Camarillo High program steers students to careers in agriculture

Boy is sitting on the tractor.
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© John Cressy/OUHSD
Agriculture teacher Sam Swanson gives student Prescott McKenzie pointers on how to operate a tractor during a Animal & Plant Physiology class. © John Cressy/OUHSD

Bruce Ritchey says he is often asked why there is an Agriculture Department at Camarillo High School. The department’s longtime chairman and 33-year instructor at the school gives a quick answer:

Agriculture is the largest industry in California – larger than the tourism, entertainment and high-tech industries – Ritchey points out, and Ventura County ranks 11th among the state’s 58 counties in agriculture production, that’s why.

“There are a lot of good jobs and great careers out there,” Ritchey said.

Established in 1995, the Camarillo High Agriculture Department offers a curriculum for juniors and seniors who have an interest in agriculture as a career and provide them an opportunity to develop marketable skills which will prepare the student to enter the job market or to continue to a higher level of education.

This year about 300 Camarillo High school students will be the following one-semester courses: Animal & Plant Physiology I, Animal & Plant Physiology II, Introduction to Floral Design and Advanced Floriculture and Floristry.

The Agriculture Department is perfect for junior Samantha Addison, who hopes to be either a veterinarian or a marine biologist so she is taking teacher Sam Swanson’s Animal & Plant Physiology II class. “I just love animals,” she said.

The program also suits senior Ally Lang, who is uncertain what she wants to do after high school, so she enrolled in Ritchey’s Introduction to Floral Design class “because I’m kind of exploring my options.”

Lang’s assessment: “It’s my favorite class. I look forward to it every day. It’s fun but you also learn things. It’s a good mix. I like that it’s hands-on.”

Hands-on: It’s a term you hear often when speaking to Ritchey and Swanson, who has been teaching in the Agriculture Department since 1993. Leadership, confidence and responsibility are others.

Students who complete the four elective classes can enroll in the program’s Agriculture Business Academy, where they learn additional marketable skills and serve internships with local agricultural businesses, including nurseries, florist shops, veterinarian offices. Some students have even served internships with the U.S. Forest Service and Ventura County Search and Rescue.

Students also can join Future Farmers of America and participate in its wide range of activities, including field trips to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and local agriculture firms. They also can compete in the FFA’s job interviewing, extemporaneous speaking and tractor driving contests.

Several Camarillo High FFA members also raise livestock that they show at the Ventura County Fair. Last summer, they earned a combined $49,000 from the livestock auction and 2011 graduate Anna Haller’s lamb earned FFA Market Class Champion.

“There are tons of things here for kids to do,” Ritchey said.

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