Pesticide-Free Soil Project

What is the Pesticide-Free Soil Project?

Click to watch video
The Pesticide-Free Soil Project was born out of EFC’s Environmental Justice Learning and Action Project (EJLAP) which focuses on ways young people can learn about environmental justice, not only through focused workshops and research but by participating directly in community events to address social justice issues.

What’s New with the PFSP?

Our motto for this year’s work is: “Get pesticides off our campuses, cafeterias, and surrounding landscapes!” We’ll deepen our focus on supporting schools in the Rio District on these three levels, as well as providing peer-led workshops about anti-pesticide advocacy to the community at large. We’ll keep using arts-based organizing strategies as much as possible, going on engaging educational field trips, and getting to know the place and communities we live with on new levels.

Ongoing Hands-On Regenerative Farming Experiences: Community Roots & Rio Regenerative Farm

Interns are deepening their experience and knowledge by participating in hands-on work and learning at Community Roots Garden and Rio Regenerative Farm. These hands-on sessions also provide opportunities for community outreach, team building and organizing. At Community Roots we’ve had the opportunity to harvest squash and help with native plant propagation. At the Rio Regenerative Farm, we have been able to support the “year 0” of transitioning the farm from organic strawberries to a diverse educational farm. PFSP interns have helped apply mountains of compost to the new beds, transplanted hundreds of cabbage and broccoli sprouts, learned to push a paper-pot transplanting device down the row for efficient planting, planted pomegranate trees, harvested multi-colored radishes, and helped install drip tape irrigation. Farmer Edgar Espinosa is a great educator and can draw from his experiences running large scale conventional farms as well as regenerative agriculture experience. In our many discussions while we work, we have discussed topics ranging from the importance of water conservation, the future of how Oxnard land is used and who controls it, stories about racism against Bracero-era farmworkers, stories about how our different grandparents have grown food, stories about how the food distribution system works at present, and how important integrated animal systems are for nutrient cycling. The plan is for this farm to provide significant produce to the Rio schools. Click for a brief video of Rio Regenerative Farm.

Compost Tea Party at Rio Plaza Elementary, November 8, 2023

A Compost Tea Party is an event that brings community members together to provide hands-on lessons and education for students, staff, and community members around nature-based climate solutions. These solutions include applying compost tea to campuses instead of toxic pesticides, having cafeterias serve local and organic food, providing garden-based and nutrition education, and much more. The event most often takes the form of an environmental fair held at our local public schools.

For the Compost Tea Party at Rio Plaza Elementary this fall, interns prepared and taught a workshop on pesticide drift. In both English and Spanish, they explained what pesticides are and why farmers and landscapers use them, then defined drift (“anytime pesticides go where they weren’t intended to go”) and gave a visual and experiential example of how it works. They delivered this workshop to hundreds of students and then assisted them in applying Compost Tea to the school’s lawn. Click for a short video excerpt.

Click for a longer video with a visual simulation of pesticide drift.

Environmental Justice Workshops (Theater of the Oppressed)

In 2023-2024, PFSP interns will lead Environmental Justices Workshops using arts-based methods and facilitate group processes around what actions community members can take for a healthier community. These sessions will center on issues of pesticide drift, pesticide impacts on human and environmental health, alternatives to toxic pesticides, and other environmental justice issues. Workshops will be offered to community youth groups, at schools, public events, and other sites as organized by our group. They will include political theater and theater of the oppressed methods, community council circles, and opportunities to participate in actions.

In October and Novermber, PFSP students participated in two Theater of the Oppressed workshops with Daphnie Sicre, professor at Loyola Marymount University. These workshops were an opportunity to learn from an expert in community and participatory theater, and having her presence and guidance helped the interns rise to the challenge of creating a theater piece about the impact of pesticides on our community. For an in-depth description of this process, click below.

