Rodrigo Bonilla didn’t grow up with a positive outlook on agriculture.
“My parents made me work in the orchards at an early age,” said Bonilla, who will graduate from Washington State in May with degrees in agriculture food systems, economics, and Spanish. “I didn’t want to wake up at 4 a.m. to work, but my parents made sure to tell me that this was why I needed to stay in school.”
So Bonilla, who was born in Mexico but grew up in Prosser, had no desire to pursue a career in agriculture. At least, not until he took a horticulture class in high school and his teacher convinced him to join the Future Farmers of America.
“I learned how important agriculture is to society,” he said. “Now, my dream is to one day work for the USDA in their Foreign Agricultural Service division.”
Bonilla was able to meet first-hand with USDA officials last month as one of 20 undergraduate students from around the nation invited to the USDA’s Agriculture Outlook Forum Student Diversity Program in Washington, D.C.
At the forum, he had the opportunity to meet and speak with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and he came away inspired.
“It was eye-opening,” Bonilla said. “Secretary Vilsack emphasized the importance of food waste, which isn’t something I’ve ever thought about before. And it’s huge problem.”
Bonilla hopes to learn more about food waste and other agriculture challenges by going to graduate school next fall. He’s applied to eight different universities with the help and support of the McNair Achievement Program and has been accepted at four schools already.
“Working with other countries to develop their agriculture economics systems, to make them sustainable — that’s my dream,” Bonilla said. “Going to Washington only fueled that desire and made me more passionate.”