Regional Advocacy Groups Fill the Gap By Cory Lunde U CLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden once said: “It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.” Though this oft-quoted adage has reached cliché-level status, these words carry tremendous truths for the fresh produce industry and speak to the important roles played by organizations of all shapes, sizes and missions in the collective effort to support the grower community.

We all know the story. Western Growers began nearly 100 years ago as a regional association of Imperial Valley growers fighting rate hikes by the Southern Pacific Railroad. In the years since, our organization has developed into a powerful state and national advocate for Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico growers. Even so, our roots remain firmly planted in the local farming communities we were formed to represent. However, the social, economic and political landscape has grown decidedly more complex and challenging in recent years. Similarly, the fresh produce industry has grown in both size and sophistication, which has pushed the boundaries of our member operations beyond our four home states to dozens of growing regions and hundreds of communities across the U.S. and throughout the world. Consequently, it has become increasingly impossible for any single organization to be all things to all its members, Western Growers included. For this reason, the efforts of regional advocacy groups are critical to providing the frontline, nuanced attention that local issues often require. Many times, these battles are parochial; the impacts are limited to the immediate

communities involved. In other instances, local issues can be a harbinger of things to come for the broader agricultural community, as was the case with the so-called “hero pay” pandemic era ordinance passed by the City of Coachella in 2021. By requiring agricultural employers to pay workers an additional $4 per hour for 120 days, the ordinance placed local businesses at a competitive disadvantage during a time when many growers were already reeling from supply chain disruptions and food service shutdowns. Janell Percy, Executive Director of Growing Coachella Valley, a regional organization that fosters local support for agriculture, immediately jumped into action and soon brought Western Growers and the California Fresh Fruit Association into the fray. Concerned that similar ordinances could be passed in other jurisdictions, the three organizations sued the City of Coachella. While the lawsuit was ultimately unsuccessful, it likely deterred similar edicts in other parts of the state. Hero pay is one example of the role regional advocacy groups play in supporting local agricultural businesses. This work is sometimes done independently, other times in tandem with larger organizations like Western Growers. The following is a profile

Janell Percy, Executive Director of Growing Coachella Valley

of several select regional advocacy groups serving our members’ communities: MONTEREY COUNTY Organization: Sustainable Agriculture & Energy (SAGE) About: SAGE is an organization of local stakeholders from the Monterey County agriculture and energy industry who come together to advocate policy and inform citizens about the

“We are committed to ensuring balanced public policy relating to resource use and Climate Action in California.” — John McPherson , SAGE Executive Director



Western Grower & Shipper | www.wga.com

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