By Craig W. Anderson

The diversity in today's high schools is reflected in their Ag/FFA programs and yet their programs have many similarities. Being similar demonstrates the cohesiveness of the ag sector. These county high schools represent what agriculture can mean to the school and do for the students. This article highlights teachers telling the story of their Ag/FFA programs.

Bear Creek High School, Stockton
Suzanne Hillan, ag teacher at Bear Creek High School said, "We want to continue offering more classes for our students. We are looking forward to offering welding and expanding that part of our program. We're also adding animal science next year and the students are very excited about this."

That's good news for the 285 students in the ag program taught by three instructors, including Hillan, who said, "Our administrators are very supportive of our program" which includes an ornamental horticulture course that is articulated with San Joaquin Delta College.

The department has a farm on campus which, unfortunately, doesn't have electricity but, said Hillan, "We're working very closely with our administrators and community to overcome this challenge for our students as we did have an issue with the heat this year." A proposal has been submitted to build a new greenhouse as the current facility has broken down over the last two years resulting in losing everything that was in it."

The ag program recently got 15 Hamden planting beds going and they're growing a variety of vegetables. "While our welding shop that was supposed to be completed in 2016 is still not finished, we're hoping it will be finished by the time school starts as we've hired an instructor to teach welding," Hillan said.

A first time fundraiser – a Lockeford Sausage Drive-Thru – was a huge success and will become an annual event. The past school year marked the initial Pest Management team and the three young ladies on the team thrived. "They improved at each contest and took fifth place at the Gridley FFA Field day," said Hillan.

East Union High School, Manteca
John Hopper, veteran ag teacher, reports that 460 students participate in East Union's Ag/FFA program, guided by four teachers. "With the purchase of new equipment for the metal and wood shops, a lot of time was spent on rearranging the shops and learning the new equipment," Hopper said. "So, not a lot of big projects were built at this time."

East Union's administration has been "relatively supportive this past year," he said. "We're trying to build a new ag department and they've been supportive of most of the ideas." All of the floral and ag science courses are aligned with the A-G college classes.

The department is working on a new greenhouse and shade house; a variety of animals were at the school farm, including market swine, dairy replacement heifers, a goat and two sheep. Hopper said fruit tree sales was one of the "biggest fundraisers."

East Union students received two American degrees, three state degrees and the ag mechanics team was 15th in state; the floral team, vet science and livestock judging teams and the opening and closing teams all won gold. Sam Lopprieato was the FFA president and has been involved with every aspect of East Union's chapter this year, reported Hopper. "She's been on numerous teams representing our chapter at a variety of leadership conferences and helped organize and run the Manteca Unified School District Greenhand conference," Hopper said.

"The future's looking good. We have a great set of students and parents helping to build a very strong program here," he said.

Escalon High School, Escalon
With 317 students in the program, head of the ag program Gypsy Stark said she and two other teachers are busy. Escalon is working on a new school farm on 7 acres; 4.5 planted to almonds with the remainder consisting of animal facilities, including sheep, beef and dairy. The old facility will have a variety of fruit trees, a greenhouse and shade area.

Escalon's first Ag Day in March was an introduction to the ag industry for eighth graders. "It was a very effective event," Stark said.

More than 300 people attended Escalon's FFA banquet which had to have pleased the principal and superintendent "who are really good supporters of our program. We couldn't run a successful ag program without their support," Stark said.

Multiple courses have pathway status, including Ag Mechanics, Ag Science, Plant Science and Animal Science; the floral design class receives fine arts credit and "A lot of kids are enjoying getting some side-job experience and making money using their floral design skills," Stark said.

New equipment included a CNC plasma-cutting table, drill presses and welders. Successful fundraisers included a drive-through BBQ and a cookie dough sale.

Three American degrees were awarded in the fall; Austin Terra was elected sectional vice president and he did well in the speaking competition. Matthew Lima placed first in extemporaneous speaking and Jack Fitzgerald was fourth in impromptu; the vegetable and agronomy judging teams both finished second at state.

"We currently have a lot of support with a good parent boosters club and a lot of good eighth-graders coming up. We're finding ways to continue growing and keep students excited about ag."

Lathrop High School, Lathrop
Danielle Ariaz, Agricultural Department head, said, "We are regrouping with two teachers next year and we currently have about 400 kids in the program. Our Floral and Ag Mechanics programs are popular and growing." Interest in participation was evident at AgFest Ariaz said as "this year we had 50 projects at the San Joaquin AgFest. We have a lot of kids in the district co-ops."

Lathrop also experienced a healthy degree environment with FFA members earning three American Degrees and seven State Degrees and having its first Sectional Officer. The Floral team won the State contest and achieved second place for Floral at the California State Fair.

"Challenges are always there for students to attend conferences," Ariaz said. "Parents have less flexible income for fun activities so we have to cover more and more of those for kids." However, funding for this and other events and activities may come from fundraisers, according to Ariaz. "We've always had successful drive-thru dinners which are always the biggest fundraiser for us."

Linden High School, Linden
"We have about 310 students in our program and three teachers," said ag teacher Chris Lemos.

Linden's major projects over the past year included building a new plant yard and shade structure with ag mechanics students constructing the benches and raised planter beds. Ag mechanics also built six trailers, a 10-foot hydraulic drag scraper and a variety of small projects such as fire pits and garden art.

"We have a supportive administration and community," Lemos said.

Linden has classes in all pathways that are articulated with Delta College and/or Modesto Junior College including horticulture, ag computers and welding.

The high school's horticulture area has been completely remodeled and there are plans to build a retail nursery/farmers market facility where plants raised by students and garden art made by the ag mechanics students.

Fundraising is happening and grants applied to purchase new welders. Pending grant approval the welders could arrive prior to the next school year. They are replacing machines that are 20 to 30 years old.

"We have a variety of fundraisers throughout the year including an annual spaghetti feed and tri-tip sandwich booth at the cherry festival," Lemos said.

The FFA registered four State Degrees along with a regional proficiency award; Pathways include Ag Business, Ag Science and Ag Floriculture.

"This year we received funding from the Ag Incentive Grant and a Perkins Grant," Lemos said. "We also have great community support."

He expects next year to be productive due to a new, enthusiastic officer team, which suggests an active year ahead.

"Funding is a challenge," he said. "Our facilities are relatively new but our equipment is aging."

Lodi High School, Lodi
"We have 303 unduplicated ag students and three teachers, including myself," said Brent Newport, ag teacher at Lodi.

College aligned courses include Sustainable Ag Biology and Ag Chemistry; campus projects include gardens, greenhouses and the school farm.

"We're looking to upgrade the Ag shop with some new welders, drill press, saws, etc.," he said. "And our major fundraiser to help with this is our annual Crab Feed the last Saturday in January."

