Their staunch support of agriculture and devotion to their own farming pursuits caused the Ceres Chamber of Commerce to honor Greg VanVooren as “Agribusiness Man of the Year” and Bernice Marchy as “Agribusiness Woman of the Year” at a Thursday luncheon.
During its annual 34th Agribusiness Luncheon held at Shane Parson’s Diamond Bar Arena south of Ceres, Chamber officials also presented scholarships to five high school students interested in pursuing ag careers. They were Central Valley High School’s Alyza Montes, Jacob Nunes and Ryan Nunes; and Ceres High’s Alexandra Potts and Adam Rantz.
In introducing VanVooren as an award recipient, ag teacher Ken Moncrief noted that agriculture and farming has always been a major part of his life.
For the past 30 years Van Vooren has been a key advisor of the Ceres and Central Valley agriculture programs. His family has purchased countless animals shown by students at the County Fair and donated thousands of dollars to help students have success with their projects and the hands-on education.
“He is always there no matter what the need is,” said Moncrief.
Van Vooren has been a leading advisor to the 10-year-old Ceres Ag Center located behind Hidahl Elementary School. With son Kyle he has been instrumental in the creation of a one-acre table grape vineyard that produces about six tons of grapes per year with an annual income for the farm of about $12,000. He has been a constant in the Junior Mentor program.
VanVooren’s parents moved from the orange groves of Southern California with another family to a 20-acre parcel near Grass Valley when he was five. The second of five children, Greg grew up doing ranch chores and by junior high was working weekends and doing chores for neighboring farmers after school. While attending Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley, Van Vooren worked on a thoroughbred horse ranch and showed FFA beef cattle and sheep at the Nevada County Fair and Cow Palace. He won a small scholarship given by the Schaps Horse Ranch where he had been working. At Sierra Junior College Van Vooren majored in agriculture and served as president of the Aggies Club where he met his wife of over 50 years, Jeri. Both transferred to Cal Poly where Greg earned his degree in Ag Business Management. After graduation in 1971 he completed National Guard basic and specialized training at Fort Lewis in Washington. He returned to the Tulare and Corcoran area where Jeri had become a teacher. Van Vooren became a Kings County agriculture inspector but his real desire was to farm and he found work farming 240 acres of peaches, plums, and almonds for Boyett Farms on the Tagus Ranch. In 1978 the Van Voorens moved to Ceres so Greg could custom farm and take on the development and management of vineyards for the personal ranch of Joseph E. Gallo.
In addition to crops, Greg and Jeri raised children of which two sons, Kyle and Brent, are both now in agriculture. Daughters Chelsea and Keri are both licensed clinical social workers.
Over the years their three-acre homestead has seen beef cows, replacement heifers, ponies, horses, pigs, sheep, rabbits, and chickens – many 4-H and FFA projects.
In the early 1990’s Greg expanded his custom farming to include oats, forage, wheat and silage corn, as well as continuing the vineyard management. Kyle joined him in farming after he graduated from high school in 1997. In the early 2000’s some of Van Vooren’s ground was transitioned into walnuts while the forage crops have developed into a permanent crop. He now custom farms nearly 800 acres, half in grape vineyards and other in walnuts.
“His farm management has allowed him to enjoy and raise his family in the agricultural lifestyle in which he takes pride,” said Moncrief. “At 71 he continues to be involved daily in the farming operations that he has helped to develop. He also enjoys spending time with his grandkids – three grandsons with one more on the way, and seven granddaughters.”
The Van Voorens lost one of their granddaughters to cancer.
Van Vooren has also served two terms on the Ceres Unified School District Board and was involved with the Ceres Substance Abuse Committee for several years.
Bernice Marchy was born in Modesto as the daughter of a Turlock Irrigation District ditch tender and continued to be part of the ag community in different ways. After marrying her high school sweetheart, they started a family and a thriving business.
“In the early days she was running for parts, providing meals, moving equipment from field to field all while raising three outstanding young men,” said 2018 recipient Stacy Cardoso in announcing the recipient. “She was part of the PTA, a 4-H leader, coach, mentor, friend, daughter, sister and mother. In the midst of running kids back and forth from home to school, school for practice and practice to work, together again, she and her husband took a leap of faith and purchased the land on which 90 percent of what her family now calls home. Many thought it was a crazy idea considering the condition the ranch was in when they bought it. She helped wherever she could, giving her blood, sweat and tears helping to irrigate, plant trees, complete ground work, all while taking care of all the day to day of running a business and family. She has been a great friend and the biggest cheerleader for many over the years and still continues to be for all of us.”
Moncrief gave the audience an update on the school district’s ag programs and student farm. He applauded Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pledge to permanently fund ag education programs by $250 million statewide.
“It’s exciting locally that we have over 800 students in our two high schools that are involved in ag education and FFA members,” said Moncrief. “To me, that’s an outstanding achievement in the years that I’ve been here. When I first started here we had about 150 to 200 students in ag education in our high schools.”
FFA members Jocelyn Moreno, Alyssa Clinedaniel and Bailey Showen spoke about club activities. After they were done, Moncrief praised the program for teaching leadership and public speaking.
He explained that Central Valley High School offers career pathways in ag mechanics, animal sciences, horticulture and agrisciences. At Ceres High there are pathways for animal sciences and ag mechanics.
“I think there are a lot of great successes. We have over 30 students showing pigs at the Fair, we have over a dozen lamb exhibitors, about six or eight sheep exhibitors, three steer exhibitors, they’re showing plants. So they’re actively involved in agriculture in our communities and learning skills with that.”
Youth adviser Kyle Cerny touched on the Junior Mentor program to help high school juniors understand how to find and keep work, job interview skills and how to communicate with and be responsible to employers. The 10-week senior program, the Gallo Pathway to Industry program, prepares students for internships. This year 35 CVHS and 15 CHS students were selected for the Gallo program. E.&J. Gallo Winery has extended three-month internships to 10 of those seniors who will be working this summer at $13 to $18 an hour.
Moncrief said the district needs more business mentors and industries that will offer experiences – paid or volunteer – to student in real-life farm industry settings.
He also spoke about the success of the student farm, now dubbed the Ceres Agricultural Center. He called it “very unique” that Ceres has a state-of-the-art farm facility with 200 fruit trees, an acre of table grapes, berry vines, citrus, kiwi and just spent $1.5 million building livestock facilities.
“That’s really exciting is it gives our students a place to go and actually put their hands on the things that you all do every day,” Moncrief told the crowd. “It’s not sit in a classroom and imagine what it would be like to be on a farm, ‘I get to go do it.’ Our school district is instrumental in providing transportation to get our kids there, providing me the resources that I need in order to be successful with those kids. The exciting thing is this school year alone, we have generated over $18,000 through having this farm. We have a relationship with the school lunch program and the fruits and vegetables that come off of our farm go to our schools and our cafeteria staff who feeds them to our students. So they’re getting fresh product right off the farm.”
The luncheon also included honoring Yosemite Farm Credit as the 2019 Agribusiness of the Year. The award was received by Stan Chance. Yosemite Farm Credit is headquartered in Turlock and a farmer-owned cooperative which supports local 4-H and FFA projects, including buying animals at the Stanislaus County Fair.