The creation of Pesticide-Drift Workshops using Theater of the Oppressed techniques.
To prepare for the workshops, interns were assigned a newspaper article, document, or report to read that covered different aspects of the impact of pesticides both in Oxnard and more broadly. The workshops included theater games and warm-ups that primed us for further discussions. We learned about how Forum Theater works, in which we create a play that we perform and then invite the audience to intervene in the injustice depicted on the second time through. We discussed our articles and documents and the interns brought scenarios, statistics, and quotes that they found particularly impactful and wanted to include in the play. We then divided into two groups and brainstormed the plot and characters in a three scene format (beginning, middle, and end). We created tableaus of each of the scenes and performed them for the other group, and each of us spoke a line as our character saying what they would be thinking in that scene. We took notes on all of this as the source material for the play’s script.

Ultimately the scenario and dialogue from the two groups was combined into one. Daphne guided us in how to do this and what other tools we could use to include content and make the scenes matter. For example, she suggested we don’t have the characters say statistics but we could have signs with them that go across the stage. She led us in the idea of using fast-forwards in time so that the three scenes take place at different points in the characters’ lives.

Between the workshops, we created a first draft of a playable script to bring to the second workshop. We performed the first draft and made many notes on how we would tweak the script for more clarity. The interns got to spend a lot of this workshop learning how to be the facilitator, or joker, with two of them doing the whole play as the facilitator. This role helps set the tone and structure for the audience and then facilitates their interventions and the following discussion afterwards.

Our next step is to practice more, add to the script, and prepare for our first two performances. These are on December 2 and 9 with CAUSE’s Oxnard youth group and Tequio’s Oxnard youth group respectively. It will be nice to do the pieces for the first time for these audiences who are already invested in and skilled at community changemaking. The play purposely leaves the audience uncomfortable; in other words, it is unresolved. However, our job will be to leave the audience with some semblance of hope and what they can do to make change. It’s a big and complicated story to tell, but with our collective ideas we are getting closer to how to do this. Daphne plans to attend our first performance as a support. We’ll also invite Teresa Gomez, the local organizer from Californians for Pesticide Reform, to attend one or both of them. The interns are excited about this forum!



12/2: CAUSE Youth Group – 1st Peer Environmental Justice Theater Workshop!

12/9: Tequio Youth Group – 2nd Peer Environmental Justice Theater Workshop!

January – March

  •  Scheduling and performing our Environmental Justice Theater Workshops at local high schools and colleges (organized primarily by interns at their schools)
  • Hands-on regenerative farming experiences at Community Roots & Rio Farm
  • Scheduling and facilitating a Compost Tea Party
  • Collaborating with CAUSE – Beach Day at Ormond Beach (Superfund site and site of future mural they are planning and have invited us to collaborate on)
  • Collaborating with Tequio on planning for Earth Day events. This might include a puppet making workshop. We may hold a Zine workshop for Tequio & PFSP youth to create a pesticide/environmental justice-focused zine that we could then distribute at the Earth Day events.


Sunday, April 21, 11am-4pm @ Ventura Charter School Campus

Ventura Earth Day Celebration

Offering our Environmental Justice Theater Workshop at this Earth Day event!

Saturday and/or Sunday, April 27 & 28 @ Alameda Park, Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Earth Day Celebration

Offering our Environmental Justice Theater Workshop at this Earth Day event!

Spring 2023

The Pesticide-Free Soil Project (PFSP) finished the school year with two powerful community events: the Compost Tea Party at Rio Del Norte Elementary School and the Other Strawberry Festival.


On May 31, 2023, more than 500 students between kindergarten and fifth grade participated in the EFC/PFSP’s fourth annual Compost Tea Party. The students participated in a series of workshops about nature-based climate solutions, led by community leaders, and took action to move their campus toward reducing pesticide use by applying compost tea to their soccer field. The students, teachers, staff, and community members were also treated to a special school lunch obtained entirely from Ventura County farmers.

PFSP Project Director Florencia Ramirez led the compost tea application workshop and taught students about healthy soil, carbon sequestration, and the links between soil solutions and climate resilience. PFSP interns and peer organizers designed and delivered two workshops for students: one about how to report pesticide drift incidents, and the other about how to write to your local government to make change to using fewer pesticides on community parks near schools. The elementary students produced wonderful letters and drawings in response to these workshops and left talking about how they could make a difference.

