Conservation Education Policy Sustainable Agriculture

Open Letter to the Livermore School Board.

Apparently, the Board of Education for the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District is considering budget cuts to the agricultural education program.  My letter against such:


March 11, 2010

Stewart Gray
President, Board of Education
Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District
685 East Jack London Blvd.
Livermore, CA 94550


Dear Mr. Gray:

It has come to my attention that the ongoing need to evaluate the budget for the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District may result in fiscal cuts to the Livermore High School (LHS) Agricultural Education Program.  Although I fully support fiscal responsibility on behalf of the Board, I am also a huge advocate for agricultural education and request that you reconsider any cuts you may make to the agricultural program at LHS, and consider alleviating budget pressures by reducing funding to other programs instead.

As a former student of the agricultural program at LHS (1996-2000), I can speak volumes to the impact this program has had on my success as an adult.  Following my education at LHS, I proceeded to study agriculture at the University of California, Davis, pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Soil and Water Science, with an emphasis on International Agricultural Development.  Most recently, I completed a Masters of Science in Sustainable Agriculture, and thanks to my education, I have had the opportunity to study and work professionally with the agricultural systems of Panamá, France, and Nicaragua.  I currently coordinate a program (Growing Groceries) in Washington State to pair mentors with gardening experience with people in the lower income bracket that are food insecure and in need of guidance for growing their own fruits and vegetables.  The food and gardening community of Clark County, Washington, of which I am now a member, has been incredibly impressed with the success I have had in creating Growing Groceries, as well as in my ability to collaborate with a range of stakeholders to create a viable community oriented effort to increase access to fresh produce.

One could say that my education at LHS in general aptly prepared me to be a well rounded adult, but that would be entirely inaccurate.  I contribute my successes to the agricultural education program specifically, as this was the only interactive program that provided me with the opportunity for personal gain that would most benefit me later in life.  Numerous authors have recently provided insight to the importance of experiential education (e.g. Richard Louv and The Last Child in the Woods), and unless something has dramatically changed in the ten years since I have attended LHS, I doubt any other program at the school provides the range of opportunities of the Agricultural Education program.  Students of agriculture at LHS are provided with the opportunity to gain insights to personal finance and economics, to develop interpersonal skills, to interact with community partners and to excel at capacity building, and to gain powerful insight into public policy and the nature of the food system of both California and the world.  To neglect this portion of a student’s education is to neglect the huge role that agriculture plays in supporting healthy and viable people, communities, and economies.  Combine this with the fact that LHS is the only high school in Alameda County currently offering courses in agriculture, and I think you have a very valid reason to retain the program.  The global population will approach 9 billion people by 2050, and in a time where food prices and food policy are already a major concern, we as a region cannot afford to lose our education base.  If we as a planet expect to feed a population that large, as well as maintain land for such products as wine on which our City and County are so economically dependent for tourism and general revenue, we need to assure we have a source of future agricultural leaders.  By eliminating a program that has been known to produce informed, intelligent, and successful individuals, we are essentially guaranteeing that Livermore and Alameda County will have no agricultural base on which to depend.

Obviously, I could go on indefinitely as to why it would be a horrible decision to reduce funding to the agricultural education program at LHS, but regardless, I urge you to reconsider any planned cuts to the agricultural program at LHS.  I will be happy to continue the discussion further, and provide many more reasons as to why this program, more so than any other, deserves more funding, not less.  Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments, and thank you for taking the time to read this letter.


Ariel Rivers, MSc.

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