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Shasta College Agriculture Department

Shasta College Agriculture Department

BY ASHLEY MCFARLANE

Many of us drive past the Shasta College Farm daily, but it passes by the window unnoticed, our eyes instead focused on picking out an empty spot in the parking lot opposite. Sure, there is a herd of cattle grazing between the eastern and southern lots, but they are just there for decoration, right? A pastoral scene for your viewing, and smelling, pleasure. However, the Farm, as well as the animal and plant life on it, play a vital role to many students. It is a place to learn more about caring for the organisms that sustain us, and a place to make new friends in the tight-knit agricultural community.

I interviewed fellow students Tyler Maszk, the Farm Dorm House Manager, and Sarah Johnson, an officer of the Ag Leadership Club on campus, about their experiences with the Agriculture Program.

Tyler Maszk is in his last semester at Shasta as a Sustainable Agriculture major, and will be transferring to Montana State, Rozeman for a Bachelor’s in Crop Science. Tyler gained an interest in the agricultural field in high school, during his senior project shadowing a pest control advisor.

Since attending Shasta, he has taken ag classes such as sustainable agriculture, animal science, integrated pest management, and feeds and nutritions. Most notably, however, he has spent the last two years as a resident of the Farm Dorm. The Farm Dorm program presents an incredible opportunity for a select group of nine students, where they live on the farm and, in exchange for rent, they perform regular duties, such as caring for the livestock and crops. The selection process is similar to applying for a job: you submit an application, have an interview, and submit letters of recommendation. Each student must work 14 hours a week to compensate for rent, and chip in $100 a month for groceries. Their duties are split into “units,” including the beef, swine, goat, and horticulture/irrigation units that students generally choose based on what they are interested in. For example, Tyler is in the horticulture unit because of his interest in plants, that they take care of for the semester, if not the whole year.

As the Dorm House Manager, Tyler supervises his fellow dorm-mates, and tries to ensure they act as a cohesive unit, especially during the small crises they encounter regularly. One such crisis he relayed happened when the dorm residents had to herd cows and their calves into another pen from a field full of chest-high grass that rose above the heads of the calves. They encountered a problem when they closed the pen to discover they were six calves short. Those six calves they couldn’t see well through the grass, could easily outrun them, and duck under the outer fence. After a long discussion about the best way to herd them, where everyone argued for their own idea, they settled on creating their own panel corral, holding panels that they used to maneuver the calves into the pen. They were eventually able to get them all in, but it took several tries, as the nimble calves could slip between two panels. Tyler said that one of the biggest challenges he faces is ensuring that everyone works as a team and cooperates, which is why his position as House Manager is important. When I asked him how his time spent on the farm was helping his future plans, he replied that it got him used to getting his hands dirty, and changed his mindset to think in a way that is beneficial to the future of agriculture. The more he learned, the more he thought about how to improve it, wondering “is there something I’m missing?”

Cow Image

He has also had two agricultural internships over the past two years, which he was able to secure via the recommendations of the Farm faculty. Tyler said that word of mouth and recommendations are vital in agricultural fields, as recommendations are proof of a student’s hard work and dedication, two of the most important attributes many agricultural employers are looking for. His first internship was with DuPont Pioneer as a field scout managing sunflowers, safflower, and sorghum, his second spent with Colusa County farm supply field scouting watermelons, tomatoes, almonds, and walnuts, among other crops. His time spent on the farm and in internships was a bonus to his transfer application, but he said it will be the most useful when the time comes for him to apply for a job, since experience in the field is as important, if not more, than in-class experience.

Sarah Johnson is currently in her second semester here at Shasta, and will complete her Associate’s in Sustainable Agriculture before transferring to the University of Nevada, Reno, for a Bachelor’s in Rangeland Management. Sarah got her start in the Ag program while in high school when she joined the Agriculture and Future Farmers of America program her junior year, an experience that helped her realize she wanted to pursue a life in the agriculture industry.

When asked what sets the agriculture classes apart from others at the college, Sarah replied “one of the biggest differences is the amount of hands-on interaction and immersion that the students have in the Ag programs in comparison to most other classes. Students get to see, touch, smell, and experience the subjects that they are learning about,” including hands-on interactions like vaccinations, hoof-trimming, and health assessments of the Farm’s livestock. Sarah claimed that her most exciting experiences were the field trips she went on, to cattle ranches and processing facilities, crop fields, rice mills, the State Capitol, farm bureaus, the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture, orchard machinery manufacturers, and many more branches of the industry, where the class was able to “form connections, ask experts about their work, and apply our knowledge learned in the classroom to something palpable,” an opportunity many of us do not have in our other classes.

I asked Sarah how the classes she is taking in the program are helping her to achieve her goals, and she replied “We are pushed to get out there, get inspired, and get involved in the industry and the real world beyond the classroom,” and added that the instructors assist the students in finding internships, and that she was accepted into one of those internships working on a “cattle grazing/land restoration research project, which correlates wonderfully with my chosen field of study in range.” When I asked about any experiences she had in the program that challenged her, she said “I think that my biggest challenges to overcome have been involvement in coordinating activities both public and club exclusive. Whether you’re working on the farm or managing an event, things rarely go exactly as planned, and you have to stay calm, adjust, act, and support your team.”

In conclusion, Sarah offered this recommendation for the ag program “Overall, the agriculture program here will provide you with invaluable lessons on our working farm, lasting relationships, and a pathway to a future that we are passionate about.”

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