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Jim Bogart retiring from Grower-Shipper Association after 40 years

After 40 years of service, which included never missing a scheduled workday, Jim Bogart is stepping down from his position as president and general counsel of the Salinas, CA-based Grower-Shipper Association of Central California.

Bogart began his career during turbulent times featuring Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers movement and is ending it leaving an association stronger than ever with many more members than in those early days and with a long list of proud accomplishments.

Jim-Bogart-picture-for-bookJim BogartUnlike many others that he has served over those four decades, Bogart did not envision a career in the agricultural business. In fact, his first ag-related job was with the Grower-Shipper Association and he admittedly did not know much about the industry.

While growing up, Bogart thought he was going to be a dentist in Southern California, just like the three generations of James Bogarts that preceded him in this world.

“I grew up in Glendale and had a typical childhood and high school life,” he said.

He went to the University of Southern California, as did his father before him, and assumed he would also eventually join the family’s dental practice. “It wasn’t until my sophomore year at USC when I took organic chemistry that I realized I wasn’t going to be a dentist. Organic chemistry is something you either get or you don’t, and I didn’t. It didn’t play into my skill set.”

Bogart switched his major to history and, upon graduation, set his sights on a law degree. He did, in fact, graduate from the University of Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, CA, in the mid-1970s. He came back to Los Angeles and joined a law firm that had a diverse practice. Bogart began specializing in labor and employment law and unknowingly planted the foundation for an agricultural career. He stayed with that firm from 1977 through 1979.

The ag connection came when a fraternity brother married the granddaughter of Salinas legend Bruce Church. Bogart became acquainted with the family and soon came to know local Salinas lawyer Andy Church. That connection led him to the Grower-Shipper Association, which was looking to hire a couple of attorneys to help with the growing number of ag labor cases.

He was in fact hired by the association and initially worked as a joint employee of both Grower-Shipper and the Western Growers Association. In those labor battle-intensive years, that was consistent with the practice of the time as Western Growers shared attorneys with several ag associations in California and Arizona.

Other than his family roots, Bogart had no binding ties to Southern California and appreciated the opportunity to move to Salinas and accept a new challenge. He soon became the association’s in-house attorney and remained in that position for 15 years as he served two different executive directors, Dick Thornton and Ed Angstadt. In 1997, Bogart moved into the top spot and it is that position from which he is retiring.

He doesn’t remember exactly when the job at Grower-Shipper Association morphed into a career, but he knows it was early on.

“The more I worked with these growers and represented the industry, the more I liked what I was doing,” he said. “I thought these are good people and this is exciting work I am doing. What these people were doing for a living was important. It was an honor to represent them.”

Bogart said during the first decade of his employment, union elections and litigation represented about 95 percent of his work. Again, he remembers that this was an exciting time in the history of labor relations.

“We were making law,” he said. “This was the early years of the ALRA (Agricultural Labor Relations Act) and the ALRB (Agricultural Labor Relations Board). The cases we were handling were important.”

While it is industry mantra to demonize Cesar Chavez, Bogart admits that the labor activist “had an aura about him,” especially to a 30-something lawyer originally from Glendale.

“I sat across the table from him many times. Those were highly charged meetings, but he was always quiet and cordial. He wasn’t a firebrand at all. I got along with him,” Bogart said, noting that Chavez the negotiator was much different than Chavez the labor leader in front of the cameras. “I’ll never forget that.”

As he surveys his own career as leader of the association, several accomplishments do stick out. “Under my watch, we were able to greatly expand the membership of the association,” he said. “From 1930 to 2000, it was the Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association. But shortly after I took over, we opened it up to strawberry growers, then wine growers and other growers, and that helped the association grow tremendously.”

He also is proud that the Grower-Shipper Association was one of the first fresh produce industry groups to move female agriculturalists into leadership positions. “Since I’ve been in charge, we’ve had three women serve as chairs of the board. I’m really proud of that.”

Bogart also ushered in the first strategic plan for the association and helped create a community information program — AgKNOWLEDGE — that has continually educated local leaders in the Salinas Valley about the value of the produce industry. He is also proud of the role he played as a founding member of the Ag Against Hunger effort in the valley, which has seen the donation of countless dollars and product to help those less fortunate.

Looking back, Bogart said labor was clearly the most important issue during his 40-year career, with water, food safety and crop protection tools battling for the runner-up spot. He believes he is leaving the industry in good shape but admits to a lack of patience with the current political situation where everything is political.

“It is increasingly frustrating,” he said. “Everything is now driven by ideology and politics instead of by good facts, good arguments and good science. All the arguments are so emotional; it’s much different than what it was like when I came aboard 40 years ago.”

Bogart was hesitant to single out any of the many fine industry leader with whom he worked over the years. “I was influenced by so many. I’m afraid to name anybody because I’ll leave someone out. Everybody in this industry has left an impression on me. There are many leaders that have left his or her mark on the association. They all stand out to me.”

He did allow that he has had a “special relationship” with recent fellow retiree Matt McInerney of Western Growers Association. Bogart said he always appreciated McInerney’s approach and indicated that he tried to imitate it. “For Matt, it was always about the membership and I’ve tried to do that also. I’ve always admired that and I’ve always admired his approach to the job. I like people like that.”

Bogart has no stated bucket list for retirement other than to enjoy life with his wife of more than 35 years, Janis, and his two step sons, David and Aaron Murray, and their families, which include four grandchildren.

“We are going to stay in Salinas. We have a wonderful house and we really like living up here,” he said.