Students explore multitude of agricultural careers

Miles Mariani bottles the olive oil with Chris Calvert assisting. (Courtesy photo)

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In March, the agricultural industry celebrates National Agriculture Week to acknowledge and recognize the industry for being a source of food, providing stable jobs and careers, and valuing and appreciating the efforts made by those who work in a variety of agriculture careers for providing the world with necessities that many people take for granted.

Winters High School’s agricultural program hits upon all of these points by providing students with hands-on projects, educational classroom curriculums and the opportunity to take on student-led projects. WHS students are able to take the information they learn in their initial freshman introductory agriculture class and flip it into an SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experiences) project, Senior Capstone Project or as a potential career path.

Mandarine trees are the other type of tree crop available at the Winters High School ag site farm. (Crystal Apilado/Winters Express)

WHS agricultural educators Donnie Whitworth and Kayla Mederos provide students with knowledge and experience in all things agriculture so they learn not just about agriculture, but about how diverse the agriculture industry is.

The WHS ag site has room for students to dive into growing tree crops, row crops, vine crops and work with animal commodities. Currently, the ag site has olive and mandarine orchards, grape vines, an area to grow crops like pumpkins or sunflowers, a greenhouse, and a barn area with pens for livestock.

“We try really hard to expose them to all of the different possibilities of agricultural production in California,” Mederos said.

Sophomore Jordan Wojan is working with a classmate to grow tomatoes and Anaheim chili peppers as part of his Introduction to Agriculture class. He noted he’s come to realize there’s an importance in knowing how “plants work” and knowing where the food you’re eating comes from.

One lesson Wojan said was impactful was a class about all of the different agricultural roles that go into producing a cheeseburger from seed to being plated. According to Mederos, there are 40 different agricultural careers required to put a cheeseburger on your plate.

“Telling students if you want to be involved in production agriculture, you don’t have to just be a farmer, you can be involved in a lot of things,”  Mederos said.

Mederos said she and Whitworth put effort into creating the Introduction to Agriculture class to be a unique experience for Winters students. According to Mederos, some agriculture programs “pigeon-hole” students into one specialized direction like animals, leadership or mechanics. However, in the WHS’s introductory program students are exposed to a little bit of everything including public speaking, welding and woodworking, the science behind plants and how to grow them successfully, animal science, how to operate basic tools and information about California agriculture to name a few.

“We work to create Introduction to Ag a class that any student can take and be successful in,” Mederos said. “Donnie and I have tried very hard to ensure every student is well-rounded in our program.”

Some students have been given the experience of seeing a project go from start to finish with the second harvest of their olive orchard.

Whitworth said the vision behind initially planting the olive trees in 2018 was to align the student farm with the local area agriculture and to have a product to sell to the community.

“It was extremely rewarding to see that the olive orchard has actually produced something on the student farm through plant science,” said Whitworth. “We get to put our label on it and it’s recognizable in the community.”

Miles Mariani
bottles the olive oil with Chris Calvert assisting. (Courtesy photo)

Sophomore Allison Aguiar said they spent many days pruning the olive trees.

“We’d walk around to each and every tree and prune it by hand. We asked ourselves, ‘Why am I spending this much time cutting off branches?’” Aguiar said.

In early November, Ciarlo Fruit and Nut Chris Calvert brought some workers to help students harvest olives. Aguiar said they learned they had to process the olives as quickly as possible because too much exposure to the elements could impact the quality of the olive oil. Spending four-five hours picking olives put things into perspective for the students who had put in days of pruning the trees.

After harvesting, students attended a field trip to process the olives into bottles of olive oil.

“I sat that the machine, and then you have a bottle of olive oil that came from all the house of pruning those trees,” Aguiar said. “It’s good for us as a chapter and provides to the community.”

“I think it’s really rewarding. I don’t think any of us would have been able to do that when we started this program,” said sophomore Riley Hurst.

Winters High School agricultural students got hands-on experience building the greenhouse at the Ag Site. (Crystal Apilado/Winters Express)

Mederos called the experience “a labor of love” and “seeing it come to life in those bottles is one of the coolest things.”

Whitworth said the next step is to launch the farm store with the products they’re growing. While two seniors are working on the soft launch, Whitworth said he hopes students will be able to construct a structure or stand area to shelve the produce and to sell out of.

“The kids are engaged in building, growing and developing everything around the school farm,” Whitworth said.

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