Steinbeck Center honors ag leadersCORRAL DE TIERRA, Calif. — Bob Gray, chief executive officer of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, and food safety consultant Laura Giudici Mills were among the honorees at the National Steinbeck Center’s Valley of the World awards.

The Salinas nonprofit gave its Ag Leader awards to Giudici Mills and Gray, former chief executive officer of Duda Farm Fresh Foods, April 25 at Corral de Tierra Country Club.

“Bob chose a career in produce over a professorship in the mid-1970s,” Joe Pezzini, chief operating officer at Ocean Mist Farms, said as he introduced Gray. Pezzini is a past award recipient.

“As you look at Bob’s history, it’s safe to say that this young Marshall scholar and postgraduate student has been a scholar and a teacher of leadership ever since,” Pezzini said. “That has served the industry and the state of California well.”

Gray spent 29 years with Duda in various roles. In 2007 he became chairman of Western Growers Association, the first non-owner to do so. He’s also a past chairman of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California. In 2009, he became president and chief executive officer at the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation.

“Leadership is akin to teaching,” Gray said. “One of my bosses at Duda described me once as a student of the business. That was close. I actually thought I was a student of the people in the business. I was fascinated by the fact that market situations could create such different responses in growers, packers and shippers.

“It taught me that market information is imperfect. It wasn’t a completely level playing field. It was based on what you knew about your environment and your tolerance for risk.”

Steinbeck Center honors ag leadersBob Martin, King City general manager of Rio Farms — another past recipient — called Giudici Mills a deserving choice.

“Back in the 1970s when I was one of the original King City Young Farmers, Laura looked up to me as a leader,” Martin said. “She just told me this the other day. Now I look up to her.”

Giudici Mills’ produce career included sales and management positions with The Nunes Co. and Tanimura & Antle. She was director of food and workplace safety at Metz Fresh for three years. Her company, LGM Consulting, advises on food safety, traceability, crisis management and regulatory compliance.

She said the late Jim Manassero, longtime vice president of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California, was one of her most important mentors. The two were colleagues on the Salinas River Channel Coalition, founded after massive flooding hit Monterey County in 1995.

Also on April 25, the Hall of Fame award was given to vintner Jerry McFarland of Gonzales-based M.B. McFarland & Sons Inc., and posthumously to Myron McFarland and Myron McFarland, Jr. Education awards went to Neil Ledford, retired program leader of the Agricultural Business and Technology Institute at Hartnell College; and to the Grower-Shipper Association Foundation’s AgKnowledge program.