Laura Giudici Mills of King City, Calif.-based spinach grower-shipper Metz Fresh was named Agriculture Leader of the Year by the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce Sept. 23.

Mills is director of food and workplace safety at Metz Fresh, where she’s worked since 2007.

She’s advised growers on food and workplace safety, as well as environmental issues, since founding LGM Consulting in 2002. Her produce career began in 1985 and includes stints with The Nunes Co. and Tanimura & Antle.

A longtime volunteer, Mills is on the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement technical committee and serves a number of organizations, among them on the board of the Independent Growers Association.

Mills has advocated bringing U.S. Department of Agriculture bacteria testing to the field or shipper level to help determine where contamination enters the supply chain.

At an awards luncheon, grower Benny Jefferson of Martin Jefferson & Sons — last year’s award winner — praised Mills for her work on water management issues after a 1995 flood prompted a federal disaster declaration in the Salinas Valley.

“When 1,500 homes were damaged and $400 million was lost in crops, jobs and property,” Jefferson said, “Laura became the guiding force in developing a coalition of landowners, farmers and government agencies. She helped create and lead … the Salinas River Channel Coalition.”

At the time, growers said policies that restricted clearance of riverbed vegetation caused water to run off onto farmland.

“Laura’s living proof that dynamite does come in small packages,” Jefferson said.

Mills recounted the downside of hearing news of her selection in her car one day when Jefferson called.

“I was heading to pick up my hunting license and tags,” she said. “I had a niece and another young woman with me and I damn near ran off the road. I was speechless, which doesn’t happen very often.

“I’m just a farm girl, fourth generation here in California. It just goes to show that if you’re passionate about anything, you can help others.”

Metz Fresh food safety director honored as ag leader