One of the most serious challenges facing farming is a world food demand that is expected to double by 2050. And while it’s true that there are opportunities within any challenge, this particular one is made more complex by the fact that the average age of farmers in California is about 60. This is a national issue, as well. My former boss, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, has called for programs that will attract 100,000 new farmers in the next few years. It is clear that we have an enormous stake in attracting young people to careers in farming-related fields.
With that in mind, I recently had an opportunity to participate in an event put on by the Antelope Valley Fair in Lancaster, where the fair’s sponsor, the 50th District Agricultural Association, announced a partnership with the vocational agricultural department of Antelope Valley High School to update the school’s five-acre farm, greenhouses and livestock facilities. The announcement underscores the future direction of the 50th DAA to partner with schools to support agricultural education and maintain community relevancy. This is a great example of the tremendous opportunities for fairs to connect with rural and urban communities; provide a forum for agriculture, food and nutrition education; and invest in the future of our state by expanding youth agricultural programs like FFA and 4-H.
This investment in youth has never been more important. With unprecedented public interest in food and the processes behind it, now is the time to leverage that in the job market. There are about 300 different kinds of jobs in the food industry, but they are much more than just farming. Many available jobs go unfilled because, as technology advances, educational training and instruction must, as well, and that has yet to occur at the level required. These jobs must be filled. There are people out there to fill them. The challenge is to create a system so they receive the tools they need.
The partnership in the Antelope Valley is an important step in that direction. A vibrant farming instructional program that keeps students engaged is a great place to start. I congratulate the Antelope Valley Fair for helping to lead the way