The importance of agricultural education
“I come from a farming culture, where we valued raw materials above all.”
At a recent social gathering, I overheard a local Agricultural Education teacher describe her service as a Future Farmers of America (FFA) Advisor. I was quite surprised at how many people indicated they had not heard of the program or held a misconception about FFA and the importance of Agricultural Education right here in San Luis Obispo County. Agricultural Education is far more important than just an elective curriculum. Our daily needs such as food, clothing, medicine, and even the paper this article was printed on require agriculture. The National FFA is one of the largest youth-led organizations in the United States. In 1988 “National” was added to the name of the association to represent the large number of participants that have swelled the ranks of FFA members to 653,359, representing 8,568 local chapters throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Agriculture is a significant portion of the county’s total direct economic output. Even during the height of the drought San Luis Obispo County agriculture produced nearly $1 billion dollars in product. According to the County Agricultural Report, indirect business tax payments related to agriculture have totaled more than $45.9 million, representing a sizable percentage of the county’s entire annual budget. A bit different from Silicon Valley’s diversification, both state and federal reports indicate that San Luis Obispo County has exceptional crop diversity and agriculture is a key component in our long-term economic stability. Schools throughout San Luis Obispo County have embraced the agricultural history of our county and developed high quality, cutting-edge programs preparing our youth for not only advances in agriculture but new technology and beyond. Several of our recent valedictorians throughout the county have been actively involved in agriculture, FFA, and Career & Technical Education (CTE).
The Lucia Mar Unified School District opened the Agricultural Island at Nipomo High School this spring thanks to the citizens of South County and the passage of Measure I. This facility includes state of the art classrooms and dedicated welding space complimenting the CTE program curriculum. The Nipomo FFA team placed in the top three nationally and was invited to compete in the International Livestock Judging Tour featuring the Royal Highland School in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland. FFA participation is another example of our Central Coast school districts providing opportunities to gain local, national, and international experience in real-world programs. At a time in our history when the majority of our U.S. population is far removed from the land, schools on the Central Coast are continuing to promote interest, awareness, and involvement in agriculture. It is essential that we educate about where our food comes from beyond the local market shelf. A North County rancher I spoke with last month said, “If you like to eat, then you should like agriculture.”
It is the responsibility of educators, farmers, ranchers, and all directly involved with land to tell the story of our family farms, ranches, and the people who care for this valuable commodity right here on the Central Coast. Today’s educators should maintain a rich communications environment that encourages feedback and reinforcement, not only between the teacher and students, but also between classmates and the community. By embracing programs such as FFA, agriculture education, and CTE, we can make socially interactive environments that maintain discipline, create learning “fun”, and teach the positive use of new technologies that benefit our daily lives. As we move forward into a new school year, I thank you for your continued support of education, our community, and our democracy. It is an honor to serve as your County Superintendent of Schools.
“Look deep into nature, and you will understand everything better. ~Albert Einstein~