BY SABRA STAFFORD
The Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s 24th annual Ag Aware luncheon in April feted the role of emerging agricultural leaders for the community, while raising scholarship funds for Modesto’s Future Farmers of America programs.
More than 600 of Modesto’s agricultural and community leaders attended the long-standing event to discuss economic trends, both locally and globally, that affect the San Joaquin Valley. The total money raised for this year’s event is still being tallied, but typically, the event raises around $20,000 to $25,000 for scholarships.
“Everyone here was once the future — the future leaders in our community and now we must do our due diligence to support that and invest in our youth,” said Kelly Monk, the 2019 Ag Aware luncheon chairperson.
The event featured student FFA speakers Josephine Henderson, the FFA president at Central Catholic High School and Julie Schelhase, the vice president of the Modesto High School FFA. Both students praised the skills they have learned by being involved with the FFA, and how it has set them up with the skills for future endeavors.
“We have classes that offer real life entrepreneurial opportunities and working experiences,” Henderson said. “We have classes that build academic and technical skills that are necessary for success.”
The keynote speaker was James Garner, who has a long history in the agricultural community. Garner is the founding partner of Cogent Consulting and Communications, Inc., a Sacramento-based firm specializing in strategic communications for clients in agriculture. He has a decade of experience working directly with California farmers, trade organizations, and processing cooperatives and companies on issues related to sustainability, such as water quality, animal well-being and greenhouse gases.
Garner has worked extensively with California dairy and almond clients, helping them with projects ranging from video production to social media. He also provides communications support for Cogent’s regulatory activities, which provide clients representation before regional and state agencies charged with air, water and greenhouse gas regulations.
Garner is a past member of the Center for Food Integrity Board of Directors, an organization comprised of stakeholders from across the food community dedicated to building consumer trust and confidence in today’s food system. A native of Hanford, California, he is a graduate of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he earned a B.S. in Agricultural Science and Education, with a minor in Agribusiness.
Garner himself is a past National FFA Officer and California State FFA President. He said his involvement with the organization was not so much a choice, but a directive from his father, but he is now very grateful for that push.
“It literally changed my life,” Garner said of joining the FFA. “It put me on to something that I didn’t know I could do career-wise. Personally, I met my wife because of FFA and we have two great children. My life would be so different and I wouldn’t want it to be any other way. And it really goes back to the FFA.