With a lifetime spent in and around agriculture, Karen Overstreet seemed destined to eventually land in ag-centric San Benito County. And the new Agricultural Commissioner and Sealer of Weights and Measures, who took office March 30, said it’s an all-around great match.
“This area has that small-town feel with a sense of community, which is very familiar to me,” Overstreet said. “I felt that San Benito County was a good fit for me and I would be a good fit for the County.”
Overstreet—appointed following the retirement of Ron Ross—was born in Los Banos to a family involved in the beef cattle business since the 1870s. She said growing up in an area where agriculture is the dominant industry guided her into adulthood.
“Through grade school and high school, I participated in 4-H and FFA, showing animals at the fair,” she said. “Much of San Benito County consists of rangeland, which is cattle country. I’ve had a lifetime of experience in ranching just on the other side of the Diablo Range.”
That “other side” is Merced County, where Overstreet worked for more than 20 years in the Agricultural Commissioner’s office. Her career began as Weights and Measures Inspector, and then she became the Deputy Agricultural Commissioner overseeing the use of pesticides.
The last eight years, Overstreet was the Assistant Agricultural Commissioner and Sealer of Weights and Measures, having jurisdiction over all transactions where money is exchanged based on weight, measure or count.
“To be a county agricultural commissioner, you have come up through the ranks,” she said. “This has provided me 20 years of experience interacting with growers, industry and the public on a regular basis on issues regarding agriculture and weights and measures.”
Along with that experience, Overstreet also brings her own vision and goals for San Benito County, including her desire to build relationships with local growers and processors, learn about crop patterns and understand the area’s unique commodities for marketing purposes. But she hopes the learning curve and transition will be relatively smooth.
“I am fortunate to have inherited a very qualified and service-oriented staff,” said Overstreet, who lives on 45 acres east of Los Banos where she raises beef cattle and grows alfalfa. “I want to maintain that level of service to help and assist growers work through the regulatory process and I want the public to feel we are accessible and responsive to their concerns.”
With agriculture being the No. 1 industry in San Benito County, Overstreet said she’s looking at the area with specific issues in mind. She said keys include maintaining consumer confidence by delivering commodities that meet the highest food safety standards, managing the spread of pests and using the mosquito abatement program to control the proliferation of the West Nile Virus.
Overstreet also acknowledges that the water supply and quality is a concern throughout the County—and the entire state.
“An above average rainfall year will do the most for the current water situation, but it is not within our control,” she said, adding that she believes the state should invest in water storage infrastructure. “The ability to bank surplus water in years of above average rain and snowfall is crucial. By increasing the surface water storage, enough water could be banked to supply water for multiple years.”
According to Overstreet, the Agricultural Commissioner’s office plays a part in declaring a drought and quantifying the loss. She said it’s “important to recognize the difficulties and issues our growers face” and that the lack of rainfall means many things will be evaluated.
“Tough decisions have to be made on which crops to plant,” she said, without offering specifics, “or whether some land will have to be left fallow.”
Gordon Mc Clelland, the county’s Deputy Agricultural Commissioner and Deputy Sealer of Weights and Measures, said Overstreet’s position is an important one for San Benito County and the people who call it home. He said he has worked for four different commissioners, all of whom were “outstanding.”
“Commissioner Overstreet has farming experience, and has effective managerial and leadership skills,” Mc Clelland said. “She has a common sense perspective, which makes her a perfect fit for our department. I look forward to learning and working with her. The right person makes all the difference in the world.”
Contact Karen Overstreet at [email protected]