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Slide Ranch- “A child once asked me why we keep our radishes in the dirt,”

 

Meet Slide Ranch--an educational farm that has played a vital role in teaching kids about food production and ecology since 1970.

 

Mission of Slide Ranch

We cultivate healthy bodies and minds and foster future generations of environmental stewards. By farming, cooking, caring for animals and exploring wilderness and the coast, we teach people of all ages to see the connection between their own health, a healthy food system and a healthy environment.

 

Nestled in the crook of a hill just 10 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and a stone’s throw from Muir Beach, is a very special farm overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There are many farms along the coast in Northern California, but there are none quite like this one. Meet Slide Ranch, a farm solely dedicated to inspiring children and youth to love nature and live healthily and sustainably.

For 45 years, Slide Ranch has been connecting children to nature and food. Today’s activities fit with the California Department of Education’s science and environmental education standards, and what they teach now is as relevant today as it was then. For four decades, children have experienced farm activities like milking goats, caring for chickens, harvesting and preparing vegetables and fruits fresh from the organic garden, along with studying and exploring the coastal wild lands and tide pools on its 134 acres. Environmental themes of biodiversity and interconnectedness help participants understand that they are an important part of the natural world.

Slide ranch provides four main areas of programming: (1) day and overnight field trips for schools and community youth groups; (2) special events and weekend programs aimed at engaging the whole family; (3) summer day camps for children ages 5–14; and (4) a Teacher-in-Residence internship program for emerging environmental educators.  On any given weekday at Slide Ranch, walking down the dirt path from the parking lot, you’ll hear the rooster crowing, the sound of the sea humming on the breeze, and children chattering excitedly as they discover their next project. As you approach the farm on a weekend, you might hear the bustle of families enjoying a sheep shearing, see toddlers squeal with delight as they meet their first goat, or smell the aromas from a campfire dinner at one of their seasonal events, family programs or campouts.

Regardless of age or group type, one area of education that is central to every program is food--learning about food from seed to meal, and how it benefits the body and mind.

“A child once asked me why we keep our radishes in the dirt,” said Marika Bergsund, Executive Director at Slide Ranch. “It took me by surprise, but it wasn’t the first time kids have asked questions like this. These moments really hit home the fact that many children today don’t know where their food comes from--they genuinely believe it comes from the supermarket, and that’s a problem.”

Tiny tots learn the basics of food origins, using all of their senses to touch, see, smell and taste food from the garden. They make friends with the animals and love feeding the free-range chickens and holding a warm, newly-laid egg. A day at Slide Ranch gives older kids structured lessons in gardening, planting crops and growing herbs, along with lots of food preparation and cooking to help them discover the richness and flavors from homegrown, freshly harvested food. They milk the friendly goats (the warmness of actual fresh milk surprises everyone!) and make fresh cheese; thresh, winnow and grind wheat to make homemade pizza or pretzels; and or make vegetable sushi from the fresh from the garden. The farm’s bee hives are part of many programs, helping students understand pollinators and the enormous role that these tiny creatures have in our food production. 

“This trip had to be the best day of my son’s life. He has special needs, and this trip didn’t restrict him in any way...[he] got to interact with goats and their babies, pet baby chicks and feed chickens, watch dolphins dive in the ocean while he ate his lunch and then [he tried] everything in the garden that Ben Bear offered. When we got home my son begged for a vegetable garden and we now have our seedlings planted—he cannot wait to have his garden like Slide Ranch’s!” —Teacher and Parent, Buen Dia Family School

Summer campers get an even deeper experience, as food ecology and food history are woven into each of their five days of camp. Older campers get to participate fully in ranch life, practicing principles of organic gardening and animal care, and undertaking stewardship projects.

Slide Ranch also serves as a teaching ground for people who want to learn about food and farming for career development. One such partner is Old Skool Café, a faith-based, violence prevention program that trains at-risk, urban youth, ages 16-22, to operate a 1940’s style supper club. The youth-led supper club employs youth in every area of the business as paid apprentices, which then helps them in transforming their learned skills – such as restaurant management and chef - into permanent jobs in the market place.  Old Skool’s apprentices spent time at Slide experiencing the farm to restaurant table cycle.

When asked what activities were relevant from his time at Slide Ranch, Charles, a server at the café relayed “…[we] made cheese out of milk and vinegar, and I was surprised how easy it was. And we made pizza from scratch—it’s crazy to make something from nothing.” 

 

Background and Impact

The birth of this environmental education project was thanks to a fascinating and truly monumental effort by Doug Ferguson, a Marin activist who was fundamental in the movement to protect open spaces in Marin County beginning in the late 1950s.

When Doug spotted Slide Ranch, a former dairy farm dating back to the 1870s, it was owned by a Hollywood screenwriter who planned to build a hotel on the site. But Doug wholeheartedly believed the land should be preserved as a public park and decided to purchase the property to prevent its development and honor his recently deceased father. With the help of his friend, the Nature Conservancy’s Huey Johnson, they bought the land and created a nature education facility. Volunteers--including Slide Ranch's first director, Eddie Washington and his wife Susie Washington-Smyth, along with members and associates of the Grateful Dead circle--spent months removing trash, repairing crumbling buildings and building a geodesic dome to serve as a main program area. From there, they began to build educational programs to connect urban city kids to nature, and Slide Ranch was born.

The effect that Slide Ranch has on its program participants is undeniable. The impact is so broad that the big and little moments are equally memorable. It could be the first time a child digs up a potato from the ground (you’d think they had discovered gold!) or the moment, while enjoying their picnic at the edge of the ocean, they see dolphins surfing the waves. These are the seeds of inspiration that make Slide Ranch so special.

“Nature should be fun”, says Marika. “At the start of every program we gather for our welcome circle and we tell everyone that there are three challenges here - get dirty, try something new and, above all, have fun.”

Mounting research1 shows that getting outside and exploring the natural environment is also critical to children’s physical health and cognitive development. It not only provides a wonderful teaching ground but it also helps kids de-stress and unplug from city living.

Just one day at Slide Ranch can change the way a child views themselves and the world around them.

 

Marika concludes: “When you see the face of a child light up as they eat food they harvested from the garden, milk goats, go on a hike or see the ocean for the first time, you know you've made a connection.”

 

 

Visit Slide Ranch

Slide Ranch is located within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is open to the public from dawn to dusk for hiking and picnicking. Learn more about Slide Ranch and its programs at www.slideranch.org.

 

Donate to Slide Ranch

Slide Ranch works hard to connect people of all ages and diverse communities to their programs. They believe every single child deserves the chance to learn how animals, plants and nature are connected to our daily lives. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, all of their programs are subsidized by donations. You can help plant a kid in nature by making a gift online at www.slideranch.org/donate or calling 415-381-7610. Thank you.

 

Facts and Figures:

·     In 2014 Slide Ranch welcomed 10,000 visitors

·     63% of their School and Community Group program participants were children from underserved, low-income communities and received financial aid

·     86 different Bay Area school and community groups experienced their programs

·     6,000 visitors milked the Slide Ranch goats (who produced 820 gallons of milk!)

·     Their chickens produced 6,500 eggs

·     Over 1.4 tons of produce from the Slide Ranch garden was grown, harvested and consumed by Slide Ranch program participants and staff!

·     Every single program is subsidized by donations!

 

Slide Ranches programs are taught primarily by their Teacher-in-Residence (TIR) interns. This 10.5-month program develops and inspires environmental educators and prepares them for meaningful careers in the fields of education, sustainable agriculture and environmental service

 

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