An eager group of agriculture students spent Tuesday afternoon readying Sonora High School's "Wildcat Ranch" for the new school year, setting up a weather station and sprucing up the property.
The approximately 130-acre ranch at the southwest corner of Wards Ferry Road and Tuolumne Road will be used as an outdoor laboratory for agriculture classes at Sonora High, allowing students to create a self-sustaining farm from the ground up.
The school plans to use the property for livestock, a variety of crops, and a barn.
"I like it because we can actually learn by doing instead of just writing things down," said freshman agriculture student Sabrina Thomas. "I learn better hands-on."
Other students in Sonora High's Agriculture Leadership class echoed the sentiment on their first visit to Wildcat Ranch this fall. Some said it was the highlight of their school experience.
"Ag is the class that I wait for," said sophomore Evon
Meckler. "It gives us a reason to go to school."
Sonora Union High School District has owned the Wildcat
Ranch property since about 1980, according to school board member and retired teacher Mel Ginn.
The district doesn't make payments on the land, said district Superintendent Mike McCoy. Much of the startup funding for Wildcat Ranch is coming from thecommunity, with local companies and natural resource experts donating their time.
The property is already home to eight Angus heifers, which will be bred soon.
"Sonora High's in the cattle business now," McCoy said.
McCoy has described Wildcat Ranch as a "30- to 40-year project." Students, with the help of community mentors, will analyze market trends to design a farm that can not only sustain itself but turn a profit.
"It's student-centered and student-focused," said agriculture teacher Stan Kellogg. "They can have fun as long as they get work done too."
Kellogg said Sonora High's FFA chapter, formerly Future Farmers of America, has about 60 active members, but the number of students engaged withthe program is steadily growing.