Redlands Community College, together with Future Farmers of America (FFA), is giving high school students the opportunity to continue their education in a local, affordable environment. Students are able to build on the skills they learned in FFA and learn how to take their experience to the next level.
The National FFA organization is a premiere youth organization that focuses on leadership careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture. Redlands has worked closely with FFA to develop a focal point in the education system for the development of a special curriculum. It provides FFA with a venue to test educational material at both a high school level and on the collegiate level.
In addition to working with FFA, Redlands also collaborated with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Southern Plains Climate Hub and the Soil Carbon Coalition, as well as the Blue STEM Education Center at the National Grazing Laboratory.
Clay Pope, outreach coordinator for the USDA Southern Plains Climate Hub, provided guidance on the type of materials to either integrate into existing lesson plans or use as a standalone soil health class. He said that prior to this collaboration, there was not a set of comprehensive education materials dedicated solely to instructing students on soil health concepts and how they are applied in production agriculture.
“We determined that there was little if any real effort being given to the teaching of soil health concepts to high school and college agriculture education students. Because of this, there was a real lack of knowledge concerning soil health among the graduates coming out of these programs,” Pope said. “By creating material and educational classes that expose students to these concepts, we have given them a unique skill set and a knowledge base concerning one of the fastest developing trends in production agriculture.”
Annie Pearson, department head of agriculture at Redlands, has experienced the benefits of this curriculum among the students with whom she connects. She actively recruits those who are interested in agriculture majors and knows right away which students are part of FFA because of the outstanding leadership skills they possess.
Pearson attends state and national conventions to meet students, but also helps organize and host the Redlands Interscholastic Contest every April. FFA advisors can bring students to the contest to compete in various aspects of the agriculture industry such as business and lifestyle judging. It allows students to continue testing their skills as well as visit the Redlands campus to learn what the college offers and how the agriculture program builds on their current skills.
“We always make sure to acknowledge our students who have chosen Redlands as their college, and go on to compete at the national level during their senior year. In fact, we just had five students be recognized at the National FFA Convention this past October,” Pearson said.
One such student is Jessica Shackelford of Guthrie, Okla., who received the American FFA Degree, the highest degree one can achieve in the competition.
“Watching students walk around in their official dress at convention gives me this nostalgic feeling that they’re part of something they believe in, and I feel like FFA is molding those students to be the future of agriculture,” Pearson said.
“We can only hope that we get to continue their education at Redlands so we can continue to mold their future and help them become good agriculturists.”
Redlands offers agriculture students many hands-on opportunities at its research center and Royse Ranch. The ranch is a place where students can practice ultrasounds and pregnancy checks, plus sharpen cow herding skills, on real animals, in real time.