Freeze watch prompts powerful ag lesson at Miano Elementary School

mgaytan@losbanosenterprise.comDecember 13, 2013 

Hard freeze warnings have delivered a powerful lesson on agriculture to students at R.M. Miano Elementary school.

“During this past freeze warning, students were able to relate what they saw in the news and how the citrus farmers of California felt when they saw the upcoming weather forecast,” said Sergio de Alba, teacher at the school.

Last week temperatures dipped into the low 20s, triggering the hard freeze warning. The record lows lasted for several nights, and as temperatures dropped into the upper teens in some areas, students were busy in the family farm garden picking citrus. Nearly 400 pounds of fruit, some 17 different varieties, were harvested.

“This is a $2 billion dollar industry, and the freeze watch affects all of us in one way or another,” de Alba said. “To avoid damage to our crop, we chose to harvest our fruits early.”

Though the sugar content on some of the sweet varieties was not as high as students would have liked, they said the fruit was still very good and 132 sixth-grader got to take some home.

Built in 2009, the family farm garden is a 6,400-square-foot orchard with 26 varieties of citrus on the east end of R.M. Miano. De Alba said the sixth-graders maintain 26 citrus trees, ensuring they are watered properly, the orchard weeded the fruit harvested.

“This garden is geared towards lessons that focus on what it takes to run a farm along with the importance of nutrition,” he said. “We also are keeping a record of our harvest to see what the value is compared to local supermarkets and to see how our harvests compare to years past.”

De Alba said youngsters are unaware of how much the local and state economy is dependent on agriculture.

“Our agriculture program focuses on teaching our students where our food comes from, how important farmers and ag are to our local community and how ag is vital to the success of our nation,” he said.

Said Marijayne Lua, 11, “I learned that in California, we grow over $2 billion worth of citrus. That’s a lot of money!”

De Alba also said students are learning about healthy snacks - fruit versus candy, for example - and what it takes to run a profitable farm.

“I learned that when the temperature gets this cold, citrus fruit can freeze and the fruit can spoil. I would be very worried if my farm had this problem,” said Hilbert Carrillo, 11.

De Alba showed students harvest tricks: grabbing the fruit and giving thhow to bend the fruit one way and snap it back the other way. “After that, the fruit comes right off,” said Jasmine Sanchez, 11.

Braulio Palomar said it’s exciting to grow different types of fruit. “I really like being a kid farmer,” he said.

Said de Alba, “We have been fortunate to receive the support of many local individuals, businesses, farms and organizations that allow us to continue to fund the ag-based lessons that are so important to the continued success of our program.”

In other weather-related news

While farmers worked around the clock to keep their crops warm, warming centers popped up around the Valley. The Miller & Lux Building opened as a warming shelter.

Paul Cardoza, Parks and Recreation operations manager, said anytime temperatures reach below 32 degrees, the city opens the building for those who need a warm place to sleep. The warming center was open for about a week and Cardoza said it averaged around nine to 10 people per night. He also said around 15percent to 20 percent more people used the shelter this year compared to last.

Although not everyone stayed the entire night, blankets were donated for people to take with them.

“A group of volunteers brought food in every night,” he said, “and we appreciate that.”

Reporter Marina Gaytan can be reached at (209) 826-3831 ext. 6562 or mgaytan@losbanosenterprise.com

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