Inspiring Kids into a Career in Agriculture
By Frédéric Martin, Editor-in-Chief
HEADQUARTERED IN CHOWCHILLA, CA, Agriland Farming Company, Inc., a farm management company Jim Maxwell founded in 1990, stepped up in 2017 to participate in a field trip project with Madera South’s ag department. The thriving company’s COO Blake Davis indicated that the organization, which started operations working 2,000 acres of farmland, now manages about 32,000 acres, mostly of permanent crops. Agriland Farming also owns a few other ag related sister companies and has over 300 year-round employees, with activities in 8 local counties, from Kings all the way up to San Joaquin, raising primarily almonds and pistachios.
Kristin McKenna, College and Career Readiness Director, who heads the Career Technical Education (CTE) programs for MUSD, interfaces regularly with Agriland Farming, one of the first local ag companies to host aspiring ag middle school students at their own site, to show the students the many aspects of the business of agriculture in the California central valley. Involved through the Madera Compact, Agriland Farming immediately jumped on the opportunity of having a summer “Ag Camp”. The half-day event includes a deep review of all aspects of farming: ag mechanics and harvesters, plant science and how to correctly plant trees, beekeeping and pollination, and the business side of the ag business: marketing, product packaging, sales, and all that is involved in the head office. The results are typically immediate: the kids love the event and show keen interest in the industry at the end of their experience at the farm. The positive results have been repeated every year. For three summers, from 2017 to 2019, Agriland Farming has been supportive of MUSD students and has delivered a full experience to the 135 students who have come onsite for the memorable and informative day.
The company believes in giving back to its community and to its employees and does so in very concrete ways. Children of Agriland Farming employees are incentivized to keep up good grades, starting in middle school all the way to high school, with cash rewards exchanged for worthy school counselor-signed grades reports. Every year the company donates non-competitive $10,000 scholarships, along with a new laptop computer, to its employees’ best senior students who wish to attend 4-year colleges ($2,500 each year); the program was put in place because, as Davis said: “our company’s management does not want the kids to think they cannot achieve college because of their economic or other perceived limitations.” In a similar vein of civic responsibility and community generosity, on top of sending hundreds of holiday dinners to many school sites, every year, the company has dedicated employee time and funding to fully vaccinate over 1,000 people against COVID-19, months before vaccinations eventually became widely available.
Whitney Webster, who manages special events and outreach programs for the company, has been facilitating the liaison with MUSD for all school related events, mentioned that the company also organizes one school site yearly project, specifically sending workers to local school, to rehabilitate, fix, or enhance the school site, the latest of which was Eastin-Arcola, where a team of 20 to 30 Agriland Farming employees repainted buildings, repaired the school’s office, planted trees, fixed up some planters and cleaned up the outside perimeter to get it ready for eventual student ag projects.
Some of Agriland Farming’s employees are more deeply involved with the school district. After serving for 8 years on the MUSD Board, including two terms are Board President, Philip Janzen was named as the Madera Unified Board of Education’s appointee to the Personnel Commission on December 16, 2010, where he is still an active Commissioner to this day. Another Agriland Farming employee, Tom DiMarco, Shop Manager who oversees the mechanic department for the company, sits on Ag School CTE advisory board, participates in mock interviews, and has been instrumental in helping MUSD develop the power mechanic pathway, with valuable real-world input. During our interview, Tom told me he really enjoys the school outreach programs and introducing local kids to career opportunities in the ag business, especially when dealing with youth interested in hands-on work. Tom also participates in the school beautification programs the company sponsors: one time, the company sent about two hundred workers to the Millview school campus to landscape the site in less than a day.
Every year, Jim Maxwell, Agriland Farming’s Founder and CEO, speaks at the Ag Camp luncheon, talks to the kids, and commits his employees’ time for the Ag Camp at the farm. Agriland Farming’s generous and sustained contributions to local students, their school sites, and the communities in which employees reside, is not only remarkable, it redefines the breadth and depth of “giving back”, a phrase so easily vaunted by many, but not often delivered to, as broadly as Jim’s team has consistently been doing for decades.
Beside Agriland Farming, other local ag industry leaders have participated in MUSD Ag events, including Deerpoint Group, CreekSide Farming, Hilmar Cheese Factory, with Agriland Farming and Deerpoint Group participating all three years in the program. COVID-19 has obviously put a stop to the onsite Ag Camp, but we expect the events to fully resume after the pandemic is over. The next Ag Camp will likely be scheduled in the first weeks of summer 2022.