Students explore a variety of careers in agriculture
In March, the agricultural industry celebrates National Agriculture Week to acknowledge and recognize the industry as a source of food, to provide stable jobs and careers, and to appreciate and value the efforts of those who work in a variety of agricultural careers to provide for the world. with needs that many people take for granted.
Winters High School’s agriculture program hits all of these points by offering students the opportunity to take on hands-on projects, classroom curricula, and student-led projects. WHS students can take the information they learn in their introductory freshman agriculture class and turn it into a Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAE), Senior Capstone Project, or potential career.
WHS agriculture educators Donnie Whitworth and Kayla Mederos provide students with knowledge and experience in all things agriculture to learn not only about agriculture, but how diverse the agricultural industry is.
The WHS ag site has space for students to immerse themselves in tree crops, row crops, grape crops, and work with animal products. Today, the ag area includes olive and mandarin orchards, an area for growing crops such as grape vines, pumpkins or sunflowers, a greenhouse and a stable area with stables for livestock.
“We try very hard to spread the word about all the different agricultural production options in California,” Mederos said.
Second-year Jordan Wojan is working with a classmate to grow tomatoes and Anaheim peppers as part of his Intro to Agriculture class. He noted the importance of knowing how “plants” work and knowing where the food you’re eating comes from.
One lesson Wojan said was impactful was a class on the different agricultural roles involved in producing a cheeseburger, from seed to plate. According to Mederos, it takes 40 different farming careers to put a cheeseburger on the plate.
“Telling the students that if you want to participate in production agriculture, you don’t have to be a farmer, you can participate in many things,” said Mederos.
Mederos said he and Whitworth worked hard to create the Introduction to Agriculture class to be a unique experience for students at Winters. According to Mederos, some agricultural “pigeon houses” program students in a specialized direction, such as animals, leadership or mechanics. However, in WHS’s introductory program, students get a little bit of everything, including public speaking, welding and woodworking, the science behind plants and how to grow them successfully, animal science, basic tools, and how to use information about California agriculture. a few
“We work to create a class that any Inclusion to Ag student can take and be successful at,” Mederos said. “Donnie and I have tried very hard to make sure every student is well rounded in our program.”
Some students have been given the experience of seeing a project from start to finish with the second harvest of their own olive grove.
Whitworth said the vision behind planting olive trees in 2018 was to align the student farm with local agriculture and have a product to sell to the community.
“It was very rewarding to see that the olive grove has produced something on the student farm through plant science,” Whitworth said. “We need to put our label on it and it’s known in the community.”
Sophomore Allison Aguiar said they spent many days pruning the olive trees.
“We used to go to all the trees and prune them by hand. We asked ourselves: ‘Why do I spend so much time cutting branches?'” said Aguiar.
In early November, Ciarlo Fruit and Nut Chris Calvert brought in some workers to help the students pick olives. Aguiar said they learned that the olives needed to be processed as quickly as possible because too much exposure to the elements can affect the quality of the olive oil. Having spent four to five hours picking olives put things into perspective for the students who spent days pruning the trees.
After harvesting, the students went on a field trip to process the olives into olive oil bottles.
“I sat on that machine, and then you have a bottle of olive oil that came from all over the house to prune those trees,” Aguiar said. “It’s good for us as a chapter and gives back to the community.”
“I think it’s really rewarding. I don’t think any of us would have been able to do that when we started this program,” said sophomore Riley Hurst.
Mederos called the experience “a labor of love” and “watching it come to life in those bottles is one of the coolest things.”
Whitworth said the next step is to launch the farm store with growing produce. While the two seniors are working on the soft launch, Whitworth said he hopes the students will be able to build a structure or stand area to store and sell products.
“The kids are building, growing and developing everything around the school farm,” Whitworth said.