Priscilla Rodriguez

DIRECTOR OF REGULATORY AFFAIRS AND FOOD SAFETY AT WESTERN AGRICULTURAL PROCESSORS ASSOCIATION & CALIFORNIA COTTON GINNERS AND GROWERS ASSOCIATION

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to the AgSnacc Podcast where we take a look at careers in agriculture and the journey toward those careers. I’m your host, Erin Gorter, and we hope you enjoy this tasty AgSnacc. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Alright so we are here with Priscilla Rodriguez, director of regulatory affairs and food safety at Western Agricultural Processors Association and California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association. Good morning, Priscilla! 

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

Good morning Erin. Thanks for having me.  

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah, so, I'm super stoked because you were actually the first interview we have done after officially naming the podcast. So, this is not our first episode, but our first official episode as AgSnacc, so welcome.  

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

Thank you and I'm glad I can be the first snack.  

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah, the first snack! Alright cool, so Priscilla, tell us, what you do in your role as a director of regulatory affairs and food safety? And kind of what the average day looks like for you. 

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

A typical day for me in my life is, there really is no typical day. My day changes every day. I can have something planned out and it can be very different but for the most part what I can do in a typical day is, I can be doing anything from meeting with a legislator in Sacramento or DC, or some type of representative from some government agency in California or in DC. And when I'm meeting with them, I'm doing things like, I'm mostly educating them, or trying to get to some type of resolution on a new law that they're trying to pass or new regulation that they're trying to pass. So, I can be doing something as meeting with legislators. I can be testifying at public hearings on issues like water issues, air quality, food safety, labor, anything that's affecting our membership. So, our membership represents the tree nut industry, so we represent almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans. We represent anything after it, not the growing process, but everything after. So, we call harvest or the hulling and then the processing so everything after that. So, what we do when we're meeting with these legislators or testifying is, we represent our members in those issues.  I also represent another Association which is California Cotton Ginner and Growers Association, so we represent cotton growers and ginners. Again, when I'm testifying or meeting with these legislators, I'm talking about the issues that directly affect our membership and how we can work together to come to a possible solution. Now that's just one of the things. Other things that I can be doing is I can be writing public comments, which is similar to testifying but actually written comments that you submit, and they become available to everybody to see put their public comments. I could be participating in industry meetings, so that could be meeting with different types of organizations similar to ours where we can work together. I could be meeting with growers or with our members. As well one of the other focuses of mine is helping our members to be in compliance with the many, and I mean many, regulations that we have in California. That could be anything from creating plans, obviously food safety is in my title. I do food safety plans. I do safety plans. I do air permits. We do an array of things in our office but that is what I focus with, as well as making sure our members are in compliance with the many rules. A lot of times it's helping them understand, so a lot of my job is education. Whether I'm educating our members on what the new laws and regulations are and how they have they implement them in the workplace, or that is educating our legislators and letting them know what exactly our members do. Right, how is this new law that you're going to put into place, how is that going to affect us? How is that going to affect us positively or negatively, because a lot of times they don't necessarily understand. Right, they don't have the ag background so it's important for us to educate then on what it is and what those impacts may be. Other things, day-to-day things, are emailing right, emails are constantly coming in, questions from our memberships. Coordinating. Another one is I do a lot of coordination, whether it be coordinating meetings, or getting tours for legislators, coordinating events with other public agencies like the Cal… right now I’m currently working with scheduling on-farm readiness reviews, which is a new regulation that just came out with food safety and the California Department of Food and Agriculture, who are going to be inspecting our members on that. So, my day varies every day but that's kind of an idea a glimpse of what I do in a typical day or could be doing a typical day. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Which is lots of things. 

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

Yes. Yes, it is. 

 

Erin Gorter:

So, Priscilla, tell us what your high school experience was like. What were you involved in? Sports? Extracurriculars? What type of classes did you take? 

