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Chico State

Distinguished Alumna and California Farm Bureau President Shannon Douglass

Distinguished Alum and California Farm Bureau President Shannon Douglass

Shannon Douglass has an intimidating to-do list as the brand-new President of the California Farm Bureau. But she’s not about to get bogged down in the minutia. The organization’s first woman President in its 105-year history keeps her sights set on what drives her—the people who blazed trails for her, her fellow farmers, and those who will follow.

“We do this work for the generations that will come behind us,” she said.

She thinks of her grandparents, fellow Wildcats Howard (Commerce, ’49; General Secondary Business Credential, ’50; General Elementary Credential, ’53) and Wanda Allard (attended, 1947-49), when asked about the significance of being recognized as one of Chico State’s Distinguished Alumni. “They would be tickled about this,” she said.

Douglass graduated from Chico State with a degree in agriculture in 2005 and went on to earn her master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in 2012, earning a prestigious Lt. Rawlins Merit Scholarship along the way. That experience helped embolden her to try new things.

“Chico State gives students a unique opportunity to get involved, get your hands dirty, and try new things,” Douglass said. “That’s where I learned to embrace the opportunity to fail forward, because when I did, someone always cared enough to show me the right way.”

Douglass is still getting her hands dirty, raising beef cattle, sunflowers, pumpkins, corn, and forage crops at her ranch, Douglass Ranch. She is also a cofounder of CalAgJobs, an online listing of employment opportunities in California agriculture.

What does it mean to be recognized by Chico State as a Distinguished Alum?  

I’m very honored. I’m definitely a very proud Wildcat. Chico was such an important home for me. My grandparents both graduated from Chico State—my grandfather in 1950 on the day my father was born. They would be tickled about this.  My grandparents were really happy that I came to Chico. It was just the right place for me and I’m so thankful for my experiences there. I was surrounded by such accomplished wonderful people. My academic advisor Professor Wes “Doc” Patton is also a Distinguished Alumni. So, when I think about this honor, I think about someone like him, and I feel incredibly honored to have my name mentioned alongside someone like him.

What professional and life advice would you give to students today?

The number one thing I tell students is to get involved. One of the things I always appreciated about Chico is that no one told me: ‘Shannon, you can’t be involved in the Young Cattlemen’s Association because you don’t have cows.’ They just said: ‘Hey, do you want to do this speech contest?’ And I did it. And I kept doing that and nobody said no. That was never a thing at Chico State.’ And I had so much fun working and volunteering with my friends. I’m appreciative of my academic experience, too, but it’s the total experience, not just the books, that provides real educational value.

The second piece of advice is to try something new, learn, and figure it out. My advisor, Doc Patton, always said that internships were a great way of learning whether a job was right for you. The summer between my sophomore and junior year I came home from an internship and changed my major. I learned what I didn’t want to do. Failing forward is actually a great thing. Those are the experiences that are going to make a great difference in your life.

What was it like in that moment to be chosen to be the next president of the California Farm Bureau?

I remember sitting on a porch more than 15 years ago with several other young farmers and ranchers and the then-president of California Farm Bureau. We were talking about changes we might see in the organization, and he actually turned to me—I happened to be the only female sitting there—and he goes, ‘Shannon, you could end up being the President of California Farm Bureau.’ Fast forward and here we are.  It’s incredibly humbling. I’m very honored to take the seat. This is a 100-plus year-old organization. What’s really profound about this role is that we represent the greatest number of farmers in the largest and most productive ag state in the country, in the most productive country in the world. And we are in a very challenging time. As California farmers, we face tremendous challenges from all sides: economic challenges, regulatory challenges, and farm transition challenges. It’s not an easy time to be a California farmer. This is a critical role and it’s a critical time for us. So, it is a tremendous honor that our members have placed their trust in me to try to help navigate us through this. I’m very appreciative and want to be very respectful of the choice our members made and look out for their best interests in the coming years.

What does it mean to you to be the first woman to lead the organization?

It’s really meaningful because this role is elected by our members. These are farmers and business owners from across all walks of life, representing counties throughout the state of California, who make this decision. They don’t have any mandates. They just wanted the right person. So, I think this speaks to the work of so many amazing women before me who faced tremendous obstacles and still got the job done. I recently visited with the first woman to be a delegate to the American Farm Bureau Federation from California in 1984. Here it is 40 years later, and not only am I a delegate to American Farm Bureau, but I am the President of California Farm Bureau. So, there’s a long history of women being involved. I also do think it’s important to highlight that 37% of farms are owned by women. I am glad that it makes it very clear to the next generation of young women coming up, and everybody else who wants to get involved, there’s a place for them in our organization at Farm Bureau, that there’s opportunity, and frankly that we we’re going to need their leadership. We need all of those voices with us.

It also makes me think of my mother. She was not in agriculture, but she has always been a trailblazer in male dominated careers. She worked in building maintenance and as a horseshoer and she was generally in areas where women made up less than 10% of the people involved. She actually tried to become a firefighter in Sacramento and had surpassed all the requirements, including the physical stuff all the way up until the physical. She would have been the first woman to do that in the area, so they came up with a strange story that she had one too many vertebrae to keep her out. So instead, she became a volunteer firefighter because they couldn’t find a way to prevent that. But I’m proud to say I probably inherited a lot from my mom.