HOLTVILLE – For the past 15 years, Farm Smart has been responsible for agricultural advocacy in the Imperial Valley. During this time span, they have hosted over 120,000 people coming through their program, which mostly consisted of winter visitors from other states and countries. The Farm Smart program focuses on agricultural education and offers hands-on experience in irrigation and harvesting.
The Imperial Valley is a hidden treasure in the United States. Due to the warm climate and water accessibility, there are hundreds of different plant varieties that flourish in the desert atmosphere. While the fertile desert houses university research and plant variety development—few seem to know the incredible impact the Imperial Valley has on the agricultural industry. While most of the visitors to the program are not locals, the goal is to attract more local visitors to the research farm who are interested in learning about the Imperial Valley’s rich agricultural contribution.
“Hopefully the word gets out and lots of people hear about it,” said Stacey Wills, program manager. “What we’re hoping to do is not only open it to winter visitors, but open it up locally as well. I don’t know if the locals realize how rich our agriculture is here, especially young people. They don’t understand the great agricultural opportunities and programs we have.”
Farm Smart was started as a means to teach winter visitors about Imperial Valley agriculture because they had numerous questions and were sometimes found picking produce from fields. The program allowed them to learn about the rich history as well as opportunities to pick their own vegetables. The winter visitor program has been beneficial because it was an educational experience and brought in funds to sustain the children’s programs. For the rest of the year, the research center focuses on educational programs for K-12 students of the Imperial Valley to teach them where food originates. The winter visitor program is essential for the children’s programs to succeed at an affordable cost for schools. Currently, the winter visitor program is $20 a person and the K-12 grade programs are $3 a student.
The program is run on a mostly volunteer basis with only two paid staff. Farm Smart has exceeded 40,000 volunteer hours per year because of the generosity of their volunteers. Two volunteers in particular have spent the past ten years volunteering at Farm Smart. Shirley and Larry Durrans from Salt Lake City, Utah, live on the research center property in their RV from October to March to dedicate six months of the year to help volunteer and run the programs.
“They basically work from sunrise to sunset,” said Wills. “They help us prep the food, drive the tractors, and ensure everything is being run smoothly. They are the life blood of the program. They make Farm Smart.”
However, the Farm Smart program is always in need of more reliable volunteers. The program spans over 26 days, and includes a salad lunch, vegetable picking, and a hay wagon ride through the country side. They offer a free lunch for each day someone volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering for the program, contact Stacey Wills at (760)356-3067.[envira-gallery id=”70828″]