Category Archives: Consultants

Trevor Airola: The Student Becomes the Teacher

Trevor with the first group of FFA students to go through the program While most 24-year-olds are out there finding themselves and considering their career options, Trevor Airola has already landed the job of his life and if everything works out for the young man, it will be the only position he will ever hold.

A former graduate of the nationally renowned Agriculture Program at Bret Harte Union High School in Angels Camp, CA, Airola has returned to become an instructor for the school’s Agriculture Department after graduating from California State University, Chico with a BS in Agricultural Science in 2013.

Carrie Phillips, one of Airola’s teachers at Bret Harte, now works with Trevor. She recognized his enthusiasm for this field almost immediately, so she is not surprised that he is back as an instructor. “Oh absolutely, his passion was evident right away and he wanted to learn as much as he could,” she said. “Under the mentoring of Roy Beck, our former director (now retired), Trevor has accumulated extensive knowledge and is always excited to share it with his students. I predict a great future for Trevor as a teacher and a leader here at Bret Harte.”

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There are three pathways that agriculture students can choose from at Bret Harte High School, including Agriculture Science, in which they learn about basic plant and animal science, California agriculture, citizenship and leadership. The second pathway is agricultural mechanics, where they can study about things such as welding, woodworking and fabrication, for example. And the third pathway offered by the department is the horticultural concentration, dealing with subjects like floral design and plant science. For all of their classes every Ag student receives UC/CSU A-G credits upon completion.

Agra Tech’s Jim Bergantz is known as the school’s “Green Father”, because he has helped the program in so many ways, Airola explained. “Jim Bergantz is a wonderful person, because he cares about the greenhouse industry and is willing to consult us on how to do things the right way. He showed us what to plant and how to market it. He provided us with a manual that clearly describes each step and we refer to it often. We re-did our irrigation, made the greenhouse virtually turnkey and made it ready for plants. Without Jim and Agra Tech, we would not be where we are now.”

When Airola needed assistance with a greenhouse retrofit at a previous school, he called Bergantz for help. “I told him, I am going to need to contact Agra Tech and I asked him does he know anyone there?” Well, Jim told me–‘I am your guy’. He had just been hired as a sales rep by Agra Tech and I thought–wow, this is cool! So, by working with Agra Tech and Jim, we got it done!”

The Ag Department at Bret Harte is considered by many to be one of the best in the country, with one-third of the school’s enrollment involved in one or more of the school’s three pathways. “I used to have to recruit students to enter this program back when I was a student myself or when I was working with the department while attending college,” Airola said. “But, now that I am here–all of my classes are full. We have no more room so we’re literally turning kids away.”

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Newly married and now poised to perform at a high level in the best job he’ll ever have, he explained, Airola is both grateful and hopeful. “Yes, this is a dream job and a special opportunity. If I can even come close to filling Mr. Beck’s shoes after three decades in this position, I will be very happy. Teaching kids to becoming better people and leaders while showing them how to produce food–that’s a big deal.”

As the greenhouse growing industry continues to gain momentum, Airola believes that his students will be in a good position when they graduate from one of the pathways offered at Bret Harte. “There is a huge need for people who know how to manage greenhouses, so our graduates will be in demand. There are opportunities for college scholarships and so many other options for them to choose from. It is an exciting time in this industry, because of the technology and how it is changing all the time.”

So, in 30 years, when greenhouses produce a new crop every week and students drive autonomous cars to and from their personal greenhouses, will Trevor still be there showing them the way? “I sure hope so,” he said. “This is my hometown and I would really love to stay here for many, many years. As my students get out there in the industry, I am hoping that some of them too will come back and help us in some capacity, which would be great.”

Written by: Edmund Attanasio
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Agra Tech and CEAC Maintain a Healthy and Growing Relationship

Dr. Gene A. Giacomelli at the Greenhouse Tomatoes Cooling Studies at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA.

Dr. Gene A. Giacomelli at the Greenhouse Tomatoes Cooling Studies at the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA.

