Karen leads GAR’s media, marketing and community outreach activities and is the CEO of the Gar & Esther Tootelian Charitable Foundation (the Foundation) established in 2003 to engage, develop and direct philanthropic gifts promoting agricultural literacy, careers, and awareness. She produces, writes and records GAR’s marketing messages on local talk radio station KMJ 580 promoting agriculture and making consumers aware of agriculture’s vast contribution to the health and freedom of our daily lives. Under Karen’s leadership, the Foundation and GAR have granted more than $2.5 Million in scholarships and gifts in support of agricultural activities, community enrichment and educational programs it considers critical to the sustainability and future of Central Valley agriculture.
Karen is an active member of numerous community and philanthropic organizations. She is a member of the Central Valley Community Bank’s Board of Directors serving the valley with 21 branches from Sacramento to Exeter. She is the recipient of Marjorie Mason’s 2017 Top Ten Professional Women and is a 2011 Ag One Common Threads recipient. She raised $25,000 in the 2010 San Francisco Nike Women’s Half Marathon for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and her 2012 challenge to recognize “Central Valley Farmers and Families” at Clovis Medical Center’s Emergency Room expansion raised over $1.5 million. The “Feeding Families Fund Drive” supporting Central California Community Food Bank has raised a total of $1.5 million since 2013 and, more than $150,000 has been raised to support Habitat for Humanity projects helping local families earn homes.
Whether Future Farmers, food drives or fund raisers, Karen is the driver developing long-term beneficial partnerships with additional stakeholders to grow awareness of Agriculture throughout California and the nation. Karen works tirelessly – talking and presenting to non-profit groups, service clubs, individuals and business leaders about the importance of agriculture to the health, prosperity and security of our citizens and nation. She is an avid supporter of Fresno State’s Jordan College of Agricultural Science and Technology and mentors Immanuel Schools Reedley, Quail Lake Environmental Charter, West Hills College Ag Leadership, Valley Regional Occupational Program and Fresno Unified Career Readiness Education to promote Ag literacy and career opportunities.
One of Karen’s most exciting projects is the establishment in 2013 to create the “Valley Farm” at Fresno’s Chaffee Zoo to showcase valley farming in a friendly, educational and interactive public setting. She assembled partners from the Fresno County Farm Bureau, Fresno State’s Jordan College, Reedley 4-H and Bennett and Bennett Irrigation to help transform the area into a small friendly Valley Farm. The Reedley 4-H Club donated the Farm’s chicken coop and the Jordan College Plant Science Club volunteers their time to oversee the planning, planting and rotation of the seasonal crops in the planting beds around the Farm. In 2018, more than 900,000 visitors to the Zoo were able to experience a small example of agricultural row crops, fruit trees and farm animals. The Farm hosts National Ag Day annually in March assembling more than 36 vendors and demonstrators sharing their agricultural activities and stewardship to valley families and zoo visitors.
In 2014, the Foundation and GAR partnered with Fresno Grizzlies AAA Major League Baseball franchise to create the Farm Grown Community Fund and Ag Zone in the stadium. The iconic red Ag Zone barn with windmill at Gate 2 serves as an FFA and Agricultural demonstration area and GAR’s large bat and ball at Gate 2 welcomes fans and provides a favorite selfie and family photo opportunity. In 2019, the Grizzlies unveiled the “Community GARden” behind the center field fence. It is a sustainable garden created to give students the opportunity to learn about urban agriculture and growing fruits and vegetables. Friday’s Farmer Markets, Farm Grown Scholarships and Wild About Reading showcase Agriculture’s diversity and economic impact to the nearly 500,000 visitors to the park and in 150 school assemblies each year.
A longtime supporter and Board Chair of Valley PBS, Karen and the Foundation sponsor Fresno County Farm Bureau’s “Valley’s Gold” and “Valley’s Gold Education through Agriculture”. Karen is excited about a new partnership formed in 2019 with Valley PBS and 13 Thirty Entertainment to sponsor the real stories of Ag: “American Grown: My Job Depends on Ag”. The series features 13 episodes and started airing on Valley PBS earlier this month.
Karen’s family is active in GAR: Greg Musson is President and CEO; her sister Linda Salwasser is Vice President; her daughter and niece assist in Marketing and Events; and her son-law Ralph Rendon leads the 3rd generation and serves as the Chief Revenue Officer.