By Michelle Borges
Raised by farmworker parents in Salinas, “the salad bowl of the world,” Jesus Barba was surrounded by agriculture on a daily basis but didn’t pay it a lot of attention. His academics too, lacked focus, as he struggled in high school and often found himself kicked out of class.
But then, a teacher at Everett Alvarez High School in Salinas encouraged him to join Future Farmers of America and mentored him as he tried a range of experiences to explore possible careers. Raising lambs and pigs, judging horticulture, and competing in public speaking contests is where Barba found his passion and path to a college degree.
“Agriculture has always been around my family, in the sense that they have always worked the fields,” he said. “I want to stop that trend and be the one inside the company and not the one in the field picking the produce.”
In addition to a multitude of both crops- and animal-related projects, Barba also took business-related classes in the agriculture program, where he shadowed local companies and chaired fundraising activities.
“These experiences made me feel like this is where I belong, and I decided to take a leap of faith and pursue it!” he said.
This month, Barba, a first-generation student, will graduate summa cum laude with a degree in agricultural business—planting a seed for even greater success.
“It feels amazing and fulfilling,” he said. “My parents did not have the opportunity to pursue their education—they only made it as far as fifth grade—so me being able to obtain my bachelor’s is a big accomplishment. I was able to make them proud and show them that the hard work and struggle is worth undertaking.”
It was during a high school-organized college visit to Chico State that Barba fell in love with the nature on campus, surrounding environment, and sense of a community. Two of his high school agricultural teachers also were Chico State alumni with great endorsement for its programs.
“All of the trees were beautiful, the weather was perfect, and I felt relieved of stress touring the campus due to the environmental feel the campus created. I also wanted to explore the different kinds of agriculture in Northern California through my classes and potential internships,” Barba said.
Barba exemplified his academic success by earning Dean’s List recognition every single semester. He was also the student representative on the College of Agriculture’s Dean Search Committee this semester, and a teacher’s aide for agricultural ecology with Professor Richard Rosecrance.
Barba enjoys working with all of the faculty members within the college, he said, noting that he connected with each of his professors and appreciated the knowledge and diversity they brought to his studies. He loves learning new material and being exposed to real-world content like the issues facing agriculture. Understanding concepts like water issues and climate change exposed him to what needs to be done for the future of agriculture.
One of his favorite memories was attending the Produce Marketing Association Expo with Professor Marnie Dalton in Monterey. This expo consisted of networking with industry professionals and learning more about the culture in the produce industry.
“It was amazing to see what the agriculture industry is really about. I was able to learn so much about the industry,” said Barba, noting that before college, he only really knew about produce but now is confident about orchards and livestock.
Professor Christine Carroll is Barba’s academic advisor. He appreciates her teaching style because she focuses on the learning aspect more than the grade itself. Barba said he believes Carroll truly cares about students’ success as well as them grasping the material in class, and the appreciation is mutual.
“Jesus is an extremely intelligent student who always goes above and beyond with each topic and assignment. He excels in the classroom and is truly dedicated to the agriculture industry,” Carroll said.
Barba is excited to start his career in the agriculture industry. His future plans are to continue his education by pursuing a master’s degree and possibly even a PhD or MBA program in the next few years. Once he gains enough experience in this field, he plans to start his own company in agriculture. This summer, he’ll continuing working in the agriculture industry while he prepares to apply for grad school.
Just like his high school experiences, those in Chico State classrooms, and studying almonds and walnuts at the University Farm, Barba said he’s confident that continuing to work in the field will open his eyes to opportunities he didn’t even know where possible.
“This chapter in my life really taught me that the hard work and struggle is worth undertaking,” he said. “I am so thankful for the experience that I obtained in the College of Ag and the welcoming environment that Chico State brings to their students—if it was not for that, I would have not pushed myself as much as I did. The person I am today is because of Chico State.”
Michelle Borges is the public relations intern and student senator in the College of Agriculture. She is majoring in agriculture, with an option in agricultural science and education, and minoring in agricultural business and journalism.