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  • Labor, Technology and Food Safety Discussed at Leadership Agriculture Topic Day

    The Leadership Santa Maria Valley class of 2019 took a day to learn about agriculture.  Time and again they heard about labor, technology, food safety and celery. Well not always celery, the juicing craze has put celery in high demand this year and celery became a common theme as the day took the class from seed to seller.

    The class started out their day at Plantel Nurseries with a breakfast provided by Advanced Wireless. Claire Wineman, President of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, gave them an overview of the difficulties facing agriculture in our area.  Wineman hit home how consolidation of retail and food services and increased competition from out-of-state and out-of-country drove prices down to the point where local growers only compete in delicate ‘high labor’ specialty crops like strawberries, broccoli and wine grapes.  That focus on high labor crops means local growers use a lot of technology to increase efficiency and reduce costs.  

    Next Mike Leedom, Plantel Production Manager, and Les Graulich, CFO, led a tour of the Plantel facility showing how vegetable transplants trays are created.  From the start where specialty dirt is trucked in, through the seed injection line, into the germination room and then out into the >1 million square feet of nurseries.  Already the class saw a focus on automation and efficiency: green houses that recycle water, automatically open and close the roof to control temperature and light, automated water gantries that glide over giant trays of tiny celery plants and even mowers used to keep the baby plants a uniform size.  In spite of all the automation, it is still up to nursery workers to make the delicate decisions about when to water and fertilize.

    Smooth transportation, donate by the Law Office of Debbie L. Morawski, then took the class to Presqu’ile winery where Cameron Porter, Estates Manager, took them on a tour of their 5 story gravity flow winery built into a hill overlooking the Santa Maria valley. Throughout the tour the unique features of the Santa Maria valley and their effect on the wine were highlighted, like the native yeast used for fermentation and how the local sandy soil affect the vines.

    The next stop was the Bonipak facility where the group was treated to lunch donated by Teresa Paredes of Maya restaurant.  Paredes talked about the 53 years Maya restaurants have been serving the central coast.  

    After lunch, Stan Otremba, Bonipak Director of Sales, and Derek Eager, Marketing Coordinator, talked about what makes Bonipak so special – they grow, pack, chill and ship.  The class toured through the nearby fields and Bonipak’s massive facility.  Otremba pointed out the many brand names that Bonipak sells under. Again technology was a big factor as Bonipak tries to minimize the time between harvest and chill, as well as, making sure that the celery, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli stay cold in temperature control trucks that sync up to the coolers before being loaded. Otremba’s biggest delight was the rising price of celery and his biggest hurdle was finding drivers to haul their products.

    After the tour, Erica Flores, a leader within the agricultural community, marketing consultant and leadership trainer, presented a very thoughtful and well received talk about leading through storytelling.  

    The final tour was at Innovative Produce where Chris Wallin, General Manager, demonstrated some of the new irrigation technologies used to make the most out of their water usage: like wide bed production and mobile emitters rather than sprinklers.  Wallin’s favorite crops to grow: iceberg lettuce for the challenge and Brussels sprouts. Then Hector Rubalcava, Harvest manager, handed out hair nets and led the group on to a Romaine lettuce field where a harvest team was racing along cutting romaine hearts, washing them with diluted chlorine, and bagging them for sale. 

    With the tours done, the class regrouped in the back room of Vino et Amicis to finish up business and talk about how well the Legacy Trail on Carmen lane is proceeding.

    Leadership Santa Maria Valley would like to give a special thank you to Advanced Wireless, who sponsored breakfast, Maya Restaurant, who sponsored lunch, and the Law Office of Debbie L. Morawski who sponsored the transportation.  Also, a special ‘thank you’ to topic day advisors Lacy Litten and Michelle Tabisola and to all the speakers who helped make the day a success.

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