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

So, high school was a highlight for me, especially looking back and I really, really enjoyed high school. I tried to be involved in all-around activities. I try to be versatile with what I did. But by far my favorite was playing sports, at that time. So, I played year-round sports. I played volleyball. I played basketball. I played softball. The sports are my favorite memories. I also enjoy things like, I participated in school council, so I was involved with the school. I participated in our leadership program for two years at school. I was also part of the yearbook committee, so I did things that involve me in extracurricular activities within the school itself as well. And I really enjoyed that and I'm looking back now it was a good idea to extend besides just sports or just like just education. I really tried to do a lot of a little bit of everything. I also took a lot of math courses, so math is my favorite subject. Actually, my degree is in math, so I took a lot of classes in math. I was always the youngest in all my classes in high school because I was always like the freshman in the sophomore class, a sophomore in the junior class, the sophomore in the senior classes, so I took all my classes. I was always the youngest one. I also took AP courses in Spanish which now in my position really does help me out. I mean, Spanish is my first language but as you get older and as you use it less, you kind of lose it, so taking that course in high school really did help me out for the future. But like I said, I was just all around. I tried to do a little bit of everything when I was in high school. High school was important part of who I am today it taught me a lot of lessons. I also worked when I was in high school. I worked during my lunches so actually work in the cafeteria. I gave up my lunches for that work experience and I don't regret it. It taught me at a young age the value of work and the value of money as well. But that was my high school experience in a nutshell. 

 

Erin Gorter:

What did you want to be when you grew up? 

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

So, I didn't necessarily know what I wanted to be. Initially I wanted to be a lawyer right? Everybody wants to be a lawyer, doctor, or something along those lines. So, I wanted to be a lawyer because I was good at debating if you will or however you want to say, I was good at it. And once I realized that the amount of reading that you have to do to be a lawyer, right, you have to read all the laws, all of the regulations, all these case studies. I wasn't… English was not one of my favorite subjects, so I decided that wasn't a career path for me. Low and behold, what I do now, I do lots and lots of reading and actually learn to enjoy reading. That’s a turn of events but I didn't necessarily know what I wanted to be when I was younger. What I did want to be was, I decided to go the education route and I wanted to be a math teacher. So, that's why, because I love math, it was something that I enjoy doing, I decided that I was going to choose that as a career path and become a math professor. That's what I wanted to ultimately do was to be a college professor in mathematics. That was my goal. Obviously didn't turn out that way but that was the route I was trying to take. 

 

Erin Gorter:

That's impressive. Math was not my strong suit, so I was very much the opposite. 

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

I find this mostly the case: either you like math or you like English. It's one or the other.  

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah, yeah. So, when you graduated from high school, what did you… did you go to college? What did your post high school education look like? 

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

So, I decided to attend, and stay local and attended, community college where I received my associate’s degree in liberal studies, again because I was doing education. After that I went to attend Fresno State University. Go Dogs! Right. And I worked towards my bachelor’s degree in math while working full-time. I also began the Master’s and credential program. I put a little pause to that, but I will be resuming and finishing that soon. So, that's kind of where my education route went. It was going towards math, however that experience of while I was attending my full-time, doing that full-time job, while going to school full-time to get my bachelor’s degree, that's what pushed me into the career that I'm in today. 

 

 Erin Gorter:

And what was that job?  

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

So, I worked initially as an executive assistant for a water district, and my job was working directly with the assistant general manager of that company. And that job was what gave me that experience of what I didn't know, right. It was focusing on water legislation and regulation, so our key objective was to bring more water supply to the members of that water district. We focused on again, this was specifically one area right, one area of legislation regulation, which was water, and it was that was all my focus and that's where I learned about what the process was up in Sacramento, what the process was in DC, in terms of working with the legislator. That was where I learned about the different agencies and what the difference was between regulatory and legislative. That's where I learned how to build those relationships with others. Really it taught me, well I guess the activities taught me, what I really enjoyed doing, which was teaching. I was educating legislators. I was doing things like events. So, one of the cool things about the job was I worked with my boss in scheduling these massive rallies, press conferences, tours, throughout the state that were educating the public, educating legislators on what the importance was of bringing water to the valley for agriculture was. So, that job with specific for water, but it gave me all that experience in what legislative and regulatory issues were all about. 

 

Erin Gorter:

When you were growing up how was, like, education viewed in your household? And how did that kind of influence your path to this point? 