The University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC) in Tucson supports education, research and extension/outreach as part of the school’s Department of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering and the School of Plant Sciences.  Both within their the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the CEAC is known as the country’s leading institution for greenhouse growing education, featuring the finest professors in every aspect of this burgeoning industry. By staying ahead of the technology, the CEAC also offers an innovation platform for plant physiology, sensor technology and applied computer technology.

About Dr. Gene Giacomelli

He teaches Controlled Environment Systems which is an introduction to the technical aspects of greenhouse design, environmental control, nutrient delivery systems, hydroponic crop production, intensive field production systems, and post-harvest handling and storage of crops.

Giacomelli’s interests include controlled environment plant productions systems [greenhouse and growth chamber] research, design, development and applications, with emphases on: crop production systems, nutrient delivery systems, environmental control, mechanization, and labor productivity.

We recently talked to Giacomelli to discuss his role at the CEAC and how Agra Tech, one of the country’s largest manufacturers of commercial greenhouses assists the program by providing education and ongoing sponsorship.

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Q:  Tell us what you do at CEAC?

A: We focus on crop production in order to help the industry to grow, but we also teach the science and the engineering involved, to know why we can make it work or why it doesn’t work. So that’s what we do – we teach undergrads; we do research to create new knowledge; we teach graduates that help us do that research and then we have outreach and extension to get to the growers by inviting them to attend our short courses.

Q: It seems as though the professionals in this industry are willing to help each other even if they are competitors?

A: Yes this is a different type of industry in that regard. Agriculture in general I think – particularly the greenhouse people – are willing to help each other in a lot of ways. There’s competition, of course, but it’s beneficial too as more and more people succeed and that’s been raising the bar for everybody. And I think organizations like ours recognize and respect it from companies like Agra Tech. And that’s why we invite them every April to our conference in Tucson.

Q: From what we’re hearing, there are actually more jobs than students out there in the commercial greenhouse growing industry right now?

A: Absolutely. And that’s why I see all of these other states now at least putting together the horticultural side so they can educate and train students to be the growers. But we’re still going to need the engineers and the technical people as well. We have the engineering design program, but now we want to create a technical, non-engineering degree. Some people just don’t like the math – let’s put it that way. But yet they’re technically directed and they like to work hands on. They could do a non-engineering technical degree.

Q: How has Agra Tech played a role in what you’re doing at the CEAC?

A: Agra Tech comes to our short course year in and year out and they exhibit, which helps us to finance the entire program. It’s beneficial for the students and growers because they can meet the greenhouse reps and find out everything they need to know before acquiring a greenhouse for their particular needs. I was introduced to the Pound family back when I was at Rutgers University in the 1990’s as I recall.  They’re prominent people in the industry and well-known. Jim Bergantz and everyone else at Agra Tech see the bigger picture when it comes to this industry. They know that in order for this industry to grow, it needs education and support. So Agra Tech has been very good to us by waving our flag and telling people about our program.  All of the folks at Agra Tech are always there to say a good word  if somebody asks about a greenhouse – what’s a good buy, what’s a reputable one–I tell them,  ‘You’ve got to determine what you need by talking to the greenhouse reps and this is a good company that can assist you.’

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Article by Edmund Attanasio

Agra Tech’s Jim Bergantz Makes Permitting Presentation at 2016 Indoor Ag Tech Conference

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Agra Tech, Inc. is one of the largest manufacturers of commercial greenhouses in the Western US, but they do so much more than selling structures and growing systems to greenhouse farmers. Since day one, Agra Tech has played an integral role in helping to advise the entire industry and assisting people as they enter this field. To this end, the experienced and highly-skilled professionals at Agra Tech speak at seminars, conferences and other events. They don’t get paid for these presentations, but do it for the betterment of the industry as a whole.

Recently, Jim Bergantz, a sales engineer for Agra Tech, made a presentation in front of 150 people at the 4th Annual Indoor Ag Conference in Las Vegas. The title of his speech was Navigating the Road to Obtaining Your Greenhouse Building Permit.

