In 2015, 21 million full- and part-time jobs were related to the agricultural and food sectors in the United States. That’s 11.1 percent of total U.S. employment. This fact is not lost on Moapa Valley High School (MVHS), a leader among Nevada high schools when it comes to agriculture education.
As of this school year, MVHS added food science technology to its agriculture education program, because agriculture entails a lot more than just farming. Food science, a Career and Technical Education (CTE) course, focuses more on the manufacturing and marketing of food. As explained by agriculture teacher Denise O’Toole, “It involves taking a new product to the consumer, or as we say, from the farm to the fork.”
According to O’Toole, only two Clark County School District (CCSD) high schools offer food science as a course: MVHS and Virgin Valley High School. MVHS is unique in that it has the only working farm in CCSD, giving students many different opportunities for hands-on experience.
The 40-acre Ag Farm, located about a mile from MVHS, grows a variety of fruits and vegetables. The farm, which also has cows and chickens, is managed by O’Toole’s husband, Kevin.
O’Toole, who graduated from MVHS in 1986, said food science is an exciting area because it’s a huge part of the ever-growing agribusiness industry and provides countless jobs in the U.S. As she explained, “Manufacturing careers in agriculture and ag-related fields, including food science technology, represent a growing job market for today’s students.”
Food science students work in a variety of areas. One day they might be designing a new type of bratwurst. On another day they may be learning how to safely wash vegetables prior to packaging. And some other time, they may be studying the oxidation of potato chips.
Yet another interesting project for O’Toole’s students involves developing products that could be made from the prickly pear cactus.
The MVHS Ag Farm also has a hydroponic greenhouse in which students grow tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. Students are often at the farm, working on one project or another.
O’Toole pointed out that the new food science technology course does not take away from the culinary program at MVHS, but instead complements it. She said everybody eats, and the global population continues to grow. Her students are learning skills that can help them be part of the ever-expanding agriculture industry.