Fall is in the air, as the warm days give way to cooler nights. No frosty mornings yet, but I’m sure some are just around the corner.

I remember when we were growing alfalfa, the days were warm enough to make us gamble at times to get an extra cutting of late-season hay. Most of the time while the days were warm, they were short, and the cool nights made curing the hay for baling tricky.

I remember growing up in the Santa Ynez Valley and watching the last of the canning tomatoes and sugar beets being harvested by early November. Tractors pulling heavy-duty mowers would march across the green sugar beet fields topping or removing the green leaves from the beets before the giant mechanical diggers arrived.

Trucks and their trailers would wait patiently at the end of the fields as the huge mechanical diggers removed the large sugar beets from the soil. Once dug up, the massive beets would make their way around a conveyor that resembled a small Ferris wheel. Once on the conveyor, any loose dirt would fall off before the beets made their way into the trailers being pulled along side the harvesters.

Inevitably there would be a rain storm or two as harvest was going on this time of year. I recall Alamo Pintado Road especially would be covered in mud left from the trucks pulling out of the muddy fields. The same thing was true during tomatoes harvest. Those same fields would rotate from year to year between growing sugar beets and canning tomatoes. Tomatoes grown in the Santa Ynez Valley were some of the last to be harvested for the season and shipped to the City of Industry down south for Hunt Wesson Foods.

No one seem to mind the mud on the roads that time of year, it was part of living in an agricultural-rich area. I’m not sure that would be the case today.

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While many vegetable crops dot the Valley landscape, wine grapes have evolved into a major crop. I ran across a copy of the magazine my dad and the crew at the Santa Ynez Valley News used to publish monthly from 1965 to 1974. Dad used to always have a picture of a pretty girl holding a cornucopia or admiring a basket full of walnuts or a field of corn this time of year.

In the 1973 edition of November in the Beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, I ran across a photograph of my friend Lori Lindberg admiring a cluster of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The caption read, “the first harvest of Valley grapes took place this Fall, as Lori Lindberg inspects the grapes from the Bettencourt-Davidge vineyard.” It was one of my dad’s classic seasonal photos.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s a good time to remember how lucky we all are for living in a beautiful, diverse agricultural area.

The Merrill family wishes you and your families a truly blessed and happy Thanksgiving.

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@mesavineayrd.com

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