How We Grow

2019 May/June How We Grow

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16 ALMOND COMMUNITY ABC's Almond Leadership Program: Diverse Group, United Purpose "Diversity" is a buzzword in today's culture, but does it apply to the California almond industry? Absolutely. Diversity is a cornerstone of the Almond Board of California's (ABC) Almond Leadership Program — just look at current and past participants: Chris VanderStoel, class of 2019, is a Nevada native who moved to Waterford with his family to farm almonds and walnuts. April Nuckles, class of 2019, is a former educator who transitioned to farming and started her own chemical purchasing company. Mike Curry, class of 2015, did not grow up in agriculture and yet, in the span of five years, went from being an industry newcomer to chairing the Almond Alliance of California and serving as a mentor in the Leadership program. "They all have the almond industry in common, and that draws them together and provides common ground from which they form relationships and learn about other sectors of the almond industry," said Holly King, ABC chair and Leadership mentor. So, what drives this diverse group of people to apply for the program? "I tend to work in the field and mind my own business. I applied for this program because I want to get involved and learn as much as possible about almonds, and then put my experiences and knowledge to work in serving the industry," said Chris VanderStoel. VanderStoel is not what some would consider a "typical" almond grower: He grew up on a Jersey dairy farm in Nevada and attended college in Iowa. But his background is hardly a disadvantage as it allows him to bring unique perspective to the program. For instance, at the end of the year each participant is required to present their yearlong special project to the class and for his project VanderStoel aims to install a camera and a "bug zapper" on a self-propelled vehicle. His goal is that the camera will essentially talk to the zapper and tell the autonomous vehicle where to go throughout the orchard in order to remove pests. "Looking at the Almond Orchard 2025 Goal regarding environmentally friendly pest management, I liked the idea of developing a helpful IPM tool that helps growers save money on the farm," VanderStoel said. Saving growers money is also an interest of VanderStoel's classmate, April Nuckles. Around 2015, Nuckles joined Sandridge Partners' agronomy team as a key purchaser. From there she went on to found her own company, California Fertilizer Company, to procure fertilizers and applications for growers across the state, and today her company is part of HarvestPort, where she is the director of Grower Relations. Nuckles has a passion for helping smaller growers who don't have a full-time purchasing representative and she strives to get them the best pricing possible when making her bids. "With fuel and labor prices on the rise I want to help growers save money and make farming even more sustainable," said Nuckles. "Making deals for growers and saving them money while building relationships is what I love about my job." Nuckles didn't start her career in business, however, but instead in education. It's her passion for youth, This past March, the 2019 Almond Leadership Program class visited West Biofuels LLC, in Woodland, California.

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