Published September 18, 2012
Volume 20, Number 9

Sustainable Agriculture Surrounds Sunol Valley Water Temple

A century ago, local residents would flock to the bucolic setting of the Sunol Valley Water Temple for Sunday afternoon picnics. These days, schoolchildren flock to the surrounding 18 acres during the week for hands-on lessons in sustainable agriculture.

Thanks to the vision of Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), a Berkeley-based nonprofit, the area is now the Sunol AgPark, a working farm that aims to revive the time-honored tradition of local production. The urban-edge farm is home to five small-scale organic growers who produce specialty fruits and vegetables, from eggplant and heirloom tomatoes to strawberries and figs. They market their crops to restaurants, wholesalers, and at nearby farm stands.

“AgParks facilitate land access for beginning and immigrant farmers, local food provision for diverse communities, resource conservation, public education, and job training opportunities,” explains SAGE founder Sibella Kraus.

The Sunol AgPark has been carved out of public watershed lands and was developed through an innovative partnership between SAGE and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), the property owner. Their joint goal is to “foster sustainable farming and public education programs while protecting natural resources in the Alameda Creek watershed.” Other agencies and foundations have also lent support. SAGE provides the infrastructure—irrigation system, soil improvements, fencing, insurance, security, roads—along with technical and marketing assistance for the farmers.

SAGE also originated pioneering outreach programs targeted to three different constituencies: “hands-on environmental education for schoolchildren, service-learning and job training for youth, and volunteer and natural resource stewardship opportunities for community members.”

With the start of the school year, the nonprofit is gearing up for a new season of visitors. Led by experienced environmental educators and farmer-educators, field trips for students in fourth through sixth grades follow the SAGE-developed Farming in the Watershed curriculum, which features lessons in the geography of watersheds, the water systems, and the role of water in food production. The children also engage with the growers and explore the dynamic relationship between their agricultural efforts and the surrounding topography. In-school programs reinforce the lessons with experiential learning activities.

Older students participate in project-based learning opportunities such as performing chores alongside farmers or building hedgerows of native plants around the park. Youth Bridging Nature and Agriculture is SAGE's service-oriented curriculum for those interested in learning more about agriculture and the many careers it generates, from soil science and irrigation to farming and cooking.

The value of the exposure to this precious resource is incalculable. “So many kids, especially from low-income areas, have never even seen a farm,” relates Kraus. “Even students from cities like Pleasanton and Livermore are not aware of the history of the area. They all love being helpful here.”

Facing “far more demand than funds,” SAGE is soliciting support from the wider community, offering many ways to get involved: as a partner, donor, program participant, intern, or volunteer. Donations are used to pay for field trips and finance construction of the already-designed outdoor classroom. Within the next few years, SFPUC will likely extend Water Temple access to weekends, bringing back the opportunity for old-fashioned Sunday picnics.

For more information, visit www.sagecenter.org or contact Kraus at (510)526-1793, #3.


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