First off, introductions – my name is Michal, I’m 22 and originally from Chicago, but for the next 5 months I will be working with the NRCS at the Lockeford Plant Materials Center here in the Central Valley of California. The region has a Mediterranean climate characterized by 6-month hot and dry, and cool and wet seasons. I thought I was escaping the agriculture giant that is Illinois, only to be thrown into a sea of walnuts, grapes, and almonds in California. These crops also require a ton of water. It takes 1 gallon of water to produce a single almond, and nearly 5 to produce a single walnut. To add some perspective, California produces about 2 billion pounds of shelled almonds annually – that’s 80 percent of world production and the supply still doesn’t meet the demand. Hopefully this will illustrate the stress placed on their natural resources, especially as the state enters its fourth year of drought.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service is a division of the USDA that provides services to farmers, whether they be developing conservation plans, providing financial assistance, or, as is the case with the Lockeford Plant Materials Center, producing vegetation for resource conservation goals. The 105 acres managed by the PMC are used for cover crop, seed mix, and soil health studies, growing plants for seed collection for propagation use, as well as a 10 acre plot dedicated to producing plants of cultural significance to Native Americans.
The key staff at the PMC are:
- Margaret is the PMC manager. She’s really cool.
- Dennis: Farm manager. He comes from three generations of Oregon farmers and is a very old school kind of guy. He’s very knowledgeable and I’m really looking forward to learning as much as I can from him.
- Shawn: is the administrative assistant, but he also does a lot of field work.
- Jeff: volunteering as a biological resource technician. We work together often, which is nice, because we have a similar work ethic.
I’m in my second week now and I’ve been really enjoying my time. Margaret has not been shy to admit that the PMC is understaffed and that there is a lot of grunt work to do, and understandably so. I have been doing a lot of maintenance, replacing 40-year old gaskets from the irrigation valves, herbiciding with an ATV, pulling weeds, operating a chainsaw to clear branches from obstructing the road, driving tractors and using the bucket to dump debris (fun!).
I feel that sometimes, as college graduates, our ego gets in the way and says that manual labor is beneath us and that we deserve something better. I disagree. I’m excited to work hard and give it my all to make sure the PMC is running as efficiently as possible, whatever my role may be. Over the course of my internship I will push myself to take on more responsibilities and grow as much as I can.
On my down time, I have been using ArcGIS to improve the property maps and keep track of the pokeweed I herbicided last week. I also got the chance to go to Modesto with Dennis to attend a “Farming in the Drought” seminar, which gave me a lot to think about. Today, Margaret assigned me a task that is a data management nightmare, but one that I take as a challenge and will hopefully discuss in detail in later posts.
But yeah, just wanted to give a little context for our work and describe what it actually is that we do. Hopefully this will help any CLM candidates who apply for 2016! Next time I’ll be sure to post photos.
NRCS – California