Ag at Large: Classes lead kids back to the farm

A pair of Fresno State students get hands-on experience by picking grapes at the university’s vineyard in 2017. COURTESY OF JORDAN COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES AND TECHNOLOGY

Instead of letting college courses lead them off the farm, more farm kids are taking classes that will make them more useful – and happy – to be back on the farm after graduation.

As technology encroaches on farms and agricultural businesses, it is one of the influences that helps broaden agriculture’s appeal among college students, especially those who have grown up on farms. Some “city kids” are also joining the parade “back” to the farm.

Faculty, particularly at traditional agricultural schools, is responding to the students’ preferences by arranging for more internships that allow additional curriculum time on farms or in farm-related businesses.

At Fresno State, enrollment in agricultural classes is growing, and pathways back to the farm are widening. Curriculums are being enhanced to provide more leadership skills, greater emphasis on communicating well and an emphasis on understanding the agricultural industry and its place in society.

Because working on a farm, even if it has been home since birth, can be a lonely existence compared to the typical hustle, bustle and noise of city life. Those preparing for farm life generally gain a great deal from college opportunities that teach how to network and reach out to others outside normal development paths and social stratification.

College students in agricultural curriculums often find their time claimed by duties related to their classes and projects. Caring for an animal which may be part of a class project, for example, can be time consuming and unpredictably demanding. It makes it difficult for them to maintain some of the social or other activities students normally consider routine.

Participation in campus political activities is also being promoted for the “ag guys” – and “ag girls” – because it broadens their awareness of campus and world concerns beyond their majors, and confirms their leadership talent. Once indoctrinated, it is not unusual for them to seek a student body office or other leadership position.

Ryan Jacobsen, who grew up on a farm that produces grapes and tree fruits, set the standard for campus political activity when he served two terms as student body president at Fresno State in 2001 and 2003. He continued to take part in community leadership roles after graduation, and now has served for 14-and-a-half years as manager of the Fresno County Farm Bureau.

For those who grow up on farms, the introduction of activities beyond the farm is natural because of the structure and encouragement of 4-H clubs. Social relations and citizenship participation, coupled with personal responsibilities for projects and activities performed at home, prepare them for the kind of participation they can now expect on college campuses.

Their next step can be FFA (shortened from its original title of Future Farmers of America). This high school level organization maintains a strong emphasis on farm-style living and working, and encourages state-to-state activities and opportunities for expanded contacts, information and social development

It appears that all of the major agricultural schools in California are now emphasizing on-farm lifetimes for their farm-raised students, and matching them with curriculums that enhance the effort. In the nation’s largest agricultural state, it is only reasonable that colleges and universities display this kind of flexibility and pay this much attention to attracting and training dedicated students.

For students and others not closely related to California’s dynamic agriculture, the movement for returning ag students to the farm in greater numbers provides confidence and confirmation that the industry is alive and well, and growing (pun intended).

Don Curlee is your man when it comes to Agriculture. His Ag Alert column in our publication is sure to inform you on what you need to know when it comes to the agricultural industry.