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

So, my parents had worked in agriculture as farm workers their entire life; they still do it to this day. They worked really hard and they were examples of what a good work ethic was. They taught us about responsibility and about resilience. They came from Mexico, they migrated from Mexico and had zero to no money in their pockets. So, they worked really, really hard and so they taught us by example. They also taught us or took us to work out in the field, so I worked out in the fields and I knew the hard work it was. And they did that with the purpose right, that was, they were teaching us a lesson of what hard work is and what the importance of education was, so that we can get a career and that we could further ourselves. And so that was, that was a very, very good lesson. Obviously, I hated it. I didn't understand it. It was hard work but now I appreciate it. So, they did have that focus and then my parents weren't educated. You know my dad maybe had a first or second, he went to like maybe second grade. My mother maybe went to about eighth grade. So, they didn't have a lot of education themselves, so they didn't really know how to educate us. But I remember my mother purchasing encyclopedias for kids. She didn't know how to teach us, but she tried. She did what she could and so they did. They pushed us to get an education, to learn, to work hard, and that's how it was viewed. And that's still the basis of who I am today, is what they taught me growing up. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah, that's awesome that education was important and that's how you, kind of like, continued in your career, but even the job that you do is also like you have to educate yourself a lot on topics. What the policies are? What the legislation and the regulations are and everything. So, you definitely have a like a motivation to learn all the time. 

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

Absolutely, and like I said, I didn't like reading at first, but it's literally become a necessity. And it's something that I enjoy doing even on my off time. But you're right. It's constantly and it's lifelong learning and it's not even just focusing on work. I mean I do focus on work, obviously, but it's lifelong learning even above and beyond that. I do my own personal development, my own personal reading at home because that's what's going to further you in your career, or your personal life, or community life or whatever it may be. It's important to always have, you know, that education is what's going to get you further in life. And it's you know, something nobody can ever take away from you.  

 

Erin Gorter:

Alright so this will be a little bit more of a lighthearted question. So, in the business of producing, marketing, managing the distribution of food, what is your favorite ag snack? 

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

I am going to have to say tree nuts right. Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans. I’m very much of the “support those support you”, so I have that in my pantry all the time. And it's one of my favorite and then also I mean in the Central Valley so I the fruits; citrus is a big one for me. My dad has worked in the citrus fields his whole life so oranges, strawberries, I mean you name it. I love it all, but tree nuts are probably my favorite snack. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Is there a tree nut that ranks higher above the other tree nuts? 

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

You know, I don't know if it's a good idea to say it, but I would say that almonds and pistachios are probably my go to.  

 

Erin Gorter:

You can see that! So, can you think of any, like, I don't know if there’s necessarily internship opportunities, but sorts of experiences that high school students now could like start to have in order to gain more of a knowledge or understanding or practice kind of your role in regulatory affairs and food safety? 

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

So, yes. We actually do offer an internship. It's mostly for college students but I think for high school students it's important to know that you need to have those experience to understand. I had no idea what my job… if you would have asked me in high school: “what is somebody who does regulatory issue or deals with regulatory issues or food safety?”, I would not have known. So, you don't know what you don't know. You really have to have those experiences and see what it is that you actually enjoy doing. I enjoyed teaching. That's what I knew in high school, but I'm in some way teaching now but it's those other jobs, internships, experiences, volunteering with different organizations, just to get an idea of what it is that those jobs entail. That's what's going to be important is having those experiences to see exactly what it is you want to do, because in high school, you don't have experiences or a lot of experiences, most people don't. So,  it's hard to know what you're going to like because, like I said, you don't know what you don't know, so you don't know what you're going to like, because you don't have those experiences. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah, so last question. This is the big one. If you could go back and tell 16-or-17-year-old Priscilla the biggest piece of advice, what would you go back and tell her? 

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

Oh man that's a difficult one. I would probably say you may not be sure what you want to choose as a career now but go out and experience different career options. Be open minded. Educate yourself. Read books. Have those experiences and enjoy the ride. You're not going to know right away what it is that you want to do, but just make sure that whatever it is that you do, that you enjoy doing it and keep going forward. That's what I would say. Just keep doing it. Keep doing what you're doing. You will get to where you need to be. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Very good. Keep going forward, I think that's a line from a lesser-known cartoon movie. I'm trying to… is it Meet the Robinsons? I think which, I think is a totally underrated cartoon movie but that's like the underlying thing is keep moving forward. So, it's good advice. Good advice. So, again, thank you. This is Priscilla Rodriguez, director of regulatory affairs and food safety at Western Agricultural Processors Association and the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association. Thank you for your time today Priscilla. 

 

Priscilla Rodriguez:

Absolutely, thank you! I appreciate it Erin.  

Thank you for listening to this AgSnacc, a production of the Brock Center for Agricultural Communication at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in collaboration with the South Coast Region Agricultural Education Consortium. For more information, please visit our website at www.agsnacc.com. That’s www.a-g-s-n-a-c-c.com.