Leaders in Lodi’s wine industry came together with San Joaquin County educators and employers at Acquiesce Winery on Wednesday to launch a new program focused on providing a more inclusive pathway to agriculture jobs for local students.
The Career Connected Learning Initiative will also focus on diversifying the ag workforce and returning long-term value to the region.
The program was created at Lodi Unified School District’s Valley Robotics Academy through a partnership with San Joaquin Delta College and the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and will provide five students with internships at the commission, Holt Caterpillar, and Acquiesce Winery.
Stuart Spencer, the commission’s executive director, said the program’s development was a couple years in the making.
During that time, he said the commission, the LAIC and San Joaquin A+ realized that 70% of students who grow up in the county, stay or return after graduating from college.
“So if we are gonna grow our industry, if we are going to succeed, we need to grow our talent and build it from within,” he said. “We are delighted that we are going to be piloting this program this summer with these wonderful kids to bring on board for this first round of internships. It’s our hope that this becomes a platform and an example for the rest of the industry, and for the rest of the community so we can get more kids involved not only with the wineries and the growers, but with our suppliers and ag industrial partners that are all a part of making this happen.”
Acquiesce co-owner Rodney Tipton said one of the reasons he created the LAIC was to increase diversity and inclusion in the wine industry, starting in the Lodi appellation.
Tipton noted that 2% of wineries across the country are owned or managed by people of color, and that needs to change. The Career Connected Learning Initiative will provide students of all backgrounds, cultures and histories a pathway to an ag career, he said.
“So many of our youth in this area stay here, which is a great thing,” he said. “It really makes sense to LAIC to start there. It’s the root of the tree. The more students we can get involved here, expose the wine industry... for this to be the pilot program, I’m really proud of it. This six weeks of effort when the students come on board, should be invaluable to them.”
Don Shalvey, San Joaquin A+ CEO, said the partnership board’s initiative is an example of everyone in the community working together.
“You are our future,” he told the students. “You are the biggest and best that we need. And the sooner we give you an opportunity to understand what you’re interested in, so that by the time you are 26, you are doing what you love, earning what you need and making us a better community. That’s our focus, and we do it together.”
One of those students is Lodi resident Quinton Soria, who will be interning at the Winegrape Commission and learning the aspects of marketing.
“I’m really into business, and I’m trying to figure out what specific field I like, either marketing or finance,” he said. “I want to network with the internship, too, and see where it takes me.”
Gabriel Martinez and Gregory Smith, both Stockton residents, will be interning at Acquiesce as added hands managing the winery and vineyards.
“We’re going to be kind of like, cleaning, maintaining, and taking care of everything,” Martinez said. “They only have (two employees), so they want us to help out with that, take some of the workload so it’s not all laid on them. We’ll clean some of the wine tanks, take care of the vineyards, test the grapes to see how they are.”
“I’ve always been interested in agriculture, and this opportunity just presented itself,” Smith said. “So I might as well take it.”
Rafael Ceja, Lodi Unified’s director of education, said the partnership will help students fulfill graduation requirements, as well as complete approved courses for admission into four-year universities.
“We have been very excited about the pilot program, and now we’re seeing the students participate in the program,” he said. “It just helps to evaluate the efforts into planning this endeavor. All the agencies involved, and our staff, have been putting all the nuts and bolts into place to make sure its a successful partnership and that our students benefit from it.”
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