Internship/mentoring program brings in ag students for summer study in public service
The average age of the California farmer is about 60 – and it’s rising. Here at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and on California farms, and in organizations throughout our agricultural community, that one, simple fact urges us all to prepare now for a future that is fast approaching. Whether it’s a farm family handing over the reins, or a CDFA office preparing its next generation of leaders, the process is both daunting and rewarding.
One way we help the agricultural community grow the next crop of leaders at CDFA is through a program of internships and mentoring to develop new prospects for public service in the agricultural realm. And even when these folks don’t have immediate plans to work in the government, there’s a real value in acquainting them with our state’s approach to agricultural oversight on their way into the workforce.
CDFA’s Inspection Services Division – they keep tabs on everything from the quality of fruit to the labeling of fertilizers – incorporates internships and mentoring as part of its broader “succession planning” efforts to develop the current and future talent pool for our agency and for the larger agricultural community as well. In 2015, the division inked a partnership with major college programs to bring in students from agricultural education programs as summer interns.
This summer, CDFA brought in two aspiring agricultural leaders, Kristin Fernandez and Hannah Garrett. Kristen, a senior at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, is studying Agricultural and Plant Sciences with a concentration in Fruit and Crop Science. This fall, Kristen will begin courses in Entomology, Plant Pathology and Viticulture. Hannah is a recent graduate of California State University, Chico, with a degree in Agricultural Sciences. Hannah will soon begin her career as an intern agriculture teacher with Chico High School.
The pair participated in several field tours to gain hands-on experience with the field work done by CDFA’s inspectors. Field tours included shadowing inspectors, seeing CDFA laboratories, attending board and committee meetings, and seeing facilities such as Sacramento Rendering Company and a Foster Farms feed mill.
Another notable tour arranged by the Division’s Fertilizer Research and Education Program (FREP) (https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/is/ffldrs/frep/) included interns and mentors traveling to Salinas to visit a broccoli field where researchers are collecting data for CropManage. The project, which began as a solely FREP-funded project to provide a scheduling tool for lettuce growers, helps growers schedule irrigation and fertilizer events on a block level basis, as well as archive and manage the information for later reporting requirements.
Our Inspection Services Division’s mentorship program works hand-in-hand with the internship program by giving our existing staff applied leadership experiences. Division mentors are involved in the intern selection process, and they coordinate with management to determine the projects those interns will take on. Mentors then provide coordination and assistance to their respective interns throughout the summer.
Through experiences like these, CDFA’s Inspection Services Division’s interns and future agriculture leaders are able to learn about programs and policy initiatives throughout their summer with us. Offering students this opportunity helps create future leaders and also helps students understand and appreciate our dynamic agricultural system.
And who knows? Maybe they’ll be back to run the place someday.