As we celebrate California’s agricultural community on California Ag Day on Tuesday, we must consider what it really means for Sacramento to be America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.
The Sacramento region is recognized as one of the nation’s largest agricultural producers in the nation with more than 1.5 million acres of farmland, 30,000 jobs and $6 billion in economic output. To ensure our region can keep up with demand, it’s important to take stock of how we’re inspiring and training the next generation of food and agriculture leaders.
Through programs offered by the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, high school students in our region get to the root of what it means to nurture and protect one of the world’s richest agricultural regions. Students are exposed to rewarding career fields and help fill the agriculture workforce gap.
Over the past two decades, the field of agriculture has expanded, giving students a variety of career paths in an innovating industry. Today agriculture demands training beyond just animal sciences, botany and plant pathology. Instead, the next generation must study applied biological systems technology, conservation biology, environmental horticulture, water resources and sustainable agriculture and food systems.
According to a recent study supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and U.S. Department of Agriculture, there will be nearly 60,000 job openings a year for graduates with degrees in these areas, but the U.S. is projected to produce only 60 percent of the graduates needed to fill those jobs.
How do we ignite an interest in ag careers?
What we’ve found is that students are challenged and motivated when they have hands-on opportunities, especially those from cities who haven’t experienced them before. At the Center for Land-Based Learning, we have four model programs that provide such opportunities, including Growing Green Internships for high school students to explore careers through paid work and community service at school gardens, habitat restoration projects and farms. This program also helps participants, many of whom will be first generation college students, with summer community college courses, college campus visits and support during the college application and financial aid process.
Bank of America is a leader in agribusiness financing, with a Valley-based team of experts who work with local growers, processors and crop and dairy farmers. Bank of America also awards grants to nonprofits such as the Center for Land-Based Learning, including a recent $200,000 grant, to help cultivate future farmers and agriculture leaders.
Farming, agriculture and natural resource management continue to be critical sources of economic growth and sustainable careers in our region. Through programs and partnerships like this, the Sacramento region is embracing what it means to be America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.
Mary Kimball is executive director of the Center for Land-Based Learning and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kathie Sowa is commercial banking executive for the Central Valley for Bank of America and can be contacted at email@example.com.