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Marchy, Fontana earn ag honors
Chamber hosts Agribusiness Luncheon
Louis Marchy accepts the Agribusiness Man of the Year honors as Ceres Chamber of Commerce President Renee Ledbetter looks on. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Louis Marchy was honored as the Ceres Agribusiness Man of the Year by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce at its annual Agribusiness Luncheon last Thursday.

Ed Tobler announced the recipient of the Agribusiness Woman of the Year, Sharon Fontana, who was unable to attend the event.

Marchy's award was announced by 2002 award recipient Tim Sanders. He gave a brief biography of Marchy, who was born in Hayward to a Swiss dairyman living in Newark. In 1950 Louis leased dairy property in the Bay Area and in 1960 joined his father and brothers in operating a Grayson Road dairy, which hosted many school trips and foreign visitors. Active in dairy associations, Marchy served on the California Beef Council, served as a Western United Dairyman director and was a past president of the Stanislaus County Dairy Herd Association. He served for 20 years on the Dairy Princess Contest Committee and was a past president of Cal-West Dairy, Inc.

"In his 45 years as a dairyman, he has seen many changes in the dairy industry," said Sanders of Marchy. "At age 10 he herded cows on horseback in the pasture. Today cows lounge in free stall barns and are fed rations selected by nutritionists. Cows were milked by hand and milk shipped in 10-gallon buckets. Today cows are milked automatically and the milk shipped to creameries in tanker trucks."

Sanders said the work of a dairyman is a 24/7, 365 days a year but that Marchy "would not have had it any other way."

Marchy sold the dairy in 1995 to two nephews and retired. He stays busy volunteering with the St. Jude's St. Vincent DePaul food pantry and sorted through tons of household goods and clothing.

"As a person who's worked side by side with this guy for many years, even though he's got 20 years on me, I have a hard time keeping up with him," said Sanders. "He's a quiet, unassuming man who works quietly behind the scenes."

Marchy humbly accepted the award and thanked the Chamber.

Tobler said he learned that the words "hard working" and "outstanding" have been used to describe award recipient Sharon Fontana, who helps run a family owned farm. The Fontanas tend to their orchards, sell produce at Farmer's Markets and prepares their celebrated preserves and toppings. Sharon and her husband began farming 20 acres in 1979.

"They grew, they picked, they packed, they marketed their fruits and nuts at the local Farmer's Market," said Tobler. "In 1992 they began using fresh fruit to make fruit preserves ... and fruit toppings ... excellent for ice cream, pancakes, waffles, French toast and cheesecake."

Fontana also grows dried fruit and flavored almonds.

She is involved in California Women for Agriculture.

The Grant Lucas Memorial Award went to Steve and Arlene Vilas who farm almonds and previously grew peaches and walnuts. The couple was also engaged at one time in the raising of poultry. Both Steve and Arlene played an integral part in the Ceres Street Faire for years. Arlene, a longtime Soroptimist member started the Soroptimist Empowering Women (SEW) program.

"These two individuals have devoted hours and hours and hours of their time, money, energy, support for our community and today we celebrate them and today we celebrate them," said Chamber President Renee Ledbetter.

Steve Vilas mentioned how his late father Homer was best friends with Grant Lucas. He got laughter when he described how Homer and Grant roller-skated down Highway 99 to get to get to school.

"We're excited. We've been able to farm over 100 years here in Ceres," said Vilas of his family. "We've enjoyed Ceres."

Arlene's family hails from Turlock where her parents also farmed.

Steve said he is excited to hear how the Ceres agricultural programs grow in the schools with the help of the agribusiness community.

"It's just great what (Central Valley High School agriculture instructor) Ken (Moncrief) has done with the young kids and how that's growing over the last few years. His ranch where they farms joins one of our properties."

Moncrief gave an overview of the Ceres Unified School District's expansion of the ag education programs, including the progress of the student farm near Hidahl Elementary School.

About 250 students at Ceres High are enrolled in agricultural mechanics and animal science while five full-time instructors oversee 550 students in the program.

