Alyssa Houtby (Class 49)

Alyssa Houtby (49) is the government affairs director for the North American Blueberry Council, where she has led the council’s advocacy efforts since February 2023. She previously worked for California Citrus Mutual for 11 years. Alyssa served on the board of the Alliance for Food and Farming and as chair of the communications committeeShe graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business. She lives in Visalia with her husband, Andrew, and daughter, Makenna. Alyssa commenced from the California Agricultural Leadership Program in 2019. 


In what ways did the program’s teachings and experiences enable you to make a greater impact in agriculture and beyond? 
Ag Leadership gave me the tools and self-confidence to effectively use my voice to make a greater impact in agriculture and my community, to take risks or pursue new challenges. Ag Leadership places a strong emphasis on the power of emotional intelligence. This is something I try to practice daily at work and at home. There is so much power and humility in having a healthy respect for others’ thoughts and opinions. I made a significant career shift this past year, and I believe the confidence I gained from Ag Leadership is helping me make a positive difference for the blueberry industry. 

Share an example of something you were uniquely able to do because of the program.
The Ag Leadership Program inspired me to grow as a leader and an advocate for agriculture. I’ve been able to apply the skills and lessons learned to serving the interests of blueberry growers.

How are you strengthening California agriculture through your practiced leadership? Why is doing so important to you?
I am incredibly passionate about the agriculture industry. I am not a farmer, nor do I come from a farming family, but I have a deep respect for the people who are. My role in the agricultural industry is to be an advocate for policies that support farmers. My strength is my voice (not my green thumb or lack thereof!). Ag Leadership taught me the importance of servant leadership, practicing empathy and building trust in being an effective leader for the specialty crop industry I serve.  

How did certain elements of the program (self reflection, self assessments) help you to be a more empathetic, authentic and effective leader?
Self-reflection is the foundation of being an effective leader. We’re all drawn toward people who are authentic and display empathy; these are qualities of a trustworthy person. So much of my job is about trust – whether it’s with the people I advocate for or the policymakers I’m advocating to. As we learned in Crucial Conversations, we often tell ourselves stories during times of conflict. When I’m presented with conflict now, as I oftentimes am in my role, I have the self-awareness and tools to effectively work through it. This has helped me to remain humble and authenticand change the story I tell myself. 

What personal and professional values do you carry through your life, and how do those show up in your leadership?
I share the same personal and professional values as CALF: excellence, integrity and respect. Together, these values foster trust, without which you cannot be an effective leader. I also strive to be authentic and humble. I practice these values by being curious and solutions oriented. When I’m communicating with policymakers, I do my best to understand their perspectives and look for common ground. Similarly, when I’m engaging with the industry, I really try to understand what is most important to the person by asking thoughtful questions and actively listening to their response 

How has your understanding of your specific role as a leader changed since the program?
Ag Leadership taught me that every person has the capacity to be a leader regardless of their professional title or position. Leadership is a verb as much as it is a noun; it’s something that every person can and should practice throughout their life. I often think back to the first reading assignment our class had about servant leadership. When we approach leadership with a servant mindset, and utilize our passions and strengths to serve others, leadership is a natural result

How will you continue to invest in your continued growth through lifelong learning?
CALF has done a wonderful job of providing resources for lifelong leadership learning such as First Fridays, alumni seminars and the Leaders are Readers Book Club. It’s great to have that level of accountability and continual connection to the Ag Leadership alumni community. I have always been a voracious reader and I love to learn. I find myself now leaning into subject matters that broaden my perspectives and expand my understanding of other cultures and belief systems. In doing so, I’ve found that I have a greater respect and empathy for opposing positions, which has really helped me to be more effective at my job, and be a better mother, wife and friend

How has your view of the world around you changed and impacted your development as a leader since participating in the program?
I believe that perspective is one of the greatest attributes of a leader. I will forever be grateful to Ag Leadership for exposing me to different perspectives on many issues facing society today and throughout history. From visiting Homeboy Ministries, speaking with inmates at San Quentin and interacting with the homeless population with Mercy Peddlers in Sacramento to our international trip to Russia and Baltic States, Ag Leadership put me into some of the most uncomfortable but eye-opening situations of my life. Those experiences challenged me to think critically about my own deepseated beliefs – some of which were affirmed and some of which have changed. Ultimately, I learned that when you have a healthy perspective you can see solutions more clearly and lead with respectful confidence.

What would you tell a prospective applicant to inspire them to apply to the program?
Ag Leadership is one of the best investments you can make in yourself, and the dividends will extend to the agriculture industry, your community and your family. Ag Leadership is the beginning of a lifelong journey toward becoming an impactful leader. You will experience people, places and beliefs that without Ag Leadership you may never be exposed to. You will become more confident, introspective and self-aware. Ag Leadership will challenge you in so many wonderful ways, and you will become a stronger leader in all aspects of your life.