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Interest in agriculture heats up in Yuba-Sutter
To read Paul Harvey's 1978 speech, "So God Made a Farmer," please click here.
Listing farmers as an endangered species — a status a bumper sticker warned looms in California — may be premature, even without the boost of that Super Bowl ad with the voice of the late radio broadcaster Paul Harvey.
Spring Fling, the March 15 fundraiser of the Yuba-Sutter Farm Bureau, sold out early this month, applications to the ag program at California State University, Chico, have nearly doubled over the past five years and the 10 ag classes at Marysville High School are full.
Megan Foster, executive director of the Yuba City-based Farm Bureau, spoke about agriculture's new status.
"It's cool to be involved in ag now," she said. "That's a great thing."
Bonnie Magill, who teaches agriculture at Marysville High where such classes have a waiting list, said students wear the Future Farmers of America uniform to school without thinking about the apparel.
That wasn't always so.
"Ten years ago, you would never get kids to wear their uniform all day," she said.
Bryanne Launius, a junior at Marysville High, said some students ask about the blue jacket she and others wear.
"You just say, 'It's my FFA jacket,'" she said.
Devin Crawford, 18, a Marysville High senior taking ag classes, said how most students see agriculture has changed for the better.
"They're just seeing what ag is and not what they thought it was," he said. What it is, is "a way of life."
The two-minute Super Bowl ad — with the voice of Paul Harvey speaking about "So God Made a Farmer" and displaying a series of still photos of rural life — helped show America that life.
"It had to be somebody who'd plow deep and straight and not cut corners," Harvey says during his 1978 speech about farmers.
Magill saw the commercial on Feb. 3 when it was shown during the Baltimore Ravens-San Francisco 49ers game. She and her husband Jeff Magill, an ag teacher at Wheatland High School, were mesmerized, Magill said.
So was Jennifer Ryder Fox, dean of the College of Agriculture at CSU, Chico, when she saw the ad.
"I was spellbound," she said. "It ran shivers down my spine to see that."
The College of Agriculture in Chico had close to 900 applications in 2012. Five years ago, about 500 students applied.
"Our wait lists are overflowing," Ryder said. "It's stretching our faculty to the limits."
No single factor explains the boost in interest, Fox said, but burgeoning food shows on TV, the public interest in where their food comes from and the movement for locally grown farm products contribute to ag's status.
Yuba College spokeswoman Miriam Root said students at community colleges don't apply to a specific program as they do at state universities like Chico. Moreover, more ag programs in the Yuba Community College District are offered at its Woodland campus, she said.
People realizing ‘importance’ of ag
Sutter County resident Tammy Van Dyke-Hoppin, chairwoman for the sold out Spring Fling event, said farmers have always been important and that now "people realize the importance."
Ashley Indrieri, executive director of the Family Water Alliance in Colusa County, spoke about the 2009 origin of the bumper sticker from the alliance asking if California Farmers would be the next endangered species. A drought had hit agriculture, and growers faced another water problem because of diversions for fish habitat, she said.
"It was satire to show we're putting farmers out of business to protect the Delta Smelt," Indrieri said.
She said it's great to see the new interest in farming.
"Agriculture has always struggled to find that next generation to take on farming," she said.
Marysville High student Bailey Jenks, 17, and others are doing so.
Jenks, whose father was a tomato farmer in Woodland, has been accepted at Oregon State University where she plans to study agricultural business management. Her parents never pushed her into the field, Jenks said, but are pleased at her interest.
"They feel very proud I've chosen the same lifestyle they chose," she said.
— Ryan McCarthy