The school farm serves a purpose beyond being an on-campus item, Newport said, adding that "we allow students who don't have a place to raise animals to keep pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens and turkeys on the school farm."

Newport said, "Ag Computers and Farm Power both placed fourth at the FFA State Finals in Fresno. The horse team placed fifth in the Cal Poly Stat competition. We had eight State Degrees, one American Degree and two State Proficiency Awards."

Lodi has three course pathways: Ag Mechanics, Ornamental Horticulture and Agriscience.

"We have outstanding parent and community support." Newport said. "Our Ag Boosters group awarded more than $10,000 in scholarships this year and the community really goes above and beyond to support our program and the FFA members at AgFest."

Lodi had 115 students compete at AgFest this year, Lodi's largest group ever.

Manteca High School, Manteca
350 students participate in Manteca's ag/FFA program and, said ag teacher Amanda Martinez, three teachers, including herself, work with them.

A new walk-in floral cooler was a major addition to the program and the administration's support continued throughout the school year.

College aligned courses included Sustainable Ag Biology, Soil Chemistry, Animal Science, Companion Animal Care and Management, Intro to Veterinary Science, Art History of Floriculture and Horticulture.

"We've acquired funding to replace our old greenhouse with a much bigger one, "Martinez said. "But with the remodel of Manteca High, this has been put on hold until the final plans are made."

She noted some of the unique classes including a new course that was piloted this last school year was Companion Animal Care and Management. "For the first year it was very popular with two sections and this coming year there will be another two classes offered." The class focuses on companion animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, reptiles and other small animals.

A new ultrasound machine was acquired for the Intro to Vet Science course.

Accomplishments by program participants included three State Degrees and one American Degree. "Each month we recognize two or three outstanding Aggies in our department. These students have gone above and beyond to help out their fellow members and the program," Martinez said.

With the complete remodel of the campus she said, "At this time we don't know if our Ag building will be part of the remodel or a complete replacement and relocation."

This fall an FFA Alumni will be formed to help support the Manteca FFA Program; two other things helping the program are CTE funding and Ag Incentive.

"Our program is growing with increased enrollment in each class," Martinez said.

Ripon High School, Ripon
Ag Instructor Sherry Johns said, "The program has 244 students and three full-time instructors. We've also hosted two student teachers, one from Cal Poly the other from Fresno State."

The vice principal completed the Administrator Experience at this year's State FFA Leadership Conference in Anaheim.

Johns said, "All courses, including concentrates and capstones, meet A-G UC requirements."

Ripon has added a Diesel Power Mechanics course and helping the entire process will be a retrofitting and upgrading of the CNC Plasma and the purchase of a Laser engraver with CTEIG funds.

Generating some of the necessary funds for these projects is achieved by the two biggest fundraisers of the year, the Annual Cows, Carbs and Cocktails dinner in December and fireworks sales in June/July.

A landscape project was completed at the school farm, a wash rack for swine, sheep and goats was built and a squeeze chute for beef/dairy barn was purchased and installed. "This year the farm housed six beef/dairy projects, 28 swine projects, two goat and 10 lamb projects," explained Johns.

Ripon's competitive teams did well with a National Proficiency Finalist in Landscape Management, four teams participated in State finals (Small Engines, Meats, Poultry and AET), seven State Degree recipients and a record number of American Degree recipients with eight, AgFest Champion Market Steer, Reserve Champion Market Lamb, Champion Chapter Groups for Sheep and Swine and Ag Mechanics swept all divisions with first place results.

Pathways include Ag Business, Ag Mechanics and Ag Science. A site committee for CTE development and guest speakers, industry tours and job information is being formed; have applied for Perkins funds – a federal grant – and Ag Education Career Technical Incentive Grant.

"This was a very busy year with increased enrollment and students actively engaged in all aspects of our program. The challenge I see is finding the time necessary to achieve everything we and the students are doing and want to do," said Johns.

Ripon Christian High School, Ripon
Allison Hoover, Ripon Christian's ag instructor, said there are "56 students in the program" and she is the only teacher.

"We had some interesting major projects this past year," she said, noting three:

Ag Day on campus for nearly 500 K-5 students with 20 different presentations – organized by age group – on agriculture topics by local industry representatives and FFA members;

Agriscience research projects in freshmen/sophomore classes where 35 students completed research experiments related to agriculture; and rabbit feed trial in animal science class – students measured weight gain and the animals were harvested as a class at the end of the spring semester.

"The administration's support is very good," she said. "I can go to my superintendent – who is also the high school principal – for anything."

The Animal Science class is from the Curriculum for Agriscience Education and Hoover had to attend a 10-day training last summer to receive approval to use the curriculum.

Fundraisers included a poinsettia fundraiser and nearly $1,000 was raised from being a National FFA T-shirt finalist.

FFA accomplishments were highlighted by "a few key successes," Hoover said, including first high individual State Finals Light Horse Judging; second high team State Finals Small Engines and second high individual State Final Small engines and fourth in individual State Finals Farm Power and Machinery.

"The future holds much potential. Even in a small school with a drop in total student body over the past few years, I've seen growth in program numbers and student involvement," Hoover said. "We're also planning an agricultural mission/service trip to Nicaragua in the summer of 2019."

"Year three has been a success at Ripon Christian Ag Education," she said. "We had five State Degree recipients – our first ever!"

Sierra High School, Manteca
The Sierra High School Ag/FFA program has 245 students enrolled and one teacher, Amy Bohlken.

"We receive tremendous support from site and district administrations," Bohlken said and then remarked, "floral and animal science are articulated with Modesto Junior College. We will be offering three high school graduation requirements starting in the fall."

Campus projects include gardens, greenhouse, farm, etc. "Our animal projects are housed in the school farm." "Fundraisers were successful this past year and we're planning new fundraisers for the upcoming year, Bohlken said.

FFA accomplishments were many and varied: William Burden received Supreme Champion with his breeding heifer at AgFest; he also received, with Jackie Brown, his State Degree. The Best Informed Greenhand team placed third high team at the Sectionals; the Marketing team finished as the first high team and Amber Zarevich placed in the top four at the Sectionals Prepared Speaking Contest. And the Marketing team placed first high team at the Arbuckle Field Day.

"Our chapter secretary, Sarevich, was selected to participate in the FFA Sacramento Leadership Experience Conference," Bohlken said.

Sierra is in the process of starting a booster's program and has received a SJFB Foundation grant and eight new chapter jackets through CTE funding. And, Bohlken said, "We'll be getting more students on track to earn their State and American Degrees.

Tokay High School, Lodi
Tokay's Ag/FFA program has 287 students with three teachers and, said Rebecca Freeman, ag instructor and FFA adviser. "We've been fortunate to be able to build a new livestock facility on the Tokay High School farm. We now have the ability to house swine, sheep, goats, rabbits and poultry. This allows for many more students to be able to raise animals throughout the year as well as for AgFest."

