Newman FFA advisors

The Ag Department team at Orestimba High includes, from left, Randy Rocha (who helps the department with the almond orchard on campus) and ag teachers/FFA advisors Stacey Norton, Miguel Vazquez, Jaime Rico and Adeline Amador.

NEWMAN - The FFA chapter at Orestimba High School is continuing to expand the opportunities which it offers to students.

A growing horticulture program, broadening ag curriculum and continued improvements to the school farm have been among the evolution of the program - with more growth in the near future.

The number of Orestimba students enrolled in one or more ag classes has grown to nearly 500. The ag classes are the gateway to FFA, which provides students the opportunity to take part in leadership activities, competitions, college visits and projects which are an extension of the classroom education they receive.

Four teachers, Jaime Rico, Stacey Norton, Adeline Amador and Miguel Vazquez, staff the Ag Department and serve as FFA advisors. They are assisted by teacher Randy Rocha, who works with students and staff on a new almond orchard planted on the school farm.

The focal point of the program, they recently explained, is to provide a broad range of opportunities catering to students of all interests - not just those from a farming background - while instilling traits such as leadership skills.

Typically, those opportunities reflect a “learning by doing” approach.

Such is the case in the school’s horticulture department.

Recent improvements have included the construction of 10 new planter boxes - which have produced broccoli, kale and cauliflower.

“We got a huge crop, and have more kale than we could ever want in life,” Amador reported, adding that spring flowers and vegetables will be the next plantings.

Students who have worked on the project get to take home the fruits of their labor, she said, and the produce has also been distributed among staff.

The department is also working to renovate the greenhouse, providing another form of learning laboratory.

“By the time we get out of school it should be functional. Hopefully in August we can get that greenhouse filled with plants,” Amador stated.

“Every student in the program is required to have a project of some sort,” she added. “having things like the greenhouse opens up opportunities for those who don’t want to show an animal but may be interested in horticulture.”

An new almond orchard is coming into maturity as well, offering still other opportunities.

“My class has learned how to prune the trees, and how to do everything from pulling weeds to picking up prunings,” Amador explained. “They learn every part of having an orchard.”

Some students, she added, are doing trials in the orchard as part of their FFA Supervised Agricultural Experiences project.

“We couldn’t do this without Randy Rocha,” she emphasized. “His expertise is the orchard.”

The evolution of the school farm is continuing in other ways as well.

Norton said the department is in the process of expanding cattle pens to house more animals, and is building a show ring where students will hone their skills.

The program is also moving forward with plans to add a roost for laying hens.

“We are building a hen house, so students can have their projects out there and sell the eggs,” Norton explained.

Plans are in the works to add facilities to accommodate rabbits as well.

Rico, the senior member of the ag team at OHS, said the 5-year-old school farm has been a springboard to success for the FFA chapter.

“(FFA) has grown because of the school farm. We have tripled if not quadrupled the number of kids we have showing at the fair,” Rico stated. “Every year we add something new to offer more opportunities. We have had the pathways in our classes, but beyond the classrooms there was not much to do. Now we have these facilities.”

Through ag classes and FFA, Vazquez said, students are expanding their understanding by participating in real-life applications of what they are learning, whether through ag mechanics projects, by raising an animal or as part of other FFA activities.

That involvement, Norton said, will allow students to leave Orestimba as more well-rounded young adults, equipped with skills that will serve them in whatever life path they choose.

“It doesn’t matter what part of the program they are in,” Amador agreed. “They are getting skills that they can use in real life.”