By Kim Vail, Executive Director
Published June 1, 2017
There is broad agreement on the premise that one of the most important responsibilities we have is educating our youth with the knowledge and skills to become productive members of our community. Educating our county’s youth about farming, ranching and the wide array of connections to business interests that either support or are dependent upon agriculture is a priority of Farm Bureau.
One of the vehicles used by Sonoma County Farm Bureau to demonstrate this commitment to our youth began over ten years ago when the board of directors established the Farm Bureau Foundation of Sonoma County. The foundation is organized as a 501(c)(3) public charity under the Internal Revenue Code, thus providing a mechanism for tax-deductible contributions from donors to support its mission and programs. These programs can be described as increasing agricultural literacy for elementary through high school students, building awareness and a positive perception of agriculture, supporting student involvement in the community and encouraging young people to pursue rewarding careers in agriculture.
One of the largest components of the Foundation’s work involves the scholarship program that awards funds to local students who are graduating high school and bound for vocational studies or college, junior college students or continuing undergraduate students. Donor-named scholarships are available to sponsor beginning at $1000. Lesser donations are shared in a Next Generation category that pools funds to support students with scholarships or through additional agriculture literacy programming. 2017 has proven to be another highly successful year for supporting local agriculturally-focused students with scholarships. Our named scholarships totaled 59 individual, business or foundation sponsors. Through their generous donations, which ranged in amounts from five hundred to fifteen thousand dollars, the Farm Bureau Foundation was able to provide scholarship awards to forty-four qualifying students from Sonoma and Marin counties. These students are featured in this month’s publication. Congratulations are extended to each student.
Scholarships are one way to provide funding for students who are moving into higher education. Many of the students who participated and received awards this year have also benefitted from another education program that begins at the high school level. Career and technical education programs that receive funding from the state budget many times provide a spark and avenue for students searching for their path forward. These programs include FFA and courses designed to provide technical experience in fields like agriculture, welding, computer science and health occupations.
In mid-May it was revealed that the Governor’s proposed budget was removing previously allocated $15.4 million in funding for CTE programs, funds that among other things help pay for students’ visits to local industries or universities and to attend conferences and contests across the state. This news prompted one of the largest recent responses from the Farm Bureau’s advocacy action program, “Farm Team”. These contacts, along with contacts from other CTE program supporters, resulted in the administration agreeing to recommit these funds to CTE programming this year. Thanks to everyone who responded to the request for action.
While this effort appears to be a success for this year, it is disappointing that a program so important to agriculture and other vocational areas would be shortchanged at all considering the billions of dollars agriculture adds to the state economy, including the thousands of jobs in production agriculture and value-added processing. I suppose educating our youth is just one piece of the puzzle. We also need to clear away any misunderstanding by elected officials of the importance of CTE programs such as FFA and find a permanent solution to this funding issue so it does not keep popping up every few years.
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