Ag + Open Space partners with local nonprofits to run public outings and youth education programs on conserved lands

July 19, 2023

Posted in: Press Releases

Ag + Open Space partners with local nonprofits to run public outings and youth education programs on conserved lands

SANTA ROSA, CA (July 11, 2023) – Today, the Sonoma County Ag + Open Space Board of Directors approved $1.7M for the next three years of our Public Outings + Youth Education program. For over 20 years, we have partnered with Sonoma County community-based organizations to offer public outings, youth education, and workforce development programming on natural and working lands conserved by Ag + Open Space. We are thrilled to continue this work with LandPaths, the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, Sonoma Ecology Center, Sonoma Land Trust, and the Sonoma Resource Conservation District, while also welcoming Friends of the Petaluma River as a new program partner. Serving over 7,000 community members a year, this program offers on-land and virtual hikes and experiences, classroom visits, field trips, and workforce development opportunities.

“Connecting our communities to conserved lands is a fundamental part of this work,” said Chris Coursey, Chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and President of the Ag + Open Space Board of Directors. “Land conservation is an investment in the present, and the future. As we all learn more about adapting to and mitigating climate change, we need to work toward everyone understanding the role the natural world plays in our long-term health as individuals and as a society.”

As part of the Vital Lands Initiative, we are further committed to connecting our communities to the lands they’ve conserved with their public investment through thoughtful and authentic community relations efforts. This round of contracts will see Ag + Open Space working with partners on programming that centers equity, inclusion, and justice in land conservation, while also developing new ways to connect the public with privately-held conserved lands. This new round of contracts includes outings designed for LGBTQIA+ community members, increased opportunities for those with mobility limitations, and expanded bilingual (Spanish/English) programs.

Public outings range broadly, from gentle hikes on Van Hoosear Wildflower Preserve to partner events with other community-based organizations that offer culturally relevant family outings at Alman Marsh. Outings also take place on privately-held conserved lands, from the agricultural Burns property (otherwise known as Open Field Farm) west of Petaluma to the Keen property near Sonoma. We’ve also increased stewardship focused outings, particularly with the Laguna Foundation who offer stewardship days where participants help with long-term restoration projects that include removing invasive plants and planting native species.

Youth education experiences are designed as a series of classroom visits and field trips that help connect what students are learning in school to the natural world around them. Field trips with LandPaths and Sonoma Resource Conservation District to farms and open space properties connect students to local ecosystems and local food systems. Teachers consistently note that these programs are critical complements to their environmental education work in the classroom.

Though the last three years of this program were greatly impacted by the pandemic, our partners quickly adapted to include virtual experiences. By continuing to offer both on-land and virtual experiences, we have seen the ways in which online programs increase accessibility with translation and captioning tools, and also present a path for people to learn about conserved lands even if they aren’t able to visit them due to difficult access and mobility limitations.

Through part-time paid positions, stipended internships, and career pathway exploration programming, local high school students can work for Sonoma Ecology Center at Sonoma Garden Park, help lead outings with Sonoma Land Trust, and explore careers in agriculture with Sonoma Resource Conservation District.

“We’re honored to work with this cohort of outstanding organizations to connect our community with the benefits of the lands they’ve conserved with their sales tax dollars,” said Misti Arias, Ag + Open Space General Manager. “From connecting young people to local food systems, to bringing families out to explore beautiful agricultural and natural landscapes, to involving community members in restoring ecosystems, these programs highlight why it’s so important for us all to continue to invest in and care for these vital open spaces.”