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Leadership Modesto – Business, Commerce and Agriculture Day 

Leadership Modesto

It’s been said, “once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher, but three times a day, everyday, you need a farmer.” Fortunately, one of Stanislaus County’s greatest treasures lies within its rich, fertile soil, rivaled only by some of the best agriculture personnel and companies in the world. On May 9, 2014, the Leadership Modesto Class of 2013-2014 received a backstage pass to the local world of agriculture and commerce.

Our class began the day with a tour of the Ratto Bros. fresh produce facility on Beckwith Road. Defying the extreme heat and dry climate, the Ratto Bros. are growing fresh produce throughout the year in the area, competing against growers in the cooler coastal regions. On a regular basis, leafy greens and herbs are shipped across the United States and overseas within a matter of days. Thanks to cutting edge technology, data from each row in the field is gathered and stored in a computer database. Every box of harvested produce is labeled with a bar code. And the facility is powered in large-part by an on-site solar panel energy system. The Ratto Bros. also provide a boost to the local economy by hiring up to 400 people per year, and providing healthcare and 401(k) to each employee.

After a short drive, we were escorted through the beautiful headquarters of the E.& J. Gallo Winery in Modesto. The largest winery in the world was started in 1933, following the repeal of prohibition, when Ernest and Julio Gallo ventured into the business with less than $6,000 in starting capital. The two brothers were self-taught winemakers, learning the craft by reading old, pre-Prohibition pamphlets published by the University of California in the basement of the Modesto Public Library.

In addition to the Gallo Family Vineyards brand, the company makes, markets and distributes wine under more than 60 other labels to more than 90 countries around the globe. The Gallo headquarters is also home to the world’s largest glass wine bottle plant, producing an astonishing 2 million glass wine bottles every day. Committed to environmental conservation, more than 50% of the raw glass material comes from recycled products.

Next, the team met with Jeff Duarte at Duarte Nursery. Jeff graciously hosted a tour of the Duarte Nursery facilities, including the Dry Creek Laboratories. Employees work in white lab coats, behind large glass windows in a sterilized laboratory to utilize clonal technology to reproduce the best rootstocks for agricultural trees. In sum, a top quality “mother tree” is selected for its desirable traits such as: higher production, durability in a specific soil type, resistance to certain pathogens, or the increasingly important ability to survive with less water. By utilizing sophisticated technology, Duarte Nursery is able to clone and produce the best trees and vines for local farmers. We concluded the tour by sampling some lovely wines made from grapes grown on Duarte Nursery vines.

The day culminated with a trip to the Modesto Crystal Creamery on Kansas Avenue. For decades, the Crystal Creamery has produced thousands of gallons of ice cream, cottage cheese, sour cream and many other products. However, in 2010, Foster Farms purchased the Crystal name and the creamery. The Creamery now produces ice cream for stores across Northern California, including Costco, Trader Joe’s, Wal-Mart, McDonalds and In-N-Out Burger. Of course, the ice cream samples at the end of the tour provided the grand finale for a great day. They were delicious!

Looking back on the day, our class learned that few communities have the ability to cultivate such a wide range of quality, agricultural products. It’s one of the many reasons I’m proud to live in Modesto.

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