Working in agriculture involves ‘a lot of moving parts’


Issue Date: October 10, 2012
By Kate Campbell
Santa Cruz County strawberry grower Chase Renois helps grow crops for supermarkets, as well as gather food donated to the hungry through Ag Against Hunger—a nonprofit that connects the agricultural community and food assistance programs.
Photo/Driscoll’s Strawberries
Ag Against Hunger—a nonprofit that connects the agricultural community and food assistance programs.
Chase Renois, right, a member of the Young Farmers and Ranchers state committee, shares a light moment with California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger during the YF&R Leadership Conference.
Photo/Christine Souza
Ag Against Hunger—a nonprofit that connects the agricultural community and food assistance programs.
Photo/Driscoll’s Strawberries

Editor's note: This week, Ag Alert® begins a three-part series about different paths young farmers and ranchers take as they build their agricultural careers. Part One profiles a young farmer establishing himself in the strawberry business and in service to his community.

Before most people open their eyes and pour a morning cup of coffee, Santa Cruz County strawberry farmer Chase Renois is already at work balancing the needs of produce marketers, growers and consumers.

"I'm up early every day because I have to prepare for daily sales meetings that begin at 6:30 a.m.," Renois said, explaining that Eastern produce buyers are "chomping at the bit" by 10 a.m. their time and want to speak with Western strawberry wholesalers.

"The rest of my day involves coordinating a lot of moving parts throughout the business," he said. "Quality assurance, food safety, packaging. They all require attention throughout the day. Any issues that come up end up with our work group."

Renois, who works as a business manager for Driscoll's Strawberries in Watsonville, said the demands of a job in agriculture aren't a surprise.

"My family grows citrus in the San Joaquin Valley south of Fresno," he said. "My dad has worked in the citrus business and grew up in agriculture, as well. I had a pretty good idea of the demands of farming and what I was getting into."

At Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Renois studied agricultural business, graduating in 2008. Between his junior and senior years, he worked at Driscoll's Strawberries as an intern and after graduation applied for a job with the company. He counts himself lucky to have landed a position in the sales department.

"I'm lucky to work for a company that offers opportunities to people who are willing to do the work," Renois said. "Growing up in an ag environment taught me about hard work and dedication. That helped build a foundation for what I'm doing now."

Although he's modest about the work he does, Renois will tell you that in Santa Cruz County, berries are king. Berries have been grown in the Pajaro Valley since the late 1800s, and the science and expertise developed there have allowed California growers to branch out to other berry-growing regions in California, the U.S. and the world.

Last year, more than $363 million worth of berries were produced in Santa Cruz County. The annual county crop report shows berries accounting for nearly two thirds of the county's total agricultural value, with strawberry production alone valued at about $200 million. California leads the nation in strawberry production, with coastal counties including Monterey, Ventura, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz supplying the bulk of production.

It's not unusual for Renois to "bounce around" to company growing operations in Florida and Baja California, he said, but he still makes time to serve as vice chairman of Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers group, as well as serving as a district director for the state YF&R Committee.

"One of Chase's strengths is his ability to work with people of different backgrounds and opinions and bring them together," said Jess Brown, Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau executive director. "Besides being involved with YF&R and having a demanding job, Chase also finds time to be involved in the community."

Renois is vice chairman of the board for Pajaro Valley Shelter Services, a non-profit organization assisting homeless women, children and families to get into stable housing while providing them temporary shelter and services.

"That commitment, at such a young age, speaks volumes about the kind of person Chase is," Brown said.

Renois said being committed to the work of agriculture is one thing that has really helped him.

"I worked throughout college and that helped me become familiar with the environment," he said. "A lot of college kids are just going to school, and that's fine. But, getting an internship gets you out in the world."

Renois said his internship "taught me the difference between college and working in a professional environment," adding that "there's so much that you can't learn in a book, like how to conduct yourself in a professional environment."

He said when he looks at resumes today, he looks for people who have put themselves into the work world through internships or working on the family farm.

"Everything isn't learned in school," he said. "I've always believed in getting an undergraduate degree and then figuring out how you want to specialize while you're working. I want to figure out my place in the business before I pursue further education."

Renois said balancing all the demands of a blossoming career in agriculture while serving as a volunteer leader for Farm Bureau and in the community doesn't leave much time for leisure.

"I'm lucky I have an understanding wife who also works in agriculture," he said about his wife, Bernadette. "We had a long talk about the workload and our goals and aspirations. Being up front with each other has helped us make the right decisions."

When he and his wife aren't working or volunteering, Renois said spending time with family and watching professional sports are favorite pastimes, along with travel.

One last piece of advice: Renois said people looking for a career in agriculture today should be willing to take a chance and move outside their comfort zone.

"Become a volunteer, become a member of YF&R," he said. "Stretching yourself is rewarding. It helps you to be more flexible and ready for new opportunities."

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Learn more about Young Farmers and Ranchers in the Making it work series.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.