McFarland, California students working in an orchard
McFarland High School students working in the orchard.

By Valley Ag Voice Staff

A student holds almonds from the McFarland High School almond plot.

While McFarland may have been considered to be a sleepy little agricultural town until the release of the 2015 Disney film “McFarland USA,” today that resilient and determined spirit the world discovered can still be found. This is all due in part to the unique possibilities growing in the schools, fields, and minds of its students. McFarland Unified School District is offering students a unique hands-on career technical experience that will inspire generations of agribusiness leaders.

Hidden amongst the grape vines and ag businesses’ support industries, you would think this plot of almonds was just another orchard. However, McFarland Unified School District (MUSD) Superintendent Samuel “Aaron” Resendez was visibly excited to share about the possibilities that are available to his students at the 79-acre classroom of almonds on Elmo Highway. 

“The goal of this program isn’t to teach students about agriculture as a job but the business of agriculture,” commented Resendez. “Many of the students hear agriculture and they think of the farm labor jobs. We want them to see there is so much more. Agriculture is science, its logistics, the future of ag is highly technical and data-driven.”

In 2018, MUSD acquired the Crop Science Field lab from local farmer Mr. Wallace Hudson. Slowly, MUSD has been building a program around this plot of almonds to expand their Career Technical Education offerings to the students. McFarland High School has six different career pathways and has a unique partnership with Bakersfield College. This partnership allows for dual enrollment–meaning high school students can receive credit for college courses and can graduate high school with an associate degree or program certificate.

“Our program has become dynamic and adaptive to help expose kids to more agriculture options besides animal husbandry,” commented Justin Derrick, principal of McFarland High School. With a goal of enrolling 225 total students in their diverse pathways, he wanted agriculture to interest and excite the students.

Superintendent Samuel A. Resendez, Principal Justin Derrick, Teacher Heather Adnay, Teacher Nick Griffith, and Farmer Amryik Dhaliwal pose in front of the McFarland Crop Science Field Lab.

Heather Adnay one of the agriscience teachers at McFarland High School uses her Cal Poly background to teach the students of water use and field management. She glowingly spoke about how the program uses farm bots to teach the students how to manage and monitor the growth of a field and planter box.

With a background in agriculture trucking, Nick Griffith is an agricultural science teacher who is taking his private sector experience and sharing it with the students. “We have discussions on irrigation and importance of the economics of new irrigation technology,” commented Griffith. 

The team wouldn’t be complete without its farming partner Amryik Dhaliwal. Amryik shared about his experiences farming in India and relocating to the United States when he was 20. He and his family farmed near Fresno and he slowly expanded his operation to Kern County. He provides another layer of proven success into the agriculture program at McFarland High School and serves as the school district’s industry partner.

COVID-19 has set programs like the Crop Science Field Lab back. “We have to be in person. Our model is designed to be in person,” added principal Justin Derrick. In other programs like welding, they have many students that are going to have to make up time to stay on track to earn their certificate. Derrick added, “I have to find a way to get students 1500 hours of hands-on welding experience.” The entire team expressed an eagerness to reopen the school.

McFarland’s programs to expose students to all aspects of agriculture are only going to grow. “We are excited about the options for the students. We are paving our own path. Because we are small, we are nimble, adjustable, and creative,” added Superintendent Resendez. “This will be a program that the children of our students will be able to enroll in.”