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Ag Secretary Ross Visits Modesto Junior College Farm
Ross MJC
California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, center, is flanked by MJC officials and students, during a recent visit to the Modesto campus for a tour of the college’s Agricultural Units and to hear more about the variety of opportunities students have in the School of Agriculture. Photo Contributed

This past week, Karen Ross, the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, visited Modesto Junior College (MJC) to tour its Agricultural Units, meet with students and learn about the variety of opportunities students have in the School of Agriculture.

Secretary Ross first heard from Don Borges, the Department’s Dean, who spoke about the successful students in the Department, and the importance that these young agriculturalists stay in California, “we seem to be exporting our most valuable commodity and they are not coming back.”

According to Borges, MJC’s agricultural students are transferring primarily to, Fresno State, Chico State and out of state.

The opportunities at MJC go beyond the 29 Degrees and Certificates offered.

“Students get hands-on learning here,” shared Program Specialist, Ryan Amaral. “Our program includes many field trips to farming operations. It is like a lightbulb goes off when students see someone actually doing a job, and then they can picture themselves doing that type of work.”

While visiting, Secretary Ross was given a tour of Beckwith Ranch and West Campus’s animal and irrigation units. These properties include housing for 28 interns. There are seven houses, each equipped with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The 28 interns work on the agricultural units in exchange for housing. This opportunity comes in handy because every Associate Degree offered by the Department, requires four-units of work experience.

While visiting Beckwith Ranch, the Secretary learned that crop science students grow the hay for the dairy unit, manage the vineyard, and get real-life experience in both walnut and almond orchards. Moving to the animal units, Secretary Ross toured the poultry science area, greeted by baby chicks and a carton of farm fresh eggs.

West Campus houses more than the poultry unit. Students have opportunities to work with dairy cattle, beef cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses. Animal Science Instructor, Tim Truax, spoke to Secretary Ross about the changes in sheep breeding and how students in his classes assist with advanced reproductive practices, like embryo transfer. Agriculture is so much more than cows and plows these days.

A perfect example of this is the Rubicon Irrigation System on West Campus. Rubicon is an advanced water delivery system that optimizes efficiency; the amount of water you need, when you need it. The idea is no waste or runoff. Students taking classes get hands-on experience with irrigation technology that is being used by both Turlock Irrigation District and Oakdale Irrigation District today.

On the eve of the Department’s Centennial Anniversary, the Secretary met with four current students. Each student shared their story as to how MJC became home for them, literally, all four are West Campus Interns.

Braden Crosson visited MJC’s campus while in high school and knew he wanted to be an intern. Crosson has won national speaking competitions and plans to transfer to Texas A&M or Kansas State to pursue a career as a farm manager.

Erica Mattingly didn’t grow up on a farm, but her passion grew during her high school involvement in FFA. Now attending MJC, and studying viticulture and horticulture, she is interested in becoming an Ag Teacher and transferring to Fresno State.

Alayna Azevedo grew up on a dairy in Escalon. She “fell in love with FFA,” and MJC was an affordable opportunity to pursue her passion. Azevedo hopes to transfer to Fresno State and become an Ag Teacher.

Morgan Gravatt was very involved in FFA and knew MJC was in her future. “This is home,” she shared. Gravatt plans to transfer to Oklahoma and study Ag Communications.

Secretary Ross smiled as she listened to each student, a 4-H kid herself, who grew up on a farm in western Nebraska.

The legacy of leaders who once called MJC home is impressive. Borges, Amaral and Truax are all alumni and came back to MJC in their professional roles. And for students considering a career in Agriculture or Environmental Sciences, the Department awards over $75,000 annually in scholarships.

Secretary Ross shared her passion about promoting California-grown agricultural products and what better way than to provide opportunities for students to learn about agriculture right here in the heart of the Central Valley.