In the small town of Clarksburg, California, nested along the Sacramento River in the Sacramento Central Valley, lies a community rich with agricultural roots. It is here that we find a vision, one of an outdoor classroom to help teach one of the community’s biggest industries — viticulture.
A simple drive through Clarksburg presents acres upon acres of farm fields dominated by vineyards. However, up until five years ago, Clarksburg Middle School and Delta High School taught viticulture mostly in the classroom and career development events.
Community members Craig Kirchhoff and James Christie approached Career and Technical Education (CTE) instructor Charles Van Riper about starting a vineyard for Clarksburg Middle School and Delta High School.
“I wanted an outdoor classroom for students to learn about agriculture,” Van Riper said. “Students need a place to learn the value of working hard, and for some it’s a step towards a career in agriculture.”
So, the vision began — to build an outdoor classroom for students to learn about viticulture, to help students establish a mindset where hard work leads to success, and develop an opportunity for students to work with community members. With this vision, the Delta Education Vineyard Project was created.
The board of directors, built of community members, was formed in 2017 not too long after the vision began. The board advocated for an outdoor classroom for both high school and middle school students in order to learn about not only viticulture, but also to show them how hard work can lead to success. The community in Clarksburg is incredibly tight-knit and the board of directors was successfully able to find a space for students to start the vineyard, finding a two-acre plot of land owned by the Old Sugar Mill located about a forth of a mile from Delta High School.
“The Delta was perfect for this project because of the strong community and industry support, as well as the small town feel,” Van Riper explained. “The community helped raise the initial costs to start the vineyard, a handful of farmers assisted with readying the land for students to work in, community members were the ones who created and sat on the Delta Education Vineyard Committee Board, and the rotary members were the ones who helped with the harvest. The vineyard wouldn’t exist without the community.”
Before working in the vineyard students took two different safety tests and signed field trip forms before walking the ten minute walk to the vineyard to work. The ground was tilled by other community members after the students marked and measured the field.
During the first year students put in the posts into the ground, connected the wires, planted the root stocks, tied the drip hoses, and installed the trellis that would hold the vines. In the second year, students trained the vines onto the trellis, performing shoot thinning, and irrigated the vines. Eventually, the third year arrived. The students pruned over 900 vines in the winter, thinned clusters in the spring, and harvested the first vintage in the fall.
Moving forward to 2022, five years after the Delta Education Vineyard Project was created, students have harvested two crops and the thriving vineyard is being utilized to help advance learning, competitions, and preparing students for college and their future careers. Over 750 students at the middle school and high school have had the opportunity to work in the vineyard over the past five years. They prune, thin the vines, perform trellis maintenance, clean around the plants, and participate in hands-on learning outside of the classroom.
Within the classroom, students are learning about the viticulture industry, safety, plant growth, and a variety of other issues.
Students are also able to utilize the vineyard to practice for viticulture based competitions such as the grapevine pruning and grapevine judging Career Development Teams. In addition, students are able to develop SAE projects in the vineyard and compete in the Yolo Section Project Competition event.
For the past two years, select upperclassmen are able to apply for the paid internship and agricultural-based academic scholarship offered by the Delta Education Vineyard. The paid internship and scholarships help reward students for their commitments to the vineyard project.
“It’s important to empower students with practical experience and confidence, knowing this vineyard is one of a kind is a great feeling,” Van Riper said.
The vineyard has now been through its second harvest as of October 2021. In 2021, students handpicked 25,000 pounds of grapes, which were sold to the Old Sugar Mill to be made into Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc wine.
In addition, Abby Morazinni, an art student from Delta High School, was among 20 student entries for a new label. Her design will be placed on the first vintage of grapes bottled by the Delta Education Vineyard. Proceeds from the sales of grapes will be used to pay for the Delta Education Vineyard Internship and scholarships provided to agricultural students.
The vineyard was created to help students experience hands-on learning in agriculture, but also to help them develop the concept that hard work can help lead to success. Truly, the Delta Education Vineyard Project has, and will continue for years to come, provide a valuable education to students in the small river town.
This article was submitted by Corrine Heringer, Delta FFA Chapter member. If you have an FFA story you would like to tell, please email [email protected]