Joe Aiello to Receive Leadership Excellence Award at 2016 Summer Gala

Joe Aiello - 2016 Leadership Excellence Award Recipient

MORGAN HILL, CA (2016-01-25) – Leadership Morgan Hill (LMH) is proud to announce that local farmer Joe Aiello will be honored with the 2016 Leadership Excellence Award at an evening outdoor celebration/fundraiser at Guglielmo Winery on July 16. The Leadership Excellence Award recognizes the vision and leadership that advance the spirit of community and charity; reflect courage and insight; and inspire others to lead in a like manner.

Karl Bjarke, this year’s president of the LMH organization, is delighted with Joe’s selection, saying “Joe’s leadership in the farming community and indeed, in all of the community perfectly mirrors the values of the Leadership organization. Our Board is very excited and energized to help celebrate Joe’s award”.

Joe grew up in Campbell when Santa Clara Valley was known as the “Valley of the Heart’s Delight”, but his family did not farm. He gained his love of farming from summer jobs and decided to major in crop science at Cal Poly. Graduating in 1971, Joe started a small 16 acre farm on Malaguerra Ave. in Morgan Hill where he grew sweet corn and married his wife Katie. Some of his early crops were grown on contract to George Chiala, the 2014 Leadership Excellence Award honoree.

Over the next five years, Joe and Katie grew the farm to more than 100 acres. In 1976, he secured a tomato contract but lost the whole crop (and much more) to a torrential summer rain storm. Around that time, Joe met George Uesugi, a local grower with a small but successful operation, with which he made a good living with labor intensive crops such as strawberries and chili peppers on 130 acres in Morgan Hill. He asked Joe to join his operation, also offering the use of a house. Joe, Katie and their two sons, Peter and Michael, lived in this home until 1989.

After deliberation with his family, Joe decided to go in a different direction and became a foreman for the Newhall Land & Farming Company managing 7,000 acres of land from 1977 to 1979. But he kept in touch with Mr. Uesugi and in 1979 the veteran farmer made Joe a deal he couldn’t refuse - he financed Joe and his partner Dennis Humphrey for the first year and then sold them the business. It was a great opportunity and Joe took full advantage, even living in (and expanding) the small house with Katie and son Pete for almost 10 years.

Joe made Uesugi Farms his own. Today the firm grows crops in a half a dozen different districts in California and Mexico. The firm is well-known in the fresh bell pepper category and the processed chili pepper arena, as well as other crops. They grow and pack peppers for big companies (Frito Lay, Campbell’s Soup, Subway and Safeway, to name a few) as well as many small family-owned operations, tens of thousands of tons every year.. Through it all, he has kept Uesugi name. Joe says “It’s a tribute to George and all he did for us. Without him, it wouldn’t have happened. We’re still really good friends. He’s a great guy. “

Joe’s loyalty to his mentor tells a lot about his character. He is dedicated to farming and does so much in the community to promote agriculture. He is a long-time supporter of the Future Farmer program at Live Oak High School and its scholarships. Joe also started an annual scholarship fund for a deserving “ag” student in memory of his son Michael who was tragically lost in a small airplane accident. Through intensive fund-raising efforts, that scholarship has grown over the years to the point where it is now bestowing $20,000 on some very deserving students, and Joe hopes to increase it so it provides tuition for a full four years. Since the program began in 2008, 18 scholarships have been awarded totaling $98,000.

Joe serves on the prestigious Western Growers Association (WGA) board, working with both state and federal government agencies in supporting the agriculture industry. He serves on many WGA committees to resolve water, labor, transportation and other issues He supports the WGA School Garden program, providing field trips for elementary school students to learn about Uesugi’s farming operations. Through the same program, he has expanded and enriched the school gardens at both San Martin-Gwinn and St. Catherine’s.

Joe generously supported his kids’ many athletic endeavors and is still supporting youth through his scholarships, support of Future Farmers and support and advocacy for the new Catholic High School. The Uesugi Farms Pumpkin Patch is an institution in Morgan Hill, where 17000 kids have ridden the train and gone home with a pumpkin. Joe makes sure all kids are welcome and accommodated at the Patch. A very generous giver and a leader, Joe is widely recognized in the agriculture industry taking leadership positions in the local Farm Bureau, the WGA and in other agricultural organizations on issues that impact local, state and national farming and his own operation.

Joe and George Chiala remain close friends and greatly respect each others’ leadership. George says “there is no doubt in my mind that Joe is a perfect selection for this honor, he is a perfect example for the community, a giver and a community builder; a great guy!”

Joe believes that a business that is not growing is not going to survive, so he has been quite a risk-taker in pushing Uesugi Farms forward. Now son Pete is getting more involved, increasing his responsibilities. Joe is fine with that. He respects that his son’s more cautious and management-oriented approach will lead the business forward; allowing him to gradually relax more.

Joe will receive his medal at the gala summer tribute dinner at the beautiful Guglielmo Winery. Community leaders, supporters of LMH and the many friends and relatives of the honoree will attend this community celebration to honor Joe and to benefit the local nonprofit LMH educational organization. Dinner and the award program will be followed by music and dancing. In keeping with the setting and Joe’s farming profession, dress for the event is casual and comfortable for summer fun.

The Honorary Committee for the event is being chaired by Joe’s son Pete and LMH Board member Susan Krajewski is chairing the Event Committee.

Awardees are selected by a blue-ribbon panel of community leaders that includes all former Leadership Excellence Award recipients. Funds raised will benefit the non-profit LMH educational organization, now in its 21st year of building community leadership. The annual LMH program provides insight, tools and training that enables and inspires leaders in all walks of life to give back to the community through service. LMH graduates are found in leadership positions throughout the community in government, education, business, nonprofit organizations and in farming.

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