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Trevor Airola: The Student Becomes the Teacher

Trevor with the first group of FFA students to go through the program While most 24-year-olds are out there finding themselves and considering their career options, Trevor Airola has already landed the job of his life and if everything works out for the young man, it will be the only position he will ever hold.

A former graduate of the nationally renowned Agriculture Program at Bret Harte Union High School in Angels Camp, CA, Airola has returned to become an instructor for the school’s Agriculture Department after graduating from California State University, Chico with a BS in Agricultural Science in 2013.

Carrie Phillips, one of Airola’s teachers at Bret Harte, now works with Trevor. She recognized his enthusiasm for this field almost immediately, so she is not surprised that he is back as an instructor. “Oh absolutely, his passion was evident right away and he wanted to learn as much as he could,” she said. “Under the mentoring of Roy Beck, our former director (now retired), Trevor has accumulated extensive knowledge and is always excited to share it with his students. I predict a great future for Trevor as a teacher and a leader here at Bret Harte.”

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There are three pathways that agriculture students can choose from at Bret Harte High School, including Agriculture Science, in which they learn about basic plant and animal science, California agriculture, citizenship and leadership. The second pathway is agricultural mechanics, where they can study about things such as welding, woodworking and fabrication, for example. And the third pathway offered by the department is the horticultural concentration, dealing with subjects like floral design and plant science. For all of their classes every Ag student receives UC/CSU A-G credits upon completion.

Agra Tech’s Jim Bergantz is known as the school’s “Green Father”, because he has helped the program in so many ways, Airola explained. “Jim Bergantz is a wonderful person, because he cares about the greenhouse industry and is willing to consult us on how to do things the right way. He showed us what to plant and how to market it. He provided us with a manual that clearly describes each step and we refer to it often. We re-did our irrigation, made the greenhouse virtually turnkey and made it ready for plants. Without Jim and Agra Tech, we would not be where we are now.”

When Airola needed assistance with a greenhouse retrofit at a previous school, he called Bergantz for help. “I told him, I am going to need to contact Agra Tech and I asked him does he know anyone there?” Well, Jim told me–‘I am your guy’. He had just been hired as a sales rep by Agra Tech and I thought–wow, this is cool! So, by working with Agra Tech and Jim, we got it done!”

The Ag Department at Bret Harte is considered by many to be one of the best in the country, with one-third of the school’s enrollment involved in one or more of the school’s three pathways. “I used to have to recruit students to enter this program back when I was a student myself or when I was working with the department while attending college,” Airola said. “But, now that I am here–all of my classes are full. We have no more room so we’re literally turning kids away.”

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Newly married and now poised to perform at a high level in the best job he’ll ever have, he explained, Airola is both grateful and hopeful. “Yes, this is a dream job and a special opportunity. If I can even come close to filling Mr. Beck’s shoes after three decades in this position, I will be very happy. Teaching kids to becoming better people and leaders while showing them how to produce food–that’s a big deal.”

As the greenhouse growing industry continues to gain momentum, Airola believes that his students will be in a good position when they graduate from one of the pathways offered at Bret Harte. “There is a huge need for people who know how to manage greenhouses, so our graduates will be in demand. There are opportunities for college scholarships and so many other options for them to choose from. It is an exciting time in this industry, because of the technology and how it is changing all the time.”

So, in 30 years, when greenhouses produce a new crop every week and students drive autonomous cars to and from their personal greenhouses, will Trevor still be there showing them the way? “I sure hope so,” he said. “This is my hometown and I would really love to stay here for many, many years. As my students get out there in the industry, I am hoping that some of them too will come back and help us in some capacity, which would be great.”

Written by: Edmund Attanasio
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California Berry Cultivars is a World-Class “Strawberry Start-Up”

Agra Tech Solar Light 30 x 60' long with Benches, a Roof Vent for natural ventilation, Fan & Pad cooling, Heating, and Energy Saving Shade Curtains.

Agra Tech Solar Light 30 x 60′ long with Benches, a Roof Vent for natural ventilation, Fan & Pad cooling, Heating, and Energy Saving Shade Curtains.

