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Farmers keeping Manteca-Lathrop on cutting edge

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POSTED November 21, 2009 2:02 a.m.
There are a number of “city slickers” and tekkies who are convinced farmers are so 19th century when it comes to thinking and being stewards of the earth.

Farmers, though, are a lot smarter than they’re given credit.

In order to make a living they must constantly find ways to get more yield per acre, more milk per cow, and more bird meat per flock cycle. They also must take care not to exhaust the soil or ruin the water or else they can no longer make a living. They do it by using high tech, science, and visionary thinking.

The man most responsible for the Altamont Commuter Express becoming a reality was the late Bob Cabral. He was an Escalon-Manteca area almond farmer who not only understood what such a rail system could mean in terms of reducing traffic congestion and pollution but believed when hardly anyone else did that Californians would actually relax their death grips on their steering wheel. Cabral pushed hard for the ACE system when he served on the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors. Not exactly something you’d expected from a farmer, right?

It was farmers who had the vision 100 years ago to start the South San Joaquin Irrigation District that transformed the low producing sandy plains around Manteca into a bountiful food basket. They had the foresight to build dams when most others in the valley were satisfied with taking water from the ground.

Farmers have dominated the SSJID board for years. The end result has been one of the few government agencies in California that has a balanced budget, has not raised rates or taxes in 20 years and is expanding services. They also are one of the few agencies that have secured and developed water rights adequate enough for the future and not with a dime of state or federal money.

They also have helped provide state-of-the-art treated water for the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon. And now they are working on reducing power rates across the board 15 percent in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon.

Today, another farmer continues to prove that his brethren are cutting edge. In the middle of The Great Recession, Ron Dell’Osso and his bride of 10 years Susan have essentially opened up a snow play land smack dab in the heart of the Central Valley.

It wasn’t a cheap undertaking and it isn’t without risk. In the scheme of things, farmers are the true risk takers and not the young Turks on Wall Street who are essentially gamblers as they make fortunes off the hard work of others and often strip strangers of their wealth.

Each crop a farmer plants is a calculated risk. They invest their blood, sweat, tears and money into nurturing crops while battling pests, weather, and market conditions. One thing goes wrong and they could lose a year’s work. Yet they get up the next day and go at it again and it’s all on their dime and not that of someone else.

Maybe that explains why Dell’Osso is all smiles despite being nervous about getting it right. It’s about his idea, it’s his chips on the table, and it’s his muscle.

Dell’Osso has another ingredient in his make-up – a strong dash of adventure.

He’s the Walt Disney of the Tom Sawyer set.

Being a farm kid is hard work but its fun at the same time. Dell’Osso Farms’ Pumpkin Maze as well as its new Holidays on the Farms appeals to those who crave simple fun. It also marries agriculture with tourism.

A pumpkin maze that attracts 140,000 people a year? It was a farmer who came up with the concept and developed it to the point that he made bazooka-like pumpkin blasters that people eagerly line up for $5 to shoot off a bucket of live ammo in the form of mini pumpkins.

It is a farmer who came up with the idea of snow tubing in the Central Valley and had the courage to go forward with it in wobbly economic times.

Forget you Ma and Pa Kettle image of farmers.

They are hard workers who have to use their smarts – and all resources at their disposal – to make a living without killing the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg.

That takes stewardship and that takes visionary thinking.
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