At a time when budget cuts, invasive pests, government over-regulation and other issues threaten the region's fresh produce industry, helping to support a new generation of leaders is even more important. Hailing from California and Arizona, eight future leaders met for the Western Growers Future Volunteer Leaders Program in Irvine.
"It's important for us to tap into the younger generation of leaders so that we can help formulate the strategy for the association and the industry as a whole going forward," says Tom Deardorff, Western Growers chairman and president of Deardorff Family Farms in Oxnard. "The program will help us find out the needs and expectations of young leaders and where they see future opportunities."
The robust group of leaders ages 24 to 40 attended a two-day orientation session in WGA headquarters and will attend the quarterly board meetings hosted by Western Growers during the course of the year. Participants will have the opportunity to develop their understanding of the legislative process and how public policy issues affect their industry. During the second year of the program, the young leaders will travel to Sacramento or Phoenix to meet with state legislators and engage in political advocacy.
"Whether you realize it or not, so much of what happens in the halls of state and federal government impacts farmers and the fresh produce industry as a whole," says Dave Puglia, senior vice president of government affairs and communications for Western Growers. "A multitude of interests outside of agriculture are focused on shaping the laws affecting labor, water supply, environmental regulation, land use, food safety and many other issues. It is more important than ever for legislators and regulators to hear directly from the real experts, our farmers and the businesses they support. These future leaders are that next generation of voices."
Future leaders for this year's program include:
Michael Valpredo from Country Sweet Produce and Donald Valpredo Farms in Bakersfield
Derek Yurosek from Bolthouse Farms Inc. in Bakersfield
Garrett Patricio from Westside Produce in Firebaugh
Chelsea McClarty from HMC Group Marketing Inc. in Kingsburg
Ryan Van Groningen from Van Groningen & Sons Inc. in Manteca
David Dudley from Markon Cooperative in Salinas
Brett Hunt from Rousseau Farming Company in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Stephen Martori from Martori Farms in Scottsdale, Ariz.