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MUSD ag programs involve 1,600 students
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Bulletin file photo Students ready plants for sale as part of a fundraiser at the Manteca School District school farm.

Manteca is an hour’s drive from the epicenter for high tech jobs and 30 minutes from one of the world’s most advanced research laboratories.

It is why Manteca — like many other similarly situated school districts — puts a heavy emphasis on tech-related education to prepare students for the job market and post-secondary education. But Manteca also has something that not a lot of other districts have  — a robust agricultural program.

Roughly 1 out of 10 high school students are enrolled in an agricultural related program supported by a 55-acre school farm that’s adjacent to the district office complex at Louise Avenue and Airport Way.

“We are 100 percent supportive of college and career preparation for our students,” noted Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Clark Burke.

The district’s agricultural and FFA programs were spotlighted during a recent MUSD board meeting.

 Manteca Unified sees roughly 20 percent of its students enroll directly in a four-year college after graduation. That mirrors the national average. About 60 percent of district gradates go on to a two-year post-secondary school or community college. Research shows many graduates on such a track fail to finish their course of study. The balance will either go directly into the job market or the military.

The school’s ag program actually works to strengthen the success of not just those entering the job market after graduation but also those on a four-year college track, community college bound or even the military. The ag program not only develops and sharpens skills that help students to work successfully toward goals but does so with task specific endeavors. In that aspect the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program operates much like JROTC and athletics do. And just like most students in JROTC don’t go on to the military and most students in athletics don’t go into professional sports, the same is true for those in the district’s agricultural program.

That said a much higher chunk of the students in the district’s ag programs end up pursuing an ag-related career whether their path takes them first through a four-year college or they enter the ag-related field directly after high school.

Manteca is at the heart of the Great Central Valley that is the engine of the state’s $50 billion plus agricultural production. San Joaquin County ranks as the 7th biggest county for farm production not just in California but the United Stated as well. Neighboring Stanislaus County is No. 5.

More than 400 commodities are grown in California including a third of the nation’s vegetables as well as two thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts. Thirteen percent of the United States’ farm production is in California.

That said, from a career education perspective 1 out of every 5 new jobs created in California based on 2015 studies is tied directly or indirectly to agriculture. Oftentimes people assume they are all manual field jobs but that is not the case. A study done for the California Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economic Development and the Economy listed 348,900 people employed directly on farms and ranches. That is dwarfed by “the agricultural” value chain” that reflects all jobs created to handle, move, process, and distribute farm production that was pegged at just under 3 million as of five years ago. The largest component of that value chain — agricultural support — represents 1.4 million jobs. That included veterinary services, implement manufacturing, irrigation, and technical consulting. Other jobs include 584,014 in agricultural distribution, 226,216 in agricultural processing, and 206,303 in agricultural production.

Manteca Unified offers a variety of pathways for students. Many of the classes are University of California approved. They include ag science, animal science, ag mechanics/welding, wood shop, and ornamental horticultural/floral.

All of the nearly 1,600 students in ag classes are registered as a national FFA member.

The first ag program was started in 1922 at Manteca High. The high school had four ag teachers by 1928.

The 55-acre school farm was sold to the district for a $1 in 1962 by a farmer so students would have a location to pursue their supervised agricultural experience.

The school farm includes almonds, pastures, row crops, barns, and a shop.

There are co-ops in place that provide students with hands on experience including 70 involved in sheep or goats, 35 in rabbits, and 20 in bees.

There is also an average of 150 animal projects a year at the San Joaquin County Fair from Manteca Unified. Typically 10 or less students have their animals at home while the rest are kept at the school farm. The projects range from rabbits to dairy heifers.

The projects are financed by the students. The money they earn from the sale of their animal at the fair is their payment. Students either pay rent to Manteca Unified for their animals to stay on the farm or they work in the co-op. Many of the students use the profits from the sale of their animals to pay for college or supplies needed for school.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email