Klamath Falls, Ore., is in the same position as many rural communities in the West — too few opportunities to keep young people from running off to the city.
Also like most communities, farmers and agribusiness owners in the Klamath Basin hope to pass on local agriculture to future generations. But in Klamath Falls, they’re doing something about it and their example is worth other towns with similar resources emulating.
Klamath Community College has an agricultural sciences program that offers classes that can go toward a bachelor’s degree from Oregon State University.
The program boasts equipment that would make many four-year universities jealous. Its chemistry and biology labs have such equipment as a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry device for identifying different substances within a test sample. There’s an atomic absorption monitor and a DNA synthesizer.
The 21-year-old campus also offers support for students who are finishing their degrees at OSU online.
“Studies have shown there’s a probability of kids staying in the community if they graduate (from college) in that community,” said Keith Duren, who leads KCC’s ag program. “We’re going to die if we don’t have that next generation.”
Despite decades of disputes over water in the basin, there are still ample opportunities for young people to get into the area’s $300 million ag industry. Efforts by the college and growers to introduce both the community and high school students to the opportunities that exist at home appear to be paying off.
“There’s been a concern for years about kids who go off to college not coming home,” said Scott White, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association. “But there’s been a change. Some of the kids are wanting to stay. ... It’s a pretty exciting thing.”