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El Portal Students Enjoy Taste Of High School Ag
Sophomore Andrew Crane puts on a display of welding for interested El Portal students during the annual Ag Day program hosted at Escalon High School. Marg Jackson/The Times
Hannah Smallwood, a sophomore, keeps young Lieutenant under control while her teammates on the Livestock Judging Team explain a bit about their program at Friday’s Ag Day for El Portal students.
Large animal veterinarian Dr. Randy Anderson addresses students during the Ag Day program at Escalon.

The results are in – and the news is good.

Since the start of the Ag Day program that introduces El Portal eighth grade students to the agricultural offerings at Escalon High, membership in the school’s FFA chapter and ag classes has risen dramatically.

Students had the chance to learn about a number of ag classes and careers on Friday, March 22 as the high school FFA students showcased what they have to offer. Several presenters were also brought in to explain their roles in the agricultural industry.

The Ag Day presentations started in the gym, with livestock/poultry, floral, ag mechanics, ag pest, milk quality/food science, light horse, vegetable, agronomy, MJC, and Delta College presentations. Students spent a few minutes at one presenter’s station, then rotated into another, spending the first hour at those presentations.

Then it was off to a series of options in the ag complex at the high school, with students able to choose three presentations to attend. Those ranged from Morris Nursey to veterinary work, Holt Farm Power and Machinery, poultry and more.

“I really just enjoy talking to the kids, see if they have a possible future interest in FFA,” said sophomore Hannah Smallwood, who is part of the Livestock Judging Team for the Escalon High School FFA.

Ben Villines, representing Jackrabbit out of Ripon, explained how his company devised a more efficient system for harvesting nuts.

He also told students that California produces about 80 percent of the world’s almonds and the state has 1.2 million acres of almonds.

“It’s pretty crazy,” he said.

A graduate of Escalon, he went on to MJC and then got his Bachelors of Science in agribusiness at Fresno State.

“Our almonds are exported almost everywhere,” he added. “Our trees just went through the bloom so the nuts are growing now.”

State Veterinarian Dr. Randy Anderson offered a talk on what his job entails on a daily basis and also handled questions from students interested in getting involved in the field.

“I think this is a great thing for our school,” said EHS Principal Eric Simoni. “The event has really impacted the enrollment in our ag programs. This is our third year doing it and this has been the most smoothly run event. As you get into the third year, you’ve worked out many of the kinks and have a more refined event.”

He also noted the community support for the Ag Day was outstanding, with several people coming in to serve as volunteer presenters.

Ag teacher Bella Leventini said fellow teacher Gypsy Stark was the one that started the Ag Day program for Escalon.

“I love that we’re able to get so many of our ag students involved,” Leventini added. “And all these eighth graders get to come and spend the day, meet the industry people.”

All attendees received a special FFA ‘swag bag’ with items including a magazine, pencil and a survey to fill out regarding the Ag Day program. Following the event, the eighth graders were also treated to a pizza lunch before heading back to El Portal.