Mercedian takes over county farm bureau

MERCED -- Amanda Carvajal feels a passion.

The Merced native wants everyone, from kindergartners to elected officials, to know how important agriculture is to the county, the state and the country.

Carvajal is now in position to do just that as executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau.

"Farm bureaus are one of the most valuable lobbying tools in the country," Carvajal said recently after landing the job last month. "They do an amazing job of notifying the public what farmers do."

After graduating from Golden Valley High School, Carvajal went to college in South Carolina. She wanted to learn about public policy, and worked for a lobbyist after graduating.

She earned a bachelor's degree in political science, and her experience includes work as a legislative assistant at a Washington-based advocacy firm, as a field research analyst for the National Republican Congressional Committee and as a campaign staff member.

"I worked for the Republican Party, learned how to negotiate and how to lobby," Carvajal said.

She wound up in Texas, but found herself working 70-hour weeks. The 26-year-old didn't want to spend her life like that and was ready to make a change.

She learned about the opening at the farm bureau when she came home to Merced to spend Christmas with her family. "I jumped at the opportunity," she said. "I had always wanted to work with a farm bureau."

Carvajal was one of about 50 applicants, said Farm Bureau President Peter Koch. The executive director position was vacated in 2009 by Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo, who left without saying why in November. She had been the director for six years.

"Carvajal really did shine amongst them all," Koch said of the candidates. "She's got new ideas, and she's very energetic and enthusiastic."

Carvajal said she's come up with a lot of ideas about what she wants to do at the bureau, including bringing in more members from the West Side.

But it's getting the word out there about ag that Carvajal is passionate about.

"We are one of the top five counties in the state in ag," she said. "No one seems to realize how important ag is to our economy."

Coming back to Merced suits Carvajal just fine. Her parents are here, and her sister, who works in the ag industry, is mentoring her.

"There are a multitude of things I want to address," Carvajal said. "I plan on using all my energy."