Date: May 14, 2021
Magazine:
May/June 2021

Nike and its iconic swoosh. Jeff Bezos and his trillion-dollar Amazon. McDonald’s and those famous golden arches.

When thinking of successful companies, their logos, taglines, owners’ names and key products are the first to spring to mind. Often understated, however, are the hardworking individuals who quietly work backstage to innovate new products, cultivate relationships with customers and develop streamlined procedures to ensure that the business runs efficiently day in and day out.

In 2019, 22.2 million full- and part-time jobs were related to the agricultural and food sectors across the United States. Direct on-farm employment accounted for about 2.6 million of these jobs. Among these millions are the behind-the-scenes champions of the family farms that produce safe, nutritious and high-quality food for the nation and world.

They are the scientists who think outside the box to develop new seed varieties. They are the farm managers who implement groundbreaking ideas to increase operational efficiency. They are the technologists who launch new ventures to keep the farm at the forefront of innovation.

Here are a few of the faces—with their inside industry knowledge, business savvy, talent for achieving greatness, drive for going above and beyond and leadership in mentoring others—that make success possible at farms across California, Arizona and Colorado.

........................................................................................................................................................................

50-Year Leader: John Burton

Company: Peter Rabbit Farms (Coachella, California)

Role: General Manager of Sales and Cooler (retired)

Snapshot: From loading railcars with 75-pound bags of carrots to running the third-largest fresh carrot packing facility in the nation, John Burton’s 50-plus year career at Peter Rabbit Farms is a true demonstration of his unwavering loyalty and devotion to the company and industry. Burton retired from Peter Rabbit Farms at the end of January 2021.

John’s Greatest Accomplishment: “After 30 years in the plant, John Powell Sr. asked me in 1999 to come work in the sales office. This was a big change for me and my family, and, as it turned out, the best decision I ever made. The change allowed me to learn a new area of the produce business and meet many new and wonderful people.”

........................................................................................................................................................................

Food Safety Genius: Cynthia DeNardo

Company: Petrocco Farms (Brighton, Colorado)

Title: Director of Food Safety

Snapshot: Joining the Petrocco Farms team in late 2018, Cynthia plays a key role in leading the company’s food safety initiatives. She takes tremendous pride in helping Petrocco Farms deliver quality, fresh and safe products, and her expertise has guided the farm through food safety rules and stringent compliance rules.

The Latest on Cynthia: “I am proud to be serving as a board member for Salud Family Health Centers to support migrant farmworkers and the underserved in our community. I am also currently pursuing a doctor of management degree with a concentration in environmental and social sustainability.”

Cynthia’s Favorite Part About the Job: “There are always new challenges and new opportunities for learning, and I have amazing coworkers!”

........................................................................................................................................................................

Blueberry Breeder Extraordinaire: Jessica Gilbert

Company: Driscoll’s (Watsonville, California)

Role: Molecular Blueberry Breeder

Snapshot: For the past 5 ½ years, Jessica Gilbert has helped Driscoll’s efficiently breed the best berries using a combination of traditional and molecular techniques. As the molecular blueberry breeder, she designs trials to determine the genetic basis of blueberry traits important to Driscoll’s breeding program, such as flavor, texture, color, disease resistance and stress tolerance. Fun fact: she also has a passion for using wild species to incorporate genetic diversity and novel traits into Driscoll’s blueberry populations.

Jessica’s Favorite Part About the Job:My favorite part about being a blueberry breeder at Driscoll’s has been the opportunity to collaborate with so many smart, fun, helpful scientists to work on creative strategies to improve blueberries across the globe. My biggest accomplishments have been as part of the team to discover and develop our blueberry program’s very first molecular markers, and in deploying those markers to screen thousands of seedlings for better tasting blueberries!”

........................................................................................................................................................................

Ranch Master: Bartt Ries

Company: Vessey & Company, Inc. (Holtville, California)

Title: Ranch Manager

Snapshot: For nearly 25 years, Bartt Ries has worked closely alongside the Vessey family to propel Vessey & Company into a premier vegetable operation in the Imperial Valley. He has taken a proactive, data-driven approach to ranch management, continuously discovering and implementing cutting-edge technologies to streamline planting efficiencies. As the farm’s chief expert on soil health, he has mastered risk mitigation to ensure healthy crops and profitability.

Bartt’s Favorite Part About the Job: “My favorite part of the job is the camaraderie. Everyone has a common goal, and it is rewarding to achieve those goals and meet our numbers for production. At the end of the deal, you end up producing this beautiful crop and it’s very rewarding because it takes that team effort—all of which speaks volumes about the team.”

Bartt’s Big Win: “I appreciate having the freedom to be able to control all aspects of production without anyone looking over my shoulder and second-guessing me. The team has total confidence in me and being able to have full rein as far as production goes is something I truly value.”

........................................................................................................................................................................

Spray Savvy: Martha Ryan-Castro

Company: JV Smith Companies (Yuma, Arizona)

Title: Manager of the Spray Department

Snapshot: Born and raised in Yuma, AZ, Martha Ryan-Castro was introduced to agriculture at a young age by her dad. As a teen, she would go into the fields with her father and quickly became an expert at cutting and harvesting romaine. Nearly a decade later, Martha has applied her knowledge and passion for ag to now skillfully manage the spray department for JV Farms. Martha looks forward to a lifelong career in ag and continues to share her journey with other young women in hopes that it will inspire them to pursue leadership positions in the industry.

Martha’s Favorite Part About the Job: “Working outdoors! I catch myself staring at the beauty nature has to offer and taking it all in. I am so lucky to have such a breathtaking office view, with no windows or walls—just me and the open air.”

........................................................................................................................................................................

Employees are not just a company’s backbone, they are its life force. These five brilliant individuals are just a small sample of the dedicated team members who make up America’s 2.2 million farms. As the population rapidly increases and farms need to feed more mouths with fewer resources, agricultural champions like these five changemakers will play a significant role in helping maintain a thriving and sustainable industry. 

WG Staff Contact

Stephanie Metzinger
Senior Manager, Communications
949-885-2256

Join Western Growers

Western Growers members care deeply for the food they grow, the land they sustain, the people they employ, and the community in which they live. 

You May Also Like…