Valley Voices

Harry Cline: The great crop drop didn’t dry up our friendship

Former Fresno County Supervisor Deran Koligian at Kearney Park.
Former Fresno County Supervisor Deran Koligian at Kearney Park. Fresno Bee file

I do not know Debbie Poochigian personally, only by reputation and lineage. I do not necessarily agree with all of her positions and actions, but I do respect her leadership. It never seems to waver from her belief that she wants to do the right thing for her community.

That respect goes back many years, long before she began her career. It began in a raisin vineyard just west of Fresno near the town of Rolinda.

Decades ago, the raisin industry was going through one of its many downsides. There was a huge surplus of raisins. Past surpluses had been disposed of by feeding raisins to cattle. That did not sit well with consumers, who saw hungry people in the world and raisins going for livestock feed. The industry needed to do something creative to solve its problems.

It was decided to cut production by seeking volunteers to “drop” their crop. It was called the Raisin Industry Diversion program. In return, those growers would receive surplus raisins to sell to packers.

You obviously cannot fallow vines. However, you can eliminate the crop with pruning. What made the program workable was with Thompson seedless vines. A grower can simply prune off all the canes in winter, leaving only what are called spurs, and the vines would not produce grapes. No canes; no crop. The vines could produce a crop the following season with seasonlong cane production from those spurs a year after RID.

However, most raisin growers were in financial trouble. Pruning of any type is expensive because it involves extensive hand labor. To drop a crop costs money.

A good friend I attended church with was in that situation. He had a fairly good-size vineyard. A group of us decided to help out and offered to remove the canes from the vines. Pruning trees and vines to produce a crop is a technical process. You have to know which canes or limbs are best to prune and which are best to leave on the tree or vine to produce a good crop in the coming season. None of us were professional pruners, so we figured if we had to prune everything, we could not hurt much.

Dozens of us showed up on a Saturday to prune our good friend’s vines. His wife had a big lunch spread out for us. It was a lot of fun.

As we were pruning away, a pickup pulled up that we did not recognize as part of our volunteer group. A man got out, tucked a pair of pruning shears under his arm and proceeded to join us. He obviously knew how to prune. He zipped through his share of the vines in no time flat, while we fumbled and bumbled. I thought I recognized him. My friend said that was his raisin grower neighbor, Poochigian’s father, Deran Koligian, who at the time was a Fresno County supervisor. (He later died of complications from cancer in 2001.)

We have no idea how he knew about our little helping-hands project. It was not publicized except among friends. There were no cameras, no reporters, no campaigning. He was there to help out his neighbor. I will never forget that.

Every time I read something about Poochigian, I think of her father and smile. It is obvious by her service on the Board of Supervisors that the daughter is cut from the same cloth as the father. She wants to do good for her neighbor.

It is refreshing to know that there are politicians who care for people above themselves. I wish her well in whatever endeavor she elects to pursue. There’s no doubt her community and state will be a better place for its people.

Harry Cline of Fresno is a journalist who has worked for daily newspapers in Texas and Arizona. He was the first editor of Western Farm Press.