Santa Barbara County Farm Day.
Izzy Valendcia, 4, and Theresa Valencia, 5, check out young plantings ready to be taken home during Santa Barbara County Farm Day at Allan Hancock College on Saturday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A corner of Allan Hancock College’s main campus in Santa Maria doesn’t look like a typical classroom.

However, the vineyard and other crops growing there provide real-life lessons whether successful or not, according to instructor Erin Krier, coordinator of the Agriculture Program.

“Because we’re not trying to make a living growing stuff here, then students have the freedom to try things that may or may not work, and if it’s a failure then that’s perfectly fine and part of the learning process,” Krier said. 

Allan Hancock College again participated in the Santa Barbara County Farm Day, allowing residents to learn about agriculture classes, degrees, certificates and other offerings, including its own wine.

“We’re so lucky we get to have a garden in the middle of the city right across from the college,” Krier said as she led a tour of the site shared with the community garden.

The school’s Agriculture Program started about six years ago, joining the popular viticulture and enology program.

The garden boasts a plot testing perennial grain seeds for an experiment by a sustainable ag class. The permaculture demonstration plot has drought-tolerant plants that produce food. Krier’s ag business class grows vegetables sold on campus. A pollinator garden works to attract native insects, including bees.

Santa Barbara County Farm Day.
Nic Tosca discusses the Allan Hancock College vineyard during Santa Barbara County Farm Day on Saturday. More than a dozen farms and other agriculture organizations hosted guests for free, self-guided tours. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Instead of looking at pictures of powdery mildew or aphids, the plots of land allow students to see and deal with the pesky problems in person. 

The fifth Santa Barbara County Farm Day included more than a dozen locations offering free tours around the Santa Maria, Los Alamos and Santa Ynez valleys.

“It’s really a great way to showcase the work that we get to do here and the fact that we have access to a student farm right on campus,” Krier said. 

Organized by Students for Eco-Education and Agriculture, farm day has added participants each year with a chance to “meet all the hands that feed you.” 

SEEAG also hosts a Ventura County Farm Day, with the 11th event planned for Nov. 4.

Farmers, ranches and other ag-related organizations hosted guests for approximately five hours on Saturday. 

Mary Maranville, SEEAG founder and chief executive officer, said preliminary reports suggested that attendance had topped prior years.

Some participants handed out free produce. Others offered small plantings for home gardeners. Another business shared information about composting. 

Visitors asked questions about their home plants, such as when they would prune table grape vines or rules for shipping produce into the state. 

One of Krier’s first students, Guillermo Rodriguez, an Allan Hancock College alum now employed by Betteravia Farms, said he wants to follow in her footsteps to help inspire others looking for careers and serve as their mentors.

The Santa Maria High School graduate worked a retail job while in college and had no idea he would land a career in agriculture.

Santa Barbara County Farm Day.
Agriculture industry worker Guillermo Rodriguez reunites with Allan Hancock College instructor Erin Krier on Saturday at the campus garden during Santa Barbara County Farm Day. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“It means the world that you guys believe in us,” Rodriguez said. “If I can just make another kid believe in himself the way you guys helped me, shoot, what else makes the world go around?”

After leaving Allan Hancock College, Rodriguez graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in agricultural science and a minor in agricultural business. He wants to earn his pest control advisor certificate from Allan Hancock College to help him communicate with colleagues, and eventually earn his master’s degree in ag education to teach.

The college’s program introduced him to vast opportunities in agriculture. 

“It’s just not about manual labor. There just so many aspects of agriculture whether you want to go into entomology, plant pathology, whether you want to be your own boss in a way,” Rodriguez said. “There are so many opportunities to get there.”