By Vicky Boyd

As agriculture has evolved over the years to meet changing needs, so too has what originally started out as the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Media Night. This year, the event was moved to November from July, renamed Harvesting Happenings, and catered by the Italian Athletic Club in Stockton.

“We’ve been talking about a harvest kind of party at the end of the year, and I think heat has been a factor (with media night) during the summer time,” said SJFB President David Strecker. “We were also looking to streamline some of our things, so this is our holiday party get-together where we’re celebrating multiple things. Some things are different, but we’re not totally changing the game plan.”

One goal that remained unchanged was to help media and elected officials learn more about the complexities of county agriculture and to connect with SJFB leaders and members in a casual setting. That way, if a reporter or elected official needs to call a Farm Bureau member or vice versa, they won’t be talking to a total stranger.

Paul Sanguinetti, who had been part of the media night cooking crew for decades, was happy to mingle since the harvest party was being catered this year.

“It feels great,” said Sanguinetti, an SJFB board member who farms near Stockton. “I couldn’t mingle before because I was always cooking.”

He compared the event’s evolution to the county’s cropping patterns. At one time, San Joaquin County was home to large acreage of sugar beets, asparagus, bell peppers, beans and peaches. For several reasons, plantings of those crops decreased and were replaced with more tree nuts, winegrapes, blueberries and olives.

“Things evolve – you have to change with the times,” Sanguinetti said.

Elbert Holman, a former Stockton City Council member and vice mayor, already knew several San Joaquin Farm Bureau members from serving with them on water committees. But Holman, who is running for San Joaquin County supervisor from District 3, said he was attending the harvest get-together to learn more about ag issues.

“On the city council in an urban setting, you can lose track of what’s happening in the rural areas,” Holman said. “It’s good to hear right from the farmers themselves who are living through these issues, especially when I’m looking at a county job. I’m trying to educate myself before we start formal planning.”

Gabriel Porras had just started his online Stockton Community Web News service last year before media night, so he said he was still “trying to get the lay of the land.” This year as a veteran reporter, Porras said he hoped to build more relationships with farmers and gather story ideas based on situations they were experiencing.

SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett gave attendees a glimpse of his diverse workdays. To start the morning of the harvest event, he received a call from California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross letting him know the state planned to sue the Trump administration over a recent biological opinion on endangered fish in the Delta.

Relaxation of the biological opinion would allow more water from the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Water Project to flow through the Delta to water users farther south. Blodgett said the lawsuit was part of the state’s effort to develop a water resiliency plan.

“Part of the problem is (the plan) still has a Delta tunnel, whether it’s two or one, and it would still be an impact to our community and members,” he said. “Are they filing to negotiate a settlement or are they filing it to get a judge’s decision?”

Blodgett also touched on a number of other issues, including cannabis growing and processing on ag-zoned ground, federal immigration reform, and the struggles of cherry and winegrape growers this season.

SJFB Program Director Rachael Fleming gave attendees an overview of this year’s SJFB Foundation for Agricultural Education successes, including the $65,000 raised through its March Wine Tasting fundraiser. That enabled the foundation to present $55,000 in scholarships to students pursuing ag-related college studies.

In addition, Fleming organized the four-day Ag in the Classroom program, now in its 33rd year. The 30 teacher participants visited 16 different operations to learn about the county’s diverse agricultural industry.

Throughout the week, they also were offered ways to incorporate what they saw into lesson plans so they could educate the next generation about farming’s importance.

The popular ag trivia quiz morphed into a team competition patterned after the television game show, “The Price is Right.” This year, a team of five media members went against a team of five elected officials.

Teams were given the grocery price of an item, and they had to guess the price a farmer received. Of the $1.75 a grocery charges for a 15 ounce can of tomato paste, for example, the grower receives just 4 cents.

Pointing out the 4,375% mark-up on tomato paste, Blodgett asked attendees to think what the price to the grower really means.

“You need to think about what bills those growers are paying – labor, mortgages, equipment,” he said. “Everything it takes to harvest that crop – all of that money is going right back into the economy to pay for everything else.”
As with media night, attendees at the end of the event were given bags and invited to shop at the farmers’ market of locally produced agricultural products that were donated. They not only left with new acquaintances and a better understanding of ag issues but also farm-raised reminders of the night.