As with most of the county's high schools, Tokay has a "very supportive administration all the way from site to the district level," Freeman said. "They are fully vested in CTE and the expansion of these programs."

Freeman said Tokay is "blessed to have a two-acre school farm that includes a greenhouse, raised beds, vineyard, cherries, peaches, plums and olives."

Tokay's program offers Ag Woodshop, a class that has allowed many more students the opportunity for hands-on learning, according to Freeman.

A new ag vehicle, new livestock facility and a new floral fridge are on Freeman's "to do" list for the future, all of which may be possible due to Tokay having an "amazing group that has a few very successful fundraisers each year, a crab feed, a farm to fork dinner and a Lodi fireworks booth."

"We have many great students! One major thing that happened is our former student and member Breanna Holbert was elected as the 2017-2018 National FFA President," said Freeman. "This is definitely the highlight of this year. We couldn't be more proud of her and all she's accomplished."

Tracy High School, Tracy
Tracy's ag program has 370 students, four instructors and a long history. Laura Kelly, ag instructor said, "Our principal Jadon Noll is awesome, provides financial support in addition to attending national and state conferences."

Kelley said the major projects over the last year took place in the areas of sheep, goats, swine, turkeys, dairy and Ag Mechanics. The students participated in college aligned courses that included Sustainable Ag Biology, Ag Soil Chemistry all of which receive UC/CSU graduation credit and Welding, Vet Science and Animal Physiology receive articulation credit.

"The school farm where we house sheep and goats as needed by students, landscaping an area where we grow a garden when landscape is offered, we hold our annual pumpkin patch for pre-school students," said Kelley. Tracy also offers Vet Skills which can lead to a certificate to be an entry level Veterinary Tech and Meat Science is likewise part of the curriculum.

Fundraising is oriented around sales of Yankee Candles, Apple Ridge Farms Popcorn, a crab feed and an auction. Twenty-eight students are currently in the new online record book system, six State Degrees and one American Degree; Madison Kelley is a Star Greenhand and Presley Bender is a Star Chapter Farmer; successes were achieved in Farm Power, Vet Science, Livestock Judging, having the 2018 San Joaquin County Supreme Champion Lamb, 2018 Reserve Supreme Champion Market Hog.

"Our program wouldn't be successful without our parents and the Tracy community," Kelley said. "I'm looking forward to growing our program sufficiently to hire an additional teaching partner."

Weston Ranch High School
"We had over 300 students in our program this past year," said Chris Livengood, ag instructor and FFA advisor. "We had an extra four classes of students sign up that we didn't have room for."

Livengood said the program still had only two teachers "but there is talk of a third teacher to come soon, due to the interest in ag classes from all students."

He said this year parents and the community formed the Weston Ranch FFA alumni group. "We're the only ag program in the district to have an FFA alumni, a group that has already helped to raise around $8,000 to help send students to conferences, pay for fees and even gave out a $500 scholarship."

He said, "Our administrative support continues to grow and shine. They continue to boast about the program and like the results they see."

"The school farm opened many opportunities to Weston Ranch Students," Livengood said. "Twenty-five students utilized the school farm for their fair projects which included pigs, sheep, goats, steers and rabbits." Weston Ranch has been successful in a myriad ways including: the new Meat Team which received fourth place at competitions; the annual Thanksgiving family dinner drive was able to provide dinners for 15 families; five students earned their State Degrees this year which led all of Manteca schools.

Livengood said, "Our FFA was also awarded Gold Star Chapter recognition which places our program of activities within the top 10 schools in all of California; due to our successes, our application now goes on to the national FFA where it will compete with other schools from all over the country."

Five Weston Ranch students received their State FFA degrees; one received a $500 scholarship to Delta College; this year the ag program is taking six students to Indianapolis and Washington, D.C., for national convention. Livengood said, "We continue to grow in membership, degrees, awards and community support."

Merrill F. West High School, Tracy
Merrill F. West's Ag/FFA program has 580 students this past school year and kept the four teachers busy, according to Marlene Hepner, ag instructor, FFA adviser.

"One of our major projects this year was writing new courses to align with the new district Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) aligned science courses," Hepner said. "We also reviewed our program goals, plans and purchase needs."

West's ag program receives excellent support from the new principal and assistant principals and additional funds for travel and student events are available, according to Hepner. West is starting the articulation process with Modesto Junior College for the animal science course and all the new NGSS Ag Science courses are approved for the UC system.

Campus projects include gardens, greenhouses, the school farm and more. "Materials were gathered and purchased for a meat bird fryer project and we gained additional ag area space and panels to create a livestock project area. Animal science is growing and there will be two for next year."

New equipment delivered or on the drawing board includes a new computer cart, 10 student laptops, livestock panels, gates, chain link fence and a new West FFA van all from a Central Region Consortium Grant.

Four State Degrees were achieved; the Delta Cal Sectional Job Interview winner moved on to the regional prelims, five CDE teams traveled to all the major Field Days in our area, Pest team took fourth at Chico, third at Merced and fourth at Fresno.

"There have been many new changes with two new agriculture teachers," Hepner said. "All positive

SJFB 104th Annual Meeting highlights successes, challenges

By Kevin Swartzendruber

The San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation held its 104rd Annual Meeting on June 23 at Gill Lake, with guest speakers focusing on key issues facing agriculture and over $45,000 in scholarships awarded to local students pursuing agricultural education.

Guest speakers included U.S Congressman Jeff Denham, State Assemblyman Heath Flora, and California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson.
"The diversity and complexity that we have in California is not experienced anywhere else in America; it's what makes us the sixth largest ag economy; it's what gives us 400 different commodities that we have to sell," Johansson said. "It's what we do at the county level that sets Farm Bureau apart. Farm Bureau is the only ag organization that strives to make a difference at every level of your farm, whether it's in your city, county, Sacramento or in Washington, D.C."

Denham, Flora and Johansson all believed there is currently a good opportunity for change, both at the state and national levels.

Immigration reform
"We have tremendous leadership in our congressional delegation and it was demonstrated last week when the House took a vote on an immigration bill," said Johansson said. "This is the first time the full House voted on an ag immigration bill, or a bill that had agricultural labor in it, since 1986. We shouldn't wonder why the border is a mess today; because we haven't addressed it."

Johansson said that while that bill didn't fit the needs of CFBF and the organization had serious concerns about it, "it was the leadership of Congressman Jeff Denham, who is here today, to make sure California was represented."

Denham said one of the challenges of immigration reform is that there's never a deadline or timeline. "In that immigration policy, we have to have a fix for California agriculture," Denham said. "A guest worker program also needs to be in the package."

