Ventura County’s McGrath family took home top honors at the fourth annual Resource Conservation District awards, in a program that was bittersweet for one of the region’s top farming families.
Phil McGrath, a farmer who embraced organics and the farm-to-table movement when others still focused on conventionally-grown crops and global markets, was the winner of the 2014 Excellence in Agricultural Stewardship and Sustainability awards.
But in a tearful moment for McGrath and District Director Marty Melvin, the 2014 Leadership award went to the late Tom McGrath, who passed away Oct. 13, at age 67, after a losing battle with cancer.
“You can’t be a bad farmer in Ventura County” and make it financially, McGrath said in accepting the award. He dedicated his award to his late cousin and then remained on the podium to accept a second award on behalf of the McGrath family, which has been farming in the county for four generations.
About 250 people attended the Conservation District Awards program at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach. In addition to McGrath, finalists for the award included rancher Esper Petersen, Casey Houweling of Houwelings Tomatoes, Jurgen Gramckow of Southland Sod, Elaine Krankle of Sin Qua Non Winery, Emily Ayala of Friend’s Ranch and Tom Deardorff of Deardorff Farms.
The Conservation District has secured nearly $800,000 in grants and contributions to fund programs in irrigation management, livestock waste management and agricultural education during the past year.