By Javier Valdes, Public Information Specialist, Kern High School District
- Kern High School District FFA students participated at the annual Kern County Fair where they marketed their livestock projects. (Photo by Stan Greene, Director of School Support Services)
It’s more than just cows, plows, and sows for the agriculture program at Frontier High School.
In a quest of innovating through technology, Frontier High’s Agriculture Department Chair Julie Beechinor is paving the way by incorporating technology into the Frontier High School agriculture program.
“We are really trying to look at technology in agriculture at Frontier,” said Beechinor. “We want to use the technology piece to say that agriculture is not just cows, sows and plows, it’s high technology, we are feeding the world, that’s huge.”
Technology has been the main focus for Beechinor ever since she was brought on-board to build up the program when the school first opened 10 years ago. Instead of bringing in construction and wood courses, Frontier decided to focus on computer modeling and engineering.
“We have to engineer how to make food…how we’re going to pick it, how we’re going to box it, how we’re going to ship it,” said Beechinor. “Those are huge challenges in agriculture because less than 1.5 percent of the population is involved in food production.”
Agriculture in Kern County has recently earned some bragging rights, according to the Kern County Farm Bureau, Kern County held the top spot in the nation for agriculture production in 2016. This is a first for the county.
As Beechinor continues to innovate and grow the program at Frontier, she also looks into transitioning into higher technology by working with West Hills College to create and design a class focused on drones.
“We are trying to transition into an applications class where students are flying drones,” said Beechinor. “The use of drones in the ag industry is heavy. The problem is, we don’t have anybody to operate them.”
Beechinor reached out to Grimmway Farms last year and the company took out the agriculture program at Frontier to learn about drone usage in the agricultural business.
“They took us out last year and we flew drones and learned how they use them, what the drone is really doing for them and their company, and essentially how it’s saving cost of producing food,” said Beechinor.
While technology is propelling the curriculums growth, much of the agriculture program still comes from the traditional experience.
The co-curricular model goes far beyond the classroom experience. The program utilizes a structure that encompasses a leadership component through FFA, alongside a supervised agriculture experience (SAE) project to prepare students by providing the skills necessary to succeed after high school.
All students in the agriculture program are required to take on a project, ranging from working with plants and pumpkin patches, to taking on a livestock animal.
Beechinor said that most of her students prepare throughout the year to showcase their project at the annual Kern County Fair.
“Although the Kern County Fair is a competition, it is also their marketing component for their projects,” said Beechinor. “Some of these projects are yearlong.”
The projects are meant to be a business and that is what the program is attempting to instill onto their students.
“They happen to be taking on a live animal, but their responsibility is feeding, cleaning, learning how to care for this living animal, and then ultimately market it in order to return a profit,” said Beechinor.
But even though most of the students just completed their projects, there is no down time as most of their new projects will be arriving just days after their previous projects were completed.
This is a reality for most of the students enrolled in an agriculture program, Frontier High student Ryin Berkfield, 17, showed a market steer at the Kern County Fair this year.
“My project is every weekend, it’s every day…seven days a week, it’s nonstop, but it’s fun,” said Berkfield. “It’s just something that you really want to do.”
The nonstop hours are a sentiment that most of the students shared in their experience in the ag program. Frontier High senior Maddison Hurst, 17, has been showcasing for the past eight years, not just locally but on a national level.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 10,” said Hurst, who has showcased in jackpots and state fairs. “I’ve been showing year-round, 365 days, I don’t take a day off.”
Currently, Hurst has four pigs that she is raising at home as she prepares for jackpots for the Arizona nationals and other shows across the California coast.
Some of this year’s top winners included Frontier High senior Holly Cecil, 17, and Golden Valley High junior Wyatt Colbert,16.
- Holly Cecil of Frontier High School won third place overall at the Kern County Fair. Cecil has been in the FFA program for four years and looks forward to a career in agriculture in the future. (Photo by Stan Greene)
Cecil, who won third overall and won champion FFA crossbred and champion FFA lamb, hopes to have a future in agriculture and credits the program with boosting her confidence.
“It has definitely helped my confidence a lot,” said Cecil. “It really gets you out there.”
- Wyatt Colbert of Golden Valley High School was honored with reserve champion FFA and went into the red barn for the grand champion drive. Colbert’s biggest goal is to one day become a State FFA Officer or even National Officer. (Photo by Stan Greene)
Colbert was also a big winner at the county fair got reserve champion FFA for his lamb project and went into the red barn for the grand champion drive.
“It was a pretty good feeling because I put a lot of work into it,” said Colbert about his win. “I think my aunt is the happiest because she has been helping me along and seen me struggle and get back up.”
While some of the students won competitions at the county fair, most took more than a title home. Confidence was a recurring theme in terms of skills that the students have learned throughout their agricultural journey.
Frontier High junior Jaden Ross, 16, showed a market steer, two pigs, and a horse at the fair, but something that the program really helped develop was her public speaking skills.
“I had really bad social skills and when I started competing in parliamentary procedure, it helped me be able to talk to people a lot more and my social skills got better,” said Ross.
Livestock competitions were not the only projects that were showcased at the Kern County Fair. Frontier High student Tyler Perry, 15, restored an old pedal tractor as part of his project.
“It was my grandmas,” said Perry. “Since she was a kid, she used to play with it and my dad played on it and I finally restored it…It’s been sitting in a barn for about 18 years.”
Perry entered his pedal tractor project at the county fair and got best of show and best in division for his project.
From livestock to pedal tractors, and from confidence to leadership skills, agriculture programs across the KHSD have honed in on skill building.
“We want kids that can walk out of here and go into industry and we want students that can leave here and be college-bound,” said Beechinor. “Whether that is at the junior college…or onto a four year, that is our goal.”
KHSD students showcased their livestock at the 2017 Kern County Fair. (Photo by Stan Greene)