It takes a very specific kind of curiosity to be out on Humboldt Bay at 8 in the morning just to see oyster beds, and on June 11 that curiosity was on full display when nearly 40 people boarded the Madaket for the first of a series of tours being put on by the University of California Cooperative Extension — Humboldt.
As part of its 100th anniversary, from now until Oct. 12, the UC Cooperative Extension is offering a series of nine "Let's Get Local" farm tours meant to show off Humboldt's local producers.
The series will cover not only every aspect of agriculture on the North Coast but also give a look into the area's other well-known industries, like the Loleta Cheese Factory, and newer ones like the DG Fairhaven biomass power plant in Samoa.
This is a chance to see a real slice of Humboldt County via some of the industries that have sustained this area. Yana Valachovic, county director of UC Cooperative Extension — Humboldt and Del Norte, is surprised by the interest generated by these tours.
The Madaket tour was filled well in advance, and the grass-fed beef tour on July 12 in Ferndale is running out of room fast. The Oct. 2 tour of the DG Fairhaven biomass plant in Samoa has already filled up to the plant's capacity of 20. An average of 30 people have already signed up per tour, and the Veggies and Wine Grapes tour of the Rosina Vineyards on Aug. 11 currently has 40 people signed up with space still available. UC Cooperative reps said that they also saw an increase in sign-ups following the oyster tour.
After the captain took us out onto the water, with a safety demonstration that promised that the Madaket follows the "Captain first" plan for emergency evacuations, Greg Dale, general manager of Coast Seafoods, led the tour.
Its website states, the Cooperative Extension is an educational outreach program conducted cooperatively by Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, University of California and US Department of Agriculture. This partnership formed in 1913, and though it relies on all three entities, it's mainly funded and maintained by the Univeristy of California. For every dollar the county puts into the Cooperative Extension, the UC puts in five. As Valachovic puts it, "It's a pretty good deal for the county."
Valachovic says that with extensions in 56 counties, the cooperative has the ability to make a real impact on the people of California.
One example would be 4-H, which is maintained by the UC Cooperative Extension. Extensions have suffered from the massive budget cuts to California's education system in recent years, but are rebounding.
California's recently passed 2013-2014 budget saw a 5 percent increase to UC, which amounts to $142 million being put back into the university system for campuses, with some of those funds returning to entities like the Cooperative Extension. Valachovic says she is using the new money to open more jobs in the program, as well as for events like the tour series.
Al Steer, from North Coast Air Quality, attended the oyster tour as an observer. Steer said he was interested in "finding out about pathways between the farm and the table," and that he wanted to take advantage of a rare opportunity to see the oyster beds with long-time professionals.
He wasn't the only one who wanted to see things up close. Toddlers August Kendall and Gately Mason spent most of the boat ride fascinated by the oysters and watching Joe Tyburczy, coastal specialist for HSU, shuck oysters for the entire 90 minutes of the tour.
Valachovic lamented that closures and downsizing have made it more difficult to see the inner workings of many local industries. She looks at Pacific Lumber Mill in Scotia, which was built to allow for tours, as one of the opportunities lost when the mill closed 12 years ago. The extension's tours are partly meant to fill the gap left by such changes. On Sept. 13, the extension is also putting on a gala celebration to commemorate its 100-year anniversary. The festivities will go from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at the Arcata Community Center. Dress will be casual, and the event is open to the public. Details will be posted on its website (below) in the next few weeks.
All the tours are free to the public as long as space is available. And while most trips are all ages, the redwood mill and biomass power plant visits, Sept. 25 and Oct. 2 respectively, ask that children be over 12 and accompanied by an adult.
For more information or to sign up for one of the tours, contact the UC Cooperative Extension at 707-445-7351 or sign up at http://cehumboldt.ucanr.edu/.