Work Based Leadership in Action: Small Business

The career opportunities in Agriculture are vast, yet most youth (and many adults), perceive agriculture as only the production of crops; their vision is that of a farmer out in the field, usually on a tractor, overseeing the planting, growth and harvest of crops. However, this vision is far from the reality of the opportunities available in agriculture today. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) based jobs are driving the new agriculture economy and the industry desperately needs more graduates in these fields. Annually, agriculture is adding nearly 59,000 new jobs, yet only 60% of them are being filled with qualified graduates in agriculture and environmental science.  This shortage of a qualified workforce has huge implications for the future of agriculture, but how do we educate youth about the changing face of agriculture? How do we get them exposed to these careers in order that they can then pursue them? We show them, of course!

For over 20 years, the Center For Land-Based Learning has been using work based learning as a strategy for attracting young people to careers in agriculture.  Each year we partner with hundreds of businesses, public agencies and post-secondary institutions in 25 counties to expose youth to jobs and career pathways they never knew existed.

For the past several years, local students have visited the Seka Hills Olive Mill in the Capay Valley.  Working with the farm manager and business manager, students spend the day doing a variety of tasks that help them understand the process and jobs involved in getting a product from field to market. They start in the field with the farm manager learning about how the olive trees that are planted today differ from those planted in the past. These trees are close together and pruned specifically to accommodate mechanical harvesting. Mechanical harvesting of a crop that has traditionally been hand harvested requires technology and innovation. By touring the field with the farm manager, students learn how agriculture is more than farming—how engineering, business, technology, finance, marketing and much more are essential for today’s agriculture.

After leaving the field, the next stop is to the mill, where students learn how olives become olive oil. This process has several steps that, all along the way that involve someone doing a job that these young people never knew existed. Finally, they end up in the bottling room where they get to run the machinery to bottle, cap, seal and label the olive oil. Here they learn from the business manager how the label design was created, where the oil is sold and how it is marketed and distributed.

A common student reflection at the end of a day like this is “I had no idea there were so many jobs in Agriculture”, which is exactly the point. Our partners are eager to show youth what they do too. Education and exposure to the wide variety of careers available in agriculture will impact the industry pipeline, but we must continue to develop these work based learning opportunities in order to reach students who have never considered agriculture as a career choice.

About the Center for Land-Based Learning

The Center for Land-Based Learning was founded in 2001 and is dedicated to creating the next generation of farmers and to teaching California’s youth about the importance of agriculture and resource conservation. The West Sacramento Urban Farm Program provides space, infrastructure and a supportive boost to small scale farmers looking to get started in an urban environment.