Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture

Special to The Times

John Wood swept a net across a field, then showed his catch -- dozens of creepy, crawly insects -- to the handful of students gathered around.

As Wood pointed out the aphids, flies, beetles and wasps, he ticked off which ones are beneficial to plants and which ones are harmful, then described how they interact.

The lesson -- which included information on the education necessary to become a plant doctor like Wood -- was one of six offered Tuesday at the Future Connections in Agriculture Career Day at Faulkner Farm in Santa Paula.

This is the second year the career day, designed to expose high school sophomores and juniors to opportunities in agriculture, has been offered through a partnership with the UC Hansen Trust and a Ventura County superintendent of schools program called School to Career.

School to Career also exposes students to job opportunities in health and human services, tourism and hospitality.

"One of the things we've found is that students are not as aware of the agriculture industry, so it's critical that we show the variety of careers out there," said Dan Little, director of the School to Career program. "It's more than just working in the fields."

Bruce Freeman, education coordinator for the UC Hansen Trust, said Tuesday's workshop began with the basics.

"We're finding kids are not aware of the seed-to-table connection, and our job is to make that connection," Freeman said. "We show the students that there are 27 different agricultural occupations needed to get the crops from the field to the consumer."

The UC Hansen Trust was established in 1993 by Thelma Hansen, who left an endowment to the University of California supporting agriculture research and education in Ventura County.

Administered by the University of California's agriculture division, the trust was used to create the Hansen Agricultural Learning Center on the 27-acre farm near Santa Paula.

Agriculture continues to be Ventura County's most prominent industry, bringing in more than $1 billion a year.

"The best part about this program is getting kids out here and doing hands-on work with them," Freeman said. "There are job opportunities out there that need to be filled."

The daylong program offered 60 students from county high schools the chance to study various topics related to agriculture.

The topics included entomology, animal husbandry, floriculture, farm equipment, research and propagation -- the starting of plants from seedlings before transplanting in the fields.

All six topics offered hands-on experience for the students -- whether it was checking for mites on the leaves of a strawberry plant, feeling the difference between sheep wool and llama wool or making a boutonniere.

"It's nice to try something new and see what else there is in the world," said 15-year-old Fillmore High sophomore Gary Palmateer after making a boutonniere under the guidance of Jim Parson, owner of Ashwood on Main Florist.

For Estela Ambrosio and Breanna Foland, Tuesday's field trip gave the Fillmore High juniors a chance to see some animals up close. Both hope to pursue careers in veterinary medicine.

"I got sad when I heard that people eat goats, but it was still interesting to learn about," said Estela, 17. "I'm really glad I was able to come."

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