Ag program gets a lift

Jessie Blackford herds hogs to be shown during the FFA Booster

Teacher Heather Nolan is working hard to get the
often-overlooked agriculture and horticulture program onto the
radar in Gilroy.
Gilroy – Teacher Heather Nolan is working hard to get the often-overlooked agriculture and horticulture program onto the radar in Gilroy.

“We’ve been trying to do some more publicity, to get out there and get noticed,” said Nolan, who just finished her second year of teaching and is the advisor to the Future Farmers of America at Gilroy High School.

One way they got noticed – and helped the community – was participating in the Relay For Life fundraiser, a 24-hour walk to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Nolan hopes the program, which leads some of its members to future careers, will recruit more members and be viewed as an integral part of the community.

Last school year, they invited community members to come out and see what FFA is all about.

“We had a farm day where we invited anyone who wanted to come out,” she said of an event at the school farm on Kern Avenue. “We barbecued, had different games and activities. [And] demonstrations on how to shear sheep.”

Nolan and several parents who are actively involved in the FFA Booster Club said they want to make the community aware that this is not just a club that hangs out on campus and eats pizza. A main component of FFA is the classroom experience, said Nolan, and she is working hard to increase the number of students who take her classes.

“Logistically, we have to have numbers to make a class go,” Nolan said.

This year, Nolan taught four classes to 110 students, but with recruitment efforts she hopes her classes will continue to grow.

“We did a lot of recruiting in the junior highs,” she said. “We went to science classes, followed up with field trips to the school farm and greenhouse. We went to their class sign-up nights.”

Field trips where the Gilroy chapter of FFA meets with others for leadership and showmanship conferences are also an integral part of FFA. During the last year, some Gilroy Unified School Board members questioned the importance of extended field trips including a two-day workshop in San Luis Obispo and a four-day leadership conference in Fresno. In the end, the field trips were approved by the board.

Now Jiana Escobar, a senior who will be completing her fourth year in FFA, is looking forward to attending the club’s national conference in Louisville, Ky. in the fall with five of her classmates.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I am stoked I get to do that,” Escobar said.

In addition to the responsibility of taking care of her sheep and market swine, Escobar is a junior advisor for her chapter and also secretary for the South Coast Region, which includes the area from Santa Barbara to San Jose.

Escobar and the other students traveling to Kentucky will be working hard all summer to raise the $2,000 required for each student to attend the conference. The booster club will be helping them to organize fundraisers, including the recent rummage sale held last weekend.

“I’ve learned who I am,” said Escobar, who hopes to attend California State University, Fresno, and major in agricultural communication.

“It’s an amazing program and this community doesn’t quite see how amazing it is. … It’s changed my life.”

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