The FARMS Leadership program comes from the Center for Land-Based Learning where high school students are introduced to fields in agriculture and environmental science for career opportunities in the future.

Kern FARMS Leadership Coordinator Romi Wattenbarger said the program is designed to expose youth to real-world opportunities and gain skills, knowledge and higher education. The program partners with agriculture companies in Kern County and teaches them the fundamentals of leadership and their specialized field.

“We went to a dairy in Visalia last year and they took us through the process. Students saw how the milking was done, toured the facility and asked questions about what they do,” she said.

Wattenbarger said FARMS Leadership doesn’t have to target students particularly interested in agriculture or environmental science, but it opens the door to future career opportunities for them when they enter college.

“We take students to these places and help them interact with partnerships that can help them in the long run,” she said.

The students in the program get to receive hands-on experience, whether there's a pandemic or not.

“The goal is to get these students involved in the agriculture community, hoping they’ll grasp the idea of it. There’s so much agriculture here and hope that it gives them the opportunity to pursue it when they head to college. A program like this gives them life skills, interview skills and confidence in public speaking,” she said.

Though FARMS Leadership is just one program, the Center for Land-Based Learning houses the Student and Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship program, which engages high school students in habitat restoration through a series of hands-on field days, and Caring for our Watersheds, which empowers students to imagine, develop and create solutions in their local watersheds.

Wattenbarger also said students get a chance to form strong relationships with one another by going on field day trips to other facilities.

“Students can join every year and they also keep that connection when they do graduate," she said. "Our alumni also help them with job shadowing. The program creates a lifetime of friendships and helps them later on."

Though some after school programs are not running right now due to the pandemic, Wattenbarger said the program continues to find ways to function and be there for their students.

“We’re doing our learning through Zoom and we’re doing the same thing. I’ll go to the partners and I will pick up these hands-on kits and drop them off to our students,” she said.

For one of their virtual field day trips, Wattenbarger picked up materials from Columbine Vineyards in Delano and dropped them off to students to begin their learning.

“They gave us different types of grapes and a refractometer to measure the sugar content in a grape to determine if they pick them or not,” she said.

Functioning through Zoom, Wattenbarger offers the students a 20 to 30 minute leadership lesson, practicing interviews and reviewing resumes to continue their core goal: preparing them for the future.

FARMS Leadership currently runs 16 programs in California from Sacramento to Fresno, San Joaquin, Tulare, Kern County and more.

“We’re going to continue the field days via Zoom. The partnerships are helpful for the students so they can continue the program and figure out what they want to do with their lives,” she said.