's Cushnyr and Mebane, "is they're also learning about where their food comes from."

Laykinn Cash holds a tomato from the school garden. The charity farmers market raised money for a new shed and fruit trees with irrigation. Photo: © 2021 Henry Barrios

Student-run project

SLED students developed the idea for the garden project in 2019. Students planned and designed the garden, Been explained, and they wrote letters to request donations, conducted a survey to gauge staff support and more. The day the trucks arrived to break ground in 2020, the school closed due to COVID-19 and transitioned to virtual classes.

"The group continued to meet virtually and the work on the garden continued," Been said. "During the pandemic, the garden gave the kids some hope. We did social media updates for everyone in our school, showing them what was still being done at school."

When students returned to school, they volunteered to help in the garden and replaced crops like zucchini and lettuce with corn and pumpkins. Leadership students, Been said, were able to hone their public speaking skills by recording videos teaching kindergartners about how pumpkins are grown.

Aside from the YF&R contribution of the addition of the shed and fruit trees, Been said, "Even more important is the students seeing that adults in the community care about their project. That's invaluable for kids building true self-esteem and for kids building true confidence and their ability to get something done."

Christine Souza

Groups give back to feed the hungry

Each year, California Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers donate food, funds and volunteer hours to people in need as part of Harvest for All, a national campaign to feed the hungry.

Now in its 20th year, Harvest for All helps ensure Americans in need can enjoy the bounty of food farmers and ranchers produce. So far, Farm Bureau families nationwide have gathered 376 million pounds of food, logged more than 215,000 volunteer hours and raised $9.8 million in donations.

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