Agriculture is big in San Luis Obispo County with many farming families having roots that sink deep into the soil of SLO County’s history. And being recognized by your fellow aggies as a “Person of the Year” is a testament to hard work, selfless sacrifices and holding a deep love of the land in your heart.
Long-time South County farmer Jerry Rutiz was named the “San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau 2020 Agriculturalist of the Year.” Long-time industry volunteer and retired employee of the Mid State Fair, Lesa John, is the “2020 Cattle Woman of the Year;” and Steve Arnold was named “2020 Cattleman of the Year.” All three were honored recently with Resolutions passed by the County Board of Supervisors.
Rutiz was honored by the County Farm Bureau for his many years as a farmer in Arroyo Grande. He earned a degree in crop science from Cal Poly in 1978, according to the Resolution passed by Supervisors.
Rutiz, who is married to wife Maureen and the couple has two adult daughters, began farming in 1981 when he leased a small farm in Arroyo Grande “as a first-generation farmer.”
Rutiz was one of the first local farmers to adopt the practice of direct marketing to consumers and was an innovator in using organic farming practices, according to the Resolution.
“As farmer’s markets and the farm-to-table movement increased in popularity throughout the Central Coast and Southern California regions,” the Resolution reads, “Rutiz Family Farms became celebrated for having a diverse, quality selection of produce.” As the family’s reputation grew, top chefs have featured his crops at high-end restaurants and his produce has been featured in the Los Angeles Times.
Today, Rutiz farms 28-acres of mixed vegetables, berries, and cut flowers near Halcyon in Southern SLO County. He sells his goods along with those of other farmers at a farm stand located on The Pike in Arroyo Grande.
John’s honor was from the “San Luis Obispo County Cattle Women’s Association,” an organization that she has volunteered with for many years. She is also a 17-year volunteer with Sunshine; a treasurer for Honor Flights Central Coast; a member of the Cowbelles Trail Riders since 1984; and a Special Olympics Representative.
She volunteers her time with the Cattle Women’s Association at Cattlemen’s Day, Pioneer Day Roping, Casino Night, Valentine’s Dance, and beef cooking demos at Cal Poly and Atascadero High School. She retired form the Mid State Fair in 2014 after 22 years.
Jones lives in Paso Robles and “enjoys her time being a Grammy to her grandchildren and traveling to visit family in Washington, Oregon, South Dakota and Oklahoma,” according to her Resolution.
Arnold was honored by the “San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association.” He and his and wife, Dist. 5 County Supervisor Debbie Arnold, work the Arnold Ranch in Pozo that was founded by his great grandparents, Thomas and Josephine Arnold in 1919.
They operate a cattle and hay business, a vineyard and winery on the ranch.
The Arnold’s two adult children, Joey Arnold and Michelle Pascoe returned to the family ranch after graduating from Cal Poly and along with his wife and her husband, went into the family business, raising beef cattle, quarter horses, forage hay, and producing estate wine for their “Vintage Cowboy Winery.”
Arnold was accepted in 1989 into the California Agricultural Leadership Class XX, where he traveled nationally and internationally, according to the Resolution. He was active coaching youth sports, served on the Atascadero School Board from 1994-2006; and on the board of the Coalition of Agriculture, Labor, and Business (COLAB) from 2010-13.
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Arnold to the Board of Directors of the Mid State Fair, where he served as President in 2010 and got inducted in the MSF Hall of Fame in 2015.
Arnold was the President of the SLO County Farm Bureau from 1995-97; served on the Board of Directors of the California Farm Bureau from 2010-16, and served as the President of the SLO County Cattlemen’s Association from 2015-16.
He is a member of Rancheros Visitadores, a board member of the SLO Cattlemen’s Association, and second vice president of the California Cattlemen’s Association.
In what little spare time he has, Arnold reportedly enjoys raising cattle and spending time with his four granddaughters.