Students from Central America got an idea this summer of what it’s like to farm in Wisconsin.
Nineteen students are participating in Fox Valley Technical College’s SEED (Scholarships for Economical and Educational Development) Agribusiness for Export work experience program. The students are from seven different Central American countries, and one of those work experiences took place right outside of Waupaca at Turner’s Fresh Market.
“FVTC is proud to have established many relationships. Our relationships with Turner’s started with a field trip last year and built into a full internship,” said Randy Tenpas, who is the department chairman of agricultural programs at FVTC’s Appleton campus.
He said part of the program is covered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The students are in a two-year associate degree program. They started in August 2009.
“The first year, they learn English as a second language and are immersed in the culture by living with a host family,” Tenpas said.
The second year of the program began last August. The students live in apartments near the campus and have been learning this year about agribusiness, culminating this spring and summer with experiences at farms.
In addition to working at Turner’s Fresh Market, the students also went to a family-owned-and-operated dairy goat farm and to a large dairy that are both by Freedom.
Keisy Cabrera Lebron is from the Dominican Republic and competed with 365 other students in his country to be part of the program. “I was one of 19 chosen for the program,” he said. “I wanted to get knowledge, and then once I go back to my country, to improve our agriculture,” he said.
Mirna Fabiola Xulu Magtzul is from Guatemala and also competed with about 300 other students to come to the U.S.
“It’s a great opportunity for me, especially for me to come here, because I belong to a poor family. I want to study and do my best. It’s amazing for me – this opportunity. I learned the language. It was difficult when I came. The culture, food, language were all different. It was a great opportunity to live with an American family and share my culture and learn the American culture,” she said.
One particular difference she quickly noticed between agriculture here and in her home is that here, machines are used, while in her culture, everything is done by hand.
She hopes to apply some of what she learns when she returns to Guatemala.
The students are scheduled to leave on July 21.
The program has been spearheaded by FVTC’s International Department and Agriculture Department.
Tenpas said he had the privilege of being one of the instructors.
“USAID has had a program for a number of years. FVTC has been involved for about 10 years,” he said. “The new one in August will be sustainable agriculture.”
Ross Turner is the owner of Turner’s Fresh Market, and he said it was a nice experience. “We’re learning a lot,” he said. “Each one comes from such a unique background.”
His daughter Tara is the strawberry manager, and she said two groups of students worked at the farm.
Among the things they did were work in the greenhouse and pull weeds in the strawberry fields.
“They’ve just been a tremendous help. It’s been very interesting getting to know their backgrounds,” she said. “It’s been really interesting sharing stories and learning about their agriculture practices.”
Tenpas said it was a partnership between the SEED students, FVTC’s Agriculture Department and the local agribusinesses that were willing to work with the students.
“Ross and Tara – like the other locations – have been just outstanding in their willingness to work with the SEED students,” he said.