In case you missed the story on page 21 of this issue, the California Strawberry Commission announced the election of Lorena Chavez to the role of commission chairwoman, in what is believed to be the first election of a Latina to a major commodity group in the state.
Chavez was elected unanimously to the position by members of the Strawberry Commission, and will serve alongside Vice Chairman Tom AmRhein and Secretary/Treasurer Hector Gutierrez.
The California Strawberry Commission is a state government agency located in Watsonville, CA, that serves approximately 400 strawberry growers across the state, focusing on production and nutrition research, food safety training and education, marketing and communications, trade relations, and public policy.
In a press release issued by the commission upon her election, Rick Tomlinson, the commission’s president was quoted as saying, “Lorena Chavez embodies everything positive that strawberries represent to California. Her family’s personal story is a prime example of how immigrants have found opportunity and a path to achieving the American Dream through hard work in California’s strawberry fields.”
When I got the press release, I was really surprised. California has the reputation of being liberal, probably because of the Hollywood movie business. But in my experience, most of the growers in the Golden State are much like their fellow growers across the country – politically, they definitely lean conservative.
But in talking to people in the industry, the more surprised I became. Not by the fact that Chavez was elected, but by growers’ reactions, which can best be described as one big shrug.
For one thing, it’s not like Chavez is some outsider. In addition to her new role as commission chairwoman, she is also controller of family-owned L&G Farming in Santa Monica, CA, and owner and operator of DL Farm Management in Santa Maria, CA.
She was pretty much raised in the industry by her father. Chavez didn’t really work in the fields, mostly the office, but that’s no surprise. Many of the growers who head up large, successful farming operations spend a lot more time in the office than they do the orchards or vineyards.
Still, most of you growers are white men, and as a group average close to 60 years old. So, like I said, I was surprised that all the growers and others affiliated with the fruit industry I spoke to not only weren’t surprised, they didn’t even find Chavez’s election remarkable.
That’s a really good sign to me. There’s no secret that farming, often described by so-called environmentalists as “corporate agribusiness” or the like, has something of a public relations problem.
Seeing a Hispanic woman leading the California Strawberry Commission should help with that PR problem. She is reflective of the general population of the U.S., especially California, and people are more comfortable with people who look like them.
But besides all that, Chavez’s election is reflective of the face of fruit growing. It is changing, and it’s all good. ●