Ag program teaches hands-on skills

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The agriculture program at Delta College offers students, agriculture-based majors or not, hand-on experience with plants, animals and farm work.

Students can take classes in agriculture business, horticulture, plant science, animal husbandry and agriculture mechanics and engineering. 

With pandemic restrictions still in place, horticulture lab classes are held on campus, while animal science and plant science lab classes take place on Delta’s 157-acre farm located in Manteca. 

Lecture classes remain online. 

Plant science professor Travis Cardoso said that adjusting to online learning has been a challenge for everyone, professors and students alike. 

Animal science professor Jessica Cardoso said that it’s hard to do agriculture classes online because the entire point of the lab is to gain the physical skills to be able to do things.

“I could teach you the theory in the lecture class, but I can’t make you comfortable to go in that pen and grab one of those sheep,” Jessica Cardoso said.

Pandemic aside, the program has made every possible effort to ensure that their students are getting the experiences they need to excel outside of these courses.

Travis Cardoso said that the department is very big on learning by doing and that it’s important that students get the hands-on opportunity in the program at Delta to be successful at the next level.

“We’re teaching them a lot of soft skills that maybe don’t necessarily pertain specifically to plant science or animal science, but they’ll help them at the next level, whether that’s the workforce, the military or the university system,” Travis Cardoso said.

Agriculture business major and Delta student Christina Martinez said that the professors do their best to take students out into the real world to help keep it lively.

“Things like field trips, the Manteca farm, and professors who have real world ag experience outside of simply teaching will never let you doubt whether or not this is for you. Our success coach Kim [Trujillo] is also fantastic at keeping you informed on local internships and job opportunities so you can get your foot in the door fast,” Martinez said.

On the farm, students literally get their hands dirty, planting their own garden beds and taking care of the animals.

Jessica Cardoso said that the agriculture professors teach the things that we have all seen on TV or in a setting where other people are doing them, but have never done ourselves. 

“All my students today gave a subcutaneous shot. You’ve gone to a doctor, you’ve watched it on ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ but you’ve never actually done it. So that’s kind of the cool thing is that you do things like learning to drive a tractor or even just planting their own garden bed, choosing the seeds and what to fertilize them with,” Jessica Cardoso said.

Yes, you read that correctly. Have you ever seen a tractor driving down the road or in an orchard and thought how cool it would be to operate one of those yourself? Sign up for a plant science class.

Martinez said that she had the pleasure of utilizing the farm for her plant science course.

“We spent time learning about how to operate a tractor for field use, such as creating our own rows and furrows for our own line of crops. This past semester I was able to plant my own snow peas and watch them grow throughout the season,” Martinez said.

There’s also an almond orchard and a grape vineyard on the farm.

The grapes grown are pinot wine grapes, which are sold to Delicato winery.

Jessica Cardoso said that the farm is relatively self-sustaining.

“The crops that are grown on the farm help pay for the livestock and the expenses,” Jessica Cardoso said.

Travis Cardoso added that when the animals are not grazing through the pastures, they get supplemented with the hay that they cut off the farm.

The school farm recently acquired a new large, blue barn through bond money.

Jessica Cardoso said that the old red barn was an eighth of the size of the new one.

She said that when the pandemic is over, they’ll use the new barn for events.

“We can host local high schools, 4H kids, we can do livestock sales, showmanship clinics, teacher conferences,” Jessica Cardoso said.

The size of the barn has also allowed for social distancing in lab classes.

Off the farm, Jessica Cardoso said that the program has had the ability to do labs with the permission of some of her advisory members who allowed her and her students to use their facility.

“We got to ultrasound beef cattle [for meat quality] as part of a research project for UC Davis and USDA,” Jessica Cardoso said.

Both the professors and students in the department recommend taking an ag class whether you’re an ag major or not. 

“It is beyond informative and I promise it is never boring. There is such a demand for agriculture, it is never going away. You learn so much from our leaders here at Delta it is definitely worth it. I can 100 percent say I would not be in the academic standing I am in now without this department’s help,” said Martinez.

Jessica Cardoso said even if you’re going into HR and working for Delicato, you’ve got to understand how grapes grow and understand the seasons to know when you’re going to be hiring seasonal employees.

“Come and meet us, come and be a part of the family. If you have any questions about if a class would be appropriate or if you want to know more about the class before you take it, feel free to email a professor,” Jessica Cardoso said.