Community partners for the other workshops included FoodCorps members; Rincon Vitova insectaries; Once Upon a Watershed; Oxnard High School Culinary Arts students; and local farmer Edgar, who provides produce to the school regularly. Topics included farm tasting, beneficial bugs, soil and the senses, compost basics, rock painting, nature bingo, seed balls, show & tell sensory table, compost “cakes,” food demos, nature journaling, and more.

The PFSP interns and staff participated in interviews that will be made into two videos: one about “What is the PFSP?” and a longer one that will be a “How to Make a Compost Tea Party” documentary, interviewing key players about their roles in making the event happen. The hope is that this video, along with templates for the event, will help to make this event replicable in other school districts near and far.

This was a very successful event and the PFSP was honored to continue our work in the Rio School District, where we’ve invested four years of environmental literacy education. We’re excited to see the changes small and large that have come from this focus on the Rio District, including the district being named a 2023 California Green Ribbon School District Sustainability Honoree—one of only two districts in the county to receive this distinction.

Click for a few brief peeks into the event:

Creative application of compost tea!

PFSP interns lead an advocacy workshop.

Two of the nature-based climate solution workshops led by community groups.

PFSP Interns and Staff Participate in the 2023 Bioneers Conference

The Pesticide Free Soil Project (PFSP) was accepted to the youth program at the 34th annual Bioneers Conference (April 5-9). The Bioneers Conference features renowned leaders in many different fields, coming together to share perspectives on environmental justice, or in their words: to “highlight breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet.” It was an incredible opportunity for our youth to connect with organizations, meet other activist youth from all over the country, and hear from inspiring speakers. We had eight young people participate, all of whom got to network with others and to share about the important work they do in Ventura County. They were willing to take their spring break vacations to travel together by train to Berkeley, CA, where the conference is held.

One important part of attending this conference was that it gave our young people context for how their work locally is part of a number of larger movements globally – and allowed them to connect their own activism with that of other youth from all around the country. Our youth were also able to connect the way this conference was held to their own conference – the Other Strawberry Festival – and we spent time brainstorming how we want to be informed by the Bioneers gathering when we hold our own virtual event.

This was truly a special opportunity for the PFSP and the Encampment to connect with organizations and youth who are working for environmental justice solutions and to find our place within a powerful network of changemakers.

Here are highlights of what the young people shared in response to attending the conference:

“Being able to hear from different youth was so inspiring, especially the People of Color Youth Caucus. I felt so lucky to participate in such a beautiful workshop. What was so special about this workshop was that it was interactive and gave us all the chance to learn about different cultures and ways to embrace our culture/ancestors.” – Mari

“Bioneers allowed me to get a glimpse of the countless ways we as society can work towards achieving environmental justice. Most of the speakers that I listened to were older folks who shared their wisdom on how they deal with issues they are particularly interested in and provided advice applicable to all areas of interest. It was a beautiful experience getting to know folks, connect with like-minded people, and be in a place of hope and transformation.” – Moncerrat

“I learned how indigenous people from around the world are finding ways to fight racist governmental laws to connect with traditional practices that help the earth. I am coming out of this trip with new information and perspectives.” – Joaquin

“I connect to our PFSP work the things I learned about indigeneity, healing from colonization, and land rights. These are all things to consider and incorporate into PFSP work we and I do. What was helpful about this trip was connecting, learning, and stepping out of my comfort zone.” – Piper

Click image to listen in to PFSP Peer Organizer Adriana Diaz’s informal pesticide drift training. Pesticide drift can lead to serious health issues, particularly for school children. Ms. Diaz, a former PFSP intern, explains what pesticide drift is, how to identify it, and how to report. This section begins at 6:59 after introductions and icebreaker with PFSP interns.

Fall 2022

This fall, PFSP interns are engaged in an 11-week training on the environmental impact of pesticides, related social justice issues and examples of activism ranging from Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book Silent Spring to the Rights of Nature Movement.

To learn more about the impact of Silent Spring, click this link: Content warning: animals suffering.