"Both programs are growing," said Moncrief. "Next year we will be able to add a sixth full-time teacher at Central Valley (High) and next year our ag program will be well over 600 students."

When Moncrief started only about 150 to 200 students were in the program.

Over $400,000 in state grants have enabled CUSD to improve the ag program.

"We have also been granted by the state of California a career technical incentive grant that at fruition two years from now, will grant over school district over $900,000. The school district is also matching that funding ... directly into the Ag Center to continue to develop the great things in ag education that we're doing."

The $900,000 will help create state-of-the-art animal facilities for CUSD.

Moncrief detailed that CUSD invested $450,000 in equipment for the farm while CHS is updating a cage-free poultry laying operation. The Student Farm has generated $18,000 worth of produce, which is being used to feed Ceres students in the school nutrition program.

"For about six to seven weeks this year our grapes were at every single school throughout the entire school district."

He noted that nearly all of the ingredients in the salads served at the luncheon were grown in the center's hydroponics greenhouse.

"The tomatoes had to buy because we haven't done that."

Moncrief noted that CUSD is expanding its business partnerships to help graduates land entry-level jobs. He said Gallo Winery has been impressed with students in the Ceres program and is offering 12 internships. Gallo's senior management remarked to Moncrief after interviews: "How soon can we get these kids in the door and get them working for us?"

He asked those in the audience to come alongside students and help show them how the industry operates. He said he will be having monthly luncheons with agribusiness leaders to eventually offer job opportunities for Ceres students.

"I want to put this industry directly in their face and say ‘this is a great place to work. You don't have to go somewhere else. Agriculture is the place to go. But I need your help in order to make that successful."
Brandi LoForti of the Stanislaus chapter of California Women for Agriculture was the luncheon keynote speaker.

"This is really a critical time right now for agriculture, which I'm sure most all of you know," said LoForti, who shared what CWA is doing to help farmers.

Started in Coachella Valley in 1970s, wives of farmers started lobbying legislators for pro-ag bills and founded the group. Today, she said, the group attempts to educate future voters about the importance of preserving California farms.

"Along with meeting with legislators as we continue to do today, we along advocate and educate on behalf of agriculture. And really, I think, education is probably at this point the most important because if we can start with the young people and educate them about agriculture it's just going to make everybody's lives easier in the long run."

She noted that CWA sets up farming promotion events on school campuses in the area and sends students home with radish seeds in a cotton balls with instructions to water and expose to sunlight. In 30 days they will have radishes as a way to create interest in growing foods. Because she feels Stanislaus County students are more up to speed on ag issues, LoForti wants to expand the outreach to schools in Livermore and the San Francisco Bay Area.

LoForti said in early May, 75 CWA members went to the state Capitol to meet with approximately 150 members of the state Senate and Assembly and staff members to speak about bills affecting farmers, including farm labor, water and pesticides. She noted that "only a handful of legislators understand farming."

"We're getting a bad rap. They were so defensive."

The group spoke in terms they could understand. They assailed one bill to ban neonicotinoid pesticides which some believed to kill bees. LoForti said the point was made that the Beekeepers Association opposes the bill "which tells you that is not the case."

State Senator Tom Berryhill, who is from a farming family, told LoForti that the CWA is making a difference.

Agribusiness of the Year honors went to American AgCredit.

Scholarships were presented to Kailee Fox and David Montufar, both Ceres High School students, and Andrew Dias and Gabriella Germann, members of the Central Valley High School Future Farmers of America (FFA).

Fox is planning to attend Cal Poly this fall to major in Animal Science on his way to becoming a large animal veterinarian.

Montufar is planning to attend U.C. Davis to major in Animal Science with the goal of becoming a zoologist.

Dias plans to attend Modesto Junior College and transfer to Chico State where he plans to study to become an agriculture teacher. He also won a special scholarship given annually by Ceres resident and former city employee Jim Bear.

Germann has her eyes on attending California State University, Stanislaus, where she plans to major in communications.