Education and Agriculture in California’s Central Valley

Not many people correlate the connection between agriculture and education. For those that do, they often think of FFA programs or Vocational Technological Programs. Hardly do they realize that in some of our communities, the viability of schools and a city’s entire existence depends on the success of agriculture.

I provide various services to school districts through my position at the Fresno County Office of Education. I provide technical assistance to district administrators, provide services to young parents and observe and rate preschools throughout the county. My work takes me to small rural farming communities. My recent assignments have taken me to the communities of Mendota and Firebaugh. Many residents in the city of Fresno do not even realize these two small cities are part of the county of Fresno, which lie on the far most western region of the county. As I take the long western bound roads to these communities, I am reminded of the vast array of agriculture growing on both sides of the one lane roads for 60 miles. Even after entering the city limits of these small towns, the miles of agricultural fields are still within site. Agricultural fields surround the cities’ small residential and commercial strips of property.

With agriculture in the central valley in a desperate water crisis, I am able to see what many do not see. I see it through the education perspective. It has been reported that agriculture only makes up 2% of California’s economy; I beg to differ. When I step onto a school campus in these small but mighty rural communities I can fairly make the assumption that almost every child in attendance parents’ work in agriculture in some capacity. From the field worker to the farm owner and every job in between the seed and the harvest, these children attend the public schools in these communities.

For many immigrants, agriculture work is the vessel of the American Dream. Immigrants flock to this region for the year-round work flow provided by the farming industry. The risk and journey that many take to get here is remarkable. The work is hard and the weather can be grueling at times, but they work the long days in a hope to offer their children and families a better way of life. Their children receive an education in this country that they often would not receive in their own country. Public schools are not segregated, a child of a farm laborer receives the same opportunity and education that the land owner’s child receives. I worked with young parents in Mendota for three years. Many of these young parents would work in the field all day long then come to parenting classes in the hopes of learning how to be an active, involved and nurturing parent to their child. During our ice-breakers, we asked parents was what were their dreams for their children. Every last one of them wanted their children to be able to get the education they didn’t have. These parent wanted their children to have opportunities beyond the tough physical labor of field work and they were committed to continue to work as hard so their children could have a better life. Children of immigrants receive that highly valued education because of the fiscal contribution of the owner of the land in which they work.

Agriculture directly impacts the schools in their communities. School districts receive a portion of money from property taxes paid on land owned by farmers. Local sales tax paid to businesses in those communities goes to schools and other local government departments. When school bonds are passed for school construction and expansion, it’s the farmers who often bear the largest contribution through property taxes and sales tax. Farmers usually invest back into their communities by purchasing equipment from a local businesses, employ and uses local companies for spraying, welding, irrigating and all the other essentials needed to operate the land that feed the world. Schools would cease to exist in these regions without the agriculture industry. Schools are also given money by the California Department of Education, based on ADA (Average Daily Attendance).   School districts’ prepare budget projections based on ADA. When the farming industry is struggling, the work slows or in severe cases stops. Many of the farm workers must move to find work in other areas. Their children leave and the attendance in schools drop as does the money from the state.

It is all interconnected. The contribution of agriculture is massive. To say agriculture only represents 2% of the state’s economy is not only ludicrous, it is absolutely false! Our local farmers feed the world and contribute greatly to the economy through a plethora of businesses.

Almost every industry in this state depends on agriculture.

Grocery stores, insurance companies, banking, accounting services, fuel, clothing, shipping, paper products, alcohol, tobacco, law enforcement, civic government, trucking, education, doctors, lawyers, bottling, real estate, colleges and universities, restaurants all depend on the agriculture produced in the Central Valley. To allow our most precious resources to be grown outside of the state of California would result in a mass economical down-turn that sadly many don’t understand.

Without local agriculture, schools, local governments, law enforcement, local businesses and members of those farming communities would cease to exist. MY JOB DEPENDS ON AG, SO DOES YOURS!

Kayla & brother Erik

Kayla & brother Erik

Kayla Wilson –

I was raised in Madera, California and I graduated from Madera High in 1994. I have BS and MBA in Business administration. I work for the Fresno County Office of Education as a Consultant II. I provide parenting to teen parents throughout the county, emphasizing on high-risk youth. I am also the Assessor for the Federal Race to the Top grant that improves quality of early care and education for our youngest children. I rate Childcare homes, state funded and private pay preschools to ensure that all children are receiving quality care and academic support for school readiness. I also provide Technical Assistance to all 32 Districts in the county to support mandated education, community engagement, and supporting educators teaching at risk youth.I have 3 sons, 1 in Line – man school, 1 at Fresno State majoring in agriculture, with hopes to be a CA and a junior at Edison High school.

I’m extremely proud of the farmers and the work they do everyday to feed this great country. I’m an avid supporter of the agricultural industry and all those who work in rain, sun, fog, heat and the cold to provide food for my family and theirs.