Blake Zante, Executive Director, The Maddy Institute (Courtesy of Blake Zante)

By Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice

The Maddy Institute, a nonpartisan public policy organization with a focus on the San Joaquin Valley, has become a central force in shaping the Central Valley’s agricultural landscape. Based out of Fresno State University and affiliated with UC Merced, CSU Stanislaus, and CSU Bakersfield, the Maddy Institute is a first-of-its-kind collaboration to serve San Joaquin Valley residents.

According to Blake Zante, executive director of the Maddy Institute, its mission is to inspire the next generation of leaders, increase citizen participation in the democratic process, and provide nonpartisan public policy analysis on issues impacting the valley.

“We were created by the legislature by unanimous vote in 1999 in honor of Senator Ken Maddy, who is really known for being a bipartisan negotiator and deal maker in the state legislature for almost 30 years,” Zante said.

While it serves in various capacities, agricultural policy is at the forefront of its initiatives. Given the San Joaquin Valley’s rich agricultural heritage, it requires effective policy advocacy to sustain and enhance its agricultural productivity and sustainability. Zante explained that the institute is involved in agricultural policy through research, policy analysis, and hands-on internships.

The institute launched its first Ag Policy Intern Program this summer wherein five interns from collaborating campuses will receive a $6,000 scholarship to intern with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

“For many years, we have placed college students from the valley with legislative offices and elected officials here locally in Sacramento and in Washington,” Zante said. “But now we’re looking at how different agencies impact agriculture…and so that’s why we believe placing students with organizations and institutions like the CDFA, and hopefully other agencies down the line, gives them an inside look into regulatory policy and sort of that world.”

In the past, the Maddy Institute’s internship program placed college students with legislative offices and elected officials, but the recent addition of the ag internship program is hopeful to teach students the interaction between government policies and agriculture in the Central Valley.

“It’s important that valley students really understand how those decisions in Sacramento and in Washington impact us here at home, and that’s really the genesis for the program,” Zante said. “We’re really excited to have that first inaugural cohort up in Sacramento this summer and look forward to continuing it for many years to come.”

Another significant endeavor of the institute is its annual Future of Ag Summit, which brings together farmers, policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders to discuss pressing issues in agriculture. This year’s summit, scheduled for September 4, 2024, at the Resnick Student Union, will focus on California’s water future, exploring how different water users can coexist and thrive.

“This year we’re partnering with the California Water Institute to talk about the future of California’s water as it relates to agriculture and how various water users co-exist in California,” Zante said. “We have a couple of different components of our ag policy center up and running already, but we also really hope to lean into the policy research space.”

The summit will address several water-based topics including the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and the balance between urban, agricultural, and environmental water uses.

Farmers, agricultural stakeholders, and community members can connect to the Maddy Institute through event participation, internship programs, and tuning in to the Maddy Report — a weekly public affairs program available on television, YouTube, and podcast platforms.

For more information or to get involved, visit or contact the institute directly at (559) 278-1133.

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