As Big as Texas: Opportunities for Youth in Agriculture
May 14, 2021
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you talk about farming? If it’s a farm then you’re right, but there is so much more to farming these days. This week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) co-hosted a Virtual Youth Summit with Prairie View A&M University to enable Texas K-12 students, educators and youth-serving organizations to discover the endless learning and career possibilities in agriculture.
“It’s important for us to create a workforce that is more representative of America,” said Dr. Lisa Ramirez, director of the USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Education, who co-hosted the youth summit. “We want all students to know that they have a place in agriculture.”
Texas-based USDA liaison Ruby de la Garza coordinated the summit with her USDA liaison colleague Horace Hodge. They are among more than 20 USDA Liaison Officers at universities (PDF, 465 KB) nationwide who advise and assist students, faculty, and communities on USDA programs and initiatives.
Throughout the summit, presenters highlighted youth outreach programs within the ministry that can help spark interest in agriculture as a subject of study or a career path. USDA Youth Farm Loans help students as young as 10 years old create income-generating projects by raising livestock or growing crops, produce or flowers. AgLab is a new USDA website for K-12 students interested in food and science.
Hernan Colmenero (whose name means beekeeper in Spanish) spoke about his work as the farm director of the infant nutrition program at Idea Public Schools in Weslaco, Texas. Its farm-to-school program aims to help students eat healthier. “They can grow their own food, cook it, and then take produce [from the school garden] and eat it in the cafeteria, ”Colmenera said. “They’re starting to like vegetables. They achieve our goals: to explore and enjoy new foods. “
Recently, Colmenero was named the 2019 E. Kika De La Garza High School Education Fellow through a program that provides faculty and staff at Hispanic Service Institutions (HSI) with experiences in policy development and research at the ‘USDA and other federal agencies.
Mixed animal veterinarian Dr. Aisha Ellis now information specialist at the USDA National Agricultural Library told attendees that one in 12 jobs is related to agriculture in the United States. and that new jobs are created every year. A graduate of Tuskegee University and the University of Georgia, Dr. Ellis has participated in the Pathways Internship Program which provides a stepping stone from college to full-time employment at the USDA. “It allowed me to connect with leaders in my field and get a great job,” she said of the program.
Panelist Russell Thomas is a 2020 graduate of Prairie View A&M University and an 1890s scholar, now working in the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS). “How did I find ag?” Thanks to programs like this, ”Thomas said in his remarks. “It’s come full circle, speaking on a panel like this.”
Thomas was interested in a business degree, but through conversations with USDA Liaison Officer Horace Hodge and others, he was encouraged to view farm business management as a way to differentiate himself on work place. He found the farming community to be what he needed, while still receiving the essential business skills he was looking for. After interning with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) for three summers, Thomas received a full-time offer with ERS in Kansas City, Missouri, where he manages over $ 2 million in financial expenses.
His farewell advice to students: keep an open mind and remember that “ag is literally life”.
For more information on USDA’s youth and career resources, check out Days 1 and 2 of the Texas Youth Summit and visit www.usda.gov/youth.