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Thompson, Barindelli win ag honors
Chamber hosts annual event
Agribusiness lady
Karen Barindelli tearfully accepted the Ceres Agri Business Woman of the Year award with friend and prior award recipient Yvette Nunes standing by for support. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Westport area farmer Gary Thompson was honored as the Ceres Agribusiness Man of the Year at the Ceres Chamber of Commerce's annual Agribusiness Luncheon held Thursday. The Agribusiness Woman of the Year honor went to Westport area almond grower Karen Barindelli.

This year's event was hosted at Diamond Bar Arena.

Thompson is the former Westport Fire Chief of many years whose farming interests developed when he was in Salida 4-H as a youth. In 1966 he married Linda Garber and was hired by his father-in-law, Merle Garber, to grow alfalfa, black eyed beans, oats and wheat. The Thompsons moved to Grayson Road in 1968 and Gary became involved in the Westport Fire Protection District. In 1973 Gary entered into a farming partnership with his brother-in-law, Lynn Garber, to grow almonds. At one time the farm was one of the biggest pistachio producers in Stanislaus County. Thompson became assistant Westport fire chief in 1982 and chief in 1989, a job he held onto until 2010. Since retirement, he volunteers as a Westport Fire captain.

Thompson publicly thanked his wife, Linda, for tending to family and farm issues while he had "fun" working for the fire department.

Yvette Nunes, a former award recipient, introduced Karen Barindelli as the Agribusiness Woman of the Year. The two have known each other for over 40 years. Nunes said Barindelli over the years has given more to people "out of her heart and hard work without ever asking for anything in return."

Barindelli took over the family almond hulling business, which has been in operation for 55 years under four generations. After the loss of her husband, she and son John continued with operations.

"They have had good years and bad as many farmers will understand," said Nunes. "But they have continually encouraged innovation and the business is growing."

Barindelli continually supports FFA and 4-H programs as well as the Westport Fire Protection District. She even donated some of her almond orchard around the Westport fire station for department use.

A member of the Mid Valley Unit of the Backcountry Horsemen of America for 17 years, Barindelli has devoted her time cleaning trails on the back country. She has also taken her miniature horses to Westport Elementary School to educate the students on the care and keeping of horses, said Nunes.

"One thing I know of this woman," said Nunes of Barindelli, "is you ask her for help in anything and she will do her best to help anyone the best way she can with money or muscle."

Ron Macedo, a grower of almonds, silage crops and pumpkins, who sits on the Turlock Irrigation District board of trustees, served as keynote speaker. He addressed the pressing war over water with the State Water Resources Control Board proposing to take up to 40 percent of the water held in local reservoirs for fish population. Studies indicate that 90 percent of the salmon which would benefit from the flows are eaten by predator bass in the Delta before reaching the ocean.

He said if the state takes the water, it would have a $1.6 billion negative economic impact on the region. "It's also billions of farm gate loss and thousands of jobs," he said. Macedo noted that had the state taken the water prior to the latest drought, TID would have had no water to allocate to farmers "and not a lot of farmers can farm without water."

"Every one of the environmental and state regulators' solution to this is using our infrastructure yet they never offer any new infrastructure - in fact, they're always against it."

The Bay-Delta Plan would also have a negative impact on the region's ability to recharge the groundwater table through irrigation water percolation.

"I like to say that TID is the only sustainable area in the state. Our groundwater levels here, except for a few small areas, are sustained. We manage them very, very well."

He said the comment period on the Substitute Environmental Document (SED) for Phase 1 of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, ended in March with thousands of pages submitted to the state board. A draft SED will be issues in June with a final in September.

Macedo said TID will fight the proposal and is ready to go to court but he also sees this as a good time to fight for increased water storage projects.

On top of the fight against the state water grab, TID simultaneously is trying to win relicensing to operate the Don Pedro Powerhouse. The district's license expired in 2016 but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is looking at relicensing. The state Water Board has to sign onto the plan first, which could be problematic if it decides on increased water flows out of the dam.

Macedo said TID and Modesto Irrigation District have spent about $50 million on the SED and the licensing of Don Pedro Reservoir.

TID started the relicensing program in 2009. The final application license will be submitted in September.

"It is a little bit difficult to file that application, knowing the uncertainties of the SED and what may or may not happen with how much water you have to float down the river."

Macedo said TID has done a great job of managing the water storage facility at Don Pedro, including opening the spillway to make way for more melted snow at higher elevations without flooding cities downstream. He said the lake will be full, once again, likely by mid-July.

The Chamber bestowed its Grant Lucas Memorial Award to Shane Parson who, in the words of Chamber President Renee Ledbetter, was described as "always doing for his community."

"Wherever you turn, there he is and when he is there he's giving it 200 percent," said Ledbetter of Parson. "Whether it's helping individuals by giving them a job, starting a sober house for those who are working towards finding a better path, or buying a building and renting it to a community organization so it can expand, he is always there to help."

Parson was noted for helping to rebuild downtown Ceres "one building at a time," and raising thousands of dollars for Ceres schools and students. The roping and barrel racing competitions he holds at his Diamond Bar Arena south of Ceres has brought in tourist dollars for Ceres.

The Chamber also honored Turlock Irrigation District (TID) as its Ag Business of the Year.

"It is important to know that we are all impacted by this one business because they help keep the lights on and the water flowing," said Ledbetter.

TID was formed 130 years ago by passage of the Wright Act. Today it serves 150,000 acres with irrigation water and electricity to over 100,000 customers.

She noted that the public agency goes "beyond meeting the needs of today and strive to fulfill their promises without compromising the needs of future generations. We saw a recent glimpse of this as they fought to protect our local water resources with their ‘Worth Your Fight' campaign."

The campaign was to inform the area about the State Water Resources Control Board's proposal to mandate up to 40 percent of unimpaired flows out of Don Pedro Reservoir, as well as from New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River and Lake McClure on the Merced River.

Event emcee and Central Valley High School agriculture teacher Ken Moncrief gave an overview of the Ceres Unified School District's expansion of the six-and-a-half-acre Ceres Ag Center, a student farm near Hidahl Elementary School. Students from both Ceres and Central Valley high schools farm the ground for hands-on labs.

Produce from the farm is being used by the CUSD food service program.

The farm produced gross revenue of $12,000 last year which then helps improve the center.

Student interns are hired to work afterschool.

Moncrief said an 18-pen swine facility is being constructed to accommodate the raising of as many as 36 pigs, mostly for the County Fair. The project is mostly being funded through a grant.

Another grant will pay for a beef and dairy facility next year.

To better connect graduates who plan to go directly in the workforce after high school, Moncrief said CUSD started a business mentoring program. Juniors are trained on "soft skills," he said, which are as simple as knowing that employers expect employees to show up on time for work and not call in sick. Mentors help coach students on how to interview for a job, how to keep a job and how to interact with older managers and employees.

Moncrief said he has 60 students who are being teamed up with business partners at Dole, Bronco Winery, Stanislaus Farm Supply and other places. He said he welcomes others to join in, committing to lunch with three students one Wednesday per month. Moncrief wants to add five more mentors to the 10 he already has.

He also highlighted the Pathways to Industries, an afterschool program once a week to learn job seeking jobs. As part of it, Gallo Winery is offering students in summer internships.

The district's ag program touches about 750 students.

Scholarships were presented to FFA members Zachary Smith, Madison Zamaroni and Noah Rantz.