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California And Baja Build Bridge Through Youth Agricultural Program

  

Claudia Diaz Carrasco is a 4-H advisor who works on expanding the program to Latino communities in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. 

Now her work will also extend to children ages six to nine across the border in Mexicali in the state of Baja, Mexico.

The outreach is part of a collaboration between the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Agricultural Secretary of Baja, Mexico.

Diaz Carrasco says students have already planted their first donated seeds: onions, chiles and cucumbers.

To connect the dots about how produce is grown, they'll take field trips to nearby farms and greenhouses.

"They see these lovely fruits and vegetables growing near the places they live," says Diaz Carrasco. But as she points out, much of the produce grown commercially near Mexicali is for export - mainly to the U.S.

Diaz Carrasco says she hopes the skills children and their parents develop in this program could translate into growing food and raising poultry for their own community.

In some cases, families do have access to land. Some of it is communal land from the Mexican government.

"And there is empty land because of the migrant workers that left for the U.S.,” Diaz Carrasco explains.

“And so children and family are left behind with these places where they could be growing food. But they don't have the knowledge of how to do it or how to start."

Another goal of the project is for school-age children to connect with mentors from the U.S. and Mexico who work in careers related to agriculture.

The mentors are not farm laborers, but are scientists, teachers and business owners.

“In the heads of these kids, they see farming as just watering the land or picking fruit, because that’s what they’ve seen,” says Diaz Carrasco.

“But they don’t see that they could be mechanical engineers or an agricultural economist,” she adds.

As a Latina who completed master's degrees on both sides of the border, she would like to serve as a role model for a younger generation of Mexicans and Americans.

In the big picture, Diaz Carrasco sees this 4-H ‘bridge’ between California and Mexico reflecting a long history of the neighboring countries working together to solve problems.