By Audrey Hill, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
Many of those who are heavily involved with agriculture today were either born or married into it. The road from the rural farm town life into the bigger cities is seeing more and more traffic while the road coming back is seeing less and less. Not even 1.5% of the U.S. works to provide the rest of the nation with its sustenance anymore, and the number is getting smaller every day. But this is not the path chosen by Grapevine Vineyards President and Executive Board member of Kern County Farm Bureau, among many other titles, Mark Hall.
Mr. Mark Hall was born and raised in the bustling city life of Orange County and did not come from a farming family. However, he knew at a very young age that he wanted to farm. As a child he spent his time, as most children do, playing in the dirt and to his success, never grew out of that love. Playing in the dirt turned into growing small quantities of fruits and vegetables in the empty field close to his family home in Orange County. Soon after, he was driving tractors for work through junior high and high school. This love for working outside with his hands then turned into a greater understanding of what he wanted from his career: farming. After graduating from Foothill High School in Tustin, CA in 1977, he attended Cal Poly, SLO majoring in agriculture management and farm management while still managing to do what he loves on the weekends. While most students considered a full-time education the most rigorous part to their schedule, Hall saw the days he was in school as his easy days and the weekends in the fields growing alfalfa as the real work. Hall commented that he “would drive over here to Bakersfield on weekends and holidays to farm and go back to Cal Poly to rest” during the week. Even for his senior project his dedication to practicality and working in the fields never faltered. He developed and grew a strain of table grapes that he still uses today 48 years later!
After college, Hall wore lots of different hats, juggling many at the same time. He has grown everything from nectarines and lettuce to the Kern County staples of almonds and pistachios. He has also farmed mainly on his own – creating a name for himself as a tried-and-true local farmer of our county. Hall sees farming as an “art and a science,” and as the artist, it is his job to find the perfect balance between the two. Now, he mainly focuses on table grapes because of their rigor and challenges compared to other crops. By taking “The Growers Footsteps” every day, a task of walking the fields on a daily basis, he can grasp the ever-changing needs of his vines and determine which way to swing the balance to paint the perfect picture and grow the best grapes. However, as gratifying as farming is, the income is never stable. Along with growing his own crops, Hall usually helped someone else do the same. He has managed farms for others and has even worked with banks and investors to advise with farms and fields.
Soon after college, Hall also joined the Kern County Farm Bureau when his neighbor, the president of the Farm Bureau at the time, told him about the opportunity. Hall saw a way to give back to his farming community while also keeping up to date on state regulations of his own practice. He has since been a tremendous help in bringing important information to our county for over 40 years. As an executive board member, Hall keeps the Farm Bureau up and running while also getting our local farmers the information they need from the state to succeed. Hall comments that a next big step for the Farm Bureau needs to be educating the public alongside the farmers. “Every year we host seminars where we teach the teachers about Ag so they will know how to tell their students about Ag, and every year they are fascinated. They have no idea what we are doing,” he said. “But it is a step in the right direction.”
Mark Hall, like many of us in agriculture, is here because he wants to be. Because he is not afraid of a little hard work or getting his hands dirty. Growing and farming was never his family trade for Hall, but he understood the gratification that only farming can bring. “I like to see what I’ve done,” he said. “It’s a thrill to see a truckload of grapes come rolling out of the field and it happened because of my hard work.” He said he was never interested in “wearing a suit and tie every day, [he] wanted to be outside kicking dirt.” If there are any ideals that are concentrated in the field of Ag, it is hard work, dedication and a passion for putting out the real fruits of labor, and these ideals are certainly concentrated in Mark Hall. We are very grateful for his longtime dedication to our community and thank him for his contributions.