May 11, 2015Vol. 45, Issue 5

Agriculture Meets Economics

Dillon Johnson is working to broaden the meaning of ‘ag education’

Agriculture business major Dillon Johnson exchanges glances with a chicken at his parents' home in Forest Ranch, California. (Photo courtesy Dillon Johnson)

If you asked Dillon Johnson how he managed to graduate with a dream job in hand, he would tell you that it was luck, and everything "just clicked." But, in truth, his success has everything to do with his unflagging determination in turning ideas into action.

The agriculture business major grew up in Forest Ranch, just east of Chico. After earning an AA from Butte College and doing a short stint at Humboldt State, Johnson began taking classes in CSU, Chico's College of Agriculture in 2013. He knew immediately this was a different kind of place. "I transferred here a little late from Humboldt, and I got into Dr. A[schenbrener]'s class, Ag Business 101, and she was great,” he says. “She got me into the class, got me involved, made me feel comfortable. It was a good start to me coming here.”

He also began searching for professional opportunities and landed a position as a senior research assistant with Chico State's Center for Economic Development. There, he began working with agriculture professor Eric Houk on the 2012 and 2013 Agriculture Impact Reports looking at the industry's contribution to the regional economy.

Working with the CED gave Johnson a chance to see another side of the agriculture industry. "It was a big eye opener for me," he says. "When I first started going to school here, I thought, ‘If you don't have land, then what are you going to do [in agriculture]?’ But there are so many opportunities: There's ag education, there's management of a property, there's the economic side like we do in the [Agriculture Impact] Report, and networking with all those groups. There's just so many cool projects going on."

Through the CED, he began working as the food security manager for the Westside Domestic Violence Shelter in Orland. Johnson not only managed the shelter’s farm, keeping up with maintenance and making it financially sustainable, he also worked to make sure shelter residents had a chance to take part in its operation.

Johnson, with his girlfriend, Butte College student Aly Wallace (back center), partnered with Chico State's Organic Vegetable Project to educate Chapman Elementary School students about local agriculture. (Photo courtesy Dillon Johnson)

Johnson, with his girlfriend, Butte College student Aly Wallace (back center), partnered with Chico State's Organic Vegetable Project to educate Chapman Elementary School students about local agriculture. (Photo courtesy Dillon Johnson)

"A lot of [the shelter residents] come from LA and have never even seen a chicken before, so I brought the little chickens out and they were all kind of freaking out. That kind of thing is really exciting. Getting your first egg is really rewarding," says Johnson. 

Johnson's next project with the CED allowed him to collaborate with the Central Sacramento Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council. He was charged with developing a program to serve ag tourism or ag education.

The result was BEANS, Bringing Education in Agriculture and Nutrition to Students, a program designed to teach elementary school students about what happens to food once it leaves the farm. Johnson worked with Chapman Elementary School in Chico to bring groups of students to their local farmers market and run a stall. He partnered with the University Farm's Organic Vegetable Project to use their unsold vegetables, but the students were responsible for all other aspects of their booth.

"We would sit at the market, and I would let [the students] go around and see what the prices were, and then ask them how they thought we should price our [produce]," says Johnson. "So, they learned a little bit about pricing, and how to do money transactions, and … they had to describe [the produce] to the customer. I would try to stay out of it as much as possible."

Deciding to reach out to more students, he became involved in Shasta College's Ag Education Day at the Tehama County Fair. He developed a presentation teaching children about opportunities in agriculture.

He brought the presentation back to Chapman Elementary and has focused on broadening ag education. "I learned that ag education in schools tended to focus on, 'Oh, we planted a seed,' but it's never the whole cycle, and it's never the end of the cycle, definitely. It's never how to cook or sell your products," he says. 

Johnson is currently working on writing grants to develop an academy along those lines, a project he will continue as he moves into the working world. 

Johnson's stellar work for the CED caught the eye of agriculture professor Jake Brimlow, who has asked him to come aboard full time at his pet project, the North Valley Food Hub. The Hub is a website designed for local producers to list their commodities and for local restaurants to purchase that wholesale fresh food. Johnson will be working to spread the word and get more restaurants on board, and at the same time, fulfilling the Hub's desire to promote ag education through programs like BEANS.

There is no doubt that Johnson's hard work and incredible initiative have led him to accomplish so much during his two years at Chico State, but he is also grateful for the support and respect from faculty and staff. "I got to talk to professionals at CED and my professors on a level where it made me feel like they respected my input,” he says. “That made the biggest difference to me because a lot of people discount you for just being a student. But talking to them, having them treat me like a real person, was a game-changer for me." 

—Kate Post, Public Affairs and Publications

Video link

What Would You Tell Your Freshman Self?

In this video, seniors share their touching—and funny—reflections on their college careers. Watch the video.


125th Commencement

Four days of commencement ceremonies begin Thursday, May 14. Search #Chico2015 on social media for a live chronicle of events. See schedule.

click to comment on an article in this issue