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San Joaquin County AgVenture Coordinator Krista McCoon: “A swine changed my life!”

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By Krista McCoon

I arrived home from school and promptly ran to the kitchen for a snack. What nine-year-old doesn’t need a snack immediately after crossing the threshold of their home? Shortly after, my parents joined me for a chat. They started by asking, “Do you want to earn some money?” To which I responded, “Yes.”

I had zero concept of what they meant when they explained I’d be earning it by raising and selling a hog as a 4-H member. When it came time for my first 4-H meeting, I put on my fanciest sweater and skirt. My dad encouraged me to change into something more casual. Thankfully, I heeded his warning. As it turns out, 4-Hers aren’t usually very fancy.

Fast forward, my dad picked me up from junior high with a heavy-bred Duroc gilt in the back of the pickup. She was the start of my breeding project, an adventure that changed the trajectory of my life.

Triple A Swine Farm, born initially as a father-daughter adventure, became a family affair. It’s an experience I would not trade for the world.

As a freshman, I became an Escalon FFA member. I served as a sectional and chapter officer and attended as many leadership conferences, field days and livestock shows as I could. My FFA career culminated in winning two National FFA Proficiency awards in swine production and placement.
After high school, I attended Modesto Junior College and transferred to Oklahoma State University. There, I received both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural communications.

Upon graduation, my husband, also from the Valley, and I decided to move back to California to be close to family. It was on the 24-hour move back I received the call that I was officially offered the San Joaquin County AgVenture coordinator position.

In January 2014, I began my role as coordinator. I learned quickly how much need there is for a program like this. AgVenture is a county-sponsored agriculture and nutrition education program for third graders in SJC. In third grade, they learn about county history. Agriculture plays a vital role.

Now in its 18th year, AgVenture has educated nearly 180,000 students!

Students attend an AgVenture field day based on their school location. We bring agriculture and students together to create an experiential learning opportunity that students don’t easily forget.
Watching students see their first steer, taste fresh produce and learn from industry volunteers is heartwarming and helps secure a brighter future for this industry. They’re third graders today, consumers and voters in a few short years. It’s our job as agriculturalists to share our story, or someone else will.

Things were going well for the program and then the pandemic hit. What started as two weeks turned into no students in-person for the 20-21 school year. As you can imagine, it’s hard to conduct in-person field trips when students aren’t at school.

The AgVenture committee and I had two choices: not host the trip and students miss out or figure a solution. We chose the latter and the virtual AgVenture program was born.

This digital footprint is multi-faceted. We have commodity presentations, which are ten minutes long and focus on a commodity or resource. We have an amazing tour of SJC agriculture. Finally, our interactive virtual farm trips.

These digital offerings became the silver lining of school closures. In fact, AgVenture Virtual Farm Trips were so successful, we still do them! Not only was feedback overwhelmingly positive, but we also expanded our audience to literally anyone in the world!

We’ve had as many as 18,000 students register for a single VFT. What makes them unique is students get to ask questions of farmers, live! This interactive component makes it the closest thing to being out on the farm, without leaving the classroom.

The questions are my favorite part; some are thoughtful asking why they farm, their favorite part and other queries. Others send our farmers grabbing their calculators to determine how many nuts per tree or blueberries per bush. Some just make me smile, like when a student asked what walnuts taste like.

I could not be more grateful for the supportive committee members. They didn’t hesitate to support my crazy ideas for virtual AgVenture and that has paid off in spades! In fact, the 2023 SJC AgVenture VFT series just won a regional National Agri-Marketing Award for best campaign element directed to consumers.

January marked my ten-year anniversary as AgVenture coordinator. Someone recently said, “Krista, you know you were made for that job.” I couldn’t agree more. I love what I do, the thousands of volunteers who make the program possible, our partners and sponsors who believe in the program and the SJC Agricultural Commissioner’s Office for hosting. I truly love giving thousands of students “An Adventure in Agriculture.”