Denham expressed frustration with the governor's twin tunnels plan and the inability of California to build new water storage.

"It makes no sense for us to invest or spend money on more conveyance when we have no water to convey," Denham said. "We've got to have storage."

But, Denham said if we're going to build storage, this is our opportunity.

"I want to see in my lifetime, not only water storage for the next generation, but I want to see new water storage moving forward in the next two years," Denham said. "We've been studying these things for 10, 20, 30 years. A lot of these projects we've studied so long they've now been shelved. We've got an opportunity not only to pull them off the shelf, but to dust them off and implement them and use the water bond that we have with the state leverage to actually get them done and moving."

At the federal level, "We actually have a president that wants to get them moving in the next two years. A big part of $1.5 trillion infrastructure package is California water storage," Denham said.

Johannson said we have a great opportunity for agriculture to tell its story and show how important trade is to our livelihood. "While we support our president in the changes in the regulations like Waters of the US, he's also recognized how vulnerable we are in the trade market," Johannson said.

"Sixty percent of what goes through the Port of Oakland is ag related," Johasson said. That port represents 70,000 jobs. Overall across the country, when you talk about distributers, buyers and everything else it touches, that port represents 700,000 jobs.

Staying engaged
"When we get our message out there, when we talk about our issues and don't allow the politics and hyperbole to really dictate our narrative, and when we stick to the facts, we are on the right side of things," Flora said.

Both Johansson and Flora pointed to Foster Farms and the chicken bill that was recently killed in the Ag Committee. "Farm Bureau kept calm amidst hysteria from what the folks thought how chicken's were harvested," Flora said. "At the end of the day, truth prevailed. At the end of the day, our narrative, everything all of you have fought so long and hard about, that is what's going to win the day."

"As we move into November, stay engaged, stay motivated as an ag community," Flora said. "Three hundred miles in both directions of where we're sitting right now is the richest farmland in the entire world; it's worth fighting for; it's worth protecting.

"If you have questions on a bill, call us, talk to us," Flora said. "We have to start putting politics as a line item in to our daily lives and really engaging on it; because at the end of the day we're right on these issues; and some of our colleagues are simply wrong."

Farm Bill
Congress is currently working on the Farm Bill and Denham said, "We don't focus here in California on the subsidies, we just need government to stay out of our lives a little bit and let us farm."

The Farm Bill recently passed the House and is moving on to the Senate. Denham said, "It gives an even playing field for California, even as it pertains to crop insurance, which in many Farm Bills we get left behind on." He said it was a challenge, but a good victory, and to expect the Farm Bill to move in July or August.

SJFB President presents
SJFB President Jim Ferrari also addressed issues facing agriculture and Farm Bureau successes this past year.

He discussed how Farm Bureau successfully stopped the aggressive raise in fees for underground fuel storage facilities. He also said cannabis has one more chance of being defeated through a tax measure on the ballot, but if it passes, Farm Bureau will work to "steer it in the right direction and hopefully make it something we can live with."

Other issues he discussed included the battle against a fertilizer tax proposal, why we need to fight reduced flows down rivers, the opposition to the Delta tunnels, the need for water storage, labor issues, and the new nutria pest.

"Nutria is eating away at our levees," he said. "We need USDA wildlife services to put in some funding and help eradicate these pests."

Scholarships awarded
SJFB Foundation for Agricultural Education President Joe Valente congratulated the scholarship winners and the Farm Bureau proceeded to award over $45,000 to local students. Including this year's scholarships, the Foundation has awarded over $450,000 to local students. (See page 18 for the scholarship winners).

Time to act to prevent nutria spread in the state

By Vicky Boyd

As the number of nutria trapped continues to climb, California Department of Fish & Wildlife officials with the eradication effort said gaining access to private property will be imperative to quashing the rodent invasion. "It's going to be key, I know right now," said Peter Tira, CDFW spokesman. "Basically, we'll not be able to eradicate nutria unless we get every single one. If there's a source population on private property, we'll not be able to eradicate them."

While Farm Bureau supports these efforts, there needs to be some additional safeguards for our landowners that need to be in place. SJFB will be sending updates in the Friday Review, But dealing with private property is only one of many challenges the state faces in trying to eradicate nutria, which breed prolifically and could potentially damage the state's waterways and infrastructure. Other hurdles include securing funding and moving quickly during a narrow window of opportunity for eradication. Under California statutes, CDFW representatives cannot enter private property for activities, such as nutria surveying and trapping, without first receiving written permission from the landowner.

That said, the department recently mailed about 7,000 requests for temporary private property access to landowners in a six-county region living near wetlands, the Delta and within about 2.5 miles of the San Joaquin and Merced rivers and their major tributaries. About 400 landowners have already given their permission, with some including gate codes. A few have made special requests, such as calling beforehand so they can put their dogs or other animals inside.

"We'll work to accommodate special requests," Tira said.

To drive home the importance of private property as nutria habitat, he used an example of a large ranch near Newman. After the department was granted access permission, state trappers removed more than 50 nutria from one pond. All of the nutria surveying and trapping is done free of charge to the landowner.

"Pretty much anywhere there's permanent summer water, there will be nutria," Tira said.

Mary Hildebrand, who farms in the south Delta, said she had received one of the CDFW letters and had already returned it with a requirement to always call beforehand.

"But I think it's important that we cooperate because it's going to be very difficult to eradicate, if it's even possible at all, even with cooperation," said Hildebrand, also a South Delta Water Agency board member. "They're obviously trying hard to have the temporary entry permits be acceptable. You can add any stipulation or restrictions you want, and either party can cancel it with a written notice prior to the one-year expiration."

Roberts Island farmer David Strecker, who has described nutria as a "20-pound angry gopher that burrows into levees," had also received a CDFW letter seeking property access. But he was first going to talk to some of the area reclamation districts.

"I'm curious if it's more important to be on land or would access on the waterways give them a better view," Strecker said. "I think a lot of the main waterways could be accessed better via water.

"I'm more concerned about some of the little sloughs or the smaller rivers where there's a lot of vegetation or the land areas within the main levee system. Anywhere within the primary zone of the Delta, (nutria) are probably going to be found."

New Stockton office
Citing the importance of the Delta, CDFW planned to open an office on July 1 in Stockton that will serve as the region's nutria eradication headquarters. Before that, biologists had been working and training solely out of Los Banos.

Having the Stockton office also will allow wildlife biologists to conduct boat surveys from the water and access riparian areas not easily accessible on foot, Tira said.

Currently, CDFW does not have a dedicated nutria eradication budget and is having to redirect funds and personnel from other programs. As a result, it has sought grants to help underwrite what likely will be a multi-year effort.