The interns are participating in hands-on training in regenerative agriculture techniques at the Community Roots Garden in Oxnard.

Plans are ongoing for the spring compost tea party and The Other Strawberrry Festival, PFSP’s major events. Meanwhile the interns’ social media campaign continues to reach more people, educating the community on pesticides, Indigenous issues and regenerative agriculture.

Click for PFSP’s instagram video of Piper harvesting butternut squash:

We are the ones who can create the most change for the future.

I am 17 years old and a senior in high school, and my pronouns are she/they. This is my first year as an intern at PFSP and I am excited about this opportunity. PFSP gives me the chance to learn and create while I strive to do work toward environmental justice. It is so important for youth to be a part of these conversations. We are the ones who can create the most change for the future. The youth are learners and doers. Every day, we are learning new things, and most of us thrive to use the skills we learn in our everyday lives. — Marianna, Intern

The PFSP has taught me a lot about environmental justice, but more importantly, it’s given me hope, purpose, inspiration, and curiosity.

I am a senior at Rio Mesa High School and I’ve been an intern with the PFSP for two years. I have had the opportunity to find and create a community in Ventura County of artists, activists, curanderas, farmworkers, and youth leaders. It has been my greatest pleasure to be involved with the PFSP. Attending the Encampment for Citizenship taught me a lot about community organizing, working with other youth, and advocacy. The PFSP has taught me a lot about environmental justice, but more importantly, it’s given me hope, purpose, inspiration, and curiosity. Next year, I will be attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I will study art, sustainability, and community organizing. If it weren’t for the EFC and PFSP, I would not be pursuing these passions of mine. — Piper, Intern

These social issues, specifically pesticides, are important to me because my parents are fieldworkers and I would like for them to have better working conditions.

I was a part of the EFC summer program. Social justice caught my attention and I felt that in one way or another, I had to be involved with helping the community. These social issues, specifically pesticides, are important to me because my parents are fieldworkers and I would like for them to have better working conditions. Youth should be a part of or lead these conversations because they themselves have parents who are fieldworkers here locally. — Adriana Diaz, Peer Organizer

The PFSP is a group of young people dedicated to finding solutions to the ever-growing use of pesticides in our communities.

I have been involved with the PFSP for two years. The PFSP is a group of young people dedicated to finding solutions to the ever-growing use of pesticides in our communities. I joined the project because I was in the EFC summer program. And the reason I was there is because of my interest in politics and community organizing. — Joaquin, Intern

The Pesticide Free Soil Project has been such a great part of my life — it has helped me realize what I can do to help the world around me

I’ve lived in Oxnard my entire life, so I’ve known these large agricultural fields that are everywhere, the people who work in them, and the issues they face. The Pesticide Free Soil Project has been such a great part of my life — it has helped me realize what I can do to help the world around me. I’ve learned from other interns and their life experiences, farmworkers, and other people in the community. — Sarahi Noyola, Peer Organizer

Background on PFSP

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., greeting Encampers.
Compost tea party.
In 2019, the Ventura County Pesticide-Free Soil Project (PFSP) evolved from a collaboration with EFC alums, local schools and community-based organizations shining a light on the issue of pesticide-use at school sites and its impact on people in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Based on the PFSP’s successes, we are focusing on building leadership among youth in Ventura County, including some from farmworker families, to address pesticide use and other issues, using the six-month action plan program to support their efforts.

A core of local EFC alums plus 2020 Encampers are engaged in more training and organizing experience in conjunction with our organizational partners: Pesticide Action Network (PAN), Californians for Pesticide Reform, the Abundant Table, El Rio School District, Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), the Public Health Institute, and the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE).

PFSP’s “Compost Tea Parties” started the process of creating the first – and second – pesticide-free schools on the Oxnard Plain, which immediately helped improve soil and air quality for the surrounding community. That area has one of the highest pollution levels in the state, due to pesticide use. Several off-shoots, including an online nature-based climate solutions curriculum project and the “Heal the Earth” initiative, launched by third graders, are also the result of the PFSP initiative.

