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Youth learn life skills, help improve community through IMACA program

July 24, 2012

This California Conservation Corps crew is working with a CRJ Construction crew to install high tunnels at Inyo-Mono Advocates for Community Action’s Community Support Agriculture Project in Lone Pine. CRJ Construction owner Coale Johnson has donated the use of the land as well as his crew’s time, said IMACA Community Services Director Jane McDonald. Photo by Jane McDonald

This summer, the Owens Valley is seeing community garden improvements, construction of year-round green houses and Wilderness Area revitalization – all thanks to local teens who are weathering summer’s searing rays and furnace-blast winds.
Inyo-Mono Advocates for Community Action’s Eastern Sierra Youth Conservation Corps program has two goals, said IMACA Community Services Director Jane McDonald. One is to provide edifying work opportunities that allow youths to connect with and contribute to their community; the other is to build “food security in our region by making more fresh produce available and accessible in our community,” said McDonald.
The six-week ESYCC program, which started mid-June, saw two, seven-person teams working on either end of the county.
The south county ESYCC team split its time between projects at IMACA Community Support Agricultural farm at DelaCour Ranch and Independence Community Garden. Team leader Nelson Sanchez-Oyarco’s Masters in Environmental Health and Safety has come in handy as he “prepares the kids for the future.” They sample Eastern Sierra job opportunities in ranch, agriculture, conservation and national park industries, said Sanchez.
“It’s a fantastic program for the kids to develop skills to grow their own crops – gardening, irrigation systems, soil preparation, harvesting, green house construction (and the use of) civil engineering equipment such as GPS and transit levels.”
The team worked on irrigation system installations and high tunnel construction at DelaCour Ranch, nine miles west of Lone Pine, and Independence Community Garden.
High tunnels are green houses designed to withstand powerful winds thereby “extending the growing season,” said District Conservationist Robert Pearce of Natural Resources Conservation Service, which funded the high tunnel projects.
“Donald M. Slager Sunset Foundation and Metabolic Studio, a direct Charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation,” also provided ESYCC project funding “to support regional food security,” explained McDonald. In addition, IMACA “wrote a grant to get the adult California Conservation Corps crew here to work side by side with our ESYCC crew,” said McDonald.
Team member Robert Morgan, Jr., 17, who sees San Francisco Art Institute in his future, said he likes to “work in the wild with the mountain views (while providing) the benefits of year-long community gardens for low-income people.” Teammate Milton Mendoza, 16, who plans to go into construction, agreed that their efforts will “produce more local food and organic food year-round.” Desarae Coats, 17, said she had fun “giving back to the community,” and plans to use this experience in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps.
Teammate Benicio Hernandez, 19, said he’s using his ESYCC experience to be self-supporting with an eye to opening a construction business, or going to community college. His cousin Javier, 18, plans to be an “Equine Science major at Pierce College in Woodland Hills.” Javier said the biggest challenge has been working in triple-digit temperatures. Both teams agreed with that.
Another challenge was the lack of power tools, said future welding college student Jezesiel Machado, 17. “It’s (been) all manual tools like shovels, picks and rakes (but) I feel better about myself when I get paid for doing the hard work,” Second-year ESYCC team member Bryan Peralta, 18, mentioned another perk, popular among the teens. “This experience will look good on my resume.”
North county ESYCC team leader Bryan Kostors added, “Working in a standard work environment with time sheets (and) team work” and so on, prepares kids for the work force. “And the community has praised their efficiency and ability to complete assigned work as a group,” he said.
Kostors, a public school music teacher, used his experience educating youth as he led several projects that assisted the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Benton and Bishop communities.
These projects include: a face lift for Sunrise Mobile Home park garden; building Benton Community Garden from scratch; adding decomposed granite pathways and perimeter fencing at Bishop Community Garden; a BLM sagebrush transplant on Long Valley roads created by errant off-road vehicles; collecting bitterbrush seeds to reestablish flora behind Crater Mountain, south of Big Pine, where it had been destroyed by the September 2011 John Fire; and putting finishing touches on the new Ancient Bristlecone Forest visitor center.
Teammate Glen Dewey Mijango, 16, said the work improves mental focus, adds physical strength and “builds morality and integrity.” He referred to work like fixing Crowley Lake area “off-roads and barb-wire fences;” cutting back Bodie Hills-area piñon pines which have encroached on sage grouse foraging areas; and removing deteriorating, wildlife-monitoring enclosures in Round Valley. Koster said the kids are also gaining “knowledge about where we live.”
On the flip side, teammate Johnny Delgado, 18, said he learned that “people leave trash all over. They create roads that shouldn’t be created and mess up wildlife habitats.” Justin Brew, 17, added that “the community looks nicer” after their clean-up efforts.
“From harvesting native plant seed, to developing garden infrastructure to improve food security, work done by this year’s ESYCC Crews will continue to benefit residents of the Owens Valley for many years to come.”
said McDonald.
IMACA will be hiring for ESYCC in April 2013. For more information, call (760) 873-8557, ext. 22.

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