Jones worked at Hecker Pass-based Goldsmith Seeds for 26 years before it was sold to Syngenta

Rhonda Jones is the operations manager at Sakata Seeds, where she has worked for the past nine years. She oversees all of the seeds from the time they come in from the production site to the cleaning, storing, packaging, and going out to inventory.
Photo courtesy Rhonda Jones

By Kelly Barbazette

Kelly Barbazette

For the past 39 years, Rhonda Jones has loved working in an industry that allows her to help feed the world and make it more beautiful. I recently had the pleasure of talking with Rhonda over Zoom about her work with Sakata Seeds, working in a male-dominated field, and her volunteer work with Leadership Gilroy.

Rhonda, who turned 60 last year, lives in the same house in Gilroy that she bought in 1982. She was born in Atlanta and lived in upstate New York before moving to Morgan Hill in 1974 when her dad’s job at IBM transferred the family to the Golden State. They settled on a 10-acre ranch with their horses and chickens.

“Me and my sister were really into horses when we were young. We showed horses and my mom did, too” Rhonda recalled.

Upon retirement, her dad hung up his golf clubs, ran the ranch, and restored Model T Fords, driving the cars in local parades. Six years ago, he passed away and her mom moved to an active adult community in Morgan Hill, selling the ranch, cars, and animals.

Meanwhile, Rhonda was working her way up the corporate ladder, first working at Hecker Pass-based Goldsmith Seeds for 26 years before it was sold to Syngenta. She said she stayed on for four more years, but opted to move on when she observed it was difficult to affect change in the more corporate environment. Nine years ago, she started working at the Morgan Hill site of Sakata Seeds, a 105-year-old company based in Japan that produces one out of every seven stalks of broccoli in the world.

“It’s such a good feeling that you’re doing something for the world,” she said. “With the seeds, you’re feeding the world. And with flowers you’re making it beautiful.”

She works as the operations manager in charge of overseeing all of the seeds from the time they come in from the production site to the cleaning, storing, packaging, and going out to inventory.

“I love it because it’s so busy,” she said. “It’s always a little like putting out fires, but I thrive on that.”

She said every year is different and she is always learning something new as challenges arise with Mother Nature, including droughts and freezes which impact the seeds. She enjoys working with a team of people and traveling internationally, often being able to do a little sightseeing on her trips.

“From doing that, I got the travel bug. So, every year I go to some exotic vacation on my own.” Last year was the first time her international trips were put on hold.

She said she has no immediate plans to retire. “I think I have an incredible amount of energy,” she said. “And there’s no way I could be retired at this point unless I have enough money to travel. I love people. I love a big social circle. I love building teams. Everyone who knows me knows that I love to build connections.”

She has lent that skillset to Leadership Gilroy as a 2017 graduate, last year’s board vice president, and as its current board president. Leadership Gilroy, formed in 1998, is an intensive 10-month community leadership program from which more than 250 residents have graduated. Rhonda counts its members as some of her best friends. She relishes in throwing class reunion parties every year and networking with its alumni.

“In the class I learned so much about Gilroy and all of the nonprofits that are here. I had no idea they even existed,” she said.

She has particularly enjoyed working with Rebekah’s Children Services, helping with their fundraisers including the Pop A Cork and the Festival of Trees galas.

“I think volunteering is something we should all do. And as I get older, I thought: ‘What is it that I’m going to do?’ I thought that’s a great way to get involved with the nonprofits and help with whatever they need.”

She has three sons, all living locally, and two granddaughters. She envisions renting her home to her youngest son, who lives with her, one day and traveling across the middle of the United States by RV. Before that can happen, she said, her No. 1 goal is to train someone to take over her role and work with that person for a few years before retiring — a process which Rhonda said she has begun.

In her free time, Rhonda appreciates relaxing at the beach and sitting by the water, hiking on local trails, reading, and dancing. She said she misses following the local bands, many of which have been hit hard in the past year.

When I ask Rhonda what leadership advice she’d give to other women, she points to her own experience working in the agricultural business. While it’s still very much dominated by men, it’s really changing for the better for women, she said.

“I’ve shown you can be a strong leader and run the floor, but you can also have a lot of empathy and caring for people,” she said. “You can have a balance.”

Rhonda said that no amount of money will make a job that you dislike worth it. “But if you’re doing something you love, it’s priceless. You come home every day and you’re not stressed, you’re happy and you know you’re doing a good thing every day and that feels great.”

Kelly Barbazette, a former journalist for Bay Area newspapers, is a freelance writer. She lives in Gilroy with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at [email protected]


Guest Column