To develop the strawberries of the future with all of the attributes that a strawberry lover covets–such as sugar content, juiciness and that perfect texture–California Berry Cultivars (CBC) in Oxnard, CA is using cutting-edge technology to create amazing strawberries. And that’s why they recently purchased a 1,800 square foot Solar Light greenhouse from Agra Tech, commercial greenhouse manufacturer. CBC has been using this greenhouse since mid-2016 to achieve their pursuit of the ultimate strawberry.image010

CBC’s Project Leader Kyle VandenLangenberg, 32, has a PhD in Horticulture and his role in the company is to successfully complete its mission of developing and releasing new varieties (or cultivars) for strawberry growers through the process of plant breeding. This involves crossing unique things together to create unique combinations. By testing literally thousands of different types of strawberries produced from dozens of different cross combinations and whittling the number down to less than a handful, VandenLangenberg is able to find the best-of-the-best while discarding the rest, he explained.

“We’re taking a ‘shotgun’ approach in order to find that one type of strawberry that will possess all of the qualities we’re looking for,” VandenLangenberg said. “We run these large numbers in order to find a strawberry plant that is hopefully superior over the previous ones and that is why we’re using this Agra Tech greenhouse. It’s an environment that is very conducive to growing mother plants and monitoring pollen production as well as germinating the seeds we produce in order to grow seedlings. Strawberry plants are extremely delicate, especially when they’re very young, so we need a sophisticated structure like this greenhouse to do all of our work the right way.”

When the strawberry plants are babies (less than a 1/2 centimeter wide), they’re called “germinates” and extremely sensitive to the temperature, humidity, and moisture content of the growing medium they’re in. This is a very crucial time in their lives and that’s why CBC needs a greenhouse that can protect them during this stage.image005

“We need complete environmental control and when you lose that, things can really go wrong,” VandenLangenberg said. “You can get disease outbreaks, slow growth or growth that is too rapid and time is everything when it comes to strawberries. We have to germinate on a specific day and we need to see a certain amount of growth by the time we take them out of the greenhouse and plant them in the ground. It’s a balancing act all the time in this business.

You can’t afford to cut corners or make a mistake when you’re trying to create the greatest and latest strawberries of the world, VandenLangenberg said.  “Strawberries are a crop where the errors of the past will haunt you in the future and that’s why this greenhouse is such an important part of what we’re doing here. If the early steps that we take in the greenhouse are done incorrectly we will pay down the road, so we have to get it right the first time if we’re going to succeed. Because the development time for new cultivars is between 6 to 10 years, mistakes earlier on could really set us back. So, creating an environment that we can completely control and rely on is a must.”

CBC’s busy schedule will keep their Agra Tech greenhouse busy 10 months out of the year. The company’s cross-breeding is performed in the winter months, followed by a rolling seed collection process through the spring. After a quick clean and turn-around they switch gears and begin germinating in July and grow their transplants for the next two months. CBC will produce roughly 100,000-plus seeds and thousands of transplants every year, according to VandenLangenberg.

Working with Agra Tech to get a greenhouse that would fit their needs, specifically, was a huge step, VandenLangenberg explained. “We realized early on in the process that we needed a top-end greenhouse and that’s what we have. We’re a small startup company so value was a major factor and we looked at a wide range of options before selecting Agra Tech. Kira Construction built the greenhouse based on Agra Tech’s recommendations and it was completed right on time.”

In order to set themselves up for a bright future, VandenLangenberg and his team worked closely with their Agra Tech’s sales engineer Jim Bergantz. “We started the conversation with Agra Tech back in 2015 and were immediately impressed by Jim Bergantz for his knowledge about the industry. We sat down and put together a plan that had everything we needed. The service that Jim provided was great and he really worked with us to get it done. There are two departments within the greenhouse, separated by a custom designed inner-wall, allowing us to run two separate environments exactly the way we want it.”

Now that CBC’s Agra Tech greenhouse is up and running VandenLangenberg is confident that he made the right decision by going with Agra Tech, he said. “There’s a bunch of plants in there right now and they’re doing well, so yes–I am happy about our decision to go with Agra Tech and we hope to work with them more in the future as our business grows.”

Article by Edmund Attanasio

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Agra Tech Solar Light 30′ x 60′

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Completed greenhouse showing screen boxes over the exhaust fans

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Construction meeting

Dave Wilson Nursery Builds Large Greenhouse Manufactured by Agra Tech, Inc.

