In this series, learn more about the 18 recipients of the Irrigation Association’s 2022 Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra Scholarship Program sponsored by Rain Bird, given to college students studying and pursuing careers in the irrigation field.
The scholarships, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000, were awarded based on the candidate’s letter of intent, financial need, resume, list of irrigation courses and letters of reference.
Since the program’s inception in 2016, 107 students have been awarded scholarships.
It was my grandmother who introduced me to agriculture through her cooking. My grandmother Gladys used to wake up every Dec. 31 at 6 a.m. to prepare her tamales. We bought the ingredients in the marketplace El Salado in Tolima, Colombia. And in our sack, we packed grapes, pork, corn arepas, banana leaves and the rose water with which we bathed to be able to fulfill the wishes of the new year.
Therefore, the closest thing that enabled me to develop my connection with agriculture was gastronomy and wines around the world. I started working as a pastry chef in a Michelin star restaurant, and I focused on creating recipes with fresh ingredients that I got from Union Square Greenmarket in New York City. I had the incredible opportunity to meet farmers, fishermen, bakers and people who were coming from all over the United States with a bountiful and astoundingly diverse array of fresh foods.
When I started to study my certifications in London at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, I wanted to take my knowledge to the next level and further my studies in enology and viticulture at Walla Walla Community College.
Learning about viticulture and experiencing grape harvest at Walla Walla Community College has provided me with an incredible relationship with Mother Nature and the dynamic between farming and winemaking. Understanding this symbiosis is something that motivates me to continue pursuing a wine career as my life’s passion. I want to further my wine knowledge, and my diverse interests include investigating solutions that keep our agricultural fields healthy, studying the science of soils, designing efficient irrigation systems and studying cultivated plants thoroughly, such as the importance of organic matter for sustainable vineyard practices.
I started getting closer to agriculture when I started taking my favorite soil science class with Matt Williams, the division chair of agriculture programs and instructor of plant and soil science at Walla Walla. We went out to the field and studied the history of the soil, weed management, soil fertility and the maintenance of wine grapes.
Last spring, I enjoyed planting more than 100 seeds in my garden. I loved spending time outdoors and being able to eat and cook with fresh ingredients. One of my favorite vegetables was snake beans; they really look like snakes, and they taste like peanut butter to me!
I am also a volunteer for Lewis Peak Experimental Vineyard with Dean Richards. I have helped him to maintain his vines at the high altitude of the beautiful Blue Mountains. We
added some organic compost last winter to protect the young vines from the winter, and we were pruning vines this year.
I am also looking forward to doing my first internship at L’Ecole No. 41, a winery in Washington, with winemaker Marcus Rafanelli and his whole production team.
One of my personal accomplishments came with receiving a 2022 Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra Scholarship, which is going to help me achieve my degree in enology and viticulture.
On the other hand, I had the opportunity to do my first harvest a year ago in the Myles Anderson and Stan Clarke vineyards, where I carefully picked our merlot grapes and made my first wine! A major accomplishment for me has been the opportunity to understand the interaction between the science of grape growing and the chemistry behind winemaking processes. Now, I have two neutral barrels and four different, new French oak barrels at the College Cellars of Walla Walla that come from four different forests in France – all of them have a distinctive taste! I am looking forward to continuing to study about the selected forest terroirs adapted to each grape cultivar.
I am preparing for a wine career which marries the artistry of winemaking and viticulture.
Irrigation to me means life. A smart irrigation system focuses on the conservation of water on the planet. Irrigation gives us better control of water that is placed in the field, helping farmers to maintain diverse types of crops.
In my irrigation class, we have been working on designing our own efficient and uniform systems that prepare us for the changing future and securing the future for our next generation. Efficient irrigation benefits the economy, the farmers and environment.
I originally got involved with agriculture when I was in high school. I would work in the fields during the summers moving irrigation pipes from trailers and setting them up in the field. I then moved on to the installation of irrigation systems for side money. I have been installing irrigation systems on the side ever since then. People will pay good money for the installation, and that is what got me involved in the irrigation game.
I am currently involved in the Plant Science Club at CSU, Fresno, and help with irrigation and repairing drip lines. I also have a personal farm that I co-operate with my partner where we are trying to implement different irrigation systems for multiple types of crops.
I would have to say that I have a few “proud” moments. At 18, I re-did an irrigation system at my mother’s house and increased water use efficiency by 20%. Before doing that, I successfully installed 1,000 square feet of turf for her backyard. Doing this job helped open the door to many freelance opportunities thereafter. In the agricultural field, I helped an old employer design an irrigation system for a 2-acre piece of land with different water use requirements. Using the total dynamic head, we were able to size the perfect size pump and main pipe manifold to reach peak performance. Just recently, I was a winner of the Irrigation Association’s 2021 Irrigation E3 Program.
I am working towards becoming an agronomist, because I want to continue to feed the people of the world so they can continue to pursue their ambitions and dreams. I want to give back to this planet that we call home.
Smart irrigation means the active participation in the advancement and reformation of irrigation practices that will lead to a plentiful harvest, food security, better water use efficiency, better stewardship of our riparian zones and aquifers, and an overall appreciation of the one element that is essential for all life in the cosmos: water.
Read about the other 2022 LaFetra Scholarship winners.
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