Agricultural experience inspires career choices

Winters High School student Daniel Carrion focused on orchard management for his capstone project in 2019. He actively worked to help with irrigation, pruning and other orchard required maintenance. (Crystal Apilado/Winters Express)

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Acknowledging the efforts of those developing, educating and producing agriculture doesn’t occur every day, but it does occur each year in March. 

National Ag Day was founded in 1973 to educate and encourage Americans to appreciate how foods are produced and the role agriculture plays in our economy and to recognize career opportunities.

Annually, universities, corporations, ag associations, and government agencies come together as one from across the country to recognize the many contributions they provide to support agriculture.

The National Ag Day program inspires Americans to understand how foods are produced, the value and essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy, agriculture’s role in providing safe and affordable foods and careers in agriculture.

California Ag Day recognizes California’s abundant agricultural community by showcasing the state’s many crops, commodities and employment opportunities.

This year’s state observance will be held on the west steps of the Capitol (10th & L Streets) on Wednesday, March 23, with presenter booths open between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. The 2022 National Ag Day theme is “Growing a Climate for Tomorrow.”

The Express spoke with community members who experienced the local agriculture lifestyle growing up, and have continued to cultivate and advocate for it in their careers.

Farm legislation
Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry dubs Ag Day “a wonderful day.”

Aguiar-Curry grew up around agriculture where she learned about hard work and what it takes to thrive in a farming community. Today, she represents the 4th California Assembly District and co-owns her family’s 80-acre walnut farm with her brothers.

As a lawmaker coming from a family deeply rooted in agriculture, Aguiar-Curry has observed that many of her legislative colleagues are not familiar with agriculture.

“Ag Day is very important because it provides an opportunity to share it with colleagues.” 

Sharing, she said, makes it easier to familiarize colleagues with various aspects of agriculture, which in turn helps to craft thoughtful policy.

“It gives some of our legislators from southern California a little education on what it takes to be a farmer,” she said.

Aguiar-Curry’s father Joe Aguiar was a Winters High School agriculture teacher and Winters FFA advisor for many year. The current ag site facility, the Joe Aguiar Winters High School Agricultural Department is named in his honor. 

Aguiar-Curry serves on the Agriculture Standing Committee and the Select Committee on Wine. She said her office is currently working on two ag bills: one regarding tomatoes and the other wine.

Fruits and nuts
Newcomers to Winters may not know it, but former Winters Mayor and current Mayor Pro Tem Bill Biasi comes from a local farming family.

Biasi got his start in farming working on his family’s almond orchard in Winters and said for the longest time he wanted to be a farmer. Winters, he said, has a strong ag background with students and farmers that people in larger cities don’t know.

After graduating from Winters High School, Biasi worked for Buttons & Turkovich, farming oranges and prunes. He then attended Yuba College and Chico State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in plant sciences and pomology, a branch of botany that studies fruit and nut tree science.

Biasi then went to work as a post-harvest researcher at UC Davis where he worked for over 30 years. He said his focus was to extend the viability of fruits and nuts.

“People don’t understand what it takes to have quality fruits and nuts,” Biasi said. 

“California and agriculture fit together,” Biasi said, adding that
California’s agriculture plays a huge global role. Current challenges he sees include water shortages, inflation, environmental regulations, export trade and that the family farm is changing toward corporate farming.

As for the future in Winters, Biasi said he would like to see an ag hub developed in town for greater support of local farming. 

Family of farmers
Bruce Rominger and his brother Rick operate Rominger Family Farms, Inc., a local farming operation of orchard, row and field crops.

“We are very lucky in California. We have the best soil and infrastructure,” Rominger said.

However, Rominger observed these are “unprecedented times” in farming and he is seeing something he hasn’t seen in his 40 years of farming. The markets are volatile, the supply chain is jammed, fuel costs are up and farmers are experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades that affects global markets, he said.

“Farming has always been a risky venture, but volatility is adding to it,” Rominger said.

Along with the day-to-day challenges, water is the current “big issue” facing farmers today, Rominger said. This year he is completely relying 100 percent on well water and worries that next winter ground water levels will be that much lower. The drought condition has caused him to cut back 90 percent on his water-reliant rice crops.

Rominger sees FFA, originally named Future Farmers of America, as a great way for youth to get involved and learn but recommended obtaining a college education in agriculture. He noted Cal Poly, UC Davis and Chico State as a few California state colleges with reputable agriculture programs. Rominger received a bachelor’s degree in Plant Sciences from UC Davis.

California is one of the more closely regulated states and that can make it difficult to do business. From a $15 minimum wage, to overtime pay and worker safety, California regulations add to the cost when competing with a state or country with fewer regulations.

“Fifteen dollars an hour in California versus $15 a day adds to the challenge,” Rominger observed. “Jobs are available — if you want to do something important for society, grow food.” 

Journey from FFA to ag teacher
Sarah Ronayne, (née Warren), earned a State FFA Degree while at Winters High School. She graduated in 2008 and then attended UC Davis where she received a degree in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Today, Ronayne teaches ag studies at Galt High School and is one of 804 California ag teachers and a member of the California Agriculture Teachers’ Association.

Coming from a local farming family, Ronayne recognized the importance of agriculture from an early age. 

Ronayne served as vice president for the Winters FFA chapter during her senior year. She said FFA provided ag education and “soft skills” in leadership and relationships.

FFA is the largest career and technical education student organization (CTSO) in the country. CTSOs provide real-world situations to help students enhance their skills and work habits while encouraging and promoting teamwork.

As an ag teacher, Ronayne said that for required programs they utilize the “three ring model” of classroom: FFA leadership, judging and public speaking, and supervised ag projects that take place outside of the classroom.

For ag as a career choice, Ronayne said, “you have to enjoy what you’re doing” and cautioned, “Ag is hard work.”

Ag in education
Beyond the WHS agricultural program and opportunity to participate in the Winters FFA chapter, there are many Winters seniors who choose to focus on an aspect of agriculture for the Senior Capstone projects.

As a WHS senior in 2018, Gary Molina completed his Senior Capstone project of leveling the Ag site property and paved the way for the program to take steps toward the vision of becoming a crop producer. Donnie Whitworth, WHS agriculture instructor, said Molina’s capstone completion was a big piece in getting the ag site property ready to move forward in crop production and transition the WHS Ag program toward a working farm experience for students.

“Gary was really passionate about getting this done. It was really his idea when he came into the Ag program his freshman year. He stuck with it and followed through.” Whitworth said. Molina’s efforts cultivated opportunity for current students to experience harvesting mandarines, pumpkins and olives.

In 2019, Daniel Carrion took on an orchard management for his capstone project. He actively worked to help with irrigation, pruning and other orchard required maintenance.

“I’m a third generation farmer and knew I’d like to do something with Ag,” Carrion said about where the project inspiration had come. At the time, Carrion said he had plans to study Crop Sciences in college and that the experience from his Capstone Project has helped him to narrow it down to a goal of working toward becoming an Agricultural Pest Control Adviser.

The Winters community has a rich history of agricultural roots that educate and inspire local youth to take action and continue the tradition.

Crystal Apilado contributed to this article.

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