Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson was named the Fresno Chamber of Commerce's 2013 Agriculturist of the Year.
Larson's award was announced Wednesday in the Agriculture Building of the Big Fresno Fair.
"What a humbling experience," Larson said. "My thanks to the Fresno Chamber. This is an overwhelming honor."
Also announced was the Baker, Peterson & Franklin Ag Business of the Year winner: Gar Tootelian of Reedley. The chemical and fertilizer retailer is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the state.
As a politician and lifelong farmer, Larson has developed a reputation as a staunch agriculture advocate.
"No one has carried the banner for agriculture, in the private sector and as an elected official, with more force than Phil Larson," said Al Smith, chamber president. "We have all benefitted by his laser focus."
Larson said his love of farming and the realization that agriculture plays a vital role in the region's economy is what makes him such a strong supporter.
"All my life, I wanted to be a farmer," Larson said.
Over the years, Larson's activism has led him to Washington, D.C., to lobby politicians on water issues. Larson also served as president of the Fresno County Farm Bureau from 1996 to 1998 and as a state director of the California Farm Bureau, representing District 7.
Along with farming, Larson worked in sales for Wilbur-Ellis, a distributor of farm specialty chemicals, for 38 years.
The winner of the Agriculture Business of the Year, Gar Tootelian, is a family-run company whose roots date back to 1949. Karen Musson, a partner, said the chemical and fertilizer company has become a leader in its field, in large part because of its style of business.
The company has operated in the same Reedley location for years.
"And we still believe, like my parents did, that if we treat customers right we will have a friend for life," Musson said.
The mantra has served the company well. It serves more than 1,400 growers from Madera to Kern counties.
The company is also in growth mode, having recently completed a five-acre expansion that includes a new office. Next year, it plans to add a 60,000-square-foot warehouse for packaged products.
Musson said the company considers itself lucky and has made a commitment to give back to the community. In 2003, it established the Gar & Esther Tootelian Charitable Foundation that has granted more than $2 million to local colleges, high schools and FFA groups. It was also instrumental in establishing the recent "Valley Farm" at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
"Gar strongly believes growers deserve America's respect," Musson said. "We work every day to build awareness and appreciation for the value ag brings to the world."
Both winners will be honored at the chamber's Ag Awards Luncheon on Nov. 13 at the Radisson Conference Center in Fresno. Luncheon tickets are available through the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, fresnochamber.com or (559) 495-4800.
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