CSU, Chico

Dillon Johnson, Agriculture Business

Dillon Johnson, Agriculture Business

 Amie French

Dillon Johnson did not enter college with plans to study agriculture, but that’s where the senior from Forest Ranch found his home. Johnson’s work ethic, volunteer service, and contributions to faculty research earned him the title of California State University, Chico’s star student in agriculture business for 2015. 

When Johnson entered college, his exposure to agriculture was limited to his family’s modest acre of fruit trees, garden, chickens, and bees. While at Butte College, Johnson found a job working as an assistant farm manager for the school farm, and after combining his experience with a natural sense of entrepreneurship, Johnson’s interest in agriculture flourished. It wasn’t until after graduating from Butte College, completing Emergency Medical Technician school, and spending some time at Humboldt State University that Johnson decided to pursue his newfound interest in agriculture.

Johnson had planned on continuing his education at Humboldt State University to study forestry.  Spending time at Humboldt State University helped Johnson realize that, although forestry is an interesting portion of agriculture, he didn’t want to be limited to specializing in forestry when there is so much more to explore in agriculture. With time, Johnson found that he missed home and the agriculture classes he was taking prior to transferring to Humboldt State University, so he transferred to CSU, Chico to study agriculture business.

“I am so glad I made the change, and I am thrilled to be graduating in a field that not only I have passion for but is also full of opportunity,” he said.

Johnson wasted no time in diving into research and work opportunities that have further molded his knowledge and appreciation of agriculture. He went to work for the Center for Economic Development (CED) as a research assistant which has opened up many doors for Johnson, including working as a research assistant to agricultural business professor Eric Houk, helping Houk publish “The Contribution of Agriculture to Northeastern California’s Economy,” a study aimed at documenting agricultural production’s significance to the economy of Northeastern California.

Also through the CED, Johnson developed an educational program titled BEANS, or “Bringing Education in Agriculture and Nutrition to Students.” Johnson created a workshop and academy that aims to educate local students who, like him, had limited exposure to agricultural curriculum at a young age.

“The BEANS workshop hopes to fill this void in the education system, providing avenues for continued agricultural education, allowing students to feel confident in their abilities and knowledge, ultimately resulting in students that are young agricultural entrepreneurs,” he said.

Partnering up with organizations and programs such as the Organic Vegetable Project has allowed Johnson to thrive with this workshop and academy.

Johnson wishes he had grown up with more exposure to agriculture.

“Although I have been involved in small-scale agriculture from a young age, much of what I have worked on in the last few years has rooted from the fact that I simply didn’t view agriculture as a career or even educational pathway until I was out of high school,” Johnson said. “If I had known pursuing agriculture as an amazing opportunity that is full of potential as I do now, I definitely would have become involved at a younger age—I just didn’t know how. I hope to fill that disconnect in other students’ lives.”

Additionally, Johnson’s involvement in the CED led to his position as the food security manager at the Westside Domestic Violence Shelter (WDVS). WDVS is a non-profit organization in Glenn County that provides refuge for victims of domestic violence. In addition to serving as a refuge, WDVS provides families the opportunity to learn about their food, supplies job skills and a sense of accomplishment by taking part in maintaining a garden and orchard, and teaches the families financial sustainability through both the consumption and sale of the commodities grown on-site.  

“WDVS is a peaceful sanctuary that provides the powerful experience of cultivation, something so simple can be overwhelmingly rewarding in a time of crisis,” Johnson said. “The overall learning experience the land provides encourages the families to become self-sufficient and confident in their own entrepreneurial ability to not only produce commodities but add value to commodities through juicing, preserving, etc.”

When looking back on his time at CSU, Chico, Johnson says, “I believe some of the most important things I have learned are the general day-to-day knowledge of business, research and project management skills I have had the privilege of obtaining while working at the Center for Economic Development.”

Dr. Eric Houk, professor of agriculture business, praises Johnson’s work ethic, stating, “Dillon has done an outstanding job in his courses and has been at the top of his class.  He has consistently shown that he is committed to learning and that he is devoted to achieving his educational goals. Dillon turns in all of his assignments on time, attends every class, and is an overall model student.”

Houk also conducted research with Johnson.

“Although I often find it difficult to work with undergraduate students on research projects due to the level of complexity that can be required for economic analysis, I was confident in Dillon’s abilities” Houk said. “Dillon quickly became a major asset at CED and proved to be very self-motivated.”

Johnson speaks highly of professors in the College of Agriculture, and recognizes how much they’ve been an asset to his success at CSU, Chico. Looking forward to graduation this spring, Johnson’s career opportunities prove to follow his interests in agriculture business, sustainability, and local food systems.

“Working at the CED the past few years has been amazing, it has provided a variety of different experiences that would be difficult to obtain anywhere else” Johnson said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed the projects I have been involved in and would love to just continue doing the type of work that I have been doing.”

His interests aren’t limited, however, and he is interested in pursuing appraisal, an option that combines Johnson’s experience and knowledge. Additionally, Johnson would love to stay rooted in sustainable food production and further his research and interest in the overall impact of local food systems.

While nothing is determined yet, Johnson remarks, “I think there is a lot of potential in those fields looking into the future of agriculture. What we know and the way we view agriculture is constantly changing and it is exciting to be thinking of what changes are coming next. I hope to find something that encompasses a combination of all these things!”