Westlands Water District Announces Recipients of its 2022 West Side Scholarship

  • by Westlands Water District
  • Jun 22, 2022

FRESNO – Westlands Water District is proud to announce the recipients of its 2022 West Side Scholarship. The West Side Scholarship program recognizes and rewards exceptional graduating seniors at area high schools. Because of the extreme drought and extenuating circumstances caused by the pandemic, the District is proud to extend the scholarship to support 17 graduating seniors in achieving their higher-education goals. Each scholarship recipient was selected based on a combination of academic achievements, leadership, contributions to the local community, and future career goals.

“Westlands is honored to support the educational journey of some of the area’s outstanding youth,” commented Tom Birmingham, general manager of the District. “Communities in or adjacent to the District provide critical support to the District’s efforts to fulfill its mission, and their youth are the future. The hope is that this small gesture of appreciation in the form of a scholarship can help these students reach their dreams and continue to contribute to their communities.”

The District congratulates the following recipients of the 2022 West Side Scholarships:

Michael Mahfood, Coalinga High School, Cal Poly
The importance of agriculture, according to Michael: “This economic stability of the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley also heavily relies on agricultural jobs that would simply not be possible of the water supply was restricted. Families that work in agriculture support our businesses, send their children to our schools, and essentially support the economy of the entire area. Their children grow up and support the area as well by living and working here. Without agricultural water, the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley could be economically devastated and fall apart.”

Emmie Walker, Coalinga High School, California State University, Fresno
The importance of agriculture, according to Emmie: “In my small-town, Coalinga, the residents rely heavily on agriculture and the industry it provides. I am certain without agriculture our small town would be very different. We already have limited resources and opportunities available to us as citizens, but increased population and jobs have helped the town grow in size and resources. As water has become scarce for agriculture, we can already see the strain it has put on our community. I see how signs are made and how rallies are put on to support water in agriculture. When a community has so much in common with AG it is hard to not band together to improve and maintain the industry. Agriculture is a lifeline, it provides jobs, it provides food and it provides infrastructure. This is what agriculture means to me; it means community, sustainability, and life.”

Susana Gamino, Firebaugh High School, University of California, Merced
The importance of agriculture, according to Susana: “The decrease in water puts at risk farm-related jobs as well as any job associated with water as an input of production. The value of water is undeniable. Not only for its use in agriculture to produce crops and raise livestock, but the immense opportunities it provides in the form of jobs; with a lack of water, a portion of those jobs are lost. My mother is a seasonal worker at a tomato processing company, her numbered days of work have been different these past few years due to the varying crop size yields of tomatoes. Her period of work limits the number of working hours she is able to service.”

Ruth Melchor, Firebaugh High School, California State University, Fresno
The importance of agriculture, according to Ruth: “Agriculture plays a big role in my life. My father has worked in the fields his entire life, since he came to the US. It’s the way he made a living for my family and I. Agriculture offered my father a way out and a new beginning. He was born and raised in Mexico, and at the age of 17 moved to the US with no idea of how he would survive. He made friends which introduced him to the field of agriculture. He started at the bottom and slowly started to climb to the top. I’m very proud of my father and grateful for the opportunities agriculture has brought us.”

Gabriella Costamagna, Sierra Pacific High School, College of the Sequoias
The importance of agriculture, according to Gabriella: “From starting from one person, to now my whole family contributes and pulls together on the “ranch”. It’s amazing if we look back to what we have become, which is an awesome team. The next generation of my family is me and my cousins. We work on the farm doing so many tasks. If I am not swimming, in marching band, or in other extracurricular activities after school, I work in the farm office filing and helping with paperwork, tagging cotton modules out in the fields, working in the cherry orchards, and as a tomato tagger during tomato season, which is hot during summer time. It’s exhausting but I love to contribute.”

Megan Bairstow, Sierra Pacific High School, Boise State University
The importance of agriculture, according to Megan: ”[My great grandfather] instilled in both my sister and me, a love for the land and an understanding of how important agriculture was in our family. Though my great grandfather passed away five years ago, those stories repeat in my head every time I drive through those streets that once contained his livelihood. Because of the stories that I grew up on when I started high school I knew I needed to be a part of FFA at my school. I became the Greenhand Secretary, and even joined judging teams, and showed animals at the local Kings County Fair. During my time on the judging teams, I had the opportunity to judge dairy cattle, and this experience strengthened my love for the town that I call home.”

Grace Kinney, Hanford High School, College of the Sequoias
The importance of agriculture, according to Grace: “California farmers help to produce food, which feeds not only our country but also the world. Water regulations in California are becoming more challenging and due to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, it looks like things are only going to become more challenging for farmers. Over the past two decades, farmers have implemented new irrigation methods to help conserve water throughout the Central Valley. However conservation can only go so far, and California politicians will need to address the California water infrastructure at some point so that all of California’s citizens have access to not only a clean reliable water source but also the opportunity to prosper.”