The blog team at Agra Tech sat down with Bergantz to discuss the ins and outs of permitting and his knowledge about the topic–accumulated by helping customers with their permitting over the past decade.

Q: Tell us about your background in permitting and how you’ve helped your customers to attain permits for their projects?
JB:
I gained a lot of experience by building my own home and as working as a sales engineer with ATI. I have worked with a wide range of customers pursuing permits, helping them with their research and working closely with builders and customers as they navigate through this potentially arduous process.  By developing relationships with building department contacts and permit acquisition specialists, I have accumulated a vast amount of information that I can use to help our customers who need permits before they can build their greenhouses. By knowing the obstacles and pitfalls, I can guide them through the process and help them to find the right resources.

Q: Organization is the key. Tell us why and how you help your customers to be organized in this process?
JB:
Thinking the entire process through is important. If you know what to expect, you won’t run into surprises that can delay the permitting process. In some cases, there are things you can anticipate, like Kit Foxes on your property and the environmental concerns associated with that. But by carefully preparing the information that will be required, including things such as the structural engineering for the project, our customers can put them in the best position that they can possibly be in. Things such as local regulations will change, but if you’re organized, you can deal with them and get the permitting done as drama-free as possible.

Q: What are the areas where people seem to drop the ball when it comes to permitting?
JB:
By not providing the correct answers and by not completing the proper information for the building and planning department. It is not an easy process and some people get intimidated. They underestimate the time that it takes to get a project online and in some cases, they think they can do it alone.

 Q: What is your success rate in this regard?
JB:
We have a very high degree of success, because between all of us at Agra Tech, we have well over 300 years of greenhouse engineering and manufacturing experience combined.

Q: Is it a trial and error type of thing? It seems like a lot of these permitting projects have to be re-submitted before they go through?
JB:
It’s an investigation type of thing, depending upon the location of the proposed greenhouse and the depth of the requirements. When resubmission is required, we are there to help and provide as many answers as possible regarding the structural engineering of the Agra Tech greenhouse and we are in the loop until we get the project online.

Q: How can you find a good, reliable person to help your customers as they navigate through the process?
JB:
The first thing we tell people is ask everyone  concerned–local contractors are  an excellent source, county offices and the local economic development  department are all good places to start. In each area, it is different. It could be a contractor or a retired building department employee or an engineer. For example, in Stanislaus County an electrical contractor has a team of engineers and strong relationships with county departments. Another one is in San Diego County, where a retired building department official who knows the ins and outs of obtaining permits in that county is our go-to person there. Therefore, it differs based on the region.

Q: So, it is tougher to get building permits in certain states/regions?
JB:
Definitely. California is one that requires a very organized approach, while Florida, on the other hand, makes it relatively simple, comparatively speaking.

Q: What role do you play in these permitting projects?
JB:
I am a resource and project advocate and my role is one of support and guidance. I help our customers understand what is involved and prepare them for what is expected.

Q: What was your response for this presentation and how many people attended?
JB:
It was extremely positive with lots of interaction. There was a lot of interest in this topic and approximately 150 people attended the presentation.

Q: Tell us a specific scenario where your knowledge & experience helped a customer to get a permit for their greenhouse project?
JB:
Of course. Dave Wilson Nursery in Stanislaus County is a prime example.     We located and connected them with a permit acquisition specialist–Brett Russell, of Interstate Electric. Then, we conducted a team meeting with the customer to develop a proposal.  We crafted the proposal very carefully, making sure we answered all the potential questions and addressed areas that may cause concern.  We made sure to include input from people at work on every aspect of the project. The team has years of experience interfacing with building officials which proved to be very important as the process unfolded.  The team developed the specs and the documents required to submit the permit package and, with perseverance, it went through with flying colors. By working with us in conjunction with Brett Russell, who knew the process in his county, our customer was successful in accomplishing their goal of receiving a permit. The time and energy they put in to prepare their permit package really paid off in the end.

By Edmund Attanasio, May 24, 2016