How We Grow

2019 May/June How We Grow

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14 ALMOND COMMUNITY Meet Josette Lewis, ABC's New Ag Affairs Director When Josette Lewis, Ph.D., reflects on her childhood, she fondly remembers watching her mother hand crack almonds and enjoying them with her family on late summer evenings. As she grew to love almonds, Lewis had no idea that years later she'd find herself in the pivotal role of director of Agricultural Affairs for the Almond Board of California (ABC). Throughout her career, academics and various jobs brought her from coast to coast and around the globe. Lewis holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology and has worked in research and policy in a career that spans government, academic, nonprofit and tech-based corporate sectors. Most recently, she served as associate vice president, Sustainable Agriculture, at the Environmental Defense Fund, and as associate director of the World Food Center at UC Davis. "Josette has an amazing and diverse resume and will add many new and valuable dimensions to our organization," said Richard Waycott, president and CEO, ABC. "Her acumen and expertise will serve the California almond industry very well as we navigate the challenges and opportunities before us." Seeing the big picture through science Looking back on her career, Lewis credits a few key experiences as fueling her passion for agriculture and propelling her in the direction of California's almond industry. The first was early on, right out of high school. While most teenagers spend their last summers before college earning extra dollars making pizzas or bagging groceries, Lewis interned with a burgeoning ag biotech company. The experience confirmed for her an interest that would become a lifelong passion — examining how things translate from the lab to real life. Lewis did many of the things you'd expect an intern to do at a biotech company — stocking supplies and cleaning lab equipment. But she also had the chance to assist a team working to regenerate wheat from cells into a plant. "I remember watching cells at different rates of division through a microscope. This wasn't in a textbook — it was happening right in front of me," Lewis said. "It was the most exciting thing I had seen." From that day on she was hooked. Another key moment in her early career happened in graduate school. While studying molecular biology at UCLA, Lewis had an "aha" moment: as much as she loved science, she found herself more fascinated with the bigger picture. "I wanted to know what happens when you apply science to real world problems," Lewis said. "What are the ethical, political, economic and practical implications?" She had a chance to seek answers to these types of questions when she joined the United States Agency for International Development. For 16 years, Lewis oversaw research programs aimed at helping farmers in developing countries in important areas like disease resistance, crop varieties and crop nutrition. She was enthralled by the complexities surrounding food commodities and international trade. She looks back with pride on her many accomplishments, including helping navigate Israeli and Arab collaborations in sustainable agriculture and managing through a major ag biotech political crisis. And after those experiences, Lewis' path was set, leading her to work in sustainable agriculture with the Environmental Defense Fund, the World Food Center and, finally, with the Almond Board. Josette Lewis, Ph.D. Director, Agricultural Affairs Almond Board of California "I've worked in agriculture for a long time and with quite a few grower organizations. As I spoke with ABC staff and growers, I was impressed by the industry's practical view of its challenges and opportunities. They were pragmatic and optimistic. That way of thinking is aligned with how I think." – Josette Lewis

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