Turlock Unified School District administrators joined with members of the local agriculture community early Monday morning to discuss the next steps in developing a working, educational TUSD farm.
The 10-acre piece of farmland, located on East Taylor Road, was purchased by the district on April 9 to provide hands-on learning opportunities for TUSD ag students. Now, the district must decide how to develop the site.
“We needed to get the land before we decided what to do,” said TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto. “Well folks, we have the land, but now we need a plan. We invited you here today to start thinking of that.”
TUSD will have full access to the property within the month. In anticipation of that, Da Marto suggested the district create a small planning team to report on the next steps that would need to be taken by the district.
“Although we will be going out with a maintenance crew to the property first to do preliminary stuff, and ensuring the safety for our students, we still need to determine things such as the coursework, what resources are needed, or possible partnerships within the community if any,” said Da Marto.
In a 4-1 vote April 9, the Board of Trustees voted in favor of purchasing the 10-acre piece of farmland for $399,900. The farmland will be used as a place where TUSD ag students can keep their animals, and perhaps also grow crops.
“Any crops that we may or may not grow have to be Farmers Market Certified, and that’s why we’re putting experts on the team,” said Da Marto.
Trustee Harinder Grewal cast the only vote against the purchase of the property, as he believed the timing was wrong. But the time was now or never, according to Mike Trainor, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services at TUSD.
“This is a fast moving type of project, and we jumped on it really fast because we were worried that we would lose the land,” Trainor said.
Mark Bender from the Agricultural Studies Department at California State University, Stanislaus was invited to Monday’s meeting and offered suggestions to administration and district staff regarding the steps the District will need to take next.
“You need to make a priority list of things to do,” said Bender. “I think the idea is great, but there’s also a huge scope of work that needs to go into it.”
As the meeting drew to a close, Da Marto thanked the guests for their questions and input, and expressed his gratefulness for the help from around the community.
“We’re not asking for the community to break out any checkbooks, we’re just asking for help, such as your input today which was extremely invaluable,” said Da Marto.
Some meeting attendees will continue to provide feedback as part of a new, small committee developing suggestions for the project. The committee is expected to meet again some time next week.
“Turlock is a real giving community,” said Bender. “I think as long as the District is in good faith in doing stuff for the community, the community will be more open to helping and being supportive. It could be pretty easy if we have the right players.”
While the district may still have a lot of planning to do for the project, Da Marto expressed an immense amount of enthusiasm and hope for the future of the district-owned farmland.
“Once it gets going, I think it will be just fine, but getting it started is going to be the hard thing,” said Da Marto.