During my time managing the Seeds for Bees program I have seen cover crops positively impact our food system in many ways. Working closely with beekeepers and growers has allowed me to witness the benefits to bees and the land first hand. But our goals are not only to have seeds in the ground and good nutrition for bees today. They are also about helping to plant the seeds of sustainable land management and healthy bees for generations to come.
This year I had the opportunity to see the Seeds for Bees program reach beyond our traditional partners of established growers, and into the education of the next generation of farmers, ranchers, and orchardists who will usher us into the future of our food systems.
It all began when, in Stanislaus County, California, Oakdale Joint Unified School District (OJUSD) Superintendent Marc Malone saw an opportunity to use a piece of vacant land owned by the school district to create a school farm. The farm was quickly built thanks to Superintendent Malone's vision and the help of many donors and volunteers. Stanislaus County is largely agricultural, and contains the third highest acreage of almond orchards in the State of California - about 116,000 acres in total. It is an ideal place for this school farm which has a mission statement to "strengthen student knowledge by connecting academic and job transition goals that support successful passage into post-secondary education, training and employment through practical farming skills."
At the OJUSD school farm 13 acres are being developed as almond and walnut orchards to be included as part of the outdoor lab. With a young almond orchard and beehives on site, Project Apis m. teamed up with grower consultant Mike Silveira, Orchard Committee Chairman Brian Lemons, and OJUSD Assistant Superintendent Larry Mendonca to plant cover crops in the young orchard. This team of experts guided students as they participated in hands on learning about the land preparation, planting, irrigation, and cover crop management necessary for productive and sustainable orchards. Students incorporated Project Apis m.’s Mustard seed mix as cover crops for the school's orchard management plan and were able to witness the benefits to the honey bees, soil, and water for themselves.
The PAm Mustard Mix performed very well in the orchard at Oakdale. It was blooming more than 30 days before the almonds with only 7 inches of water! But the true success of this cover crop project wasn’t associated with cultivating seeds and improving the soil at a specific site. The real success was in helping cultivate the next generation of farmers and growers to value cover crops and bee health as important parts of a sustainable future, and in giving them the skills to do so.
Just like planting cover crops can 'jump-start the hive' prior to the almond bloom, the OJUSD school farm is planting the seeds of education and 'jump-starting' their students to practice good land stewardship throughout their careers.
From myself and everyone in the beekeeping industry we tip our hats to Marc, Larry, Brian, and most of all to the future-farmers and students of Oakdale School District for a job well done.
By Billy Synk,
Director of Pollination Programs
Project Apis m.