Already, the department has received $1.2 million from Proposition 1 water bond funds to be spread over three years. It also received a $600,000 grant from the California Wildlife Conservation Board. With the first discoveries, Fish and Wildlife put together an interagency Nutria Response Team to draft an eradication plan. Because nutria have a steep reproductive curve, department officials say they have a narrow eradication window before rodent numbers grow out of hand.

Following Chesapeake Bay efforts
California officials have been in close communication with counterparts in Maryland who successfully eradicated nutria from the Chesapeake Bay area. That state spent more than $15 million to trap more than 14,000 invasive rodents. They have not confirmed a single nutria in the past 2.5 years.

Nutria eradication consists of three phases. Six teams of two biologists each conduct surveys on 40-acre grids along wetland corridors. They check for nutria sign, such as "eat outs" – places where nutria have eaten swaths of aquatic vegetation – or scat.

If there's reason to believe nutria are there, biologists then set up game camera traps or hair snares on mounds on which nutria prefer to feed and groom. Pieces of hair can be analyzed to determine whether it is from nutria or other wetland dwellers, such as muskrat.

If nutria are confirmed, the department sends out trapping crews, which use live-catch traps baited with sweet potatoes. Doreva Produce of Livingston has been donating the sweet potatoes.

Because of Proposition 4, the voter-passed initiative that banned leg-hold traps and neck snares, state trappers are limited in their methods, Tira said.

Biologists conduct necropsies, akin to an autopsy of animals, on each nutria taken so they can determine gender, age and reproductive status. So far, most of the females collected have been pregnant, he said.

Joining the eradication effort will be two nutria dogs, Star and Trigger, which were used successfully by U.S.

Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services in the Chesapeake Bay nutria eradication program. The dogs are able to detect nutria scent and scat, and can cover wetlands more quickly than human surveyors, Tira said. A five-month $160,000 state contract for three Wildlife Services trappers also was recently approved.

Nutria in San Joaquin County
San Joaquin County is one of six counties in the state in which the semi-aquatic rodent, which some have compared to a giant swamp rat, has been confirmed since it was initially discovered in 2017. The others are Madera, Merced, Fresno, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties.

An A-rated agricultural pest by the California Department of Agriculture, nutria can burrow 3 to 18 feet deep, and the burrows can extend up to 150 feet into a bank.

"The obvious big issue is we don't want to cause any issues with our infrastructure in the Delta," said San Joaquin County Ag Commissioner Tim Pelican. "They eat about 5 pounds of food per day. They eat stuff at the basal part of the plant so they're destroying at least five times more than they're eating."

Since a farmer on Roberts Island brought a dead nutria into the San Joaquin County Agriculture Commissioner's office in April – marking the first time the pest had been found in the county – at least one other confirmed sighting of the invasive rodent has been made, Pelican said.

A Lathrop resident called animal services about an unidentified animal under her car. The animal control officer came out, couldn't identify the creature, snapped a picture and returned it to the river.

"There have been two sightings and we know there's one swimming around out there," Pelican said. The Lathrop find was about a half mile from any waterway.

So far, the state has trapped and dispatched a total of 166 nutria in a six-county region as of June 22. Pelican cited the additional natural challenges California will face against the nutria.

"We have no natural predators here in California," he said. "In the Chesapeake Bay, one of the things they had there was the cold weather because they can't survive the cold well. At least in Louisiana, they have alligators."

Pelican also pointed to the $3 to $5 per-tail bounty offered by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in Louisiana, where nutria are endemic. Since 2002, Louisiana has more than $24 million on bounties and has not reduced the overall nutria population. At best, the program has only kept rodent numbers in check, Pelican said.

Influencing at the federal level

By Jim Ferrari, SJFB President

We have just finished celebrating our 104th Annual Meeting on June 23 with an enjoyable day spent at the Borra family's Gill Lake. The event was highlighted with speakers starting with California Farm Bureau President Jaime Johansson, followed by Assemblyman Heath Flora and U.S. Congressman Jeff Denham. This was truly a distinguished lineup of people that are very busy handling both state and federal legislative matters. This alone speaks volumes to the influence and position of importance that your SJFB holds with these people.

Congressman Denham's presence was a special honor, given his stature as a leading force in current negotiations to craft immigration policy in Washington, D.C. I'm sure by now that you may recognize his face due to his multiple appearances this last month in various mainstream media outlets, especially on Fox News channel television coverage. In fact, immediately after taking the time to speak to us on that Saturday afternoon, he was scheduled to quickly return to weekend negotiations that may prove critical to the passage of immigration reform legislation. And we hope that his efforts prove successful in gaining enough votes to ensure that agriculture may enjoy a much needed and long-awaited guest-worker program to free us up from our labor woes.

We were also pleased to learn at the meeting that President Trump has released a new proposal to transfer both FDA and USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) functions into a single USDA department covering all food safety to be called the "Federal Food Safety Agency." Now, with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) inspections rolling out in January of next year, we can better be heard and responded to by a USDA agency designed to work with and not against farmers.

This is a policy concept that ascended with San Joaquin Farm Bureau directors working alongside California Farm Bureau to convince American Farm Bureau Federation and eventually the president to act on our behalf. In fact, according to Christine Haughney of Politico, even House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway is quoted as being in favor of this type of move.

So, as Step 1 in quickly realizing this proposal — temporarily providing relief to farmers and food transporters before comprehensive legislation is later enacted for this "big move" — we ask Congress to immediately pass the CFBF-authored Amendment to transfer both the FSMA Produce Safety Rule and the Sanitary Transportation Rule to USDA jurisdiction. We still have an opportunity to make this happen in the Farm Bill by means of Congressional Conference Committee, so we now hope that Congress will have the wisdom to approve these important changes.

It is good to know that all our hard work may begin to pay us back and that we have a voice in Washington, D.C., that is finally being heard! San Joaquin Farm Bureau can be proud of its contribution to maintaining the safety and security of our nation's food supply while easing the potential conflict of having an agency with a less-than-stellar track record with agriculture to oversee FSMA implementation.

I would like to thank all our members for their support. It's important for you to realize that together, we can influence the direction of public policy for the better. Your membership does matter… and working together, we can continue to affect the process in a positive way.

Award winning San Joaquin YF&R becomes major force for SJFB

By Vicky Boyd

Much like the Golden State Warriors basketball team, the San Joaquin Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee is on a roll. At the 2017 California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting, San Joaquin YF&R members swept all three awards available to young farmers.

Joe Ferrari of Linden received the YF&R Achievement Award, which recognizes accomplishments in production agriculture and leadership activity. Tyler and Amy Blagg of Lodi received the Excellence in Agriculture Award for an individual or couple who does not earn a majority of income from an owned production agriculture operation but contributes through involvement in agriculture, leadership activities and Farm Bureau. And Katie Veenstra of Escalon won the Open Discussion Meet.

