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?

UPDATE: Due to rain and high winds the Compost Tea Party scheduled for March 22 has been postponed until May 31. 


More than 500 students and community volunteers will come together March 22, 2023 to learn how to create pesticide-free landscapes that sequester carbon and save water and will be treated to a special pesticide-free lunch.

In response to global warming and the mega-drought gripping most of the Southwest, Rio Del Norte School students will participate in a school-wide Compost Tea Party on Wednesday, March 22, World Water Day, to shower their school grounds with compost tea (a specially prepared soil-enriching brew). Community experts and volunteers will guide 500 pre-kindergarten to 5th grade students to douse the school’s landscape, gardens, orchard and play areas with the “tea” in order to build pesticide-free, nutrient-rich soil that will better sequester carbon from the air and save water. Students will also participate in 19 nature-based climate solution workshops led by experts from within the community.

“The goal of the compost tea party is to engage the community to eliminate petroleum-based fertilizers and glyphosate pesticides, which the World Health Organization concluded in 2015 probably cause cancer in humans,” said Florencia Ramirez, Oxnard author of the book Eat Less Water, podcaster and director of the Pesticide Free Soil Project. “Playgrounds, parks, and gardens are part of the solution to save water on this planet , because healthy soil that is untreated with chemicals can hold water up to 1,000 times more than treated soil. The compost tea party is an event to empower young people who want to turn their hope for a healthy environment into action. ”

“This event is important because it supports youngsters to learn how to take action in their world immediately, through education and nature-based solutions,” said Rio Real principal Maria Hernandez, PhD, whose school hosted a Compost Tea Party last spring on their campus. “Part of our school’s philosophy is to have strong community partnerships that are long-lasting, and this is an opportunity to begin a partnership that is grass-roots driven, where students are at the center of the work.”

In addition to preparing the compost tea and applying it to the school’s landscape and garden, students will learn about soil science from David White, PhD., Executive Director of the Center for Regenerative Agriculture in Ojai, beneficial bugs from Ron Whitehurst, owner of the world-renowned Rincon-Vitova Insectaries in Ventura, and other topics related to soil, organic food, compost, and decomposition from seventeen additional workshop leaders across the county from Ventura County Farm to School, Rio School District’s Farm to School, Oxnard Union High School District’s Farm to School, Master Gardeners, Oxnard High School Culinary Arts, Once Upon a Watershed, etc.

The Oxnard High School Food Service & Hospitality students, led by teacher Ms. Debra Gallagher, are looking forward to working with the younger students. “Teaching kids how to prepare healthy snacks using garden vegetables while conserving water will be a fun challenge,” says student chef Harley Louis, junior. “When we run the blender bike workshop for the students we will be teaching them about alternative forms of energy and how to make a healthy drink at the same time,” says Elisa Barragan, senior Food Service student. This will be the second time the Food Service students have volunteered for the Compost Tea Party. Alumni and current college tutor for the program, Ms. Paula Perez, remembers her experience at the Compost Tea Party as “ exciting to be able to teach the students and see how well they retained what they were learning.”

Students, staff and volunteers will eat lunch made with locally-sourced ingredients planned and prepared by Rio School District’s Child Nutrition Services.

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.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: The Other Strawberry Festival, Stories of People, Land, and Resistance, will be held Sunday June 4. The OSF is a virtual gathering to highlight the impact of pesticides on soil health and agricultural workers with a focus on berry harvesters and their families.

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.

Project Director Florencia Ramirez (right) with intern Joaquin harvesting cempasúchil (Día de Muertos marigolds) at Community Roots Garden.

Intern Piper making bundles of cempasúchil.

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.

In this Instagram post, Marianna, Florencia and Piper are harvesting butternut squash at Community Roots Garden.

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

Plans are being made with partner organizations for the 2023 Compost Tea Party and The Other Strawberry Festival. Read about last year’s events in the section below.

Spring 2022

The PFSP team facilitated two big community organizing events this spring: a Compost Tea Party at the Rio Real Elementary School campus and the virtual Other Strawberry Festival.

The successful Compost Tea Party organized at Rio Real Elementary School involved the entire elementary school student body (school staff and administrators, PFSP, community organizations and businesses, and volunteers (over 700 people). The PFSP staff and interns had been working with teachers and administrators at Rio Real, community groups and the Rio School District for months to make this a unique educational and community building experience. Alternatives to pesticide-use, regenerative agriculture practices and other nature-based climate solutions were part of the curriculum. The community distributed compost tea onto the grounds, taking the first step in creating another pesticide-free school.

PFSP intern Joaquin helped kids from the first through seventh grade fill the buckets with compost tea. He said, “Instead of using something artificial that would harm the soil, we’re using something natural that will enrich the soil.”

Three PFSP interns (Moncerrat, Yesenia and Piper) planned and offered an arts-based session for middle schoolers, titled “Draw and Write for Change”. It was a teaching and learning experience for all of them. Moncerrat says that the experience helped her to grow: I worked on giving presentations. We worked with youth at the Rio Real Compost Tea Party and talked about pesticides, land, and stories.”  Yesenia: My favorite part was talking to the kids and hearing their stories. Everybody has a different story and a different experience. I learned a lot from their experiences and the struggles they see in their community.” And, Piper said: “The Compost Tea Party was truly a delightful experience; it was so wonderful to be there with the kids and the other interns. I realized in this experience how powerful and fulfilling it is to teach, which is yet another example of how the PFSP is helping me to discover myself and reignite my passions. I realized, through my experience at Rio Real, that students are not only learners, but teachers, and vice versa. Even though I was part of the leaders who were teaching and guiding the kids, I feel as though I learned a great amount from everyone there.”

