Davis woman is No. 3 at California ag department

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The new deputy secretary for the California Department of Food and Agriculture didn’t just learn about farming in the classroom, she lived it.

Jenny Moffitt, the daughter of Kathy and Russ Lester, grew up in Winters and now lives in Davis with her family. She was appointed to the position on Jan. 26 by Gov. Jerry Brown.

She served as the general manager for her father’s walnut ranch, Dixon Ridge Farms, since 2008, and also was in charge of sales and marketing.

Moffitt, 35, grew up on the farm in rural Winters and has been exposed to the entire spectrum of farming, from planting to harvesting and beyond. She graduated from Brown University in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, then worked for American Farmland Trust in Davis for a year and transferred to its Massachusetts office for a year and a half before coming back home to work at her father’s ranch.

Besides farming, Moffitt’s new job entails working on the Water and Healthy Soils Initiative, as well as state climate-change initiatives as the California Air Resources Board implements Assembly Bill 32.

“It is a cap-and-trade law,” she explains, with a goal of reducing climate-change pollutants statewide by capping entities that discharge more than the allowable amount of pollutants and requiring them to pay entities that discharge less than the allowable amount in order to be able to discharge even more.

“They have to turn to someone discharging less and buy their credits,” she says.

Moffitt says that is exciting news for growers, farmers and ranchers, particularly those that grow cover crops and farm sustainably, because they will have credits to sell, depending on their farming practices.

Another major issue Moffitt will deal with in her position is the ongoing drought in California. She will be working with various state agencies that are in charge of regulating water, and will be involved in the monitoring of both water supply and quality.

“A lot of my role will be working with those agencies and basically bringing farmers to the table for the discussion that’s happening,” she explained.

Besides water, maintaining soil quality also will take up much of her time.

“The Healthy Soils Initiative is something the governor just announced in January,” she said. “The governor is committed to healthy soils in the state, and finding ways to improve soil health, which includes climate, water retention, reduced erosion and water quality.”

Further duties for Moffitt will be to encourage the public to compost more as a way to reduce yard waste that becomes landfill waste. Dairies and poultry producers also will be encouraged to find ways to compost their waste and reuse it.

But wait, there’s more.

The CDFA is also working toward better access to health food, and goals include bringing more farmers markets to schools and getting fresh produce to soup kitchens, community-based food distribution centers and food banks. Moffitt says a Farm to Fork office has opened in the CDFA, with the goal of working on farm-to-fork issues.

It’s a lot to tackle, but Moffitt is embracing the challenge.

“I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited for the opportunity,” she said. “I’ve been at the farm for 19 years, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to bring a grower’s voice to Sacramento.”

Moffitt says she will bring a “fresh from the farm” perspective to the CDFA, as someone who has been “living, breathing and eating issues that farmers deal with on a daily basis, and bringing that perspective to Sacramento.”

She points out that many people don’t realize that farmers are often small business owners who spend most of their time working.

“It’s hard to be able to go to meetings to hear what changes are going on in the farm industry — and there have been a lot of changes lately,” she said. “There are a lot of new regulations farmers need to comply with, and they’re important for many reasons, but we want to make sure they don’t entirely cripple the ability to run a farm.”

Moffitt said she will strive to bring political and farming goals together, so that farmers “can continue farming and doing what they love to do most, and agencies can accomplish what they’re tying to accomplish: fair pay for employees, high-quality water and climate change mitigation.”

Before taking her new position, Moffitt has served on the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board since 2012 as a farming representative, which also was a seat appointed by the governor. Her role there was to “help find ways to work on achieving water quality under different regulations that are out of our control.”

Moffitt also served as a board member for California Certified Organic Farmers for two years. She has resigned from both boards, as her job with the state will consume her time and attention from now on.

She is not the first person from Winters to serve at the highest levels of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. She is third in line from the position of CDFA secretary, a position once held by Richard Rominger.

Moffitt is married to Greg Moffitt, principal of Winters Elementary School (Waggoner Elementary School and Shirley Rominger Intermediate Schools combined). They have a 6-year-old daughter, Maddie.

— Reach Debra DeAngelo at debra@wintersexpress.com

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