Cultivating Agriculture Education for Students in Kern County
Over the past 20 years, Lorrie Roberts has been a staple at Bakersfield’s Valley Oaks Charter School (VOCS) Campus. Her current job responsibilities as a resource teacher include assisting parents and students in navigating their unique educational journey through homeschooling and enrichment classes at VOCS. Yet, her passion for bringing agriculture to the classroom and being involved in the community prompted her fellow colleagues to begin calling her the “Queen of Shiny Things.”
Part of those extra responsibilities include overseeing VOCS’s farm and garden at the Bakersfield campus, along with the help of VOCS staff and families. The farm has gradually grown to include various animals — including a donkey, goats, ducks, rabbits, quail, pigeons, and chickens — since VOCS was founded over 24 years ago. Additionally, the campus boasts an extensive array of fruit and nut trees and raised garden beds that allow students to receive plenty of hands-on learning.
A Day in VOCS' Garden
Although Roberts has taken charge of the garden over the last decade and the farm in recent years, she continues to find spare time to help build a new agriculture education program in partnership with the Kern County Fair.
Since she was six, Roberts has spent every year at the Kern County Fair showing, volunteering, or working in different areas. Her passion for bridging agriculture and education has blossomed from those experiences, even writing her master’s thesis on bringing agriculture to the classroom. Simultaneously, Kern County Fair board members saw the need to provide more accessible agriculture education to the community and decided to create something unique. Through those efforts, KC’s Farm was born.
KC’s Farm is located on the grounds of the Kern County Fair and started as a way to increase awareness and consumption of fruits and vegetables for children. According to the American Dietetic Association, children intimately involved in edible gardens can increase their daily vegetable and fruit consumption by 2.5 servings a day. For this reason, KC’s Farm is a facility for local youth to learn about agriculture education.
Michael Olcott, CEO of the Kern County Fair, says implementation of this edible garden has been in the works for years.
“Being the number one agricultural producing county in the nation, we know how important ag is to our community,” said Olcott. “We are so proud to do our part in teaching the youth of our community where their food comes from.”
“Our goal is to make this equitable for all students,” said Roberts. “When we did our first two-day camp earlier this year, we had kids explore the garden, harvest vegetables like lettuce, and then make a snack. To help offset the costs associated with this type of program, we found sponsors to pay camp fees for those who needed help and are looking for grants to continue making these programs free. We don’t want agriculture education to be cost-prohibitive.”
During the 2023 Kern County Fair, Roberts and her fellow KC’s Farm colleagues welcomed thousands of students who could release ladybugs, go on scavenger hunts, and learn more about agriculture. Roberts has seen many instances of students being weary of trying vegetables they had never heard of before. In one interaction, Roberts convinced two young students to try salsa even though they said they didn’t like tomatoes. To her surprise, both students gave it a chance and, from then on, were much more involved in the gardening process.
“Those moments where you can physically experience the shift in children’s perceptions about vegetables just by involving them in the process is what makes me determined to keep going,” said Roberts. “It’s like that famous Benjamin Franklin quote, ‘Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.’ That is my personal philosophy.”
By Jennifer Bryan
Jennifer Bryan joined Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2021 as a Communications Specialist. As a creative and motivated marketing communications specialist, she has a special knack for storytelling and content creation. Born and raised in Kern County, Jennifer has worked in major industries within the region such as agriculture and oil and gas before she made the transition to education.