Connecting People to the Land

Students from The Julia Morgan School for Girls in Oakland, visiting the Farm, catching frogs in the tailwater pond!

LPTrendsPurpose: Are you a proponent of the clean food, eat local, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), or “Meatless Monday,” movements? If you care about where your food comes from and you understand the importance of farming to meet our growing global food needs, you’ll want to know about The Center for Land-Based Learning. Their mission – to inspire and motivate people of all ages, especially youth, to promote a healthy interplay between agriculture, nature and society through their own actions and as leaders in their communities – essentially, growing tomorrow’s farmers today.

The Center for Land-Based Learning (CLBL) began in 1993, with an initial focus on high school students – getting them out to farms, on the land, giving them hands-on experience to see what the social and business of farming is all about. Over the years their programs have evolved to ascertain best practices from practitioners in the field and share these, first-hand, with people of all ages. From conservation of natural resources to sustainability practices, from small-scale farming to running a huge farming operation, CLBL participants learn about the best of the best in the industry.

I recently had an opportunity to speak with Mary Kimball, Executive Director of The Center for Land-Based Learning (CLBL), to learn more about the organization and her experience there.

Lori – How did you get involved with The Center for Land-Based Learning?

Mary – I grew up on a farm in Woodland, my parents were beginning farmers themselves, having moved north from the Bay Area. I always liked the educational side of agriculture but didn’t want to be in a classroom setting. My passion is to help get people out of school and out to see our farms and ranches, to give them new perspective and to infuse in them excitement to pursue this essential area of our society.

I was the first employee in 1993, shortly after Founder Craig McNamara started the FARMS Leadership Program with his wife and other local partners. His goal was to bring high school students out to wildlife areas, farms, ranches, once a month – to teach leadership skill building and career steps, while introducing them to the business of environmental science, conservation and farming.

I helped form the nonprofit, and in 1998 a National Fish & Wildlife Foundation grant allowed for our expansion to other sites in CA, providing an amazing opportunity to broaden our offerings. I was able to incorporate the model from our initial outreach into other areas, adding new programs including SLEWS (Student and Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship) which engages California high school students in habitat restoration projects that enhance classroom learning, develop leadership skills and result in real positive impact for the environment.

Lori – What are you most excited about?

Mary – While I love the youth education, I’m most excited about our beginning farmer training program, called the California Farm Academy (CFA). It’s such a need here in the U.S. When I was in high school, farming was not cool, but now this has completely changed. There is such hope within the general public seeing the value of farms within their community, their regional economic impact, the backbone that agriculture provides to society.

With today’s trends toward healthy nutrition, eating locally, eating seasonally, people want to be more involved, they’re asking more questions. Our beginning farmer program has so much interest now, it has a very different feel, and opportunities continue to grow with our access to 150 farms within 15 counties across the state.

Lori - What impact are you seeing?

Mary – We’ve completed an evaluation of our FARMS Leadership Program, now in its 18th year, and have found that 56% of our graduates are in careers involving agricultural and environmental sciences – actually integrating these issues into their jobs. We’ve seen that our graduates become better stewards of the environment.

Over three years, our GreenCorps program has served a total of 50 interns – urban kids who had never before been on a farm. All are enrolled in college now, and we’ve shepherded them into school by helping them find and apply for financial aid, assistance with their application, and anything else we can do to support them.

Lori - What do you hope to achieve? 

Mary - Through our youth programs we hope to facilitate more bright, smart, students to enter the agricultural and environmental sciences field! It’s a stable and growing segment of our California economy, with so much opportunity – we want to help connect people with these opportunities. We hope to train more farmers on the ground, farmers who are improving our communities, feeding our population and improving access to healthy food.

Lori – How can people get involved and make an impact?

Mary – Here are a few ideas:

  • The Farm at Putah Creek – come out for a hands-on farm visit with your school, preschool or any group.
  • Volunteer to be mentors for our high school programs.
  • We can always use help with marketing, computers, tools and resources.
  • Join the California Farm Academy, which we expect to keep expanding in the future.
  • Support your local agriculture!!
  • Buy local. If you don’t see local produce in your store, ask the manager.
  • Attend one of our quarterly Dinners on the Farm! Check our website for info on our August 4th event with Nugget Markets.
  • Of course, funding – is helpful too!

The Center for Land-Based Learning envisions a world where there is meaningful appreciation and respect for our natural environment and for the land that produces our food and sustains our quality of life. We, at The Possibility Place, embrace this vision wholeheartedly.

Contact Information:
Center for Land-Based Learning
Article written by: Lori Anderson