by Gloria Welton
Carleigh MacLeod from Kinkora and Jillian Ferguson from Spring Valley have started their career path towards a career in agriculture, a direction which totally took them by surprise.
A high school program called genAG opened their minds to a whole new world of opportunity. This unique career exploration program inspires high school students to consider a future in agriculture and food.
“When you realize all the hands that help put food on your plate, it can be eye opening,” says Carleigh. “There are farmers, veterinarians, agronomists, nutritionists, soil health specialists, salespersons, communications, and many more. We discovered there really is something for everyone.”
Through genAG, Carleigh and Jillian say they learned so much about working in agriculture and what it takes to move products from the field to our plates. This experience gave them a plan for their post-secondary education and a start on a career path they are passionate about.
Carleigh grew up surrounded by agriculture but did not live on a farm herself. In high school she considered a career in healthcare, but changed her plans after meeting some people who worked in agriculture and marketing.
After graduating high school, she got a summer job with Farm Food Care PEI. “At that point, I knew what I wanted to do. I switched my post-secondary goal to business with marketing and communications in mind.”
She is now a third-year business student at UPEI and works for the East Prince Agri-Environment Association, which represents 15 farms working to improve environmental practices in agriculture on the Island. The job keeps her connected to employment in her chosen field.
“Every time I say yes to an opportunity, something good has come out of it. I said yes to the genAG program and it set me on an amazing career path. By giving it a chance, I discovered what to study and where I want to work.”
Carleigh encourages students to have an open mind and say yes to opportunities that provides information and experiences that can help determine their future. “If you have a chance to take a genAG program, go for it — you won’t be disappointed.”
“When I started grade 12, I did not have a career plan whatsoever,” says Jillian. “I was interested in sciences and was considering becoming a veterinarian or physiotherapist, but I wasn’t sure.
“I was actually enrolled in a physics class but I switched to agri-science, which introduced me to the genAG program.
“I would urge anyone in high school to take a risk by exploring options because it pays off. I discovered something I really want to get into where I can see a future for myself.”
She is now in her third year of an Environmental Science degree at Dalhousie Agriculture Campus in Nova Scotia. “Being on an agriculture campus, I can see that we are the up and coming future for farming. The world is ever-changing, and science estimates that we will need to feed 9 billion people by 2050 – in our lifetime!”
“Here, I am surrounded by others with a strong interest in agriculture and I am able to take courses with a focus on plants and animals. I am enjoying the agronomy side of things so I will see where that leads me. I am also interested in the science and technology of producing and using plants in agriculture for food, fuel, fiber, and land restoration.
“I am very confident that there is a good future in agriculture. It is PEI’s number one industry, and you do not have to grow up in it to be involved. I have found the farming community to be very welcoming and open and it is a piece of the puzzle when exploring a career path.”
Continuing to spread the word about careers in agriculture
When Carleigh and Jillian were a part of a genAG program in grade 12, they won a provincial award for a social media page they created called Ag in the Field.
They say being involved in the genAG program changed their career paths, which has changed their lives, and they have continued the Facebook and Instagram page to help others realize career opportunities in agriculture.
“While resource pressures, technological limitations, and public misconceptions continue to push our farmers, we need more skilled people than ever in agriculture to meet the demands of modern society,” one of their Facebook posts reads.
Carleigh and Jillian are showing others how that can be accomplished.