Kevin Merrill

Kevin Merrill

This time of year always passes way too quickly for me. About the time I am ready for Thanksgiving, it’s over and we get ready to celebrate Christmas and all its magic.

It continues to be a busy time at work as we are developing new vineyards to be planted in the spring. Ground preparation along with irrigation system design, installation and trellis installation all require everything move along in a timely manner, or we won’t be ready to plant in early April.

I enjoyed the few days we got away for Thanksgiving, visiting our family over in the Visalia/Tulare area. Our son Clayton and I were able to sneak away Friday morning with Grandpa Jerry and go up to the ranch near Woodlake and hunt a few squirrels.

A beautiful fall morning along the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains greeted us as we went to the barn and got the John Deere Gator ready to head out into the countryside. We grabbed a bale of alfalfa that was my seat in the bed of the Gator while Grandpa drove, Clayton rode shotgun.

A little green grass was just beginning to grow on the hills, with mama cows along with their calves grazing in the warm morning sun. Grandpa checked the cows along with several water troughs as we made our way around the ranch. A special day for all of us.

One nice part of being up at the ranch near Woodlake is the lack of reception for my cell phone. I’m afraid it has become way too much of a habit to be constantly checking for new text or email messages. Once we got back down onto the Valley floor I did check my phone for new messages. It was then that I learned my friend Joni Gray had passed away.

I got to know Joni during my tenure as president of the Central Coast Winegrowers Association and Farm Bureau, when Joni served as our 4th District county supervisor.

Joni was a true advocate for North County, and particularly agriculture. I remember working with her as we tried to educate members of the county Planning and Development staff and South County supervisors on the importance of agriculture.

Joni called one day and asked if I would like to meet with her, the 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino and Richard Quandt from Grower Shippers monthly. She wanted to know our issues in dealing with county staff, and how she and Steve might be able to help get regulations streamlined for agriculture.

During one of those meetings I recall Joni coming up with the idea of showcasing county agriculture through a documentary, focusing on the top four or five commodities grown in the county. She was going to utilize county staff to put the documentary together. At that time the county had a state-of-the-art communications division.

I remember staff coming out to our vineyard during harvest and filming one of our mechanical harvesters making its way through the vineyard as part of the segment on wine grapes. They did the same with vegetables, strawberries, cattle and cut flowers as I recall.

The documentary was first-class and was shown at many different venues, including at the state Capital showcasing the counties of the state as part the 160-year anniversary of California statehood.

I will miss Joni’s smile, genuine outgoing personality, zeal for life and never-ending advocacy for North County. Joni, thanks for all you did on our behalf, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Kevin Merrill of Mesa Vineyard Management is a board member of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau and a director on the Santa Barbara County Fair Board.

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