REDDING, Calif. — Third-year agriculture student Alex Anderson made it a point to highlight the Shasta College farm’s push toward environmental stewardship while leading a tour for community members.
She noted that the farm uses discarded cooking oil from the cafeteria to make its hay more palatable to cows, and explained that local breweries also provide spent grain to be fed in the beef barn.
An organic plot at the farm features tomatoes and other produce grown by students as part of their projects, as students in the college’s sustainable agriculture classes decide for themselves what to grow.
“We try to be as sustainable as possible,” said Anderson, a Humboldt County, Calif., native who is in the farm dormitory at the Redding community college.
Consumer demand for food that’s free of pesticides and other additives is growing, said Nate Anderson, a horticulture student leading one of the stops on the tour.
“The customer now wants organic food,” he said. “So that’s going to be a big push now, to learn how to grow organic.”
The tour was a key part of the college agriculture program’s annual Harvest Fest on Oct. 7, which also featured a dinner, live and silent auctions and entertainment.
Proceeds from the event fund laboratory projects, farm dormitories, logging sports and equipment and work with livestock, organizers said. This year, funds are being used to remodel the bathroom, showers and kitchen in the farm dorm, which was built in the 1950s, Anderson said.
After groups were taken by horse-drawn trailers through the farm grounds, the roughly 300 guests were treated to a dinner featuring chicken and other foods from the farm and local producers.
The dinner was held at Ross Ranch adjacent to the 90-acre college farm, providing a more agrarian setting than last year’s evening program at a local senior citizens’ hall. The ranch is owned by the McConnell Foundation, a local philanthropic organization.
Shasta College has offered a track of courses in sustainable agriculture since 2010, highlighting methods to save water and other resources. The farm raises 80 percent of its own feed, uses compost on its fields and runs chickens through its organic vineyard to eat leafhoppers, a pest, said Trena Kimler-Richards, an agricultural instructor and program coordinator.
“Now we teach an actual sustainable ag class, where we’re working on soil improvement through implied research,” Kimler-Richards said. “We’re working on strip-cropping and intercropping on one of our ag fields to improve our soil structure and nutrient balance.”
Students can earn an associate of science degree and can transfer to a four-year university to study crop science or range and wildlife ecology, she said.
With community members, the students and instructors try to emphasize that sustainable methods are used in both conventional and organic agriculture, Kimler-Richards said.
The message of sustainability is important, instructor Melissa Markee said.
“It really helps us relate with our community,” she said. “There’s a big demand for sustainability today, and farmers want to be sustainable.”