Our organizational partners presented many nature-based climate solutions workshops: Food Corps members offered plant part identification and seasonal cooking along with Laubacher organic farm; Rio District staff held sessions on being “soil detectives” using microscopes to explore microbiology and arts-based workshops; Rincon Vitova Insectary offered a hands-on session with beneficial bugs; Rio Real fifth graders created bilingual vermicompost presentations; Ventura County Farm to School held a natural dyeing with plants workshop; Ventura Wild offered a nature mysteries table; Once Upon a Watershed offered a watershed storybook time; and there was a sheet mulching party in the school garden offered by a former Rio Real principal. To top it all off, Rio District staff curated a special local lunch for the entire school, which included carrots with their tops — a big hit among students.

The Other Strawberry Festival: Stories of People, Land, and Resistance virtual event on Sunday, May 1, 2022, was a place for conversations about the impact of pesticide use and racial injustice in conventional monoculture strawberry-growing, and brought together community members to create change toward a more just food system for people and the planet.

This virtual gathering is dedicated to providing dialogue space for those who you might not hear from at most strawberry festivals: youth, farmworkers, artists, and environmental activists. This was the second annual virtual event, put on by EFC’s Pesticide Free Soil Project (PFSP) and Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP)’s Tequio Youth Group. The event was offered for free, with English, Spanish, and Mixteco interpretation by Rooted Language Services, LLC.

The event was attended by more than 50 participants who listened as PFSP interns and Tequio youth facilitated the many speakers to share their stories. Youth gave testimonies from their experiences working as farmworkers or growing up with family members who are farmworkers. The youth speakers were joined by community members who shared from their perspectives as agricultural workers from indigenous migrant communities. Other speakers included PFSP’s Florencia Ramirez, MICOP’s Dalia Garcia, and Californians for Pesticide Reform’s Angel Garcia. These speakers gave the audience members perspectives that spoke to environmental justice on county, regional, and national scales. The speakers were punctuated by beautiful live music in English and Spanish from singer-songwriter Gabi Bravo.

A final highlight was many of the youth sharing their visual artwork and poetry expressing their stories and visions of justice. These young people were winners of The Other Strawberry Festival Art and Poetry Contest. The contest and festival will continue to be held annually to raise visibility for stories about food system injustice and imagine new possibilities for a more just food system.

View the entire Zoom meeting in English. Passcode: XKh8!TX9

Vea la junta completa de Zoom en Español. 

Fall 2021

This fall, two PFSP interns monitored heat conditions in local parks in the next phase of our collaborative environmental justice project with Achieving Resilient Communities (ARC) and Central Coast United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE). This project focuses on farmworker health issues related to climate change and increased temperatures on the Central Coast.

We have been conducting observational surveys on Oxnard parks to assess to what extent our parks have the ability to improve our resilience to heat and climate change … We collected data from heat sensors in parks and buses, and reviewed the condition of the radiation heat shields … I learned about community organizing and doing research. The collaboration among community organizations allowed me to meet individuals involved in the community and conduct research.” — Yesenia, PFSP Intern

“I was invited to present the ARC/CAUSE/PFSP collaboration to faculty and students from MIT at their annual Policy Hackathon. I presented the research that was conducted in Oxnard where data was collected related to heat. It was a unique experience where I got to meet with other community organizers who also play a key role in the project coming from MICOP and Lideres Campesinas.” — Moncerrat, PFSP Intern

Click here to hear Moncerrat and Yesenia talking about their work with the ARC project.

ARC’s recommendations for heat mitigation in public parks are:

  • Increase the tree canopy
  • Expand drought-resistant vegetation cover
  • Increase shade structures
  • Construct and maintain water fountains
  • Build water features
  • Use recreation centers as cooling centers during heat waves

PFSP also created an ongoing partnership with the Community Roots Garden in Oxnard, a one-acre garden associated with the MICOP community and housed behind a United Methodist Church. The garden is an educational site, collaborating with Cal State Channel Islands University, and provides accessible fresh food to local pantries, shelters, and community members. The PFSP team assisted with many projects throughout the fall, including planting and tending a garden plot with food for the broader community. A large portion of this October was spent working with cempasuchil, the Mexican marigolds essential for honoring Dia de los Muertos for many community members indigenous to Mexico. We have also had the opportunity to learn from community leaders at the garden, including community elders, about cultivating foods without pesticides, using traditional knowledge to grow food and medicine, and caring for soil life and community members’ well-being.

“I learned that I have a true passion for and deep connection to the earth. I found purpose and hope, which I had mostly lost due to the constant heating of the earth, environmental catastrophes, and the negligence of political officials … I really wanted to find more peace and purpose within myself, and I did. I found people who are similar to me in their values and beliefs, and I found power within myself — the power to make change in my community, even if not everyone knows about it.” — Piper, PFSP Intern


Joaquin, 2021 Intern, with a cempasuchil plant, the Mexican marigold essential for honoring Dia de los Muertos for many community members indigenous to Mexico.


Xilen, a student success coach at Moorpark College, worked with our intern team as a resource for the college readiness process. Several of our interns are applying to colleges now, and some are right around the corner from this challenge. Xilen helped demystify some of the more intimidating aspects of the process, answering interns’ questions and helping ease concerns about topics ranging from financial aid to the benefits and drawbacks of leaving home while attending college.

PFSP’s August Intensive


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

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 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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