Veenstra also earned the Star award, which recognizes an outstanding young farmer or rancher in California who goes above and beyond in service to agriculture, at the state YF&R Annual Conference in Reno, Nev., in March. Natalie Collins of Lodi, who has been active in YF&R for several years, credits the group's internal energy for its achievements.

"We saw a big increase in the number joining YF&R about five or six years ago," said Collins, who was a San Joaquin Farm Bureau program director before joining the California Association of Winegrape Growers as director of member relations. "It's just a fun group of people who have a like-minded attitude of giving back to the community. I think we truly enjoy each other's company and enjoy the work that YF&R does."

Kelly Devine, YF&R committee chair, attributed the momentum to just having "good people involved in the group and having good support from our local Farm Bureau."

Rachael Fleming, SJFB program director overseeing YF&R, agreed.

"They're just a group of really positive people that works together well," Fleming said. "They bring that passion out in everybody else. When I started at Farm Bureau almost five years ago, there were three or four young farmers and ranchers who were members of the (SJFB) board. At this year's annual meeting, we'll have 16. YF&R has gotten more engaged and more involved."

A foot in the door
Devine, a viticulture representative with Delicato Winery, said giving YF&R members a voice on the SJFB board helps prepare them for future leadership roles.

"I think having the people who are going to eventually become the leaders in the ag industry involved now and dealing with the politics they will have to deal with in the future is a great benefit," he said.

Gary Valente, YF&R vice chair and a SJFB board member, said YF&R is doing what it is intended to do – provide a stepping stone to becoming active at the county Farm Bureau level and even at the state level.

"It helps educate the younger farmers and helps makes them more knowledgeable about what Farm Bureau stands for," said Valente, who works for Kautz Farms. "Being part of YF&R is like getting your foot in the door to become a Farm Bureau board member."

Not only do YF&R members sit on the SJFB board, but Fleming said at least one member sits on each county Farm Bureau committee. Their participation extends beyond the county level, and San Joaquin members are becoming more active within CFBF through Leadership Farm Bureau and other outlets.

"It speaks to the caliber of our members and the enthusiasm they have and their own backgrounds," she said. YF&R, designed for those 18-35 years old, is open to anyone involved in agriculture or who has an interest in agriculture. About 45 people are currently members of the San Joaquin committee, and about 30 of those are active, Fleming said.

The group offers a mix of educational and leadership opportunities as well as social events. San Joaquin, for example, recently held a bowling mixer with Stanislaus County's YF&R group.

In addition, members tour different ag operations within the county, such as Corto Olive Oil or The Fishery, to learn more about the industry's diversity.

This year, San Joaquin YF&R reached out to the newly formed Gold Country YF&R and invited them down for a day-long agricultural tour. Next year, San Joaquin committee members will visit the Gold Country. The inter-county pollination also offers networking and educational opportunities.

"When you start communicating with people, even though they grow different crops or have different livestock, you always learn something from someone else," Valente said. "Pretty much it's we're all fighting the same problems, whether it's labor or water. When you get a mixture of people, you get different ideas."

Giving back

As co-chair of the fundraising committee along with Amy Blagg, Collins helps with just that. YF&R's big effort is the annual barbecue dinner and dessert auction, held this year at Klinker Brick Winery in Lodi in July. The event has proven wildly successful and helps support the group's activities throughout the year.

As it has during the past several years, San Joaquin YF&R gives out at least $5,000 in scholarships annually to high school seniors or college students pursuing ag-related fields of study.

Collins described the scholarships as an investment in the industry's future.

"We've seen a great success in those kids coming back after college and being involved in YF&R. They come full circle," she said.

Collins, in fact, was one of those who received a Farm Bureau scholarship and returned to join YF&R after graduating.

In addition, the group provides scholarships to fellow committee members to help underwrite the cost of attending the annual YF&R leadership conference or other related events.

The committee also partners with SJFB to purchase $5,000 worth of livestock at the AgFest auction in June. More recently, Devine said, YF&R has made a conscious effort to also give back to the general community, thanks to community services chair Brie Hunt.

In addition, this engagement provides an opportunity to educate the public about the benefits of agriculture and puts farming in a positive light, Devine said.

On Valentines Day, for example, the group put together ag-related gift bags for children at St. Joseph's Hospital. As part of Memorial Day, YF&R members donated socks with ag motifs to Soldiers' Angels, a non-profit that comforts and supports U.S. military troops and veterans.

The past few years, YF&R also has volunteered at St. Mary's Dining Hall, helping serve meals around the holidays and in January.

As part of its annual Christmas toy drive, the committee last year donated their collection to Toys for Troops. This fall, they plan to hold a pumpkin patch with hay rides and pumpkin carving for youth groups in the Stockton area.

SJFB stops huge fee hike for underground storage tanks

By Craig W. Anderson

San Joaquin Farm Bureau squared off with the San Joaquin County Environmental Health Department (EHD) in April, arguing against proposed significant fee increases for underground storage tanks (UST). The proposed adjustments include the California Environmental Reporting System (CERS) processing fee and the UST program fees.

"Farm Bureau and Bruce Blodgett made a difference in fighting this issue," said SJFB President Jim Ferrari. "Bruce spoke to the issue and had these increases been approved, compared to other counties, ours would have been outrageous. This would have really hurt the guys with tanks in the ground. And this is a good example of Farm Bureau working for its members."

"The proposed fee increases of thousands of dollars for San Joaquin County would have been the highest in California," said SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett. "This increase would have had a significant negative impact on those who store and sell fuel to farmers who need fuel." The proposed fee increases resembled, he said, a Cadillac program laying the cost on the backs of businesses via increased fees without seriously considering other options.

Proposed fees were distressing
The New Tank Installation Plan Review/Inspections cost for the current eight-hour minimum initial fee is $1,216; the proposed new fee was for a 20 hour minimum fee of $3,040 "to be paid up front" according to documents provided by the EHD and a current UST facility fee of $641 would have increased to $1,500. Currently, the total fees are $3,620; the proposed fees would increase to $6,827.

Workshop reveals expensive plan
The April EHD Fee Proposal Workshop notice attempted to explain the need for more money, noting, "All EHD fees are reviewed and evaluated to ensure revenues generated from fees are appropriate and sufficient to meet the expected costs of each program."

The proposed fee increases were "to close the current, significant gap between program revenues and net county costs over a two year period."

Nonproductive staff hired
An aspect of the proposed increases that was particularly annoying, Blodgett said, was that the EHD was "Paying for training because their new employees were nonproductive and needed to be trained to be productive, so that's included in their calculations. Unbelievable," Ferrari said. "I think the EHD would do better to hire knowledgeable staff in the first place, instead of forcing the agricultural community to bear that burden."

