Long-time LI Farm Bureau executive director announces retirement
As seen on: Libn.com
Gergela retiring from Long Island Farm Bureau
By Gianna Volpe
When Joseph Gergela III retires in December from the Long Island Farm Bureau, local farmers will lose one of their own.
The lifelong Island farmer and longtime executive director of the Calverton-based nonprofit informed its Board of Directors of his retirement plans in March. When he steps down at the end of the year, it will be after 26 years with the LIFB – and over 50 years with type 1 diabetes, a diagnosis he received at age 7.
Gergela, now 58, has weathered numerous diabetes-related complications through the years, including multiple heart attacks and a 2012 kidney transplant from his brother. He cited health concerns as the main reason for his pending departure.
“That’s why I have to retire,” Gergela said. “The physical work of walking the halls of the New York Legislature is a challenge now. I have heart problems and circulation problems, and that wears you out.
“And trying to make time all the time, and to have your best, most charming personality day in and day out, plus the stress of what the farmers are going through … I just know it’s time,” he added.
At times during his LIFB career, you might not have known Gergela was ill. The executive director has garnered a national reputation for his political and PR chops, including management training from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, service on the National Farm Bureau and what he described as a “personal friendship and working relationship” with former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
Locally, he’s known as the farmer’s best friend. A tireless point man and booster for the regional agricultural community, Gergela called the 2002 negotiations for the East End’s former KeySpan property, now known as Hallockville, one of the best victories of his LIFB tenure.
With many environmentalists clamoring for public park space – a plan that would have cost 300 acres of prime farmland – Gergela brokered a farm-saving deal between KeySpan and then-Gov. George Pataki.
“That was my baby,” he said. “The beauty of this, which is how I sold it to the governor, was that the farmers would buy the land with the development rights sold to the state, and the money would go into a pot to a build a state park on [Long Island] Sound.”
That $3 million is still sitting in a fund in Albany, waiting to build that park, Gergela noted.
Long Island Farm Bureau President Karen Rivera said the organization will miss Gergela’s wisdom and energy.
“Joe has been a fearless and effective advocate for Long Island agriculture,” Rivera said. “He is greatly respected not only here on Long Island, but also in Albany and Washington.”
Rivera did not mention a specific successor, but noted the LIFB Board of Directors “has formed a committee to formulate a plan for the organization moving forward.”
Whatever direction the bureau takes after he leaves his post, Gergela – who plans to retire to Boca Raton, Fla. with his wife, Donna – said the LIFB’s greatest strength will always be the Long Island agricultural community itself.
“We’re proud of our farms, our land, our crops,” he said. “It takes a lot of personal pride. You have to be really into it, or you’re not going to make it in farming.”