Fourth-grader Shamari McKnight picked up a foot-long grapevine cutting, placed a smaller piece from another variety in a notch and taped the two together.
He was learning the art of grafting Thursday as part of a five-day program at Franklin Elementary School sponsored by the Modesto-based National Ag Science Center.
“There’s the rootstock and there’s a (scion) and you have to put it together to see if it fits,” Shamari said of the process, which is vital to Stanislaus County’s large nursery industry.
The Modesto-based center provided the free morning lessons for about 80 third- through fifth-grade students during the summer break at Franklin and at Martone School.
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Along with plant propagation, students have learned about water, soil, insects and other topics related to producing food. FFA and other high school students assisted.
Duarte Nursery of Hughson provided the grafting lesson. This time of year, its employees do this task about 1 million times a week on trees and vines that will be sold to fruit and nut farmers in California and beyond. A few other companies in the county graft in great volume, too.
Grafting, which dates to ancient times, combines the traits of the rootstock with those of the scion – the part that will leaf out. The result is a crop with the desired flavor, ripening time, disease resistance and other characteristics. The process is quicker than growing from seed.
“That’s what the farmers like – they can grow things faster and get more harvest out of them,” said Katy Strand, who works in sales at Duarte and helped with the Franklin presentation.
The National Ag Science Center was founded to raise money for an interactive museum at the Modesto Junior College West Campus, but that project has been shelved while other efforts are carried out. One is the Ag in Motion traveling laboratory, which teaches junior high students about farm-related science. Another, taking place next week, shows teachers how to get these topics into their lesson plans.
The vines grafted at Franklin, a west Modesto campus, did not move on through the process at Duarte. The company did send each student home with a potted grapevine that had been grafted a few months ago.
Something else took root this week: knowledge of the farming that takes place just beyond the city limits.
“I learned about the water cycle and about the soil and how to take care of the plants,” fourth-grader Candice Sivilaythong said.