San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation

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By Kevin Swartzendruber

The San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation held its 103rd Annual Meeting on May 12 with a focus on education and scholarships, as well as a look at the successes over the past year and challenges facing the agricultural community.

Andrew Watkins said agriculture has had a rough year but he wanted to focus on the positive, pointing out that the Winery Ordinance was revised and the DREAM project is moving forward in north part of the county.

Also, "Jerry Brown's tunnel project has sprung some leaks," and "the governor recently declared California is out of drought emergency but we had to experience flood conditions and still don't have storage to catch all the rain."

"We must ensure the stability of our levees and keep the fight to protect our future," Watkins said. "Part of protecting our future is our agricultural educational outreach." He emphasized the success of the Natalie the Cow program and said SJFB's education outreach will increase in the 2017-18 school year.

"As a membership organization everything comes down to you, our members," Watkins said. "Without your support we wouldn't be able to accomplish the things I've talked about."

President's Award

Watkins presented the President's Award to Sheriff Moore, who joined the sheriff's office as a deputy sheriff in 1982 and is now serving his third term as sheriff.

"He leads by example. The evidence of this is deputies following in his footsteps to do more for the community," Watkins said. "It's clear to me he's walking the extra mile for San Joaquin County and agriculture to make it a better place.

He said under Sheriff Moore's tenure and leadership, he has been instrumental in curbing metal theft through the partnership with recyclers and he has partnered with SJFB's Rural Health and Safety Committee. He's also active with Ag Venture, media night, purchased the first gun calendar, and is working with the ag commissioner to implement the walnut ordinance, among other things.

Watkins then presented the sheriff with a gift certificate to Red Wing Shoes for "Going the extra mile" and a gift certificate to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.

"We work and we do great things, but we do it together," Moore said. "It's not just the sheriff's office and not just the ag crimes unit; it's each and every one of you. We are dedicated to working with you and making a difference."

New President Presents

Incoming President Jim Ferrari addressed the issues facing agriculture this next year, including water issues and the fight against the twin tunnels, and labor, pointing out that Farm Bureau fought hard to defeat the overtime legislation, even though it eventually passed.

He encouraged members to give input to the board and staff, and said the new "Coffee Shop Talks" are designed to do just that.

Discovery ChalleNGe Academy

Guest speaker James Mousalimas, San Joaquin County superintendent of schools, discussed the new Discovery ChallenNGe Academy, which is a quasi boot camp for 16 to 18 year old at-risk youths.

"There are a lot of youth in our county that have gotten on the wrong track and this program has proven to be one of the most effective in California," Mousalimas said.

The academy is a 5½-month residential program located at the Sharp Army Depot and is staffed by the National Guard and San Joaquin County Office of Education teachers. It aims to promote leadership, cooperation and academic skills, while building self-esteem, pride and confidence in a highly structured environment.

The County Office of Education partnered with National Guard to develop this program and there are currently have 106 youth at the facility, with 70 percent of the students from San Joaquin County. Full capacity is 200 students, twice a year, so over 10 years, this program has the potential of reaching 4,000 youth.

Mousalimas said there are 40 programs throughout the United States with only three in California, and this is the only such program in Northern California.

"It could really have a significant, positive impact on our community," Mousalimas said.

Mousalimas introduced General Jim Gabrielli who he said was instrumental in getting the program off the ground. Gabrielli said there are no costs to the family to send children to this program and many of the students have abused drugs and alcohol when they enter the program, but their results are outstanding.

"They came to this program as volunteers. We don't take them if they don't come voluntarily," he said. "They're making a difference and they're changing their lives, and I know you are going to be as proud of them as I am." Two cadets then spoke about their experience in the program, Cadets Andrea Perez and Juan Garcia. 

Perez was coping with a loss in her life and she started smoking, drinking, skipping school, getting suspended and getting into fights. Her GPA was 1.2 and is now 3.9, and she plans to attend college and get a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and join the military.

"The Academy has helped me be the person I want to be," she said.

Cadet Juan Garcia was involved in gangs, drinking, smoking, disobeying and was defiant to teachers. He said he was hanging out with the wrong people.

His GPA was 1.8 before entering this program and is now a 4.0.

"I was really proud of myself," he said. "I would like to get business degree and be successful."

Scholarships awarded

SJFB Foundation for Agricultural Education Joe Valente congratulated the scholarship winners and the Farm Bureau proceeded to award over $45,000 to local students. Including this year's scholarships, the Foundation has awarded over $400,000 to local students. (See page 14 for the scholarship winners).