Henry Gonzales, Ventura County Ag Commissioner

Ventura County Ag Commissioner Henry Gonzales Started as Fieldworker

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

California Ag Today interviewed Henry Gonzales, Ventura County Ag Commissioner, who has served in that post for 7 years. His unique story begins with his birth in Fresno and his work in the California fields at an early age.

Gonzales: My parents were migrant farmworkers, and back in the day, there was no day care for us, so they took us to the fields with them. I like to think I my career started in agriculture when I was old enough to pick up a plum and put it in their basket. We worked a lot in the Fresno area, but also in the San Jose area and Imperial County, following the crops as most migrant farmers do.

CalAgToday: You started working as a child, and what happened next? Did you and your family continue as a farmworkers?

Gonzales: We continued farm working for many years. We used to live in farm labor camps, whenever they were available. Sometimes we stayed with relatives or anywhere we could find. There were times when the only places we could find were the trees in the orchard, so sometimes we stayed there.

CalAgToday: So, when you were 13, you went off on your own?

Gonzales: Yes, when I was 13, I did what I thought I should do—work under my own social security card. I started working in the fields around Salinas. I was actually in the same lettuce harvesting crew with my grandfather who was 69 at the time.

CalAgToday: Well, Henry, walk me through it. How many years did you work with your grandfather?

Gonzales: I worked every summer and weekends since I was 13 through high school in the fields around Salinas.

This painting was done by Henry Gonzales's mother depicting his early work in the fields
This painting was done by Henry Gonzales’s mother depicting his early work in the fields.

 

 

CalAgToday: Tell me about high school.

Gonzales: I felt very strongly about completing high school because I know my parents did not. But you may find it interesting that when I was working in the fields around Salinas, I was a card-carrying member of the United Farm Workers (UFW).

CalAgToday: So the UFW recruited you early, or were you a supporter?

Gonzales: Well, it was a closed-shop situation; if you worked in that company, you were a member. So I believe I am the only ag commissioner who was once a card-carrying member of the UFW.

CalAgToday: And why is that significant to you, Henry?

Gonzales: As you know, in agriculture, farmworkers are, almost literally, the backbone of the industry. They are the ones doing all the heavy lifting. So, having that background really provides me with a broader perspective because I can understand farming from the ground level up. Coupled with my Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural science, my field work experience has given me a well-rounded background for agriculture.

I started working for the Monterey County Ag Commissioner’s office over 30 years ago. All Ag Commissioners start at the bottom of the organization, so I began as an agricultural inspector-biologist and worked my way up to deputy, chief deputy, and then seven years ago, I became Ag Commissioner here in Ventura County.

CalAgToday: So suddenly a job became available in Ventura County?

Gonzales: That was kind of interesting. I was in Monterey County with a great job, a great boss, and I could do pretty much what I wanted. But I got a call from Ventura County inviting me to apply for their ag commissioner position. I checked with my wife, and she said ‘Sure, why not? Try it!’ I did, and as they say, the rest is history.

I applied and got the position. I was reappointed here three years ago, and I am hoping to do at least one more term after my current term is over. I think all my years working for the Monterey County Ag Commissioner’s office, my degree in Ag Science, and my master’s in public administration, coupled with my childhood years working in the field really gives me a broad background in agriculture, especially as it exists in Ventura County and in the state of California.

CalAgToday: How did you have time to get a masters degree in public administration?

Gonzales: Well, while I was working for Monterey County, I spent a lot of sleepless nights and weekends in order to earn that degree from Golden Gate University’s satellite office in Monterey.

CalAgToday: When you look back, you have come so far from your beginnings as a farmworker, and you have seen so much. How do you put all of that together?

Gonzales: My experience has provided me with the broadest perspective, so when I deal with a challenging issue, I can see it from all vantage points, and that is very helpful to me in doing my job.

 

Milk Marketing Order in CA Worries Other Dairy States

By Kyle Buchoff, Assistant Editor

Tom Van Nortwick, owner and publisher of Agribusiness Publications in Fresno for the last 35 years, has been attending the USDA dairy hearing in Clovis to adopt a Federal Milk Marketing Order in California. Van Nortwick warned that should California go with the Federal Milk Marketing Order, the move could hurt prices for all milk producers across the nation.

“Dairymen in other parts of the country have expressed concern that if California dairymen were paid more for their milk, they may go ahead and produce more milk,” Van Nortwick said. “California is a milk-making machine with comparatively fewer dairies. More milk on the market has been proven to create volatility and huge price fluctuations up or down, depending on demand. So California producers’ getting paid more and producing more milk would reduce the price of all milk throughout the country.”

“We found that 2-3% too much milk in the market at any one time can create up to a 40% reduction in price paid to producers,” Van Nortwick explained. “And of course, California is not the only overproducing state; Wisconsin, Minnesota and other midwestern states are also overproducing at this time.”

Van Nortwick also pointed out, “Domestic demand is strong, but exports have shrunk by about 50%, which is about 8% of last year’s market. So when you add an 8% oversupply of milk volume to the market as we broach the time for holiday season orders, and there are strong indications that inventories of milk, butter, powder, and cheese are rising across the country, prices paid to producers will fall.

“Nobody needs prices to go any lower,” stated Van Nortwick. “Our counterparts in New Zealand, Australia, and the European Union are suffering mightily, even more than we are, with record-setting low prices because they think they can just produce more than they can sell. If you produce more than you can sell, you are going to take a hit, and unfortunately it is the producers who end up taking that hit.”

ALRB on Entering Private Property

ALRB on Entering Private Property to Educate Workers:  Is the ALRB going too far?

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

The California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) wants to enter private property farmland for the purpose of educating farmworkers on their rights as farm laborers in California. Of course, farmers want their workers to be happy and content with their work and that means knowing and understanding their rights as farmworkers.

“But the ALRB is going too far,” said attorney Ron Barsamian of Barsamian & Moody in Fresno, which represents many agricultural businesses throughout California in labor and  employment law.

“I wanted to get into some pragmatic issues that I feel have not been considered. For instance, the lack of efficiency in trying to get access to all these different ranches is just not going to work,” said Barsamian. “You are going to have staff tied up forever. I don’t think they have taken into account the different geographical areas, the different ag sectors. For instance, are you going to spend as much time educating two or three people working at a dairy as you would a crew of 50-60 people?”