By Timothy Collins, Chair, Kern County Young Farmers & Ranchers
This summer I took a day hike up in the San Emigdio Mountains, which form the south end of our San Joaquin Valley. From up in the rugged terrain, the clearings in the trees give way to breathtaking views of the great valley beginning below me. The green fields spread out like a patchwork quilt of what is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the entire world, but it was not always so. The valley has changed drastically over the past couple hundred years and continues to change today.
I hiked down a trail not far from the El Camino Viejo–used by the Spanish in the 18th and 19th centuries as an inland alternative to the coastal El Camino Real. While looking out over the valley, I thought of what those who hiked down the mountains 200 years ago had looked at. Instead of patchwork fields, the San Joaquin was a largely unsettled flatland with marshes and lakes. I doubt they could have imagined that in the 21st century we would be growing over 250 different crops and yielding a third of all the produce grown in the United States. Just what will the San Joaquin Valley be in another 200 years? There are many challenges to the ag industry here today, from water shortages to suburban sprawl, and all of us play a part in what the future will hold.
In June, I attended the California Ag Teachers Association State Conference held in San Luis Obispo. Teachers from across the state are divided into six regions, mine being the San Joaquin Region. We are the group that is training up the next generation of the ag industry in the San Joaquin Valley. What direction the ag industry goes in this valley tomorrow will be determined by those kids in school today. If you are in the ag industry, be sure to connect with and support ag programs at the high school and college level. There is always more room for real local industry experience in the classroom.
Those who began settling the San Joaquin valley over 200 years ago and their descendants have created a vast agricultural powerhouse. Us Young Farmers and Ranchers today will be the ones to shape the future of the valley. Our goal, I believe, is that when anyone looks out over the valley 200 years from now they will see an even greater agricultural region that continues to feed the world by the ability to innovate and overcome challenges, such as the ones we face in our lifetime.