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Quick: How well do you know San Joaquin agriculture?

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Posted: Monday, August 4, 2014 3:28 pm

Here is an easy one: What was the highest-grossing crop in San Joaquin county in 2012?

If you guessed grapes, take a bow. The total crop value was valued at $549 million.

A tougher one: How many acres of farmland exist in San Joaquin County?

Answer: 492,000 acres. If you answered correctly, you are a master of agricultural trivia — or maybe a really good guesser.

These were among the quiz questions at the San Joaquin Farm Bureau federation media night held last week at the home of John and Gail Kautz southeast of Lodi.

The evening is a chance for the media and various elected officials and candidates to gather, get acquainted, and enjoy a meal featuring mainly local ingredients. (The tomato salad, corn, grilled lamb and watermelon were all delicious.)

The bureau staff offered brisk overviews of their activities, including educational outreach to youth, farm safety classes, and estate planning for farm families.

Executive Director Bruce Blodgett called for continued resistance to the so-called Twin Tunnels project, shipping water around the Delta in two gargantuan buried tunnels. He also warned that state efforts to regulate groundwater will only result in a bloated bureaucracy and less water for area growers.

Lodi grower Bruce Fry was seated at our table and we had a quick chat about the grape harvest, which is just starting. Small world, because two days later, with chief photographer Dan Evans out, I grabbed a camera and drove down to the Morh-Fry ranch and photographed Bruce’s dad, Jerry. He’s being honored through its Notably San Joaquin program as a stalwart supporter of both history and agriculture. Jerry Fry, I discovered, is a wonderfully bright and friendly fellow. What I thought might be a short photo shoot ended up being a fascinating tour of the Fry farming operation on West Lane.

One of the highlights for me: Jerry pulled up to an old barn built in the 1870s and I got to walk in and explore it a bit. The barn is really, really old and creaky, but it has an indomitable character. I took a few photos in the barn that didn’t make the paper, but one is posted here.

The media night and tour of the Morh-Fry ranch reminded of my days working on my in-laws’s plum ranch in Loomis (now a housing development) and at the long-gone Blue Anchor fruit shed in Loomis. That’s where I had my very first job, pulling boxes of freshly packed plums off a conveyor belt, stacking them, and hand-trucking them into a giant cooler.

That was hard work, but the mixed aroma of the fruit and the shook — the wood used for making the boxes — was sublime.

Between the media night and the tour of Mohr-Fry ranch, I have a fresh batch of story ideas. We’ll hope to tell more stories of local farmers and vintners in the weeks to come.