Date: May 11, 2018
Magazine:
May/June 2018

It’s the iconic depiction of agriculture—a farmer driving his tractor at sunrise, walking the fields to check on his budding crops and brushing the dirt off his freshly picked produce. Though this scene is thought to be the most common portrayal of farm life, something significant is missing: the women.

Women make up a third of the nation’s farmers, generating nearly $12.9 billion in agricultural sales on a yearly basis. These 970,000 female farmers are the thought leaders behind innovative concepts that bring more fresh produce into the homes of Americans. They are the full-time owners and operators, family matriarchs, community volunteers and agriculture advocates that are paving the way for a more nutritious future.

Take for example, Kay Filice, president and owner of Filice Farms in Hollister, Calif. Filice broke away from her rural roots when she decided to move from Iowa to San Francisco in the ‘70s to pursue a career in sales and marketing. When she met her husband, Chuck, shortly after, she found herself back in a rural setting and on the farm.

Chuck—a second generation vegetable farmer in Central California—managed the day-to-day operations of their family farm while she raised their boys and managed the summer apricot production and processing. When Chuck passed away in 1998, she was faced with a life-changing decision: sell the farm and start a new life with her three sons or continue the business her husband and his parents had passionately developed.

Though she had little to no experience in running a business, Filice decided to carry on Chuck’s vision and led the operation with the support and guidance of several dedicated employees. She quickly embraced new technologies being developed to improve farm operations and has since been a leader in implementing innovation in the field. Filice Farms was among the first to use tractors that were guided by GPS technology on its fields. These tractors allowed drivers to do a more efficient job of plowing the field, and in turn, saved the operation a significant amount on fuel and labor.

“Today, new technology for on-farm use is being developed at an astonishing rate, and in many ways, changing the way we farm,” said Filice. “Aerial imaging is just one of many such technologies Filice Farms utilizes to detect problems in early stages, allowing us to make important cost effective decisions.”

Today, Filice Farms rotates a dozen different crops on San Benito County ranches from Hollister to San Juan Bautista and has cemented its reputation as one of the most forward-thinking ag operations in the region.

“Agriculture is an exciting business, each day presenting new opportunities and new challenges. If you’re not constantly planning and looking toward future opportunities for your farm and your employees, you’re going to be left behind,” said Filice.

Filice’s story of taking over a family business and transforming it into an agricultural powerhouse is one that is starting to echo throughout the industry. When Christi Becerra’s father passed away in 2017, she made the decision to leave her career in IT and join one of her family’s businesses to insure that her father’s legacy would continue. Stepping into large shoes, Becerra has spent the last 14 months learning the mushroom business and managing the day-to-day operations as the managing partner of Global Mushrooms.

Becerra has adopted her father’s motto for the farm of “Quality First.” Her understanding of this motto was not to just grow the highest quality mushrooms, but also to ensure the highest quality programs within the company. These programs include employee benefits, employee safety, food safety and maintaining a state-of the art growing facility. When first taking over, Becerra reviewed the company’s benefits and noticed that employees were not utilizing their health benefits. After meeting with the employees, she learned that they did not fully understand the coverage or they could not find service providers in their areas. She immediately reached out to Western Growers Insurance Services to develop new benefits program and implemented an employee benefits education program. The new program combined affordability, accessibility and education to support her employees.

“In this short time, participation in the health plan has grown to 88 percent, the employees understand their benefits and now have access to health service providers in their areas,” said Becerra. “We are incredibly proud of the quality of our employee programs that we have created at Global Mushrooms and are delighted with the positive feedback we receive from our employees.”

In addition to leading revolutionary changes within their companies and making history today, female farmers are also growing ag for tomorrow. Carol Chandler, partner at Chandler Farms, and Catherine Fanucchi, manager at Tri-Fanucchi Farms, are two of the three women who sit on WG’s Board of Directors. As leadership of WG, Chandler and Fanucchi play a significant role in advocating for the hard-working farmers and farmworkers who provide over half the nation’s fresh produce and making legislators aware of the value the ag industry brings to the community.

“We have been incredibly involved in ag advocacy in Washington and Sacramento with Western Growers members,” said Chandler. “It is vitally important to tell our stories to elected and appointed officials who legislate and regulate our farming operations.”

Chandler is also an advocate for ag within higher education. She served on both the California State University Board of Trustees and the University of California Board of Regents to help develop education policy and ensure that students have a pathway to a higher education. In her roles, she consulted on system-wide initiatives that were geared toward shaping students into knowledgeable, highly-skilled professionals that would thrive in industries such as agriculture.

“There is a strong synergy between agriculture and higher education as we look for innovators to help us farm smarter and more efficiently,” said Chandler.

Rounding out the female leadership on WG’s Board of Directors is Lorri Koster, former chairman and CEO at Mann Packing—a women owned and operated company that was recently acquired by Del Monte Fresh Produce—and currently a consultant for Del Monte. Koster and her sister, Gina Nucci, brought new meaning to the term “value added.” They created numerous lines of Mann Packing products, such as their Sugar Snap Peas, Broccolini®, Single-Cut Full-Leaf Lettuce, Cauliflower “Fried Rice” Blend, Better Burger Leaf and Nourish Bowls (a ready-to-eat warm meal that is comprised of super foods), which allow consumers to spend more time with their families at the dinner table, rather than prepping and cooking in the kitchen.

“Mann Packing’s mission statement says it all—Fresh Veggies Made Easy,” said Koster.

Breaking into a male-dominated field such as agriculture is not easy, but farmHers throughout the nation are making strides and leading the way for all women. In honor of Women’s History Month in March, Western Growers featured stories throughout its social media channels of female farmers who are defying the odds and succeeding as a women in agriculture. To read more about the women who are redefining the typical depiction of rural America, visit facebook.com/westerngrowers or instagram.com/western_growers.

WG Staff Contact

Stephanie Metzinger
Manager, Communications
949-885-2256

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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. 

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