Students from Nooksack Valley HS sampling soil at Alluvial Farms
On a cold day in late October, 140 sophomores from Nooksack Valley High School explored Alluvial Farms, testing the soil, measuring slopes, learning from farmers Katie Pencke and Matthew McDermott, and enjoying an afternoon in a different kind of classroom. These students are part of the Agricultural Career Exploration Whatcom (ACE Whatcom) program.
ACE Whatcom is a new farmer-mentor program that connects local high schoolers with local farms for career exploration. Cloud Mountain Farm Center, Small Acres Farm, Steensma Creamery, and Alluvial Farms have partnered with Mount Baker High School, Nooksack Valley High School, and Ferndale High School to bring both farmers to rural Whatcom classrooms and students to diverse farms in the region with the goal of sparking ongoing interest in and understanding of the variety of careers available in agricultural settings right here in Whatcom County.
Nooksack Valley’s field trip to Alluvial is one of several that mark the beginning of this program – and it was quite a success. As Blanca Castillo, Ag Education Program at Cloud Mountain, shares, “The students worked really well together, despite the colder weather. I asked the students what their expectations were for this farm tour. The first comment I heard had me laughing when they chimed in with, ‘This farm seems cleaner than what I thought a pork farm would be’.”
Allison Mitchell, a biology teacher at Nooksack Valley High School, adds, “I love the opportunities ACE Whatcom is providing for our students to extend what they are learning in the classroom, applying the learning to life applications and building relationships with community members”.
A student from Ferndale HS visiting Steensma Creamery
Students from Mount Baker HS at Cloud Mountain Farm Center
To date, 20 eleventh graders from Ferndale High School have toured Steensma Creamery and 32 high school students from Mt. Baker High School visited Small Acres Farm and Cloud Mountain.
Cloud Mountain conducted a needs assessment among area farms, which revealed that there is a real need for motivated, experienced young job-seekers in agriculture. And despite having an abundance of fertile farmland and successful Future Farmers of America chapters, the students of Whatcom County do not currently have an easy path forward into ag-related careers. ACE-Whatcom hopes to provide some of that path.
Our regional food system is simultaneously strong and vulnerable – it’s imperative that the next generation be equipped with the connections and skills to nourish their communities. ACE-Whatcom has the potential to grow the agricultural workforce through information, mentorship, and empowerment.