Sun World Harvest

Christina Santillan may be just beginning her career in education, but she is already excited about helping her sixth-grade students learn about local career opportunities, the value of a job and even the importance of managing personal finances.

Thanks to the Annual Teachers’ Ag Seminar presented in July by the Kern Agricultural Foundation, Santillan is now better equipped to teach her students about the broad range of careers in agriculture and the overall impact the industry has on Kern County and its residents.

The idea of reaching out to students and teachers is nothing new to Kern County’s agriculture industry. In fact, this summer’s TAS marked the 26th presentation of the three-day program that gives educators a behind-the-scenes look at local ag operations and puts teachers in the “students’ seat” as they learn about ag opportunities and industry threats (like the glassy-winged sharpshooter, the Asian citrus psyllid, and — as some presenters lamented — the California Legislature).

This year’s participants included 37 teachers from throughout Kern County, some with more than 30 years of experience. Others, like Santillan, were preparing for their first year of teaching.

Even in the No. 1 Ag County, Awareness of Ag Has Room for Improvement

Kern County is the No. 1 ag producing county in the nation, with its commodities valued at more than $7 billion, according to the 2016 Kern County Agricultural Crop Report. One in 5 San Joaquin Valley jobs is, in some way, related to agriculture.

The industry’s impact on Kern County’s communities is undeniable, but the magnitude often eludes those not directly connected to agriculture.

“It’s amazing how much adults don’t even know,” said Pam Brunni, coordinator of the program. “We teach the teachers because it’s hard to reach all the children ourselves.”

Field experiences during the program’s three days enhance teachers’ own perspective and provide tools that teachers can take back to their classrooms. Participants toured fields and food facilities that produce and ship staples like Tasteful Selection’s potatoes and specialty products like cotton candy grapes created, grown and packaged locally by Grapery. They even attended the weekly cattle auction at Western Stockman’s Market in McFarland.

Picking and eating grapes and blackberries straight off the vine and learning from farmers in their own environment seemed to be a welcome change of pace for educators accustomed to standing at the front of the classroom. They were anxious to learn and the ag professionals from Wonderful Orchards, Sun World, Murray Family Farms and other businesses were happy to answer the teachers’ many questions.

Career Opportunities in Ag Abound in Kern County

Participants were especially interested in the wide range of ag-related career options in Kern County and the types of education that will lead their students to professional success.

Sessions on groundwater storage and the state’s water infrastructure prompted discussion about the growing need for water resource management professionals (and their likely long-term job security). The increased use of automation, GIS mapping, drones and other types of technology in ag emphasized the need for a workforce with strong technical skills.

Teachers interested in participating in next year’s program should contact the Kern Ag Foundation at kernag_ed@yahoo.com.

Cheryl Scott is the executive director of Kern Economic Development Foundation, which links business, education and the community on projects relating to STEM education and local workforce and professional development.

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