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Tobler feted as ag leader
Annual Chamber luncheon
Ed Tobler, operations manager of Stanislaus Farm Supply and former Westport Fire Department volunteer, was honored with the annual Ceres Chamber of Commerces Agribusiness Man of the Year on Thursday. Here he received a handshake and certificate of recognition from Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Ed Tobler, the operations manager at the Ceres-based Stanislaus Farm Supply farming cooperative and former Westport Fire official, was named the 2015 "Agribusiness Man of the Year" at a Ceres Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday.

The company he works for was also given honor as "Agribusiness of the Year" - an honor bestowed by Congressman Jeff Denham on behalf of the Chamber.
Tobler was lauded for his support of area farmers and the agribusiness community.

Tobler was born on a dairy and his father, Werner Tobler, started growing almonds in the late 1950s. Ed attended Westport School and played football and baseball at Ceres High School. Before starting his career at Stanislaus Farm Supply, Ed worked at area almond hullers. While working he served at various capacities, including assistant chief of the Westport Volunteer Fire Department. He supports 4-H and the Junior Livestock Auction. After 40 years working at Stanislaus Farm Supply, Tobler worked his way up to become a company administrator.

Tobler received the award in front of his wife, Lynn, and family.

Ken Moncrief, an agricultural teacher at Central Valley High School, gave a personal account of Tobler's support for youth.

"Every year at the Stanislaus County Fair, he shows up, without exception, with the Stanislaus Farm Supply truck to haul all of the rabbits, and all the chickens and all the turkeys to market," said Moncrief. "He's always there with a bright smile on his face helping out the kids and that's how I got to know Ed. It's pretty tough to get all those chickens and rabbits down there to the sales ring Saturday morning for them to be sold. It was with great appreciation that I got to know Ed that way."

Sam Bettencourt, president and CEO of Stanislaus Farm Supply, recounted growing up on a dairy on Vivian Road just a few hundred yards away from the Toblers.

"The Toblers always lent a hand and I got those stories from my Mom and Dad," said Bettencourt.

After Bettencourt became general manager in the 1970s, Tobler came to work for SFS.

"Right away, this guy is dedicated," said Bettencourt of Tobler. "He wanted to learn and anything he did he wanted to be the best at it and he fulfilled that each and every day."

Tobler is a staunch supporter of family, whether it's the cooperative family, the community family or the farming family, said Bettencourt.

Tobler thanked those who have stood by him through the years. He then shared a laugh when he related that, after a March 14 heart attack, people kept coming up to him to say how good he looked. "I thought, wow, maybe I better have another one."

Agribusiness award
On behalf of the Chamber, Congressman Jeff Denham presented the Agribusiness of the Year award to Stanislaus Farm Supply. He recounted how the business started in the mid-1940s after there was a shortage of baling wire, due to the war effort, and farmers joined together to buy a railcar full of it for shared savings. The farmer-owned supply cooperative started in 1949 and started buying other supplies. Then manager Joe Sousa used his own truck to make deliveries from the office, then on H Street in downtown Modesto, said Denhan. The current location on Service Road in Ceres was purchased as a bulk storage and seed and feed facility. The corporate headquarters were later moved there with the first salesman being hired in 1959. Today there are 20 salesmen.

SFS has expanded to four retails stores in California and Nevada.

Denham noted how the cooperative is a huge supporter of FFA and 4-H projects and members by annually purchasing $100,000 worth of member animals at county fairs.

"Stanislaus Farm Supply believes that the lessons learned in these projects will help a student throughout their life," said Denham. "Farm Supply has an eye for growth in the future but will always remain true to its guiding principles. Their goal is to be the best farm supply organization in the industry while exceeding their customers' expectations."

Accepting the award for the company was Joey Gonsalves, seed sales manager of SFS.

"It is neat to get a community award, because, like Sam said, we really are part of the community being farmer owned," said Gonsalves. "Our profits don't get sent back to some Midwest ag conglomerate or some individual's pocket; they're reinvested back into the company and that equity is owned by our member owners so they get to keep it. It is fun to actually work for your customer every day; that's who you answer to because they own you."

The Chamber presented the Grant Lucas Memorial Award went to Sid Moffet Long, owner of Superior Fruit Ranch. Long, who is nearing his 61st harvest, was unable to receive the award. Scott Long, his son, accepted the award.

Trina Walley of the East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District was the guest speaker at the event. She filled in the audience on the mission of the district in "conserving, improving and sustaining the natural resources, the environment and economy of Stanislaus County."

The group's top focus is soil quality with 265 different soil mapping units in the county and an effort to help farmers improve soil quality.

"We have some of the world's most fertile soils, which you guys are all familiar with that," said Walley.

A lot of education on water use is offered as well as assisting farmers with water management practices. The district also offers conservation planning through a U.S.D.A. program.

Renee Ledbetter, president of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce, told the crowd that a certified Farmer's Market will coincide with the Tuesday evening Ceres Concerts in the Park series held in Whitmore Park.

Report on student farm
Moncrief was allowed to give the crowd an update on the Ceres Unified School District student farm. The six-and-a-half-acre facility, behind Hidahl Elementary School, now sports a metal shop building now equipped with electrical service.

The facility started out three years ago with cargo containers and, with the help of Superior Fruit Ranch and Ceres Rotary Club, a 3,000-square-foot building was added.

"It's truly an amazing experience working with kids out there and growing things," said Moncrief. "I think we're doing the right thing because we've had some real successes lately with the students and the farm and their interest in agriculture."

Added to the farm were 50 fruits trees, black berries, blue berries and citrus trees.

He reported that the sale of produce to the school cafeterias has helped fund pay for five students to work at the farm.

Moncrief said the farm made a difference in one senior who initially admitted that he didn't like plants but is now pursuing an agricultural major after taking an agriculture classes.

The district, he said, is developing partnerships with ag-related businesses to show students agricultural operations and potential hire students fresh out of high school.

"Gallo is really interested in providing some internships where they would hire the students to come to work with them with two years of experience because of the fact that they've been in our ag program," said Moncrief.

The farm will be growing pumpkins and selling them in front of CVHS this fall.

Plans are in the works to create a swine facility at the farm.

The luncheon also was an occasion to present $500 scholarships to three FFA students in Alanna Ramos and Vincent Avila of Central Valley High and Jasmine Connolly, a student at Ceres High.