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Growing AgTech industry inspires new course at Salinas nonprofit

Michelle Loxton/KAZU
Jessiah Ramirez examines some of the food processing equipment at the Rancho Cielo Youth Campus.

Rancho Cielo is a nonprofit in Salinas that offers at-risk youth the chance to prepare for jobs in a range of industries, from culinary to construction. Their newest program trains youth to work in the growing AgTech sector.

In a classroom on the Rancho Cielo Youth Campus, students complete an assignment for the new Agriculture Processing and Mechanics course. It’s a new 10-month course that began this August. Jessiah Ramirez says it’s already changed his life.

“I used to stay home a lot and not really get out too much. By getting out and having to come here has really broken that barrier for me," says Ramirez.

Rancho Cielo provides second chances to youth like Ramirez, 19, through education, job training and counseling.

“With Rancho Cielo I'm able to get my high school diploma, which was lacking. I did not finish high school. And I'm also getting training in job work and actual hands-on jobs,” says Ramirez.

Like jobs in the growing AgTech sector. Agriculture is the leading industry in Monterey County and last year, investments globally in AgTech startups increased by almost 50% year on year.

The new Rancho Cielo course teaches students to fix and maintain food processing equipment.

Cecilia Romero is Deputy Director of Rancho Cielo. She says they worked with local Ag companies, like Taylor Farms and Andy Boy, to find out what jobs were in demand in order to design this new course.

“There is so much happening around the Ag industry, so much happening around jobs and skill sets becoming automated, but we still need people that know how to fix these machines,” says Romero.

Monterey County’s Industrial Mechanics and Maintenance industry is projected to grow by 13% over the next seven years, according to California's Employment Development Department.

Rancho Cielo tries to make sure their students leave employed or having fulfilled everything needed to continue a college career.