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Two honored for role in ag promotion
Sam Bettencourt and Jill-Marie Purdy were hailed as great proponents of agriculture and were bestowed with the Ceres Agribusiness man and woman of the year respectively last week.

The honors came Wednesday at the Ceres Chamber of Commerce's well-attended 27th annual Agribusiness Luncheon held at the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center.

Bettencourt is president and chief executive officer of Stanislaus Farm Supply, a Ceres-based company located on Service Road.

Jill-Marie Purdy is a Walter White Elementary School teacher who promotes student learning in the school garden.

Bettencourt began at Stanislaus Farm Supply in 1971 in retail service and delivery specialist after earning his degree in agricultural business and plant science from Modesto Junior College. At the time he was studying at Fresno State University but felt greater things could occur with the company. He became retail manager and then general manager in 1978.

Bettencourt has seen the company grow from a handful of employees to more than 100 and expanded trade territory and expansion into Nevada. He takes no credit in the company's success, saying it's a team effort of great employees and customers.

"I'm just a person that people call when something goes wrong," Bettencourt once told Wayne Zipser, who was last year's recipient.

Bettencourt routinely supports agriculture by attending county fairs and supporting FFA and 4-H projects.

"One of the most noble things I've noticed over the years," said Zipser of Bettencourt, "he spends hours upon hours talking to young students, giving them advice, inspiration and more importantly seeding their dreams and hopes. He is dedicated to his community."

Bettencourt deflected attention from himself and onto his employees, saying he'd only accept the award on their behalf, not his own.

"I don't accept awards as an individual because it's never about me," said Bettencourt, who considers himself a "caretaker of the organization." But he went on to "accept the award on behalf of Stanislaus Farm Supply, a company that means everything to me."

Bettencourt said he sees everyone as a customer since all eat the food which farmers produce.

Purdy was recognized for instilling in her Walter White Elementary School students a love for gardening, which she received from her grandmother while growing up in Ceres. Purdy graduated from Ceres High School in 1974 and went on to study at Columbia Junior College and CSU Sonoma where she majored in psychology. With a master's degree in social work, Purdy started teaching at Walter White in 2005. She added her own touches to an existing school garden project, which teaching healthy eating and hands-on science and nutrition to students.

"I've watched first-hand the excitement of all her students lovingly care of the garden," said Valli Wigt, a former teacher and School Board trustee. "They know the names of every plant and crop. Students help decide what to grow, they help plan the area and they have a compost pile."

Purdy also sends home with students seed packets to plant at home.

When the garden was vandalized last year, Purdy helped Central Valley High School FFA students clean up the damage. Purdy also is overseeing the garden's relocation due to a construction project.

"Not only does it concern me that we need to promote ag at the youngest levels, I want them to also understand where they live in the Central Valley and to be proud of the heritage that many families that are sitting in this room over the generations have taken care of the land," said Purdy. "I want all my fourth-graders and students at Walter White to appreciate that legacy."

Talk on pest control

The program featured a talk on the Stanislaus County Pest Detection program by county Agriculture Commissioner Gary Caseari.

"Early detection is vital to sparing agriculture," said Caseari.

Stanislaus County - home to $2.5 billion in ag commodities in 2010 - cannot afford an infestation of a variety of harmful and destructive pests.

Caseari's department uses 25 seasonal employees to service 3,900 traps every two weeks and inspect about 1,100 plant shipments each year, including at nurseries and UPS. The department looks for such pests as the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter, and the Gypsy Moth that is capable of defoliating trees.

Other destructive pests being watched for include the Asian Citrus Psyllid (aphid), the Light Brown Apple Moth, Melon Fly, Mexican Fruit Fly and the Apple Maggot.

A dreadful pest, Asian Citrus Psyllid (or Huanglongbing), showed up in Florida where it destroys orange crops. Six counties in Southern California and 600 acres of citrus are now being quarantined for the pest.

"This could be a big deal for us and that's why we keep tabs," said Caseari. "Stanislaus County faces continual threats of new pests to agriculture."

The event also saw the awarding of a scholarship to Central Valley High School senior Katy Gaede.

Her teacher, Ken Moncrief, also spoke about his students farming six acres of land behind Hidahl Elementary School to provide fresh fruit and vegetables for school lunches. Three days a week CVHS students travel to the farm to care for and raise carrots, squash, tomatoes, 110 fruit trees and 200 grapevines. The farm was equipped with 1,600 feet of irrigation line during Christmas break while many local businesses contributed free products and services. Moncrief said the school district is applying for a $100,000 Farm to School grant through the USDA to support the project.