Supervisors praised
After the April workshop, Blodgett and Farm Bureau marshalled their forces for the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors meeting in June that would decide the issue. Blodgett, who spoke on behalf of Farm Bureau, said, "It was excellent that the supervisors took this seriously and felt the proposed fees were unacceptable." Prior to the meeting, SJFB sent a letter to the supervisors detailing its position and, said Blodgett, "The supervisors were poised and ready to go on this issue." The supervisors meeting was a day-long affair with the UST issue being addressed at 3 p.m. "We – SJFB – stuck around until the end after most of the audience had left."

"We would like to thank Supervisors Bob Elliott, Tom Patti, Miguel Villapudua and Chuck Winn for supporting a more reasonable approach," Blodgett said.

Marketplace imbalance
The proposed fees would have created an uneven playing field with fuel buyers going to other counties to fulfill their fuel needs, avoiding San Joaquin County because of its overly expensive product. "They could go to Sacramento or Stanislaus counties for product, leaving San Joaquin out in the cold," Blodgett said. Both Ferrari and Blodgett agreed that Supervisor Chuck Winn had a major impact on Farm Bureau's success.

Proposed increases capped at 50 percent
Following the supervisor's meeting, Blodgett said, "The supervisors did respond to the concerns we raised earlier [at the April workshop] and that I reiterated today. While any increase stinks, the supervisors capped any proposed increase at 50 percent, much better than the 100 to 300 percent increases that were proposed." The EHD staff was upset by the decision to cap proposed increases at 50 percent and aid this would hurt services.

Ag in the Classroom enlightens teachers to ag industry

By Vicky Boyd

Although many of her students aren't even 5 years old yet, Thuy Teresa Lu said the San Joaquin Farm Bureau gave her some new ideas about how she can teach them about agriculture.

"I guess I am now more aware of all of the kinds of jobs that are offered and the kind of job opportunities in farming," said Lu, a transitional kindergarten teacher at John R. Williams Elementary in Stockton. "That's besides taking care of the land. I can talk about all of the wide variety of things out in the ag community and all of the different things about animals. They need to know where their food comes from. This gives me better background knowledge so I can better explain to them more in depth."

Jonya Meyer's third-grade students are a few years older than Lu's, but agriculture is still top of mind as she looks to the next school year.

"Our school does AgVenture and we also do an ag day, so this is just another way to bring agriculture to our third-graders," said Meyer, who teaches at Great Valley Academy in Manteca. "(Ag in the Classroom) actually provided us with some really great lesson plans and some great resources for our lesson plans, so I'm starting early."

Lu and Meyer were among 30 teachers who participated in the San Joaquin Farm Bureau's four-day-long Ag in the Classroom program in mid-June. Now in its 32nd year, it is designed to educate the educators about the county's No. 1 industry, said Rachael Fleming SJFB program director who oversees AITC. The hope is they will incorporate a portion of what they learned about agriculture into their lesson plans to enlighten the next generation. During the four days, the teachers visited 16 different agricultural operations designed to give them exposure to the county's diverse agricultural industry and ag-related job opportunities. From stops at Union Livestock Inc. and Musco Family Olives in Tracy to tours of Perfectly Pomegranate in Stockton and Kubota Tractor Corp. in Lodi, the group heard first-hand from farmers, ranchers and allied industry representatives about their role in agriculture.

The program has become so popular that Fleming maintains a wait list of people who couldn't get in the previous year.

"I feel like this year I was contacted more frequently and began earlier, so that helps the wait list grow," she said. The wait-list this year numbered about 20 teachers.

Fleming designs the tour stops based on a survey of teachers from the previous year where they're asked about what they'd like to see more.

One year, for example, the teachers said they wanted to visit more animal operations, so Fleming added Union Livestock Inc. of Tracy.

This year, many of those surveyed said they had a hard time picking their favorite tour stops because they all were informative in their own right, Fleming said.

"A lot of the teachers had trouble ranking them because they got something different out of each tour," she said.

During the program's first day this year, attendees had lunch at Kautz Farms. The new addition was designed to give teachers first-hand knowledge of farm to fork, thanks to tour hosts, Fleming said. Ratto Bros., for example, provided the salad makings; Von Groningen & Sons, the melons; and Long Ranch, the pig.

David Strecker, SJFB first vice president, took time off from his farming operation west of Stockton to host the teachers at the Roberts Union Farm Center and show them around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

"They're going to go back and teach the next generation about the importance of agriculture," said Strecker, a fifth-generation farmer.

Joining him was Amy Bohlken, an ag teacher and FFA adviser at Sierra High School in Manteca. She provided the teachers with a lesson plan on soil structure that involved Oreo cookies, Peanut M&M's, chocolate pudding, shredded coconut and a gummy worm on top. The "edible soils" project could be easily modified for kindergarteners up to high schoolers, Bohlken said.

Not only is the Delta important from a crop production standpoint, but Strecker told the teachers it also is at the center of several environmental debates including water quality and the Twin Tunnels. As the bus drove around Roberts and Union islands, he discussed the changes in soil type and groundwater depth and how they influenced crops and production practices.

Citing the county's diversity, Strecker said his goal was to provide the teachers with an overview of but one aspect of the region's agriculture.

Sandy Simpson, a retired Lodi teacher who was riding along on some of the tours, grew up on a Lodi winegrape operation. But she said even she was surprised by the wide variety of crops and operations.

"People don't realize they're living in an ag area, and they don't know about it," said Simpson, wife of SJFB board member Dave Simpson. "If you know agriculture, you're more aware of it. But even I'm now more aware of it. It's really good just because we live in an agricultural county to know all about the diversity."

Karen Cultrera, who sits on the SJFB Foundation for Agricultural Education and chairs the Ag Education Committee, has been helping with Ag in the Classroom for the past 16 years.

"It's important for the teachers to learn where their food comes from in San Joaquin County and pass that along to their students because there's such a disconnect," she said. "Nowadays, they think food comes from the grocery store."

Claudia Valente, who has been involved with the AITC program for nearly as long, agreed.

"So many of the kids don't know about agriculture and what's happening, so hopefully the teachers can tell them about the job opportunities," said Valente, wife of SJFB Foundation President Joe Valente. "They don't realize what we do. And most of these teachers don't know that much about ag either."

Corrina Lewis, a fourth-grade teacher at Lathrop Elementary School, signed up for Ag in the Classroom after hearing rave reviews from colleagues who had participated previously. She said she was lucky to get into the popular program since there was a wait list.

Lewis grew up in San Joaquin County and thought she knew about agriculture until the group visited the various operations.

"There are a whole lot of positives," Lewis said about what she learned. "Farmers are really dedicated, it's important to them and they have a lot of pride in what they do. On the negative side, the challenges they have with the costs of labor, the regulations and the technological advances.

