Employee Q&A: Danielle Veenstra of our Sustainable Farming Communications Team

Posted July 28th, 2017

In our new ABC Q&A series, we bring you brief interviews with some of the minds driving innovation at the Almond Board of California. We speak to a wide variety of folks who work here at the Almond Board, exploring topics from research to conservation to favorite almond recipes.

We kick off the series this week by talking to Danielle Veenstra, who is not only an employee but also an almond grower herself.
 

Tell us about your day-to-day role at the Almond Board.

I work as part of the communications team talking about how the California Almond community farms, the research behind those practices, and sustainability. My job title is Senior Specialist, Sustainable Farming Communications.

What first interested you in joining Almond Board? How has that changed over the years?

Living in an almond orchard means many photos taken in front of blossoming trees. Above: Danielle’s grandmother, Joanne, examining the blooming crop in the late 1970s. Below: Danielle (right) and her two siblings, Katie and Derek, enjoying bloom in the early 2000s.My first position with the Almond Board was within our production and environmental research programs. I have degrees in natural resource management and geography, and I grew up on my family’s almond farm, so it hit a nice balance of personal experience and academic interest.

My grandpa planted our first orchard in 1965, and I still live in that orchard today. So while my day job is at the Almond Board, you can often find me working out in the orchard on the weekends. Our 40-acre farm is similar to the majority of California Almond farms – 61 percent of those farms are under 50 acres, and 91 percent are family farms.1

I’ve been working for the Almond Board for almost four years now, and I think a lot about how almonds and agriculture fit into the larger California ecosystem. My personal values align well with the Almond Board’s goals to build better farms for a better California – something that makes my work fulfilling each day. Plus,
I have amazing colleagues who are not only incredibly
talented in their fields but are also just great people to
be around.

What accomplishment from your time at the
Almond Board are you most proud of?

The Almond Board’s Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds was a significant project of mine earlier in my career here. I worked closely with colleagues and external experts to develop research-based, actionable guidelines for farmers to best protect honey bees during almond bloom and beyond.

While the Bee BMP’s focus is to recommend best practices for almond farmers, it has been held up as an example of what other crops can be doing to protect pollinators. We wouldn’t have almonds without honey bees, so we need to be careful to protect them – something I’m very proud to have championed through this work.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your time working here?

When I joined the Almond Board, I was surprised by the breadth and depth of production and environmental research that has been funded over time – all with the goal of continuously improving farming practices. The Almond Board has been rooted in research since 1973, with topics ranging from fine-tuning irrigation practices and learning about honey bee health to developing new tree varieties and decreasing environmental impacts.

Tell us about your most exciting day on the job in the past month.

We have a digital campaign coming up that will run across our social media channels and blog highlighting bite-sized pieces of information about almond sustainability. To help tell some of those stories, we actually filmed a couple spots of me in my family’s orchard – talking about improvements we’ve made over time and demonstrating common practices like checking the irrigation sprinklers. It’s nice to be able to talk from an industry wide-perspective about common practices, but then also illustrate how those play out in my own orchard.

I spend a lot of time behind the scenes crafting how best to communicate about various topics, so getting in front of the camera was an entirely new experience for me. Talk about professional development! While it was slightly terrifying to begin with, the film crew and producers helped me loosen up. Before I knew it, I wasn’t just talking to a camera, but directly to almond lovers around the world.

Checking sprinklers is a regular job of Danielle’s at her family’s farm – but this is definitely the first time it’s been done on camera, and it hardly ever looks this glamorous.

As farmers we don’t always do the best job telling our story and can sometimes rest on the nutritional benefits of the food we grow. But people everywhere are looking for more, asking things like “Where does my food come from? How is it grown?” The Almond Board’s upcoming digital campaign (#AlmondSustainability) looks to answer some of those questions, so be on the lookout in the coming months to learn more.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in this industry?

Work with an organization that recognizes your strengths and builds opportunities for you based on them. I originally worked in the production and environmental research departments before transitioning to communications. I love that my position here builds on both my background in almond farming and my communication skills. Find an employer who works with you to make sure your role is a good fit for you.

Be sure to ask questions about workplace culture too. While day-to-day tasks may be a perfect fit for your skills, it won’t add up to much if the work environment is stifled. When you think about it, we spend most of our waking hours at work, so it’s important that you enjoy the people you’re working with – something I definitely have at the Almond Board.

What’s your favorite way to eat almonds?

It’s a response only a farmer can give – straight off the tree. If you can find green almonds at your local farmer’s market in April or May, that’s the next best thing. They’re a totally different texture and flavor – think floral and cucumber-y.

 


1USDA. 2012 Agricultural Census.