High school environmental science students learn the range of ag work at Elkus Ranch

St. Vincent-St. Paul students attend UC ANR camp in Half Moon Bay
By Samuel James Adams

This summer, as hot days kept kids indoors twiddling on their phones, two high school students from Solano County spent five days learning from the land and camping at a ranch in the fog-kissed, sheep-grazed hills of Half Moon Bay. And because connecting local youth to agricultural land is essential, Solano Land Trust footed their bill, drawing on funds from the donor-supported “Put a Child on the Land” program.

Isaiah Wilson and Robert Caine attend Saint Patrick-Saint Vincent High School in Vallejo, where they learned about Range Camp from their environmental studies teacher.

Isaiah loves basketball, hopes to study and work with animals, and already recognizes nature as an important resource for his well-being.

“The peace I have going out by myself and having a personal space to reflect is very calming and crucial to me,” Isaiah says.

But Isaiah was happy to find Range Camp was hardly a solitary retreat.

Range Camp is open to youth from California and Hawaii who have finished their first year of high school. The University of California Cooperative Extension operates it at the Elkus Ranch Environmental Education Center, a 125-acre ranch formerly stewarded by the Ohlone tribe. Twenty-five campers sleep here and spend their days doing hands-on activities on rangelands, in redwood forests, and along watersheds.

“My favorite thing was meeting new people. I was willing to go outside of my comfort zone,” says Isaiah.

Counselors and professionals teach campers about the health of local fisheries, how to use fences for grazing management, and how erosion control improves riparian environments. Isaiah enjoyed learning how to distinguish annuals from perennials and identifying iconic forbs and grasses of the region. The week culminates in a test—and a barbeque by the beach.

Tracy Ellison, Conservation Director of Solano Land Trust, thought it was just what Solano County’s youth needed.

“For years I knew of the UCNAR/UC Extension Range Camp and wanted to take advantage of this local youth experience,” Tracy says. “Getting our local youth outside is in our 2022 Strategic and Agriculture Conservation Plan goals, so I was excited to move this action forward. Next year the program will be available by application to students from anywhere in Solano County. We look forward to sending youth to learn more and become excited about nature and agriculture.”

Isaiah says future campers will find counselors and guest speakers open-minded and approachable, and he advises future attendees to “ask lots of questions.” His environmental science classes had piqued an interest in combatting climate change, and he had questions for the range camp staff about the consequences of prescribed fires. “I was not worried to speak to them,” Isaiah said. “I was more intrigued and wanted to also be educated myself on a lot of things.”

Robert Caine enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the daily tasks of a working ranch. “My favorite activity was getting to vaccinate the animals,” Robert says. “I learned how to maintain all the animals on the property which could help me in the future. When I'm older, I plan to buy property and livestock.”
Both campers were grateful for the opportunity. Isaiah thinks more youth will benefit from an experience like this, whether or not they consider themselves outdoorsy.

“Even if a student is not fond of going out in the wild and looking at trees or plants, they should try it,” Isaiah said. “It is a very good experience. You’ll meet new people and learn about new job opportunities. And you get to feel your surroundings rather than just hear about them, or view them from a textbook.”
Formative experiences like these are something that can only happen on open land. Working in the field helps kids better understand the world beneath their feet—and this helps them see paths they might take in the future.

The benefits of the land affect people throughout their lives. But there are few things more inspiring than watching youth connect to the natural world at this vital time in their lives. Solano Land Trust is here to invest in these connections because future generations need the land and one day, sooner than we think, the lands we leave behind will be in their hands.

Photography courtesy of Isaiah Wilson and Robert Caine