Farm Credit Supports Annual Central Valley, North State Common Threads Awards

Women’s contributions to ag make up Common Threads

Farm Credit supports annual Central Valley, North State awards soon to be presented

Because so many farms have been in the family for several generations, many of them have a man’s name attached. But in 21st century California, women’s contributions to agriculture and their communities can’t be overstated.

That’s why women from the Central Valley and Northern California are recognized each year with Common Threads Awards, recognizing individuals who have made a remarkable and visible contribution to the enhancement of their communities.

“These women are the unsung heroes who often serve behind the scenes but who play important roles in agriculture,” said Barry Bedwell, president of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, which helped establish the awards in 1997.

“They are individuals who are dedicated to the success of their families, their farms, and their communities but also agriculture as a whole.”

This year, five women are being honored in the greater Fresno area and five others from northern parts of the state for their contributions. (Although the program criteria are the same, the two organizations that select the winners are separate.) An awards luncheon was held in Clovis on March 27, while the North State dinner will be held on April 4 in Chico.

Farm Credit proudly supports both programs because they recognize the important role of women in agriculture, said Leili Ghazi, western regional president for CoBank, a part of the Farm Credit System.

“Women today have important leadership roles in all sectors of the economy, and agriculture is no exception,” Ghazi said. “Women like the Common Thread Award winners have helped make California’s farming community the world leader, and we’re delighted to help salute their achievements.”

The Common Threads North recipients are:

  • Kathy Chance, a longstanding advocate for Butte County agriculture including being founding director of the Butte Ag Foundation and chair of the California Nut Festival.
  • Patty Merwin, who has devoted decades to community service in Yolo County in roles where she can quietly help, including the Clarksburg Community Church, the Yolo County Elections Department, and the area’s suicide hotline.
  • Edele Norman, a charter member of the San Joaquin County chapter of California Women for Agriculture and longstanding volunteer with the Ripon 4-H Club and Ripon Future Farmers of America.
  • Judith Redmond, a founding partner in Full Belly Farm in Yolo County’s Capay Valley and a recognized national leader in organic farming who also promotes agricultural literacy and has served on numerous state and local advisory boards.
  • And Cherie Stephens, owner of Stephens Farmhouse farm stand and bakery in Sutter County who has given thousands of dollars and countless hours to organizations benefiting the community.

The San Joaquin Valley honorees are:

  • Kathy Briano, who grew up on the family farm in Porterville but launched a career in retail clothing, only to return to her roots when her father died from cancer. Learning as she went, she has grown the operation to over 300 acres of diversified farmland and through volunteer efforts works hard every day to ensure there’s a future for agriculture in the region.
  • Tina Carreiro, who with her husband converted an old home in Hanford into apartments while she worked as a bank operations manager and her husband was a ranch superintendent. They later purchased 80 acres and began farming nights and weekends. The business has flourished – in part because of her famous demand: “Sharpen your pencil!”
  • Giovanna DePaoli grew up on a farm near Porterville. Today, with husband David, they farm over 400 acres of almonds, cherries, and citrus. Besides spending time with her seven granddaughters, she spends time in the almond orchard checking the sprinklers and being involved in the everyday decisions.
  • Marcia Shafer’s first job was picking grapes and laying them down to become raisins in Parlier and today lives on a Parlier-area ranch that’s been in her husband’s family for five generations. She is senior vice president with Zenith Insurance, is involved in numerous ag organizations, and serves as a mentor for people seeking careers in agriculture.
  • Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims is receiving an honorary award for her advocacy for agriculture and support of farmers during her career, which saw her become the first woman sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and assistant sheriff before being elected sheriff in her own right.

In previous years, 115 women have received the award – named because women honored are the “common threads” that hold together their businesses, families, and communities – in the Fresno area, while 61 have been honored in the north.

About Farm Credit: American AgCredit, CoBank, Farm Credit West, Fresno-Madera Farm Credit and Golden State Farm Credit are cooperatively owned lending institutions providing agriculture and rural communities with a dependable source of credit. For more than 100 years, the Farm Credit System has specialized in financing farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural utilities and agribusinesses. Farm Credit offers a broad range of loan products and financial services, including long-term real estate loans, operating lines of credit, equipment and facility loans, cash management and appraisal and leasing services…everything a “growing” business needs. For more information, visit

About the Common Threads Awards: The program was established in 1997 by the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, California State University, Fresno, and the university’s Ag One Foundation to honor Central Valley women in agriculture who make a philanthropic difference in their communities and our world. In 2003 a second Common Threads program was initiated in conjunction with UC Davis to expand and develop the mission of the original endeavor. While each program maintains specific and unique geographic criteria, the overall award qualifications are the same. Nominees should have past or present roots in agriculture and have shown outstanding involvement within the industry, as well as have made a difference through their charitable giving and volunteerism. For more information, visit and