VISALIA, Calif. — Over 200 educators left the recent California Agriculture in the Classroom Conference excited, educated and equipped to spread the story of agriculture in their classrooms this coming school year.
The two-day conference included speakers, field trips and hands-on activities that teachers could take back to their classrooms. About half of the educators had attended the conference in previous years but for the new attendees, there was a lot to learn and take away.
Ashley Sullivan from Turlock, Calif., is a teacher who is new to agriculture and excited to be taking back so many ideas for her school.
“This next year each of the Turlock elementary schools is going to be branded and our brand is agriculture. I really don’t have any experience with gardens or anything and this conference has been great. I now have resources and connections and am excited about starting this new program,” Sullivan said.
Chris Lavagnino from Ronald Reagan Elementary School in Madera County was attending for the second time.
“We have a lot of changes happening with a lot of farmers aging out and the migrant worker situation,” Lavagnino said. “I’ve wanted to do more ag in my classroom but I haven’t so this conference has given me ideas on how to involve the community.”
The farmer panel was a highlight of the conference with Michael Miya of Miya Farms, Zack Stuller of Sun Pacific and High Sierra Ag and Debbie Jacobsen of J&L Vineyards each sharing a unique and personal perspective on agriculture.
Miya shared the challenges of hiring qualified employees.
“With over $1 million in equipment for our walnuts, I can’t just hire someone who just wants to drive a tractor,” said Miya. “My employees work 6 days a week starting at 5:30 a.m. Some of these young kids coming out of college just don’t want to work that hard.”
Stullar echoed that challenge and added, “California is a tough place to be right now. There are so many water regulations, emissions, labor, minimum wage, overtime issues. Until that changes we are limited by what we can do.”
Stullar added, “There is a lot of gray hair in ag. Our major challenge as an industry is to find the younger guy to pass the torch to. That is why we need all of you to help spread the word about the importance of the ag industry.”
Jacobsen shared the challenges of being a family farmer.
“You love seeing the face of the farmer, but it is getting harder and harder to do that as a family farmer,” she said.
Alexandra Potter from James Rutter Middle School in Sacramento County was at the conference for the first time.
“We are trying to get a feeder program started for our high school and I honestly don’t know very much about agriculture or gardening or all of that,” she said.
“As somebody who has never been to the conference before I feel like a gap has been filled between being a science teacher in an urban setting and farmers. When the farmers were talking I had never really thought about farming like that. That was really cool and there are so many jobs in this field. I had no idea,” Potter said. “I am also excited to take back all the information on ecology within agriculture.”
Resources and materials for taking agriculture into the classroom can be found at learnaboutag.org. For more information on the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom call 916-561-5625.