The Convergence of Agriculture, Technology, and Education

By Martinez, Jacob; Veitch-Olson, Jenni et al. | The Agricultural Education Magazine, November/December 2016 | Go to article overview

The Convergence of Agriculture, Technology, and Education


Martinez, Jacob, Veitch-Olson, Jenni, Diaz, Yethzell, The Agricultural Education Magazine


Fifty miles south of Silicon Valley is the Pajaro Valley, the strawberry capital of the world, and the home to a growing pool of talent in Watsonville, California. This talent is a young workforce with increased confidence and specialized skills for the technology industry, grounded in a deep understanding of their community. Silicon Valley dreams of courting this talent; however the agricultural industry of the Monterey Bay region also dreams of courting this talent to create new technological solutions for farming.

The future of farming depends on the development of innovative AgTech solutions, but the United States is not generating enough tech talent to fill the needs of the industry. Therefore, the industry must offer competitive salaries to entice recent graduates to work locally. Additionally, community stakeholders, including employers and secondary agriculture education teachers, must prepare young workers with the skills they need to address current agricultural industry needs and drive the direction of local AgTech industry in the future. As we continue to explore ways to build the future AgTech industry, an essential element for sustained workforce development is the inclusion of a local, tech-empowered workforce. Thus, in 2014, we launched the Digital NEST (Nurturing Entrepreneurial Skills with Technology) to build a skilled and relevant workforce for our increasingly interconnected world.

The Digital NEST

The Digital NEST is a community-based education studio for youth, ages 12-24, that aims to help young people enter careers in tech and grow a stable, local workforce. Similar to communities and schools across the US, ours is an economically depressed city that faces staggeringly poor rates of health, increasingly limited and unaffordable housing, and growing involvement in street gangs. The Digital NEST serves disadvantaged youth, many of whom are Latino and immigrant. These youth are talented, with a deep understanding of their community but lack access to computers and Internet access. The NEST, as it's known, operates to end the economic stagnation that is endemic to many of our nation's rural communities by turning our California region into a tech hub that is uniquely equipped to address local issues, thereby strengthening our local economy.

Students who are at the NEST are "Members," and there is no fee or cost to use our tech tools or participate in our programs. Technology instruction occurs in both formal and informal learning environments, including free exploration, project-based learning, workshops, online learning, hands-on learning through working groups made up of peers, and individual coaching by our staff and industry professional volunteers. Our programs consist of four career tracks, including an emerging AgTech pathway. We teach essential career skills such as project management, finance, marketing and communications. For example, NEST members learn how to manage client accounts, communicate according to industry standards, and create social media content. In addition to the technical training that will create tomorrow's tech-empowered workforce, youth develop these "soft skills" within the context of working on projects. One of our most recent projects focused on our local agriculture industry.

Identifying Local AgTech Needs

To determine skills youth needed for both current and future jobs in agriculture and create the AgTech Pathway within our program, we surveyed local farmers. This program will generate a skilled workforce for the agriculture industry by the agriculture industry. Solutions created within the industry are grounded in an understanding of the rich culture and long history of the agricultural industry, which is a valuable resource that is often neglected in the process of creating lasting technological solutions. Our process included listening to gain an understanding of the values and needs of the small grower in order to design and build a tool that is relevant to their needs. …

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