2019 Recipient – Karen Ross Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.  Karen Ross was re-appointed Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture on January 9, 2019 by Governor Gavin Newsom. Governor Newsom cited her unmatched leadership experience in agricultural issues nationally, internationally, and here in California; including environmental stewardship, climate change adaptation, and trade. Secretary Ross was initially appointed by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. in 2011.

Before joining CDFA, Secretary Ross was chief of staff for U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a position she accepted in 2009. Prior to that appointment, she served as President of the California Association of Winegrape Growers from 1996-2009, and as Vice-President of the Agricultural Council of California from 1989-1996. Her prior experience before moving to California included staff work for a United States Senator, a presidential candidate, and government relations for rural electric cooperatives and public power districts.

Secretary Ross is passionate about fostering the re-connection of consumers to the land and the people who produce their food, and improving the access of all California citizens to healthy, nutritious California-grown agricultural products, celebrated for their diversity and abundance in serving local, national and global markets.

During Secretary Ross’ tenure, the Department has focused on core functions to protect and promote California agriculture, investing in the Department’s employees to provide the best service to farmers, ranchers and consumers and fostering an agricultural industry that embraces its role as a global leader on everything from the most technical aspects of farming to the broadest environmental imperatives.

Secretary Ross has strengthened partnerships across government, academia and the non-profit sector in the drive to maintain and improve environmental stewardship and to develop adaptation strategies for the specific impacts of climate change. She has initiated programs to provide greater opportunities for farmers and ranchers to engage in sustainable environmental stewardship practices through water conservation, energy efficiency, nutrient management, and ecosystem services; and she has worked to provide greater access to farm-fresh foods at school cafeterias through CDFA’s Farm to Fork Program.

Secretary Ross grew up as a 4-H kid on a farm in western Nebraska. She and her husband, Barry, own 800 acres of the family farm where her younger brother, a fourth-generation farmer, grows no-till wheat and feed grains, incorporating cover crops and rotational grazing for beef production. The Secretary has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is a graduate of the Nebraska Ag Leadership Program. She has served on numerous boards and committees in California agriculture and with various academic institutions Secretary Karen Ross will be honored at the California State Fair Gala on June 27, 2019. Purchase Gala tickets here.

Past Recipients 2018 – Paul Wenger 2017 – Tom Nassif 2016 – Sarbjit “Sarb” Johl 2015 – Charles D. “Chuck” Ahlem 2014 – Craig McNamara 2013 – Edward H. Nishio 2012 – A.G. Kawamura 2011 – Robert “Bob” Gilbert 2010 – Bill Lyons, Jr. 2009 – Ron Schuler 2008 – Bill Pauli 2007 – Len Richardson 2006 – John Harris 2005 – George Gomes 2004 – Alfred Montna 2003 – Ann M. Veneman 2002 – Cecil L. Wetsel, Jr. 2001 – John A. De Luca 2000 – A. J. Yates 1999 – Gertrude “Gertie” Zerhrung 1998 – John Kautz 1997 – John Lacey 1996 – Guido Lombardi 1995 – Henry J. Voss 1994 – William F. McFarlane 1993 – Leland “Lee” Ruth 1992 – Richard Rominger 1991 – Gordon Van Vleck 1990 – Dick Markarian 1989 – Dean Brown 1988 – Senator Rose Ann Vuich 1987 – Clare Berryhill 1986 – Richard Lyng 1985 – Carolyn Leavens 1984 – Bill Staiger 1983 – Gailen Martin 1982 – Assemblyman John Thurman 1981 – Ed Rutherford