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To increase its capacity for growing rootstock, as well as extend the growing season, Dave Wilson Nursery Inc. is working with Agra Tech, Inc. to design and build a standalone 150,000 sq. ft. greenhouse facility with a wide range of cutting-edge features throughout. For the commercial side of Dave Wilson Nursery, this addition is part of a two-stage expansion plan, with another 75,000-sq. ft. addition anticipated to take place sometime next year.

Mike Farris, Greenhouse Manager at Dave Wilson Nursery Inc., has overseen this construction project and is confident in its successful completion as well as its tremendous benefit to DWN’s production process. The greenhouse expansion was designed and manufactured by Agra Tech, Inc. of Pittsburg, CA and assembled by Ag-Con Construction of San Jose, CA.

“This expansion will facilitate the increased production of almond trees on hybrid rootstock for our commercial market,” Farris said, “which is the driving force behind this recent expansion.”

The expansion not only provides for increased production but does so with great efficiency and labor saving,” Farris said. Phase one’s capacity is 2 million plant starts. Phase two equals that capacity or it will hold 257,000 finished stock in 100mm x 200mm Elle Pots ©.”

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Ag Con foreman working with the customer

Integrated into this greenhouse expansion are a wide range of additional features. According to Farris, these include Agra Tech’s line of mobile trays, under-bench heating, Cherry Creek’s traveling water booms and a secondary overhead heating system, all controlled with a Hortamax control system. The addition of insect screen will facilitate improved plant health and vigor.

Ray Pound is the owner of Ag-Con Construction, a company that has built literally hundreds of greenhouses over the years. Large greenhouse operations call upon Pound frequently to get their greenhouses built on deadline and without complications, because Ag-Con knows how to build even the most complex greenhouses.

Pound has worked on a series of small projects with Dave Wilson Nursery in the past and that’s why he is pleased to be involved in the company’s big project. “The people at Dave Wilson Nursery are great to work with, so when I first found out about this project, we were really excited,” Ray Pound said. “This greenhouse is state-of-the-art throughout and David Wilson Nursery is going to be doing some amazing things in this greenhouse with almond trees. It is going to play an important role within the company, so getting it up-and-running by December is huge.”

With a crew of 11 working day and night to reach the greenhouse’s deadline, Pound is fast tracking everything to make the December date. “I have an excellent crew and by working with Mike Farris, we are really stepping up on this job,” Ray Pound said. “This is a dream project, because it is innovative in many ways and Mike Farris is great to work with. I was involved in several aspects of the greenhouse’s design and offered advice during the planning stage. This is a step into the big-time with all of the companies that worked on this greenhouse, so we’re anxious to be able to see it in action. The design stages on this project started in July of 2015 and on December 1st, we will be up-and-running with this greenhouse and all of its features.”

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Ag Con Construction crew at work on the Shade Curtain

Dave Wilson Nursery grows trees for commercial orchards as well as for home garden centers nationwide, offering a complete line of deciduous fruit, nut and shade trees for the home garden trade. Established by Dave Wilson in 1938 on a tiny parcel of land that he rented near Modesto, California, Dave Wilson Nursery has established a great track record for being one of the largest growers of deciduous fruit, nut and shade trees in the entire country. By changing with the times and embracing the newest technology available, Dave Wilson Nursery has grown exponentially over the past 78 years. Tom Spellman, the company’s southwestern U.S sales manager, has an office in Upland, CA.

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View from headhouse into the Solar Light 42 greenhouses

With 11 years of experience managing greenhouses, Farris knows the ins and outs of designing and building growing structures of all types and that’s why he is happy to be working with a company like Agra Tech. “We have worked with Agra Tech and Ag-Con previously, so we’re very comfortable with both companies and know we’ll be getting some of the best service available,” Farris explained. “In fact, Agra Tech has built all of the greenhouses we have here currently, except for the original one that was built back in the 1940s. Working with the Pound family and Jim Bergantz our ATI rep, not to mention all of the amazing folks in their office–it is great to be working with some of the finest and smartest people in the industry today.”

Article by Edmund Attanasio

Solar Light 48 Headhouse

Solar Light 48 Headhouse

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Solar Light 42 nearly completed