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Historic school site repurposed as educational farm

On a site where our pioneering great-great-grandfathers once attended classes, a remote school is enjoying a resurgence. Rising Sun Farm and Garden located between Patterson and Vernalis on Stanislaus County's westside has been repurposed to give developmentally challenged young adults a growing chance to be productive.

Dr. Phillip Alfano, superintendent of the Patterson Joint Unified School District, said about 20 developmentally disabled young adults aged 18 to 22 from the Patterson, Crows Landing, Newman, Westley, Grayson and Vernalis areas are learning new skills on the 10-acre site that has recently benefitted from $800,000 in funding, including a $600,000 grant from the state Department of Education.

Alfano said Rising Sun Farm and Garden is "really a fun place to be" and serves three different groups of students, including the young adults, students from Del Puerto and Patterson high schools and elementary school students from surrounding schools who will take field trips to the 2234 Welty Road campus.

Rising Sun Farm and Garden grows lavender, with almonds, walnuts, peaches, apples and apricots on the horizon. Llamas and other farm animals will join the site, which will include a commercial greenhouse, cutting garden, composting facility and vegetable garden. A catchmen basis will store rainwater for farm use.

Nothing remains of the original one-room 1870 schoolhouse replaced in the mid-1920s by a newer structure. For decades the school served families working at the massive 5,000-acre El Solyo Ranch farming operation not far away. The school was upgraded over the decades and operated through 2009, shutting down in 2010 due to dire economic times.

After sitting vacant for a year, Alfano said the school is reopening through its Transition to Success program. Downey High School students in Modesto built a small caretaker's home on the site of the original school house. The refurbished school has a multipurpose room and one wing with four classrooms.

The multipurpose room also will double as a community event center where students will serve meals with food grown on the complex.

Carol Scoles, curator of the Patterson Historical Society Museum, said the Rising Sun reopening is a terrific event.

"It's a wonderful thing, absolutely," Scoles said. "It's something that will live long and be remembered forever."

Linda Briggs, president of the Patterson Historical Society, came out to the Oct. 26 dedication ceremony to check things out.

"I love it and what they are doing with the kids," Briggs said.

Sheree Lane, a Patterson High School senior, was giving tours of the new cutting garden. She thinks it's "so cool" that the school district went to this extent to take care of other students. She said cuttings will be transplanted in the nearby greenhouse. Ten tables are being used to grow onions, flowers, rosemary, boxwood cuttings and fan palms which will be sold to nurseries and the public.

Nearby, the most elaborate wooden chicken coop one could imagine will be pressed into service shortly. It has been dubbed "The Chick Inn."

— Doane Yawger of Merced is a semi-retired newspaper reporter and editor.