Kevin Merrill

Kevin Merrill

Fall is generally a good time for farmers and ranchers to look back over the past season and review what went well, and in some cases, what did not.

The folks we buy our irrigation supplies, fertilizer, pest-control products and equipment from do the same. Different ag suppliers over the years put on seminars over a three-day weekend to showcase their new products while listening to growers’ ideas and concerns.

These events are usually held at a nice venue along the Central Coast. The growers generally participate in half-day meetings while their spouses enjoy the amenities provided by the resort. A little mixing of business and pleasure.

Folks from all around the state are included, making the events a great place to make new friends and catch up with old acquaintances.

A couple of weeks ago my wife Karen and I went to an event in Santa Cruz sponsored by Netafim, an irrigation system design and manufacturing company that pioneered the first drip-irrigation systems used in agriculture back in 1965.

After attending a casual reception on Friday night, growers met at 7 a.m. for breakfast, which was followed by a keynote address by Paul Mobley, a well-known portrait photographer who spent the better part of four years crossing the United States taking photos of farmers and their families that would eventually end up in the book, “American Farmer.”

Paul shared his unique experience of visiting with farm families, who were all very welcoming, along with being busy and camera-shy. Once the ice was broken and the conversations began to flow from inside farmhouse living rooms to back porches, folks were glad to share their stories of multi-generations farming and ranching together.

He truly enjoyed meeting a father or grandfather whose eyes would soften with pride when they talked about their kids, now part of the family farming operations, asking that they be included in the photos.

Paul understood how genuine today’s farming families are, from West Coast vegetable and fruit growers, to Mid-west wheat farmers, southern sugarcane and cotton farmers to Wisconsin dairymen. He was treated like a member of the family wherever he went, many times accepting an invitation to have supper and spend the night in a spare bedroom made up specially for his visit.

In a small way, I knew exactly how Paul felt. The night before his talk my wife and I sat at a table of farmers and their wives from all around the state — a vegetable grower from Gilroy, a farmer and dairyman from Chowchilla, and a young man from Templeton who was part of the Netafim team, along with his wife who grew up on a farm near Bakersfield.

It wasn’t long at all until the conversations turned from farming to family, sharing stories of kids growing up on the farm, now off to college and jobs beyond, most remaining in ag and some looking at other careers.

We made some new friends that night, knowing that if you were passing by their farm or ranch, they would insist you come and stay for dinner. I feel blessed to be part of such a big family.

I hope you are able to celebrate a blessed and happy Thanksgiving with your family and friends this year. Happy Thanksgiving from the Merrills.

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. He can be reached at kmerrill@mesavineyard.com

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