At that moment, the Stan State senior realized he wasn’t in Turlock anymore.
“When I got there I noticed right away how different it was,” said Zavala, a first-generation college student majoring in agriculture studies. “When we landed, we could see the monuments, and I’d only ever seen them on TV and in books.”
It was the first time Zavala’s eyes were opened during his five-day trip to Washington as part of the USDA’s Agriculture Outlook Forum, which annually selects 30 students from across the country for the all-expenses-paid experience.
The USDA selects the students via an essay contest, and Zavala was one of two students selected by Stan State professors to have their essays submitted to the USDA.
“I just wrote the essay and I didn’t hear anything for a while,” said the graduate of Modesto’s Johansen High School. “But I had a good semester, taking 17 units and giving some good presentations. I think that helped me because I’m sure they looked at more than the essay when they decided which students to nominate.”
The rules called for a personal essay on agriculture, including experiences in the field and how the writer sees his or her role in agriculture in the future. Zavala chose to write about his family in southern Mexico.
“My whole family worked in agriculture, on family ranches in southern Mexico, and they had a great life on that land,” he said. “My family brought me to Modesto when I was 5 or 6 and I lost out on having that experience. I only heard about it. I still go and help my grandfather during the seasons. It’s hard work and can put you in a bad mood and make your back hurt. On the other hand, the way those ranches are set-up, your whole family is there — all my uncles and cousins and grandparents. Now we’re all over the place.”
During his D.C. visit, in addition to visiting the monuments he’d seen from the air, Zavala also met with USDA policy-makers and other officials.
“Meeting with the USDA folks and listening to them made me realize how important agriculture is as an industry and how important it is for young people to get involved,” Zavala said. “This was a great opportunity and experience. It was worth it because of the networking you get to do and everything you get to see.”