KINGSBURG – With a snip here and a snip there, Jasleen Sihota, Alicia Aguirre, Emily Rocha and Zoya Sihota got to work taming overgrown grapevines in a vineyard near Highway 43.

“One of the three main principles of pruning is maintaining the shape of the vine,” Jasleen Sihota said. “You want to bring it back down as close as you can to the trunk of the vine. So I’m going to cut this one off.”

Jasleen Sihota, 17, a senior, is one of the Kingsburg High’s vine-pruning Team A members. The school recently hosted its first vine-pruning competition.

To demonstrate how they competed, the team members eyed the plants considering the cuts already in place and how they wanted the vines to grow in the future.

Jasleen Sihota explained step by step how they sized up the plant and then explained their decisions to judges during their school’s Jan. 20 competition.

“You start at the end of the cordon [or arm] on one vine and you work your way back into the crotch of the vine,” Jasleen Sihota said snipping carefully.

“You want [table grapes] to be eye appealing for people who are going to eat it at the store,” she said, continuing to make more cuts. “You only want to leave one spur per arm because you don’t want your fruit to bunch up and you want to distribute the carbohydrates from the vine properly.”

Aside from being judged on their cutting skills, the students are judged on how well they defend their decisions and their speaking skills.

West Valley High took first place at this event. Although Kingsburg High may not have placed in the top five this time, the students say the lessons they’re learning now will pay off in many aspects of their futures.

“The skills you pick up, like justifying a lot of your pruning decisions, can be applied to other parts of your life,” said Aguirre 17, a senior.

Kingsburg High hosted 22 teams for this first-ever vine-pruning competition on Jan. 20 where 111 contestants took part, ag teacher Natalie Sanchez said.

“This was the first time we have ever hosted a contest this big. It really was a huge success.”

Students first took a written exam and then participated in spur pruning and cane pruning events.

“The students have to prune three vines in each class, so there are a total of nine vines in a contest,” Sanchez said of the skills portion. Students had eight minutes to prune two vines alone and then the third vine is pruned in front of a judge. After the pruning rotations were done, the contestants came back to the high school for lunch and awards.

The Vikings say being involved in FFA is teaching them to set their own goals, learn about ag policies and be more aware of food-production in the San Joaquin Valley.

“I think the challenging part is finding room to grow,” Aguirre said of being in FFA. “We’ve all been doing this together for so long. I think we have to get harder on each other and critique ourselves more. As far as the contest goes, I’d say the hardest part is finishing within the time limit. You have to be efficient, as well as thorough, so managing your time and being precise on our cuts is key.”

The team’s most recent contest was the winter state finals on Feb. 3 at California State University, Fresno. Sanchez said she hopes the students take advantage of the endless opportunities available through the FFA program.

“Our program really focuses on developing young students for the real world by working with them on developing their public speaking skills, organizational skills, group working skills and overall, becoming the best version of themselves. I hope that students can take these skills that they learn in FFA and use it in their future endeavors.”

For this team, those future goals run the gamut from law to graphic design.

Jasleen Sihota is thinking of a career in law, thus the speaking skills she’s learning now will come in handy later.

Aguirre said she prefers political science and may run for public office someday. She’ll likely take her FFA experience with her when it comes time to making public policy decisions.

“I think consumer awareness is important. People shouldn’t just look at the food in the grocery store, but realize where it comes from and know the work it takes to get the food on your table.”

Rocha has been on the vine pruning team for three years now. When she started in FFA as a freshman, she had a career goal of becoming a crop scientist. Her interests are veering more toward graphic design now, but she still says being on the team has been invaluable.

“This is a good competition to be in. They make it fun,” Rocha said of her teammates.

Zoya Sihota’s goal is to become a criminal defense attorney or a prosecutor. Even then, her ag research skills will pay off.

“I encourage people to get more aware about all the work that goes into owning a farm and keeping it up. Farmers are dealing with all the immigration and water policies and all those things. I just encourage people to research about the work that farmers, especially around here, do.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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