Hands-on learning with I-CAL

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By Adrienne Bradley

Prior to attending the International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership Conference in 2011 to Panama and Colombia, I was undecided on my future career. Here is what I did know: I had a passion for agriculture; as a freshman in college, I wanted to see the world; and most importantly, I needed to live with purpose. I entered college determined to take advantage of every opportunity that would allow me to grow personally and professionally, and I-CAL was one of those opportunities I could not pass up. The vision for the I-CAL program is to provide students with the opportunity to learn about how the global marketplace affects American agriculture, and part of the program’s mission is to educate students about the career and leadership opportunities in international agriculture. It is without a doubt that I-CAL held true to its mission and ultimately shaped my career aspirations.

I am a firm believer in education outside of the classroom, which is why I-CAL taught me more about international agriculture and the global marketplace than anything I could have learned in a lecture hall. Don’t get me wrong, I love my coursework in agricultural economics at the University of California, Davis and am honored to be educated by professors who are world-renowned for their work in agriculture. However, there is a big difference between bullet points on a PowerPoint describing the threats facing agriculture in developing countries and hearing firsthand the testimonies of farmers who suffer from a lack of property rights, government policy or other threats.

The 2011 I-CAL program took place prior to the passage of the free trade agreements with Panama and Colombia, which meant our group had the exclusive opportunity to witness how the passage of free trade agreements with the United States would affect various producers in both countries. Instead of reading congressional reports or viewing news stories on the topic, our group was hearing firsthand from agriculturalists why free trade would benefit their operations. The experience made me feel a part of something much greater than myself, my community and even my home state of California where agriculture is so diverse and abundant.

In addition to seeing the Panama Canal for the first time and spending a day in the life of a Panamanian agricultural education student, perhaps one of the greatest highlights was meeting Jesus Armenteros, a rural poultry farmer. Jesus traveled to Davis, Calif., in high school, became an FFA member and even graduated from the University of California, Davis. He then returned to Panama to apply what he had learned in college and become the most successful farmer in his area. It was amazing to see the sustainable agricultural practices I was learning about in my coursework applied economically and successfully in a developing country.

I-CAL was culturally enlightening, extremely educational, and overall, a fun experience. Of everything I took away from the program, however, I can attest my current career aspirations to I-CAL. The industry visits in foreign countries and corresponding analyses of international markets validated my interest in pursuing an international agriculture career. I am passionate about feeding the world, but I understand that in order to accomplish that great feat, we must first fight the challenges on the U.S. home front. My international experience in I-CAL was also instrumental in achieving my position as an international marketing intern for the Western U.S. Agricultural Trade Association. I worked for a year in the executive office at the California Department of Food and Agriculture on international trade programs and events. This internship was based on helping small- to medium-sized businesses get involved in exporting as part of President Obama’s National Export Initiative and as an effort to increase jobs in the United States. I-CAL gave me a jump-start on my career, and I plan to continue taking advantage of every opportunity to learn about the many facets of international agriculture.

To learn more about I-CAL, click here.

Adrienne Bradley is an international relations/marketing major at the University of California, Davis