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Duarte manager speaks up loudly for agriculture
• Mexican immigrants now a Hughson nursery manager
Paty Lopez with Jim Duarte
Patty Lopez, a manager at Duarte Nursery between Hughson and Ceres, and seen here with owner Jim Duarte, has been a strong and vocal advocate for farmer-friendly water policies in Sacramento. She is a native of Mexico who came to the USA in 1988.

“You have to speak up!” This isn’t something Paty Lopez just says, she lives out this motto.

Lopez, who works as a production manager for Duarte Nursery in Hughson, was honored with the Advocacy in Action Award Winner at last month’s Stanislaus County Farm Bureau annual meeting.

Lopez has not only shown up for Farm Bureau rallies, but has stood on the steps of the Capital to share her voice. But this isn’t where her story begins, however.

Paty and her husband were living in Mexico with their two daughters when he moved to California and Paty and her girls followed in 1988.

In, 1989 Jim Duarte hired Lopez at his Hughson nursery.

“When I was hired there was one small greenhouse and about 20 workers,” she recalls. “Today, during season there are about 1,000 people here.”

“I am very grateful for Jim giving me this opportunity, it is a great company. Jim taught me to graft. I had no idea about all that goes into growing a grape vine; grafting, potting, cleaning, down to loading the trucks.”

Even though she is a manager now, after three decades at Duarte she loves to get her hands in the dirt.

Lopez learned from an early age, that you have to speak up to get what you want.

“It stems from my parents. My dad would speak up. He was a leader in our town in Mexico. We moved to a small town; it had no lights, no electricity. He pulled the community together and before you knew it, we had running water and electricity. You have to speak up. My dad gave us education for possibilities and taught us to have confidence.”

Long before Lopez began holding rallies on the State Capitol steps, she was speaking up at work.

“I remember Jim was talking to us about having medical insurance, before it was a requirement, and employees were hesitant. But my daughter had a heart issue and I wanted the insurance, so I said something.”

She has continued to share her voice as California agriculture navigates cumbersome regulations and requirements. In 2016, Lopez voiced her concerns about AB 1066. The Assembly Bill which did pass, changed the way agricultural workers earn overtime.

“People don’t understand that some companies cannot afford the overtime, or in some cases workers’ hours were cut to be able to afford payroll.”

Again in 2018, Lopez and her Duarte Nursery co-workers traveled to Sacramento to fight for agriculture water.

“No water, means no food, which means no work. We are the first ones to feel the consequences of these types of rules. I don’t want these things to happen, ‘come talk to me first!’”

Most recently, in a California Farm Bureau led rally Lopez spoke passionately in opposition to AB 616. The proposed bill, which was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, would have eliminated the current petition and secret-ballot election process overseen by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) and replaced it with a rigged process that effectively eliminates farmworkers’ right to vote and the secret ballot in union elections.

Speaking in Spanish she pleaded, “We don’t need this! We need water!”

Anna Genasci is the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau’s Farm News editor and shared this story with the Courier.