Inside California Education: Community Colleges – Farm of the Future

Inside California Education: Community Colleges – Farm of the Future

♪♪ (starting up tractor) Ken: If you don’t like where
you’re at, you got to change yourself. Michael: Ken Brown
is making a change in his life and his career.
A trucker for 25 years, now the the 51-year old Modesto
resident drives two and a half hours south through the
Central Valley every week. His destination: Coalinga’s West
Hills Community College and a unique program called
Farm of the Future. Tim: My goal is to have
everyone proficient in at least three machines. Michael: Tim Martz is training
Ken and these other students to become heavy equipment
operators. It’s one of more than
a half-dozen high-paying, high-demand career
opportunities being taught at the Farm. Tim: The need here is
great. You can look at the want ads or go into any of the
websites and there are openings all over the place for
heavy equipment operators. The last time I taught this
class there was one company said they would take all the
students that passed. Michael: Six of America’s top
ten agricultural counties are in California’s Central Valley.
Fresno County alone raises more than 400 different crops on
nearly two million acres of farmland. Even though
agriculture here is a five and a half billion-dollar
industry, generally low farmworker wages also means
more than 20 -percent of Fresno County residents live
below the poverty line. Linda: Most of our
families earn about 24-thousand a year for the whole family. Michael: West Hills Vice
Chancellor Linda Thomas is part of a team of educators
and administrators who are helping grow Farm of
the Future. The focus – precision agriculture…
training people to use technology to improve how
food and fiber is planted, irrigated, and harvested. Linda: The farm these days is
not learning how to pick crops. The farm is learning how to
program driverless vehicles, and you know, drones and all
that cool stuff. It’s really math,
science, technology. Frank: It’s hard to find an
industry that is more productive and more efficient
and with a greater use of technology to gain all of
those qualities, and we wanted to be the middle of that. Michael: The Farm sits on about
200 acres just south of the main West Hills Coalinga campus.
The Community College district’s invested more than 25
-million dollars in the academic program… including state and
federal grants, and donations. Associates degrees
or certificate programs set students on a
variety of career paths. Vocational aide
Francisco Soto, himself a graduate, is helping these
students train for commercial truck licenses. Practice
includes navigating an onsite obstacle course. Francisco: Just these few
steps right here, you’re going to be successful in
life, make good money, you know, provide for your family. Jose: I would tell them that to
come out to the ag farm and start a career out here
because it’s very helpful and you’ll make money
the fastest way. My name’s Terry Brase,
and I’m told many of you are interested in careers in
agriculture… Michael: Terry Brase is even
spreading the word to local high school students. One of the
nation’s leading academic experts on precision
agriculture, Terry came out of retirement to become the Farm
of the Future’s Director. Terry: I think agriculture is a
challenging, exciting career. But it’s also got
high-demand jobs, and good high-paying
jobs. (Drone takes off) Michael: High -paying
jobs like drone operators… who are in high
demand to map and analyze the soil and
water needs of acres of farmland. Welding classes.
Heating and air conditioning experts… who may be called
upon to repair systems inside massive warehouses.
Even irrigation experts… who not only will
build vast watering systems, but make sure they can be
operated wirelessly via the internet.
All designed to keep people from leaving this rural region
by giving them new skills. Terry: We have a very focused
set of curriculum and courses to help them learn that
technology. It’s not the fact that
we have less people, it’s that we need a
higher-educated workforce. And a lot of that is going to
have to be local. Stuart: Farmers are the original
innovators. The next generation of workers we need out
of the San Joaquin Valley are really ones that understand
that there are far more complex technology needs in ag today
than there every have been. Brenda: Not many community
colleges have a production farm that also serves as a learning
laboratory for students. So it’s not just theoretical or
somebody showing you; they actually get to get their
hands on the equipment, their hands on the crops,
their hands on the soil and actually learn
by doing. Byron: Right now
we’re planting broccoli, and it’s amazing…
right here it’s really, it’s a hands-on course. So
you’re not just taught about it, you’re showed how to do it,
and you’re put into these practical applications in real
life situations where you actually do what you’re
taught and it just sticks so much better. Michael: For some, the West
Hills Farm of the Future offers students the chance to
transition into a new and better career well into their adult
years. For others, it’s a chance to discover ag careers they may
have once thought were unobtainable, at a very
affordable two-year college. Alondra: Trade schools are very
expensive. And this is such an inexpensive course that you save
thousands of dollars. This does give me a lot of
optimism about my future. Ken: This is very affordable.
It’s really hands-on, and they cater to each student,
and if you try and put your hand out they will take you by the
hand and they will show you exactly what you can to do. Brenda: We are the promise
keepers. We promise economic, social and civic mobility for
anybody that walks in our door. We will meet you where
you’re at and get you where you want to go. ♪♪

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