"I didn't realize this. You just think farming is easy – you don't realize how tough it is and the concerns they have."

Although Lewis admitted she was suffering from a bit of information overload, she also pointed to myriad lesson-planning resources provided to participants.

David Nielsen, who teaches second grade at Sutherland Elementary in Stockton, already had some ideas about how he was going to put his new-found knowledge to work.

"It gives me another avenue to reach my kids," he said. In social studies, for example, they study consumerism and how items get to the store. Seeing the steps from field to fork will enable Nielsen to include agriculture in his lessons.

In language arts, he said he plans to have students write about or discuss different elements within agriculture.

"There's just so much I've seen so far from the almond business to Corto Olive oil," said Nielsen, who is originally from Nebraska.

Interest in San Joaquin County 4-H is soaring

By Craig W. Anderson

Among the 15 4-H clubs currently thriving in San Joaquin County there is a feeling of renewal, of a future rich with promise, and those holding the reins eager to guide 4-H into new realms of agricultural adventure in the coming years.

"4-H here is starting to get on an upswing along with the economy," said Jennifer Dondero, president of the county's plethora of 4-H clubs and a Linden resident who runs a local business. "This allows mom and dad to participate a great deal more and that's always good for this organization."

California's diversity as a state is driving the 4-H clubs to match the socio-economic mix of the area's population demographic. "It's challenging to find a way to encourage everyone to be a part of the 4-H experience," Dondero said. "But this co-ed after-school program will be able to do it."

Many areas of interest
The areas of interest to youth interested in exploring are varied, different pathways focusing on different realms, essentially STEM oriented: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. In the eight programming areas there is much to encourage the fun, hands-on learning style used by 4-H. They are: large animal science, small animal science, equine science and companion and service animals, STEM, creative and healthy living, citizenship and community service, outdoor activities and camp, and primary and new members.

"The demand for creative programs which allow children to explore and develop technology skills is booming and will only get stronger," said Emma M. Fete, PhD., the county's 4-H youth development advisor. "The San Joaquin Valley has one of the largest agricultural industries in the United States, but traditional education is still slow to adapt and provide the groundwork for the next generation to take part in it."

Enjoyment in 4-H
The sole object of the program is to demonstrate to kids from 9 to 19 that there is something for them to enjoy in the 4-H realm. And Dondero appears to be the perfect fit to get the leadership job done, according to past three-term President Molly Watkins, also from Linden. "We're excited to have her. She'll be able to keep the organization going."

Watkins pointed out that 4-H membership is up across the county and Youth Advisor Emma Fete, Ph.D. from Ohio has had a hand in it. "Emma's from the Midwest and there's definitely a difference between the Midwest 4-H and what is now working successfully here," Watkins said. "However, the basic reasons for the upsurge interest in 4-H may be the same."

"The partnership between the San Joaquin Farm Bureau and the San Joaquin 4-H program is a great opportunity for both organizations, but also opens the door for future projects," Fete said. "It creates innovative programming opportunities for kids in the San Joaquin area."

Parents important and kids want to learn
Watkins said we're not only seeing the next wave of kids but "also the next wave of parents who want their youngsters to learn practical skills and, it turns out, kids are eager to learn and participate in sewing, welding, raising animals and all the other myriad activities of 4-H."

"We've seen a great response from traditional 4-Hers and parents, but we've also seen kids who are outside our established membership signing up for these programs as well," Fete said. "That's exactly what both Farm Bureau and 4-H are hoping for: providing relevant and creative opportunities for kids of all backgrounds and interests to explore agricultural technology."

4-H interest soaring
This renewed or revived interest in what 4-H has to offer has spread throughout the county with clubs in Alpine-Victor, Banta, Calla, Escalon, French Camp, Jefferson, Linden-Peters, Live Oak, New Jerusalem, North Stockton, Oak View, Ripon, Roberts Union, Tokay Colony and Farmington.

"Farmington's the new jewel in our group of jewels," Watkins remarked. "The club had been dormant for nearly a decade and as the interest in 4-H began to climb, it became evident that Farmington's citizenry was likewise very interested in supporting a 4-H club again."

The rejuvenated Farmington group is small but, like the majority of the county's clubs, it's excited to be in existence and functioning as a stalwart member of a now-thriving organization.

Funded and supported by the University of California Cooperative Extension the San Joaquin County 4-H receives valuable and high-powered support from the San Joaquin Farm Bureau, which provides scholarships and other financial assistance.

More countywide projects
This has encouraged more countywide projects wherein in project leaders choose to open their project to all current San Joaquin 4-H members instead of restricting it to members of their community club. The 2017-2018 projects included Hi-4-H, a high school program for teens that offers educational opportunities to members throughout the county; Leadership Development and Shooting Sports where participants can choose from rifle, shotgun and archery disciplines with safety and responsibility emphasized.

Who runs the organization
All of this comes under the purvey of the 4-H County Council, the guiding body for the 4-H Club Program, with an executive board and two youth representatives. There are also a number of key leaders who are available to mentor 4-H'ers in many areas: Advisors who work with 4-H'ers in five different areas; Event chairs who coordinate with the county 4-H staff to plan, advertise and implement county-level events; AgFest representatives, the liaisons between AgFest, and the 4-H program and Barn chairs who help members who're showing animals at AgFest.

The mix of afterschool and camp programs and star ranks, awards and scholarships seems to be drawing more kids in the 9 to 19 age range to 4-H along with their parents.

With these programs ongoing, Fete and her compatriots in the office – Ariel Clay (4-H program representative) and Michelle Drummond (4-H secretary and 4-H administrative veteran of many years) are a very busy trio. "Emma's doing well," Dondero said. "California, with its quirks and new culture, can be challenging for a Midwesterner."

What still needs work
"What we have to work on," she added, "is retention after the eighth grade. It definitely IS possible to do both 4-H and FFA and to develop both 4-H and FFA accolades to acquire scholarships. The upswing in interest is bringing back High 4-H and it's been discovered that what's learned in 4-H can be used with FFA and vice-versa. The difference between FFA and 4-H is that FFA is primarily in the classroom while 4-H activities are after school."

Record sales at AgFest
4-H is thriving, said Watkins. "4-H had record sales of animals being shown at AgFest this year and AgFest remains in Stockton because the Fairgrounds is an adequate venue. We also did horticulture and flowers for AgFest. It was a very popular program and should be even larger next year."

She added, "The SJFB Foundation has also partnered with 4-H and will hold three weeks of summer day camps in July."

With 15 clubs ranging from Farmington's resurrected version boasting 10 members and Escalon's being "really large," according to Watkins, it's apparent that the county's 4-H program's staff, volunteers and members are in it for the long haul and that's a good thing.