LIVINGSTON -- Amarpreet Kandola fondly remembers his childhood years, helping the family farm with lines of crops around Atwater and Livingston.
First it was peaches, then almonds, then sweet potatoes, an annual rotation of hard work, bright sunsets and colorful crops.
Now the 21-year-old agricultural business student at California State University, Stanislaus, is thinking about the future.
Last month, Kandola was selected to represent the university at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2010 Agricultural Outlook Forum, a two-day conference in Arlington, Va. about sustainable agriculture.
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Kandola, who lives in Livingston with his family and goes by "Pete" among friends, was chosen from a nationwide field of entrants to participate in the highly regarded event.
His trip to the forum will be his first excursion east of the Rockies, Kandola said.
Student participants for the forum were selected based on recommendations from their university and a one-page essay about agriculture as a career. The event will include issues such as rural communities, nutrition, sustainable agriculture, conservation, and food safety and security.
The USDA has held the Outlook Forum since 1923 to provide farmers and ranchers, government and agribusinesses with sound information for decision-making.
Kandola was thrilled when he was invited to attend.
"I had 10 different versions of the essay on my laptop. When I turned in my essay, I thought hopefully that I gave them the right one," he said recently. "Then I got picked, so I must have sent the right one."
Wants to help family farm
Kandola said he's excited to attend the forum because one of his career goals is to work for the USDA. He wants to use the opportunity to learn about national policy issues, but also to look for technological advances that will help the family farm.
The 400-acre family farm was started by his father more than 20 years ago. Kandola's parents are from India, and the family speaks Punjabi at home. Kandola is learning Spanish to communicate better with many of his family's employees.
His all-around tenacity comes as no surprise to his professors.
"We're very proud of him," said Professor Mark Bender. "He's just a bright, always friendly young man."
Bender, who's also the head of the agricultural education program at CSUS, said Kandola is a very active student.
"He's involved in everything; he is energetic, he volunteers readily," Bender said. "He's great for our program."
Kandola has enrolled in agriculture leadership classes, helped with toy and food drives and become a member of the department's student government.
Even so, Kandola admits that life on the farm -- and an education in agriculture -- had lost its luster a few years ago, when he was a teenager. He started college as a business major, then switched to ag classes in the fall. Now he attends Merced College on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and CSUS on Monday and Tuesday nights.
Some of his classes can be five hours long. His favorites are plant science courses.
Back in the fields, Kandola thinks almond farming is easy, and likes to harvest peaches the most. (They're his favorite food to eat, after all).
He'll leave for the forum next week.
"I'm excited," he said. "The farthest east I've ever been is Texas. I can't wait."
This is one young man you can keep down on the farm after he's seen the big time.