College of Agriculture


Jose Manuel Leal da Costa

The oldest of five brothers, Jose Manuel Leal da Costa grew up on a diversified farm in Portugal where the family grew rice, corn, oats, wheat, and raised dairy sheep and beef cattle.

"At that time, agriculture in the United States was about 40 years ahead of Portugal. It still is," Costa said. "I knew I would have to leave home if I wanted to continue my studies."

His first stop in the United States was at Queen's College in New York. He only lasted one semester.

"The first time it snowed, I got out of there," Costa recalled.

His stepmother had a niece living in Chico, where he knew there was an agricultural college, so he decided to check it out. The weather in Chico was much more to his liking, mirroring the Mediterranean climate of his native Portugal, and he decided to stay.

During his first semester at Chico State, Costa took a class from animal science professor Wes "Doc" Patton, now retired. The two struck up a lifelong friendship, aided by the hospitality of Patton's wife, Jane. Costa was soon visiting the Patton's on their Orland ranch after classes and on weekends.

"I like to help. Jane likes to cook. It was a perfect match," Costa said.

While at Chico State, Costa also met his wife, Azita, a fellow international student, from Iran. They both graduated in agriculture in 1984 and returned to his homeland of Portugal to start their life together. But despite their degrees from an esteemed American university, the couple encountered resistance to their ideas for farm and business development.

"All we heard was ‘That will not work. This is not California,'" Costa said.

They packed up again and moved back to California's Bay Area, where they started a new business importing marble tiles. Soon, they expanded into marble and granite fabrication, and Plamar USA is now the largest solid surface fabrication and installation company in the western United States.

Costa now splits his time between California and Portugal, where he founded and serves as a board member for Amieira Marina, an organization created as part of Portugal's $1.7 billion investment in the Alqueva dam and lake project. Amieira Marina is a national and international tourist destination and includes a Michelin-recommended restaurant, Amieira Marina Panorama. Costa has also been involved with Herdade das Amendoas Doces since 2012, a soil preparation and irrigation implementation project that has since become the largest almond project in Portugal.

Jose and Azita raised two children. His daughter, Sondra, recently graduated from Santa Clara University, and his son, Jose Dariush, after earning his bachelor's degree in Portugal, followed in his parents' footsteps and spent a year at Chico State learning all that he could about agriculture. He now manages the family's almond farm in Portugal.

Jose Leal da Costa was selected as the 2017 Distinguished Alumnus for the College of Agriculture and was honored at the annual campuswide Distinguished Alumni Dinner on March 25, 2017.