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Cal State Stanislaus: Cultivating agricultural industry leaders

Cal State Stanislaus: Cultivating agricultural industry leaders

Area third graders tour CSU Stanislaus’ world-class sustainable garden during the annual AgEdventure Day event.

POSTED September 26, 2012 12:30 p.m.



Soon after the founding of California State University, Stanislaus in 1960, the college earned the nickname “Turkey Tech” — a nod to Turlock’s past as the turkey capital of the world. Despite this poultry-related moniker, the liberal arts centered university offered no agricultural course of study. This seemingly ironic situation was remedied in 2002, with the creation of the Agricultural Studies Program in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The department was formed with the primary goal of offering local students an opportunity to further their education in agriculture, without having to leave the family farm.

“I was dean of Modesto JC at the time and I saw all these bright, capable young people — and not so young people — who when they graduated MJC couldn’t go anywhere because they were geographically bound,” said CSU Stanislaus Agricultural Studies Department Chair Dr. Mark Bender. “They were being held back because there was not a local program available.”

Staying close to home and being able to further his education were the primary reasons that Turlock High grad Jared Serpa enrolled in Stanislaus’ Agricultural Studies Program.

“I have a family business, we all milk, and I farm as well,” Serpa said. “The main reason I enrolled in the ag department at Stanislaus was to learn more about the management side of things. I also think it’d be really cool to be an advocate of agriculture one day.”

Serpa’s story is one that Bender hears every year.

“Many students come here so they can still have an integral role in their family’s farm and get a bachelor’s degree,” Bender said.

Some students are drawn to Stanislaus’ ag program because of its tight-knit community.

“When I started college, I intended to transfer to Cal Poly or another college with a large ag department,” said 2011 Stanislaus grad Denae de Graaf, who now works for American Ag Credit. “But I really liked Stanislaus and what they had to offer: a small program with a family feel. There was a lot of opportunity to get involved.”

Agricultural students are involved in projects on campus — like the program’s sustainable garden that features examples of all different systems of growing — as well as in the community at large. The program hosts a teacher workshop every spring and welcomes over a thousand area third graders as part of the AgEdventure Day event. During the AgEdventure, students learn about agriculture through hands-on activities at the Cal State Stanislaus campus.

Agricultural students are also involved in philanthropic activities, such as donating fresh produce from the sustainable garden to the United Samaritan’s food program, putting together food boxes for those in need at Thanksgiving, and collecting new toys during the holiday season to donate to the Salvation Army and Valley Children’s Hospital.

This community involvement is an important piece of the Ag Studies Program, according to Bender.

“If you’re an ag teacher, your job just isn’t in the classroom,” he said.

Agriculture is not just an area of study at Cal State Stanislaus, it is an economic engine for the surrounding community. And there’s no better place to study agriculture than right here in the Central Valley, according to Bender.

“We have the ideal conditions for so many crops,” he said. “It’s like a Mediterranean climate on steroids.”

Despite the state’s ongoing struggles over water rights and land use, Bender believes the future of agriculture in California is bright.

“It is bright because, number one: People are always going to need food; and number two: We have something not duplicated anywhere else with weather and geography,” he said.


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