October 18 through 20, 2017, thirty-four school counselors and career advisors from across New York State gathered in Rome, New York, gathered for a three day conference. It was three-days of intense learning about agricultural careers through the insights of workforce development with industry leaders, employers and professionals in workshops, tours, and a trade show. A couple of farmer members who also have a role in the education system, joined the group, and provided some information and their insights about the agricultural industry to their FFX peers.
Vital conversations about being proactive in educating the next generation of our workforce about the vast opportunities in agriculture was heard firsthand from employers and instructors. They shared with the group the varied pathways they had taken to their get to their current place in agriculture. They helped the counselors understand the skills and knowledge they are seeking in potential hires, the challenges in securing a workforce, the proactive investments they are making in tomorrow’s workforce, and the opportunities available to learn more about agriculture.
Local agribusinesses (GEA and Growmark) and Tayl-Wind Farm (a 250-cow dairy that uses robotic technology) provided guided site tours so participants could get a feel for the various sectors of the agriculture industry while becoming more acquainted with newer technologies being used in agriculture.
The networking and discussions about agriculture was enhanced through a tasting session. The tasting session featured local producers in the wine, cheese, venison, distillery, dairy, apple, and maple industries. Representatives were on hand from Cornell, Morrisville, VVS FFA, CCE Oneida County, NY Beef Council, NYS Turfgrass, NE Dairy Foods Assoc., and the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York, (plus others) to meet with participants to answer their many questions, and provide information. A delicious dinner of locally grown or produced food was shared while presentations by Raquel Gonzalez, Director of Policy, from NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets as well as Mary Jean Packer from the Christmas Tree Farmers Association were given. The evening was topped off with a presentation by four members of the VVS FFA who spoke about agriculture and careers.
The final day strengthened the experience as Dale Bartholomew from Growmark shared the need for move technology in the industry in the future to fill the pipeline of growing opportunities. Troy Bishopp, “The Grass Whisperer” entertained and informed the group with his ideas of where we are going in agriculture, and that there is an abundance of opportunity. His own story demonstrated the diversity and continuing development of new careers. Agriculture education professionals connected the experiential learning gained on the tours to endless resources, opportunities for seeding potential programs at their schools through further learning, training and development via an onsite trade show.
In summary of the event, participants are quoted as saying….
It was a diverse experience. One of the best conferences that I’ve attended! I couldn’t do it justice explaining this as much as someone would get by attending. The quality of speakers was amazing! Filled with down to earth, realistic discussions, the inclusion and importance of STEM (now referenced as STEAM to include agriculture) in the field and the growing demand in ag careers while making invaluable connections w/ professionals in the agricultural field.
Thank you so much for coordinating such a valuable opportunity for school counselors to learn more about agriculture and agricultural career opportunities in New York State. I was amazed by all that I learned and how much technology has changed in relation to production. I found the speakers to be very knowledgeable and informative and the tours and trade show to be very enriching experiences. I have already share my experiences with students and other educators and have met a great amount of enthusiasm about the information. Everything was so well organized and planned. I am truly impressed by all that was arranged. I would recommend the Food and Farm Experience to anyone that has the opportunity to attend! Thank you again.
Watch for updates about the FFX 2018, which will continue to focus on the middle and high school counselors who impact our youth, our industry and our economy.