By Vicky Boyd

As the county’s agricultural industry has evolved over the years, so, too, has the San Joaquin Farm Bureau’s annual Media Night. No longer are the invitations limited to just members of the media, SJFB members, local ag industry representatives and state Farm Bureau leaders.

Instead, the event has expanded to also include guests from state and local government and this year, San Joaquin Delta College. Even the name – Farm Bureau Media/VIP Night – reflects the wider audience.

But the night’s mission remains the same – to break down walls and allow SJFB members and non-members to get to know one another on a more personal level outside of a business environment. 

SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett said the event has helped them educate attendees about local agriculture and the issues that farmers face.

“Sometimes when you go up to Sacramento, they don’t hear you, but when they’re here, they do,” he said.

Joe Valente, a Lodi-area vineyard manager and California Farm Bureau District 12 director, said the event helps build relationships with the media and elected officials “At least when the media calls you on the phone, you know who you’re talking to,” he said. “It just helps makes connections. It builds trust among the parties and you feel comfortable having an open discussion with them. It gets them here in an ag setting and they can meet growers of various crops.”

SJFB President Jim Ferrari, a Linden walnut and cherry grower, agreed.

“It gives them a chance to get to know who we are and develop personal relationships,” he said. “It gives them a resource to discuss issues that pop up.”

The same holds true with elected officials, Ferrari said.

“If you have an issue, you can get on the phone to call them, and they’ll listen. You develop a mutual respect, and it’s pretty valuable.”

Mikey Hothi, district director for Assemblyman Jim Cooper, is a veteran of the event, having attended last year. For him, it provides an opportunity to connect to people he might not otherwise do so at other events.

“When we’re voting on stuff, we can lean on some of these relationships and figure out the ag perspectives,” he said.

Melinda Meza, KCRA 3 San Joaquin County Bureau chief, missed the past couple media events because of work conflicts. But she said she was glad her schedule was free this year.

“It’s nice to see people outside of deadlines when you need someone and you have to go,” Meza said. “This is really a nice time to talk to someone outside of the rush. I enjoy meeting different farmers. When it’s a flood or something about tariffs, you have a name for the face and you have a relationship.”

Many of Media Night’s other popular elements, such as the locally grown food served during dinner, the ag quiz, the issues update and the farmers’ market, remain unchanged. They’re designed to subtly educate attendees about the county’s agricultural diversity and challenges that farmers face.

SJFB program director Rachael Fleming highlighted the ag education programs as well as Young Farmers & Ranchers activities. Among those were the SJFB Foundation for Agricultural Education’s 27th annual wine tasting earlier this spring, which raised more than $50,000. Most of that went to scholarships for 22 students pursuing ag-related degrees.

In his issues update during the event, Blodgett stressed the dire consequences to all water users should the State Water Board adopt its proposed 40 percent unimpaired flows for the San Joaquin River and its tributaries. The board also is considering unimpaired flows of 55 percent for the Sacramento River and its tributaries.

He invited the media to cover the rally, scheduled for Aug. 20 on the Capitol steps, against the San Joaquin River proposal. The board is expected to adopt it during its Aug. 21-22 meeting.

John and Gail Kautz continue to host the event on the shaded lawn of their home near Lodi. For them, it is just another way to help agriculture spread the word.

“We love to do it, and we love the people getting together,” John Kautz said. “And ag needs to be together all the time. They need each other and need to know each other so when there’s a problem, they can work on it.”