Nita Gizdich lauded as Ag Woman of the Year - Against Hunger
The following comes from the Santa Cruz Sentinel. John Peter Kraljic, Esq.
BACKGROUND: Owner of Gizdich Ranch, a pick-it-yourself farm and tourist destination in Watsonville. AWARD RECEIVED: 2004 Ag Woman of the Year, given by the nonprofit group Ag Against Hunger based in Salinas, serving Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties.
NOMINEE CRITERIA: Demonstrates commitment to the betterment of the agricultural community; displays community leadership, professionalism and dedication; demonstrates the highest level of ethics and integrity.
OCCUPATION: Semi-retired farmer.
OTHER HONORS RECEIVED: First woman to be named Farmer of the Year by the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, 1987; named Direct Marketing Person of the Year by National Farmers' Direct Marketing Association, 1994; inducted into the Watsonville High School Alumni Hall of Fame, 1999; named Woman of the Year by Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce, 2002.
INFORMATION: www.gizdichranch.com ;www.agagainsthunger.com .
By GWEN MICKELSON
Sentinel staff writer
WATSONVILLE - Sitting at a long picnic table in the bake shop at Gizdich Ranch, a pick-it-yourself farm and tourist destination selling jams, pies and antiques, Nita Gizdich's blue eyes sparkled behind rimless spectacles.
A recurring smile sent laugh lines across her tanned face as she talked about the people, particularly schoolchildren, who come to the ranch to experience a farm firsthand and learn where their food comes from.
Tuesday, Gizdich, owner of Gizdich Ranch and tireless champion of agricultural issues, was named Ag Woman of the Year, an award given annually by the nonprofit group Ag Against Hunger. The award is given to an outstanding woman who has made a significant contribution to the agricultural community within Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties.
"I'm very excited," said Gizdich, 69. "I'm very surprised. I hope I can live up to all these honors."
That kind of selfless spirit in promoting and celebrating agriculture and keeping the pioneering tradition and agricultural history alive are what Ag Against Hunger looks for in the nominations for its award.
"The people who are selected are the hardest-working women in the industry, and they tend to keep a low profile," said Bernadette O'Keefe, executive director of Ag Against Hunger, which collects and distributes farms' surplus produce to low-income, hungry people in the community and throughout the state.
The award has honored women with outstanding contributions to agriculture since 1994, beginning with Sharan Lanini, an agricultural consultant in Salinas. Other women who have received the award since include Claudia Smith of Paraiso Vineyards of Soledad in 1995, Karen Miller of Clint Miller Farms in Watsonville in 1996 and Elia Vasquez of Vasquez Farms in Watsonville in 2000.
"Nita has done so much in her career of farming that it was natural nomination," said Jess Brown, executive director of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, which nominated Gizdich for the award. "She's been a leader in so many areas, especially in the direct marketing arena - Gizdich Farms was only the second in Pajaro Valley that sold directly to the public. Plus, in agricultural issues, she's also been a spokesperson not just for the benefit of her own farm, but for farming in general."
Gizdich Ranch was founded 69 years ago, when Gizdich's father-in-law bought the land.
Gizdich explains her background simply.
"I was born and raised right here in Watsonville," she said. "My father came from Croatia and was a farmer when he came. We lived in the city limits the first 13 years of my life, yet we farmed down the slough area of Watsonville. It was all farmed by my father under dry beans and zucchinis and tomatoes. Then he was able to buy a 15-acre farm, and he farmed there until he was 75 and retired.
"I married after graduating from high school, and here I am at the Gizdich Ranch."
Her grandchildren are the fourth generation working on the farm.
Gizdich's contributions to the agricultural industry include outreach to the community through the farm's open-to-the public presence and being outspoken on issues that affect agriculture and the local area.
In 1995, Gizdich was one of 25 California farm delegates who traveled to Washington, D.C., to talk to legislators about issues facing agriculture, including the endangered species reform act and immigration reform. She has served on the Farm Bureau, the Agricultural History Project and the Country Crossroads map organization.
Gizdich says she plans to keep an active schedule during her year of honor.
"I speak at many functions," she said. "I'm always out speaking in our community or very active working on different ag programs. I think that's what keeps me busy."
With her oldest son, Vince III, having taken over the farm since Gizdich lost her husband, Vincent Jr., almost two years ago, she doesn't have the responsibility she used to out in the field or managing the farm, and she says she gets to do the things she likes the most.
Going into the future, Gizdich sees herself staying right on the farm, continuing to work with children and on issues of importance to the agricultural industry.
"How do you preserve ag if you don't get out there and speak about what agriculture is to the public?" she said. "I think that's the big thing we're trying to do right now with tourism, educating the public of where their food comes from and how important it is to be raising it right here in our own valley."
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The central coast of California offers an abundance of natural resources. Among the resources it
provides are the fertile Salinas and Pajaro Valleys where more vegetables are grown, packed and
shipped than in any other region in the world. Yet, in the midst of plenty there are those who are
hungry. AG Against Hunger was founded to address these concerns.
In May 1990, members of the local agricultural community saw a need to join forces with food
assistance agencies to funnel donations of fresh, surplus produce to food banks and community
pantries in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties. In 1998 two small food banks began
participating in the AG Against Hunger program, Food Bank Coalition for San Luis Obispo County,
and Madera County Food Bank.
The program is simple. When growers have a surplus they notify AG Against Hunger. Our truck
collects the produce from approximately 50 different growers and shippers in the tri-county area. It is
then distributed to participating food banks and pantries, which make it available to over 175,000 low-
income people each month. When food banks are full, the excess is donated to California Emergency
Foodlink who takes it to food banks throughout the State.
Because AG Against Hunger is strongly supported by the agricultural community through donations of
crops , and is independent of any single food assistance program, the amount and diversity of produce
made available has grown enormously since the program’s inception. In 1990, 500,000 pounds of
produce was distributed compared with more than 11,000,000 pounds in 2003.
AG Against Hunger is not a food bank. We are a food recovery program that collects and distributes
produce to food banks and pantries. Food banks feed hungry people through their own distribution
process by giving directly to kitchens and shelters. They are community-based organizations. AG
Against Hunger is a regional program with a priority of distributing produce in the tri-county area of
Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties and broadening the area of distribution according to
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