All California Rangeland Trust wanted to do was show elected officials the relevance of ranching in the effort to get youth outdoors when they began bussing local urban youth to nearby ranches last summer. “We weren’t prepared for the outpouring of support within the community or the effectiveness of this program,” said Rangeland Trust’s CEO Nita Vail. “While we set out to educate the next generation of lawmakers and influence current officials, we were stunned by the transformation of the kids that played out before our eyes. It was one of the most touching things I have ever witnessed.”
The Rangeland Trust’s pilot program, Raley’s Where Your Food Grows and Grazes, bussed youth to six ranches near Sacramento, CA in the late summer and fall of 2015. Once there, ranchers provided an immersive educational experience that left a marked impression on the participants who got to make their own take-home keepsakes. The program was developed in partnership with Raley’s and each trip concluded with a behind-the-scenes tour of a Raley’s grocery store. According to one student, “[The field trip was] the highlight of my year! …the perfect amount of education and fun!”
Land trusts across California face dwindling public funds and an increasingly disconnected populace. The California Council of Land Trusts created the Conservation Horizons initiative which published a report, Keeping Conservation and Land Trusts Vital for the Next Age. The report found that 95% of Californians live in urban areas and more than half the populace over the age of six do not participate in outdoor activities. It found that the increasing minority populations are historically underrepresented in outdoor activities as well.
Conservationists aren’t the only ones concerned. Ranchers, educators, grocers, and even multinational corporations have been watching these trends with growing unease. Raley’s Director of Public Relations & Public Affairs, Chelsea Minor said, “When children have respect for where their food grows and grazes, they are both inspired and empowered to make healthier choices. Many students lack a basic understanding of where fresh food comes from, and even fewer have ever stepped foot onto a farm or ranch.”
Some of the kids were terrified when they stepped off the bus. Accustomed to walking on asphalt and concrete, they were convinced snakes hid in the grass. The size of the livestock shocked them. Quickly the earbuds came out, the phones put in pockets, and eyes lifted as nature, the animals, and the people invited them to step from their digital world into the physical.
One tour host, Emily Taylor, said, “[Our] ranch tour combined the skills of a 5 Star chef, Texas Longhorn breeder, successful large scale cattle rancher, farrier, goat breeder and an apiarist, each of whom offered diverse and unique expertise. It was a wonderful opportunity to showcase both small and large ranching and farming operations and to let the minds wander for these High School Culinary Students, bringing the connection from Farm-to-Table that much closer.”
Experiences such as gathering eggs from the hen house, making an omelet under a chef’s tutelage, and then eating it, brought “Farm-to-Fork” to life for these students. Because the program was so successful, Raley’s decided to not only join the Rangeland Trust in renewing the program, but to more than double their support as well. With increased support, the program is expanding geographically in 2016 to include the East Bay and Stockton areas. AT&T recently joined Raley’s as a major sponsor of the Rangeland Trust field trips for 2016.
While Where Your Food Grows and Grazes connected urban youth with agriculture, perhaps the most significant impact was the connection they made with each other. On the ranches, kids accustomed to communicating via “insta” and “snaps” learned to connect face-to-face. And in working to facilitate this change, the community is connecting too.
First published in the July/August 2016 issue of California Cattlemen’s Magazine