Joe Pezzini (Class 28)

Joe Pezzini (28) is the senior director of ag operations for Taylor Farms, where he oversees farming and harvesting operations for 35,000 crop acres. He previously had a lengthy career with the Ocean Mist Farms group of companies, including Ocean Mist president & CEO. He is also a partner in Valley Pride Custom Harvesting. Joe is from a third-generation farming family and a native of Salinas, where he grew up on the family’s artichoke farm. He has served on many industry boards, including Central California Grower-Shipper Association and Foundation, Ag Against Hunger, Produce Marketing Association and California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA). A leading advocate for produce food safety, Joe was instrumental in forming the LGMA following the 2006 spinach crisis. He serves as the Center for Produce Safety board chair and is a Community Foundation for Monterey County board member. Joe graduated from Hartnell College and UC Davis and earned an MBA from the University of Santa Clara. He commenced from the California Agricultural Leadership Program in 1999. 

How did Ag Leadership enable you to make a greater impact in agriculture and beyond?
When I commenced from Ag Leadership, I felt prepared and ready for any opportunity to come along. What I found was those opportunities didn’t necessarily present themselves at first. So, undaunted, I volunteered with several nonprofit organizations that my daughter was involved with. I had a chance to make an immediate impact on my community through the lives of our children.

However, a few years later, I took on a board role with the GrowerShipper Association of Central California. I was honored to serve, but little did I know what was ahead. When I was board chair in 2006, our industry was crippled by the devastating spinach foodborne illness outbreak. It absolutely changed our industry and defined my career from there on. Sometimes we can plan our leadership journey and sometimes it sneaks up on you and hits you across the head. I took a crash course in media relations and consensus building during a crisis. My Ag Leadership experience gave me the confidence, skills, sense of purpose and awareness to lead through a food safety crisis and help improve the produce industry.  

Increased self-awareness is a hallmark of Ag Leadership. What did you learn about yourself and your interactions with those around you?
Selfawareness is definitely a hallmark skill learned through the program. With Ag Leadership, I learned that to be selfaware, I needed to genuinely listen first, understand who my audience was, then open myself up to be able to realize how my message was being received. I came to appreciate that oftentimes its how the message is delivered as much as what the message says.   

How did the program help you develop your leadership skills and abilities?
With Ag Leadership, I was able to gain the selfconfidence to tackle the toughest tasks and build a good team around me for support.   

How has your understanding of your specific role as a leader changed?
My leadership journey has evolved over the years from rallying the troops and leading from the front to being a mentor and empowering others to lead and helping them gain the skills, temperament and knowledge to be effective leaders. I really take a bigger satisfaction of developing new leaders than doing it myself. 

How has your view of the world around you changed and impacted your development as a leader?
Class 28 finished the program in 1999. In these past 24 years, the world has changed almost unimaginably. From technology, dwindling resources, climate change and pandemics, we are in a brave new world. I am afraid we have not left the world in a better place for the coming generations. It’s crucial that we continue cultivating new leaders who can and will successfully take on the increasingly difficult challenges facing agriculture and beyond. Its going to take our collective leadership skills to navigate complex issues and tasks. The Ag Leadership Program is the best way to acquire those skills to make California agriculture sustainable in an uncertain future. 

How do you continue to develop as a lifelong learner?
I continue to develop as a lifelong learner by broadening my perspective through new associations and interactions. I have the good fortune to be a board member for the Community Foundation of Monterey County. Like most of California, we have a very diverse county and one that is changing with the times.

Why would you recommend Ag Leadership to others in agriculture?
Ag Leadership will develop you to be a valued contributor to the social-economic fabric of the agriculture industry and not just as a casual bystander, complaining about what is happening, but doing nothing to help guide it. The program will give you the experience, skills and tools to make California agriculture sustainable for future generations and to make a positive difference. Because at the end of the day, all we can do is strive to make a positive difference.