Temecula Valley HS program hopes to reverse climate change by rebuilding Earth

Due to the prevalence of the wine industry in Temecula, the plan is to start a small vineyard across two acres of school property.
TEMECULA, Calif. (KABC) -- Temecula Valley High School has a new club teaching students how to conserve water and soil through agriculture called regenerative farming.

"We want to make sure that the students on this farm project will understand irrigation systems that will help with water conservation, and then also looking at ways to build our soil and create healthy eco-systems with the plants that we grow," said Meghan Manion, the literacy specialist and garden coordinator at the Temecula Valley School District.

Due to the prevalence of the wine industry in Temecula, the plan is to start a small vineyard across two acres of school property, along with several olive trees, before eventually expanding with various crops across the 10-acre hillside overlooking the school's baseball field.

"It's an approach that rebuilds the entire system," said Greg Pennyroyal, the vineyard manager at Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards. "I was amazed when the students, on their own, got together and said, 'This is the path we want to go. We don't have a lot of resources. Let's start a club and let's look for help.'"

Some of that help came through a grant from the Pechanga Band of Indians.

Seed money to "cultivate the next generation of wine growers and farmers" for the Temecula Valley is an important part of the tribe's culture.

"The ability to share that culture and see that and see the excitement, we're extremely proud to be part of that and to be able to help contribute in any way we can to our community," said Jared Munoa, a board officer at Pechanga Development Corporation.

More than a dozen high school students have been taking soil samples and studying topography maps of the hillside where they will soon learn how to farm.

"They just have open bright minds," said Pennyroyal. "The questions they ask and the insights they have is inspiring, but the other thing is, I don't want them to have to unlearn so many things to learn what really works."

There are schools across the country with similar programs, but this is the first of its kind in Temecula and the kids involved think it could be tailored to fit any agricultural community.

"There are a lot of different cities that have things that they grow locally," said TVHS Junior Nicole Nae. "We wouldn't tell someone from a different climate, 'Oh, grow grapes,' when that's for our climate. Maybe they plant wheat. Maybe they plant corn. That could be something for their school because that's what their city does."

A classroom component is included in program, which could prove important for a region known for its agriculture.

The hope is a career technical education pathway will be created, offering students a head start in a field that doesn't always have a clear pathway to success.

"If I went into college and I started doing it and I realized, 'Oh I hate this,' then it would've been a waste of time," said junior Kyle Riley. "But now, I've started doing it and I'm learning about it, and I know that I like it so that I know I can keep going and continue to pursue it."

Manion hopes the project pays off in the long run.

"I think it's been difficult for a while to get a steady crew out on some of the vineyards, so hopefully, with our project, we would get students ready and prepared and keep some of our students in our valley," she said.

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