Jenna Bracy, Hanford High School, College of the Sequoias
The importance of agriculture, according to Jenna: “The realization of how valued every drop of water is, and the scientific processes that went into all aspects of the industry opened my eyes to a world I didn’t even know existed. This realization of the amazing world of agriculture led me to my efforts and aspiration of becoming an agriculture educator. The ag industry not only changed my plans for the future but also made me so much more appreciative of the commodities it provides. The industry encourages me to inspire others and advocate for our agriculturalists and the work they put in to provide for the population. Agriculture truly has affected my life in more ways than one and I can’t wait to inspire others and watch the influence the industry will have on them as well.”

Dylan McDonald, Lemoore High School, Minot State University
The importance of agriculture, according to Dylan: “There is always talk of the value of water when it comes to agriculture on the westside and in California in general. Many who do not live here or in places in California where agriculture is a way of life and essential do not see the impact. The effects of political actions are blinded by their lack of knowledge of the situation. People all over the world go to supermarkets and buy vegetables, fruit, clothing, milk, cheese, butter, meat, and numerous other items and none of this is possible without agriculture and water.”

Noah Noble, Lemoore High School, Pacific Union College
The importance of agriculture, according to Noah: “All things considered, it can clearly be seen that agricultural water use in both the state of California and the San Joaquin Valley is of the utmost importance. It has contributed vastly to the overall agricultural production within California and has supported many communities by providing open jobs, food, and clean consumable water. It is due to agricultural water that California’s economy has grown into a major agricultural industry throughout the entirety of the United States.”

Roberto Mendez, Mendota High School, University of California, Berkley
The importance of agriculture, according to Roberto: “Agriculture has been always been an outlet that migrant parents have relied on to feed their families. My family is one of these families who to this day, and since the day they immigrated to the Central Valley, have relied on the fields to feed me and my three other sisters. Each day I see the exhaustion on their face when they arrive from work. I know that this exhaustion is worth it to them because it allows their children a shot at a better life. Those hot abrasive fields have acted as a bridge for me to get to my destination of higher education, and because of this, I am very grateful to agriculture.”

Fatima Arellano, Mendota High School, Michigan State University
The importance of agriculture, according to Fatima: “I know I’m still just a 17 year-old girl, but this 17 year-old girl is worried about the future of these farming communities. That’s why I want to study agronomy at the University of Michigan to go back and help all the communities in the San Joaquin Valley, where thousands of working people live. These types of people are the ones who are most affected by the scarcity of water since agriculture is the basis of their lives. Mother nature and climate change have brought us the situation we have. And so the decisions you have to make have a very real impact on people.”

Yesenia Otero, Mendota High School, California State University, Fresno
The importance of agriculture, according to Yesenia: “In times of drought, it is very bad because [drought] decreases the number of crops that are produced to be consumed. Farmers tend to rely on underground water to be able to survive and keep the crops growing so that people can get their needs met.”

Adriana Rodriguez Gaytan, Riverdale High School, California State University, Fullerton
The importance of agriculture, according to Adriana: “I am glad to say that agriculture has affected me in a positive way by teaching me a lot: hard work, discipline, and many life skills. I learned the attitude and work ethic it takes to stay strong and not give up. That you must get up and work hard for what you want because nothing is free. The skills I have learned or improved on are something I will never forget and always cherish.”

Omar Duenaz Ferreyra, Riverdale High School, University of California, Merced
The importance of agriculture, according to Omar: “Working in fieldwork-related jobs should not be considered a bad thing. People who work in agriculture should be honored for the work they do. During the pandemic, no matter how bad things were, people still had to work hard for everyone to be able to eat. Many of the people I know who work in agriculture have stories of empowerment. They are some of the strongest people I know. The importance of agriculture is beyond what I can express.”

Ivan Serrano Velazquez, Tranquillity High School, California State University, Fresno
The importance of agriculture, according to Ivan: “I live in a small town in Fresno County called San Joaquin. Agriculture provides jobs for families, especially in the Central Valley. The most common jobs are related to agriculture. Both my parents would get up every morning at 5 am to get ready to earn money to provide food and other life essentials for my siblings and myself. I myself have worked sorting tomatoes to be able to buy myself clothes for school during the summer. Without agriculture, I wouldn’t be able to buy myself clothes for school. Agriculture surrounds everything since human life existed. Without agriculture we would not be standing here today.”

Diana Ramirez Montes de Oca, Tranquillity High School, University of California, Santa Cruz
The importance of agriculture, according to Diana: “Agricultural is more than just the “Practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products,” as stated by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Agriculture can also be, is also, a community. A community of people both young and old that come together to feed America, using traditional methods and embracing new ones. I am very blessed to be a part of this community thanks to the leadership organization known as the FFA (Future Farmers of America).”

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