IRVINE, Calif. (March 3, 2011)–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 today for the Western Growers Future Volunteer Leaders Program. “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,” said Tom Deardorff, Western Growers chairman and president of Deardorff Family Farms in Oxnard, Calif. “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 are attending a two-day orientation session in Irvine, Calif., 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,” said 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.” Participants will also benefit from human resources and media training offered during the program. Future leaders for this year’s program include: David Dudley is a product support representative for Markon Cooperative in Salinas, Calif. Prior to joining Markon, he worked as a processing foreman for Pacific Specialty Foods and with the City of Turlock. Dudley earned his B.A. in Agriculture Business from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. While at Cal Poly, he was actively involved in the Agriculture Business Management Club. Brett Hunt is the operations manager for the Rousseau Farming Company’s Scottsdale Facility in Scottsdale, Ariz. Prior to coming to the Rousseau Farming Company, he worked for the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer in Guadalajara, Mexico, and was a Captain in the U.S. Army. Hunt is a member of the Arizona Farm Bureau’s County Policy Committee and also participates in legislative outreach and Ag in the Classroom for the organization. He is currently is a state advocate for the Truman National Security Project and a National Spokesperson on Immigration for VoteVets.org. Hunt was also an advisor on rural issues, agriculture and immigration for the David Lujan for Attorney General Campaign and a member of the Windsor Square Special Planning District. He earned his B.A. in Geography from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Stephen Martori is a production manager for Martori Farms in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is actively involved in Western Growers and the Produce Marketing Association and has participated in Wegmans Foods’ Young Leaders Supermarket Experience. Martori is active in his community and has served as a fundraiser for both the Arizona Humane Society and P.A.N.D.A. He earned his B.S. in Agricultural Business Management and Economics from the University of Arizona. Chelsea McClarty is the sales and creative director for the HMC Group Marketing, Inc., in Kingsburg, Calif. She has volunteered for Western Growers in several capacities, including teaching elementary school children about where their tree fruit and grapes come from. McClarty was a winner of the Freida Caplan Scholarship at the United Fresh Public Policy Conference. She earned her B.S. in Nutrition from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Stephen “Garrett” Patricio is the vice president of operations and general counsel for Westside Produce, a grower, packer and shipper of cantaloupe and honeydew melons in California and Arizona. He joined Westside Produce in 2005 after two years in the Tax Mergers & Acquisitions practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in San Francisco and a year at the law firm of Deitrich, Glasrud, Mallek & Aune in Fresno. Patricio serves on the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, California Melon Research Board, CDFA Standardization Advisory Committee, Produce Traceability Initiative Implementation Working Group, and is an alumnus of the California Agricultural Leadership Program (Class 38). He is a graduate of the University of San Diego and Santa Clara University School of Law, and is a California Certified Public Accountant and licensed member of the State Bar of California. Michael Valpredo is the president of Country Sweet Produce and vice president of marketing and business development for Donald Valpredo Farms, both in Bakersfield, Calif. Utilizing his media expertise, he has produced video content for the Produce Marketing Association and California Foundation for Ag in the Classroom. Valpredo is a member of the Organic Trade Organization and the Quest Club of Bakersfield, as well as the former Director of First Tee of Columbus. He also currently volunteers with the Bakersfield Rescue Mission and Golden Empire Gleaners. Valpredo earned his B.A. in Communications from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his M.A. in Journalism from the University of Southern California. Ryan Van Groningen is the sales manager for Van Groningen & Sons, Inc., based in Manteca, Calif. Van Groningen & Sons is a grower/shipper specializing in watermelons, sweet corn and pumpkins. He joined Van Groningen & Sons year-round in 2003 after graduating from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, with a degree in Crop Science and a minor in Agribusiness. Van Groningen served on the board of directors for the National Watermelon Promotion Board from 2003 until 2008 and is currently serving on the Western Watermelon Association executive committee and the CDFA Shipping Point Inspection Advisory Committee. He has also volunteered at the Special Olympics and the New Hope Family Shelter. Derek Yurosek is the vice president of agricultural operations for Wm. Bolthouse Farms, Inc., in Bakersfield, Calif. He is currently on the board of directors for the Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce and the Chairman of the California Fresh Carrot Advisory Board. Additionally, Yurosek serves as a board member for the Jim Burke Education Foundation and Bakersfield High School Agriculture Department. He earned his B.S. in Agricultural Business and Economics and MBA in Agricultural Business from Colorado State University. Photo caption: Young leaders meet March 3 to participate in Western Growers Future Volunteer Leaders Program. From left to right: Chelsea McClarty, David Dudley, Brett Hunt, Michael Valpredo, Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif, Derek Yurosek, Ryan Van Groningen, Stephen Martori and Garrett Patricio.