Agriculture is in need of warm bodies in the industry, with vacancies in the scientific and technical side of agricultural employment growing rapidly. It’s one reason why ag education is so important. Traditional ag education classes that pair with organizations like 4-H, Future Farmers of America and others—both in and out of public school classrooms—are touted for their ability to reach kids from diverse backgrounds and get them interested in agriculture. One college program in California is having a profound effect on a group already immersed in agriculture: the children of farm workers.
The premise of the college program is simple: the Matsui Family wanted to show appreciation to the farm workers who helped make their Salinas Valley orchard a success, and to others like them, so patriarch Andy Matsui offered scholarships to students from the region to take part in a year-round program at Hartnell College and Cal State Monterey Bay in computer science. Students would earn a bachelor’s degree in three years that would prepare them for lucrative and attractive jobs in northern Silicon Valley. The first class graduated in mid-May; it was over 80 percent Latino and nearly 50 percent female, according to an NPR piece, statistics that match neither ag owner/operator numbers in the U.S. nor Silicon Valley employee statistics.
While the program has been a roaring success from just about any point of view—it boasts a 69 percent on-time graduation rate versus the 28 percent of transferring community college students—it has also had an unexpected effect. While many graduates are looking to Silicon Valley companies like Apple, Facebook, Lockheed Martin and more for employment, some are taking positions in agriculture technology in the region. When asked why, many maintained they felt they would be giving something back if they stayed in Salinas Valley. In this win-win program, the value of ag education is yet again shown to be of the utmost importance.