NEWMAN - Sisters Makayla and Adriana Toste grew up on a West Side dairy, with a passion for the industry further instilled through their competition in livestock show rings and as part of dairy judging teams through Gustine FFA and Newman 4-H.
Those roots have continued to influence their path in college - and in Makayla’s case beyond.
Today Makayla is working for the USDA’s Merced/Mariposa Farm Service Agency, helping administer programs which benefit the ag community, including dairies.
Adriana, meanwhile, is preparing for her senior year at Oklahoma State, where she is on the dairy judging team and plans a career in dairy-related communications or marketing.
Makayla joined the Farm Services Agency last August, after she completed a California Milk Advisory Board internship in Mexico.
Her current focus is on helping producers qualify for a new USDA food assistance program, which provides aid for those in the ag community who have been directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Dairy producers are among those who qualify for the program, Makayla noted, not only for the impact on milk but for the row crops they grow.
Response to the program has been overwhelming, she said.
“We started sign-ups on May 26, and we have over 500 (farmers and ranchers) signed up right now,” Makayla told Mattos Newspapers in early June. “Four individuals, including myself, have appointments back to back for three months. Merced County is very diverse when it comes to the different commodities. We have been staying busy for all of our producers.”
In her role, Makayla said, she works with an interested producer to determine eligibility and then helps them through the application process.
The payments from the newest program and others which have provided assistance to farmers may not fully offset the loss to producers, she reflected, but represent a valuable lifeline to farmers facing tough times.
“Even if it is just a little bit of money, it will help with something,” she explained.
When not working on assistance programs, Makayla said, she is involved in compiling crop reports.
Working remotely during the pandemic has been facilitated by technology, but difficult nonetheless.
“I can get the work done. But we enjoy the relationship that we have with these producers. Not having that interaction with our producers can make it a little hard. Not everybody is tech-savvy, because you have producers of all generations,” she pointed out. “We can’t wait to get into the office and be able to see our producers.
Her dairy background, she reflected, has given her a great understanding of the challenges which face those in the ag community and instilled a passion for the industry.
“If my parents had chosen a different career path and we were not in ag, that would definitely have changed my career path,” Makayla stated. “Anyone in the ag industry is passionate about what they do. They put in the hard work because they enjoy what they do. I enjoy what I do because I am helping someone.”
Adriana’s junior year at Oklahoma State was cut short by the coronavirus.
She is hoping, though, that school - and the college dairy judging season - resumes in the fall.
Adriana said the Oklahoma State team did compete in one contest this spring before the pandemic struck.
The primary judging season in college ranks is in the fall, she noted, and “right now that is up in the air.”
She was on the dairy judging team at Modesto Junior College before going to Oklahoma State.
While judging in the college ranks is more demanding than in high school circles, Adriana said, her positive experiences at Gustine High set the stage for collegiate success.
Her coach and teammates at Gustine High gave her a strong foundation in judging, Adriana remarked.
“High school is where you get that foundation,” she said. “College is where you put it to use.”
Both sisters envision a dairy-related future.
And Adriana, like Makayla, said their dairy roots helped shape their goals.
“We are all very thankful that we have the dairy background. For us, it really instilled a passion for agriculture,” Adriana reflected. “We are all very thankful that we had this experience growing up. It set the tone for what we wanted to do in terms of careers.”