Healdsburg agriculture student will compete this month for viticulture science project
One of Healdsburg’s younger agricultural enthusiasts is making headlines.
Healdsburg High School agriculture student Emersyn Klick has landed a spot in the national Future Farmers of America (FFA) contest finals in Indianapolis for her take on agriscience — studying the correlation between the length of vine shoots and the Brix level, or sugar content in grapes.
“My agriscience project was testing the Brix level of wine grapes from long shoots versus short shoots. I tested the Brix level of 10 vines of the cabernet sauvignon variety. From each vine, I took a cluster of grapes from a short shoot (18 inches or shorter) and a cluster of grapes from a long shoot (36 inches or longer). My hypothesis was that the longer shoots would have a higher Brix level, but my experiment proved this incorrect,” Klick explained.
Klick said her data showed that the shorter shoots had a higher Brix level. She said the average Brix level for the shorter shoots was 24.75, while the longer shoots had an average of Brix level of 24.44.
“However, this difference is insignificant because in order for it to be significant it would have to have at least a one degree difference in Brix. Less than 0.5 degrees difference in Brix is insignificant and in the case of my experiment, could be a sample error. My data may suggest that the sugar content of the clusters of grapes does not only come from the shoot it is on, but from the whole vine. The vine may compensate for the shorter shoots, but more research would need to be done to prove or disprove this theory,” Klick said. “My project is prevalent because many wineries ask that the fruit on the smaller shoots be cut off because they assume that the Brix level will be lower than that of the longer shoots.”
Klick will be competing this month where she will create a project board and go through an interview process with a panel of judges and a Q&A session.
For Klick the most rewarding part about being involved in student agriculture is that at the end of the day there is more of a reward than just a grade.
“In most classes kids take, they are given a curriculum, they do the work, they get a grade pretty much directly based on how many hours they put into their work. In Ag classes you are doing more than just turning work in for a grade. Kids are directly involved in the ag community,” she said. “Whether it’s a project like this, animals, or learning leadership skills, you ultimately end up with an overall sense of accomplishment that you don’t necessarily get from other classes.”
She added that the most challenging aspect can be the time commitment and being challenged out of your comfort zone.
“I probably would have not been pushed out of my comfort zone in these ways and therefore wouldn’t have known my true abilities. In the end the rewards have always won out over the challenges,” Klick said.
According to Klick she’d like to further pursue agriculture and sustainable science through her upcoming junior internship.
“I have requested to be placed with an environmental engineer to explore that side of science if possible,” Klick said. “Only time will tell if this leads to further ideas on what I want to eventually study in college.”
However, Klick isn’t the only student who is passionate about continuing work in sustainability and agriculture.
Wesley Hunt, who has been an agriculture teacher at Healdsburg High School for seven years and an FFA advisor for 10, said the school is seeing a lot of students who decide to walk down the agriculture path.
“We have tracked our students after graduation each year, and 50% either go into the industry or ag majors at a university. As our classes get bigger we see that percentage growing,” Hunt said.
Last year the graduating senior class was small, but 60% of its agriculture students ended up pursuing the industry or choosing an ag-related major.
Hunt said former students who now work in vineyard management often return to the high school to discuss the role with students.
And while farm employment only makes up 2.1% of the county’s workforce — according to figures from the 2016 Sonoma County Economic and Development Board economic and demographic profile report — the industry has long been known as one of the leading sectors, bringing in a total of $1.1 billion in production value in 2018, according to the county economic and development board.
For Klick, whose family works in the agriculture industry, joining the ag program in high school wasn’t something she always planned for.
“I didn’t get interested in agriculture myself until my freshman year of high school. I went to elementary schools that didn’t necessarily promote agriculture so I really didn’t think about it. At that time it was just something my dad did for work. At my freshman year orientation, a friend of my sisters, who was very involved in FFA, approached me about what classes I would be signing up for. They were having kids spin a wheel for candy or, if you were lucky enough, some cool FFA swag. When she saw that I was planning on following in my siblings footsteps of the traditional science classes she was more than enthusiastic about sharing all the reasons why I should go the ag route at Healdsburg High School instead. It was a bit of a leap,” Klick said.
Ag in the classroom
While there is a specific agricultural curriculum, such as sustainable agriculture, soil science, advanced ag, agriculture business, farm-to-table and viticulture, each student has to complete their own supervised agricultural project, which is where Klick got started on her sugar study.
“Every student has a supervised ag project, students self-select what they do,” Hunt said.
She said many choose to raise animals for the local FFA fair and others often have jobs directly related to the wine industry.
“Every student in the fall does an agriscience project that utilized the resources in Healdsburg,” Hunt explained.
Last year, the high school even had a vineyard put in for more hands-on work opportunities.
The vineyard has three varietals: cabernet, merlot and petit verdot.
With these three varietals the class will make a heavy cab blend, according to Hunt.
Hunt said even if students don’t end up pursuing agriculture, the lessons learned through class can still be beneficial for the future.
“The biggest impact on kids is learning about where their food comes from. Students learn how to be a better consumer and make more informed choices even if they do not pursue ag as a job,” Hunt said.
As far as FFA, she said kids can learn good leadership skills
“They’ll gain skills that will make them a better citizens,” Hunt said.