California Community Colleges Respond to the Training Needs of the State’s Agriculture and Food Industries 

By Jon Wollenhaupt

If you were to drive the length of the Central Valley— from Shasta County in the north to Kern County in the south—you would travel a distance equal to a trip from New York City to Richmond, Virginia, or about 450 miles. During your travels, you would pass through the Sacramento Valley in the north and the San Joaquin Valley to the south. The two valleys comprise the Central Valley and cover approximately 20,000 square miles—an area larger than nine different states.

Fueling the Central Valley’s seemingly endless cultivated fields, orchards, and vineyards is the world’s largest patch of Class 1 soil, which is defined as productive and suited to intensive cropping, deep, generally well-drained, and easily worked. This fertile soil and the excellent growing weather, abundance of cheap labor, and easy access to ports have made the Central Valley an economic powerhouse.

The Central Valley’s Economic Engine 

  • More than 250 different crops are grown in the Central Valley, with an estimated value of $17 billion per year; 
  • Farm gate value (the net value of products when they leave the farm) of $40.7 billion (2013)—68% of California’s total, greater than 19 U.S. states combined; 
  • $11 billion in agricultural exports (2011); 
  • $43.2 billion in total Central Valley food and beverage manufacturing output.
    Source: Central Valley Food, Beverage, Manufacturing Consortium 

Central Valley Regional Challenges 

Despite the impressive economic numbers, unemployment rates remain stubbornly high throughout the Central Valley compared with state and national unemployment rates of 5.2 percent and 4.7 percent. Much of this is due to the seasonal agricultural workforce. According to the Central Valley Business Journal, “the lowest Valley unemployment rate (for 2016) was in San Joaquin County at 8.1 percent in April. Stanislaus County saw its rate drop by one-half percent to 9 percent. Merced County registered the largest drop in the area as the rate went from 12.4 percent in March to 11.2 percent in April.” 

California Community Colleges’ Role in Economic and Workforce Development 

California Community CollegesTo address the challenges facing workers and employers in the Central Valley, the California Community Colleges’ Economic and Workforce Development (EWD) program is investing funding and resources in education, highly-specialized industry training, and consulting services related to the agricultural and food industries. 

EWD’s Agriculture, Water, and Environmental Technology initiative is working to ensure the economic viability of California’s agriculture and natural resources industry, while maintaining the region’s environmental integrity. The goals of the program are the following: 

  • Support regional and statewide sector strategies that promote the education, training, and advocacy of agricultural and environmental businesses and services; 
  • Drive the development and alignment of curriculums in agriculture, natural resources, water, and environmental technology programs across the state; 
  • Sustain and advance the development of career pathways that maintain California’s standing as the #1 agriculture state in the nation. 

California Community College Profile: College of The Sequoias 

California Community CollegesCollege of Sequoias’ main campus sits on 62 acres in Visalia, just 43 miles southeast of Fresno, in the heart of the Central Valley. Here, agriculture, food manufacturing, and food processing drive the economy. The college also serves the cities of Hanford, with the Hanford Educational Center, and Tulare, with the Tulare College Center—a 500-acre site which houses The Center for Agriculture Science and Technology. The college is dedicated to building a strong workforce that will help keep the region’s employers supplied with skilled workers. 

In addition to the for-credit degree programs in Agriculture Business, Plant and Animal Science, and Ag Technology, College of the Sequoias offers customized, not-for-credit programs that meet the immediate training needs of employers. These programs are designed to enhance the skills of those already employed in various aspects of agriculture and food industries. 

Customized Training Programs for Food and Agriculture Industries 

California Community CollgesThe Training Resource Center is located on the Tulare campus at College of the Sequoias. Like similar contract education units at California Community Colleges throughout the state, the Training Resource Center runs as an entrepreneurial business. Its mission is to enhance local and regional economic development through designing, developing, and implementing customized training for business and industry. 

Training Resource Center delivers employee training on topics that include the following: 

  • Food Safety 
  • Quality & Continuous Improvement
  • Manufacturing
  • Soft Skills & Leadership Training

Evolution of the Food Safety Program at College of the Sequoias

To learn more about the regulatory environment that led to the development of the Food Safety Training program at College of the Sequoias, UpSkill Califonia spoke with with Jorge Zegarra, Director of the Training Resource Center, and Laurel Garver, Training Resource Center specialist at College of the Sequoias,

Zegarra: “We started our food safety program in 2015 by offering a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) class, which is designed to make workers knowledgeable about food safety principles for the workplace. The training was geared toward food processors. Local employers needed to have at least one person on staff who is certified in HACCP, but they also needed their plant workers to be knowledgeable of HACCP principles. Our HACCP training meets both of those needs.

“Then we saw that new FDA food safety regulations were coming, ones which go beyond the scope of HACCP. In 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed by Congress. Even though FSMA became law, it wasn’t until 2013 that the FDA indicated that it was planning to finalize the rules. Many of the rules became effective in 2015–2016, while other FSMA regulations are scheduled to come online in 2018 and 2019.

“We knew the legislation was going to have a significant impact on every aspect of the industry; therefore, about a year and a half ago, we began extensive research on the FSMA rules and to understand how they would affect each segment of the supply chain. Once we completed our research, we then began to invest in training programs we could deliver to our growers, food processors, and food manufacturers.”

Garver: “In response to the FSMA rules, we have delivered Preventive Controls for Human Foods classes, which provides certification as a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI). This person plays an important role; he or she is responsible for developing and revamping the safety plans that determine how the business will identify and prevent hazards related to food safety. We began to offer this 20-hour class in 2016. In total, we’ve offered it four times. Additionally, we’ve held a Produce Safety Train-the-Trainer class in support of FSMA Produce Safety Regulations. In a class held last April, we had approximately 40 people from several national and international organizations attend that class who were looking to become certified to teach the Produce Safety Grower class.”

Zegarra: “It is our mission to continue be responsive to the workplace education and training needs of regional employers. Our contract education unit, like most, is agile, and can quickly design and deliver the programs needed by local industry.”

FSMA-Related Food Safety Training Classes Offered by College of the Sequoias

  • HACCP: A management system in which food safety is focused on the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards ranging from raw material production, procurement, and handling to manufacturing, distribution, and consumption of the finished product. 
  • Produce Safety Grower Training: This class provides information on science-based minimum standards established for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. This is an essential training for growers who need to learn about produce safety, the FSMA Produce Safety Rule, and GAP. 
  • Preventive Controls for Human Foods: This training is intended to ensure safe manufacturing, processing, packing, and holding of food products for human consumption in the United States. Participants receive an official FSPCA Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) certificate class. 
  • Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP): This training covers FSMA requirements for importers to verify that food imported into the United States has been produced in a manner that meets applicable U.S. safety standards. 
  • Good Agricultural Practices (GAP): This FSMA-related training is critically important for individuals working in agriculture as well as those working in food processing. GAP not only helps ensure compliance, it also provides a quality-based competitive advantage for your company. 

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For more information on the specifics of FSMA regulations, please visit: www.fda.gov/Food/ GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/ 

For more information on food safety programs and customized training for agriculture, please contact: 

Jorge Zegarra
Director, Training Resource Center
College of the Sequoias/Tulare Campus
Email: jorgez@cos.edu

About the Author
Jon Wollenhaupt is a marketing consultant who writes about topics related to contract education, employee training, and corporate learning for the California Community Colleges. His work is funded by the Technical Assistant Provider (TAP) grant hosted at Mt. San Antonio College. He can be reached via email at jon@golaunchmarketing.com.

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