|Former B.C. Fruit Growers Association president Joe Sardinha, shown harvesting ambrosia apples in his Summerland orchard, is being remembered as a leader in his industry by Okanagan politicians and fellow orchardists.|
Sardinha, who died Saturday of a heart attack at age 52, had the widespread support and admiration of fellow growers, industry officials and politicians of all levels.
Sardinha is being remembered as a tireless advocate for Okanagan orchardists who employed a mix of determination and charm to persuade governments to increase their support for agriculture.
"I was very shocked and saddened to hear that Joe had passed away suddenly," Kelowna-Lake Country MP Ron Cannan said Monday. "Joe always represented growers with great professionalism.
"He did a lot to help ensure the long-term future of agriculture in the Okanagan," Cannan said. "He was determined to work hard on behalf of growers, but he was also always very pragmatic and reasonable when dealing with government."
Sardinha, a Summerland orchardist, was president of the BCFGA from 2005 to 2011. During those years, no one from the 800-member group ever challenged him for the presidency at the association's annual general meetings.
"I guess no one else wants the grief that goes with the job," Sardinha joked before another of his acclamations at the 2010 convention.
But colleagues say growers respected Sardinha's ability to lead the sometimes-fractious BCFGA through a difficult period of low apple prices, gaining government support for initiatives such as packinghouse equipment upgrades and replant programs.
"Joe commanded the respect of other growers because he was very knowledgeable about all aspects of farming," said Fred Steele, a past vice-president of the BCFGA. "He got involved in the association because he wanted to help make agriculture better in the Okanagan."
Sardinha was born in Portugal and emigrated at young age with his family to Canada. Although he had retired from the BCFGA, in part, to spend more time with his family, he continued to actively farm his Summerland orchard.
Growers are expected to gather at Sardinha's farm this week to help his bereaved family bring in the apple crop.
"There's a brotherhood among growers at a time like this," Steele said.
Jeet Dukhia, current president of the growers' association, said "Joe's death was totally unexpected. Everywhere I went, people asked how Joe was keeping - out of admiration and respect for Joe.
"He loved his family, farming and the farm community. I speak for all tree fruit growers in saying we are deeply saddened by this news."
"We've lost a great leader" added Peter Simonsen a BCFGA director from Naramata.