Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Central Valley technology initiatives preparing students at all levels for tech careers throughout the ag value chain

By CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

Secretary Ross with a student in the fourth through sixth-grade Makers’ Space in McFarland’s Browning Road STEAM Academy

Last week it was my pleasure to participate in an event at Reedley College called AgTechX.  It was co-sponsored by Western Growers, which earlier this year announced an exciting new collaboration—the Global Harvest Automation Initiative–aiming to automate 50 percent of ag harvests within 10 years.

The technologies that were discussed during the AgTechX session were a diverse set of innovations to lead us into the future – from the collection of data for making better decisions, to easing work in the field for highly perishable specialty crops. And they also included robotics!

At the meeting, Western Growers CEO Dave Puglia introduced a new Agtech career development pipeline in partnership with community colleges like Reedley as well as the University of California and California State University systems. It is critical that we invest NOW in training our current workforce in ag tech and specialized certifications for everything from food safety to water conservation practices. We have the potential to create career ladders for farmworkers and attract the next generation to agricultural careers, so a highly skilled workforce is available as new technologies are implemented. Bottom line:  No one should be left behind as we transition to the food and agriculture climate-smart economy!

California’s community college system plays a crucial role in making opportunities available for all. It was an honor to spend time with Reedley College President Dr. Jerry Buckley and discuss the amazing programs offered by a college in the center of the country’s most productive agricultural region!

As inspired as I was by my time at Reedley College, I spent the following day with McFarland Unified School District Superintendent S. Aaron Resendez and Assistant Superintendent Ambelina Garcia Duran and their passionate team members.  What I saw surpassed my expectations and left me very enthusiastic about the future and the youth who will be leading it!

Meeting younger students in McFarland.

We have heard from a number of Silicon Valley veterans that the second language of our future is – coding!  I saw that at work in McFarland, starting at Browning Road STEAM Academy (science, technology, engineering, agriculture, math).  Of course, I can’t visit a grade school without meeting a few of the youngest students being introduced to agriculture – kindergartners planting pumpkins, making the connection to where food comes from, and also learning about seed spacing and growth!

When I met with some 4th, 5th and 6th graders I watched them coding and utilizing 3D printers!  And one of the students presented me with a prosthetic hand the class produced with a 3D printer! The students have utilized this technology to make a prosthetic arm for a local child in need.  Talk about inspirational! 

I also visited McFarland’s middle school and high school and found equally inspiring and compelling stories about how dedicated, visionary administrators and teachers, working with the hardworking families of the community, have identified pathways for a better future for their children.  One pathway is a partnership with Bakersfield City College featuring multiple opportunities for early college credits and career readiness.   

My trip left me excited and optimistic about our future!  The possibilities of new technologies, the energy and innovation of our youth, and the collaboration of our private sector with educators are the essential ingredients for a healthy, vibrant agricultural sector that will make California a better place to live because of what we grow and how we grow it.  The work I saw in Reedley and McFarland makes me confident that California agriculture can create the solutions to our many challenges and will seize the opportunities before us.  

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