Michael A. Mellano
2014 FARMER OF THE YEAR
Mike Anthony Mellano, Vice President of Production for Mellano & Company, and one of California’s preeminent flower growers, almost didn’t become a farmer. While farming has been a Mellano family business since Giovanni Mellano opened a flower mart and started growing flowers on 6 acres in Los Angeles in 1926, Mike Anthony says he initially considered academia.
“I grew up on the family farm in Dairy Valley and always enjoyed the farm aspect and growing, and was involved in FFA through high school. I went to UC Riverside with the intent to be involved in ag in some way. My undergrad study focused on production, and as I progressed I very much enjoyed the science component of the industry. I decided to get my PhD in plant pathology, and I’d say that during my time in grad school, I was focused on jobs in academia or the ag part of the biotech industry.” It wasn’t until he was nearing graduation with a doctorate in Plant Pathology that he reconsidered getting back into the family business.
Mike smiles while telling a story from his time as a graduate student; he’d met his wife, Valerie, as an undergrad and they’d married while continuing their studies. “Val and I were lab mates, and we had our second boy, Joey, while we were in grad school. Joey actually spent his first nine months in a porta crib in the break room across the hall from our lab. We’d go to check on Joey and he’d be gone, and one of the professors would have taken him on a tour, cruising around checking on other laboratories.” Valerie earned her doctorate alongside Mike and is now Chair of the Plant Science Department at Cal Poly Pomona.
From grad school Mike returned to Mellano & Company and worked alongside five other family members to build the business. Today, the heart of the operation is 375 acres in San Luis Rey where Mike Anthony oversees plant production, while Mellano & Co continues the run the wholesale Los Angeles Flower Market originally begun by Giovanni Mellano, and wholesale markets in Carlsbad and Las Vegas. Mellano and Co also oversees farm operations and harvests flowers at a local agritourism site – the Carlsbad Flower Fields.
Mike Anthony’s day to day responsibilities are significant given the scope of activities Mellano and Company is involved in, but he’s made it a priority to serve the industry he is part of. “The drive for me is having the opportunity to try and make an impact to something larger and bigger than my own day to day farm activities,” he says.
Mike served as president of the San Diego County Farm Bureau (SDCFB) from May 2009 to May 2011, and prior to being elected president served for six years on the executive committee. During his term as president, SDCFB created the San Diego Region Irrigated Lands Group, the San Diego County Water Authority’s Special Agriculture Water Rate was extended for two years, and Farm Tour Day was initiated.
Mike is currently Chairman of the California Cut Flower Commission, member of the USDA Floriculture Initiative Task Force, Board of Director for the Kee Kitayama Research Foundation and has served the last six years as the representative to the “Council for Agricultural Research, Extension & Teaching” for the University of California.
Mike has also served as chairman for the California Ornamental Research Federation (CORF), on the UC Davis Environmental Horticulture Department Advisory Committee and as a grower representative to the USDA-Pacific Area Wide Program for Methyl Bromide Alternatives.
It’s clear Mike Anthony has not quite avoided a career in science. “Going through school and getting my graduate degree the way I did allowed me to have a different perspective as a farmer, and I find it rewarding to utilize that training and expertise to create strong connections between farmers in the field and the science and research being done in the university systems.”
What does he see for the future of farming in San Diego County? “I hope to see that we can create a world where farming can thrive now and into the future, for our generation and the generations that come ahead of us. I hope to see a sustainable farm economy for the long term. I hope to see that the public embraces and acknowledges what farming contributes to the community, and doesn’t bow to the vocal minority opinion of negativism.”
When asked what a Farmer of the Year award means to him, Mike pauses to think. “Wow,” he says simply. “For me, it’s just so humbling to be receiving the award when you look at the list of past recipients and the contributions they’ve made to the county and the industry, it’s truly an honor to be counted among them.”
Mike Anthony Mellano will receive his award as Farmer of the Year at the San Diego County Farm Bureau Annual Meeting and picnic to be held at Stehly Farms Organics in Valley Center on April 25.
San Diego County Farm Bureau Past Farmers of the Year