Due to COVID-19, the EFC pivoted to make the summer intensive virtual and activities in Ventura County safe for the young people and the other community members.

Under the leadership of Florencia Ramirez, PFSP Director, the PFSP continued during the spring and summer of 2020. PFSP responded particularly to COVID-19 by working with projects and initiatives addressing food insecurity, pesticides, farmworker health and policy work on the use of pesticides in Ventura County and throughout the state of California.

We have a stipended year-round internship program, under the direction of Juna Rosales Muller. We work with recent EFC alums from Ventura County to provide them with hands-on experience in organizing, engaging other youth, and deepening and expanding their leadership skills. These young people are often working two to three jobs, in addition to attending high school or college, and COVID-19 means layoffs for even those low-paying positions. Being able to offer stipends ensures that the young people have the support to work on the issues that affect their lives.

  • This year the interns trained in regenerative agriculture and organic farming at The Abundant Table. Specifics include carrying out farm-based activities, such as working with plants, produce, tools, soil, seeds and irrigation; participating in training sessions onsite, such as lectures, demonstrations and workshops; and interacting with Abundant Table members and partner organizations, such as the Rodale Institute (socially distant, outdoors, masks on.)
  • They also worked on the ARC project of the Public Health Institute, collaborating with ARC staff on a survey of South Oxnard parks in predominantly farmworker neighborhoods to understand the quality and conditions. The PFSP interns live in these communities. This mobilizing effort is in concert with a larger ARC focus on heat illness prevention for farmworkers in light of a changing climate, which includes looking at shade access in parks within primarily farmworker neighborhoods. PFSP interns recently presented some of their findings and recommendations to the city of Oxnard parks commission where they proposed a city-wide policy change to improve parks in low-income farmworker areas.
  • They developed a social media environmental justice social media campaign on Instagram and Facebook with a growing following. They used what they were learning as a springboard to discuss concepts such as climate change, carbon sequestration, soil health, human health, farmworker health, pesticide use and water scarcity, as well as illuminating a path forward.
  • They were featured in a 15-minute video giving an overview of the PFSP project as part of the 2021 Santa Barbara Virtual Earth Day.
  • This August, the PFSP interns and staff participated in a field week learning about environmental justice. They spent each morning at a local park exploring topics that included land access, racialization, economic relationships, pesticides, and case studies of environmental injustice. Each afternoon, they traveled to field sites throughout Ventura and Santa Barbara counties to see working examples of alternative relationships to land and community being modeled by local businesses, community groups, and nonprofits. PFSP Summer Update 2021
  • The PFSP continues to organize with district teachers and their students to ask the School Board to formalize the pesticide-free landscape policy as the official district-wide policy.
  • When COVID-safe, we will resume the Compost Tea Parties — aiming for at least two this year.
The Compost Tea Parties led to a broad-based coalition of the El Rio School District, teachers, parents, students and local community organizations that are now engaged in addressing the issues of pesticides, carbon sequestration and health conditions of farm workers.
EFC’s Pesticide-Free Soil Project intern Moncerrat (with Sarahi) tells us about what they are observing in one pumpkin, part of a larger experiment in regenerative agriculture at the Abundant Table, an organic farm in Camarillo.
Lilia speaks about the connection between soil health, individual health, and community health. Lilia participated in the 2020 EFC virtual summer program and now is an intern with PFSP.
Eleanor Roosevelt with 1946 Encampers
Click image for 2022 Compost Tea Party video.
Eleanor Roosevelt with 1946 Encampers

Click to watch interview on Instagram.

Yesenia, one of our Pesticide-Free Soil Project interns, explains why she cares about pesticide-free soil in this Instagram post. She’s coming to you from the Rodale Institute no-till pumpkin patch at the Abundant Table in Camarillo, CA.

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During the first month, I learned about different food systems and regenerative agriculture …

… as well as the negative health and environmental impacts of conventional farming as opposed to organic farming. I’ve learned a lot about the negative impact that COVID-19 has made on farmworker communities and the health inequities that these communities have to endure.


2019 EFC alum and 2019-20 PFSP intern, Oxnard, CA

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