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Rich Hanner

Posted: Monday, July 29, 2013 11:11 am

Quick: Name the one county in California that does not have a beef cattle operation.

That was one of the questions included in a quiz this week at the San Joaquin Farm Bureau media night.

I went as the representative of the News-Sentinel, and I’m glad I did. I got to schmooze with some old and new media acquaintances, I learned a fair bit and I met some good people who keep local ag rolling.

Being among ag folk brought back some very fond memories. My very first job was working at the Blue Anchor fruit packing shed in Loomis, north of Sacramento. I earned $1.65 an hour, and was happy to get it. The days were spent stacking boxes of plums and using handtrucks to roll them into cold storage. Physically, it was the hardest job I’ve ever had. But I was 17 and the lifting and pulling seemed pretty easy then. The sweet scent of ripening plums, pears and peaches, mixed the woodsy smell of the freshly made boxes, was subtly intoxicating.

Later, I harvested plums for my late father-in-law, Jack Hayashida, at his family ranch. Again, the work was demanding, climbing up and down ladders and filling buckets with fruit. But those days were satisfying, too. Dumping a little hill of plums into a lug box is a tangible accomplishment. My mother-in-law, Marie, would always have bountiful lunches for us, often serving up her special tamale pie.

Alas, much of the agriculture in Placer County is gone now, replaced by rows of houses.

But it is very much alive in San Joaquin County, and that was reflected by the Farm Bureau gathering this week.

The Farm Bureau has various activities. It puts on programs for young farmers, stages events focusing on farm safety, provides scholarships for ag education, and publishes an excellent set of publications, including Ag Alert.

Executive Director Bruce Blodgett sketched a list of concerns, including:

• A series of meetings is planned to inform farm supporters about proposed new regulations, including some relating to water and run-off.

“This is not about water quality. This is about growing a bigger agency,” Blodgett said.

• The bureau is against Gov. Jerry Brown’s Twin Tunnel proposal to pipe water around the Delta.

“This is the same idea as the old Peripheral Canal, but maybe they think by burying it we won’t notice they are stealing our water,” he said.

• Local farmers are experiencing shortages of workers — shortages the bureau believes can and should be addressed through immigration law.

Emcee for the night was Jack Hamm, whose family owns a dairy operation near Interstate 5. Hamm is the bureau president, a man with a rare and real passion for agriculture. I enjoyed tagging along with him for several hours earlier this year as I prepared a story for “Sun and Soil,” our special ag publication.

I enjoyed talking with Joe Valente, a Farm Bureau director, manager with Kautz Family Vineyards, and director of the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District.

The event was hosted by John and Gail Kautz at their home southeast of Lodi, and I had the pleasure of chatting a little with John Kautz, patriarch of the family that operates Ironstone vineyards. He and his wife were gracious hosts at an event that was as enjoyable as it was informative.

I left the event reminded of the hard work that goes into farming, the good people who do it, and the aromatic memory of plums in a packing shed years ago.

By the way, if you are curious about the lone county in California without a beef cattle operation, the answer is San Francisco.

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