By Alex Breitler, Director of Marketing, Communications & Outreach
A new pilot program in the northern San Joaquin Valley is steering youth toward promising careers in their own communities, while also supporting the growing workforce needs of the region’s heritage wine industry.
The “Growing Futures Initiative,” now in its first year, was launched by the nonprofit San Joaquin A+, Delta College (a Central Valley Higher Education Consortium member), Lodi Unified School District and the Lodi Winegrape Commission.
The concept is to put Lodi-area high school students into early college and career programs focused on the wine business and the many career paths it entails – everything from actually growing grapes to running and repairing heavy equipment, operating tasting rooms or marketing.
“This is a growing community, with a lot of opportunities. But a lot of our students leave. They go elsewhere. And we want them to be able to stay here in our county, help grow our county and make it strong,” says Danell Hepworth, dean of Career Technical Education and Workforce Development at Delta College.
Hepworth was one of a number of project organizers interviewed in a new mini-documentary about the Growing Futures Initiative produced by The 74, a nonprofit news organization.
Through paid internships, students have been spending time in vineyards, cleaning tanks, setting tables in tasting rooms, and many other tasks that could give them confidence in selecting a career path in agriculture and, ultimately, the ability to stay close to home to work and raise their families in the future.
The program has a distinctly modern approach, too, as it’s tapping into students enrolled in Lodi Unified’s Valley Robotics Academy, a school whose mission is centered around technology. Tech has many applications in modern agriculture, and young people are in the best position to bring that technology to the forefront in the decades to come.
Don Shalvey, CEO of San Joaquin A+, sums it up in the documentary as, “Do what you love, earn what you need, right where you want to live.”