Agriculture is a driving force in the Central Valley – and especially the San Joaquin Valley – economy. Escalon’s FFA students have had success at the local, state and national level and many have gone on to careers in the field.
Looking to keep that trend going, creating a workforce for the needs of the future, Escalon Unified School District is in the process of developing and implementing a dedicated school farm. Also planned is construction of multiple ag buildings, starting with facilities at the Van Allen Elementary School property along Highway 120, west of the city.
Working with the school district on the expansive project is Dr. Mark Bender.
“He is a retired ag teacher from MJC and Stanislaus State. He has experience in developing and building school ag farms,” explained Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa.
As Dean at Modesto Junior Colle, Dr. Bender oversaw the building of a number of ag buildings at the college and he also helped Turlock Unified School District build their ag farm.
“We asked him to take the lead in building Escalon a “top notch” facility and he graciously accepted,” said Costa.
Some preliminary work has already been done and drawings have been prepared that outline the plans, which would include a multi-purpose ag building for beef and dairy, small animals including poultry, swine and a sheep and goat area. The building site is on Van Allen property, behind the Escalon fire station No. 2 on the highway.
“We have four and a half acres of almonds planted and irrigation systems are going in,” Costa explained.
Much of the work being done to prepare the site has been donated, Costa added, and school officials are hoping to see that trend continue, with the goal to get in kind donations from local businesses and companies to handle the bulk of the project. The district is also pursuing additional money, looking into possible grants, for use in developing the farm and associated ag buildings.
“The goal of this is for our kids to keep their animals there, to have an area to prep for fair; it can be used by students year-round,” said Costa.
The former school farm, on Stanislaus Street by the school bus garage, will be planted with 60 trees of all different varieties. Students will be able to work there on pruning skills and also prepare for judging competition. Also to be included is a lab area focused on horticulture, which will allow for intra-curricular studies, between the classroom and the lab.
“It’s designed for as far in the future as you could hope for,” Dr. Bender said of the plan that will provide the agricultural buildings, show rings, labs and working farm.
He also pointed to the leadership skills learned by FFA members as being key to helping them succeed in whatever path they choose after high school and said the new facilities will only bolster the support for students.
“It will be a state of the art facility for our students to use for a long time,” Costa said.
He added that school officials will work to keep the community updated on the progress with preparing the site, finalizing plans and getting construction underway. At full price, the cost of the project right now would top out at an estimated $1.2 million but with donations coming in, grants being pursued and in kind efforts, the impact to the district is projected to be much lower.
“This is very exciting,” Costa admitted. “We’ll take a strong agricultural and FFA program and add some teeth to it.
“We’ll show our school district and FFA chapter that we are committed to our students and with Dr. Bender’s help, we have made great progress so far.”