Merced farming family recognized for tenacity, keeping local ranch going for 125 years

Frenchy Meissonnier doesn’t get around his Merced ranch as easily as he used to when he was younger.
At 72 years old, there are some aches and pains that come with being a lifelong farmer. Meissonnier is a third-generation rice farmer. His father was a rice farmer, as well as his grandfather before that. “It’s taken a toll on me,” Meissonnier said. “I’m pretty worn out.”

However, Meissonnier says he wouldn’t want it any other way. The Meissonnier Ranch has been in the family since Victor Joseph Meissonnier bought 40 acres located at 2684 Dickenson Ferry Road in Merced in 1897. Meissonnier now owns 350 acres and rents another 170 acres. He beams with pride that someday soon his son Zachery, 40, will take over the ranch. “I enjoy everything about farming,” said Meissonnier. “I enjoy the mechanic work. I like fixing things. I love watching the crop grow. It starts as a seedling; you watch it grow and then you harvest it. There are a lot of challenges, but I still love it.”

Meissonnier will harvest about 85,000 pounds of rice this September from his farm. The Meissonnier Ranch was recently recognized by the California State Fair for 125 years as a continuous farming operation. Frenchy now lives at the ranch with his wife Debi, 69, who he’s been married to for nearly 30 years.

Meissonnier says it hasn’t been easy at times, but he takes pride that the family has been able to keep the ranch going from over a century and that he’ll be able to hand over the reins to his son eventually. “The hardest part was when there was no money in it to have the tenacity to reach down and pull yourself up by the boot straps,” he said. “You just had to bow your neck and say ‘I’m going to do this and it’s going to work out.’ It means everything that I can pass it on to Zach.”

Zachery says it means a lot to be able to take over the farm one day. “It’s been in the family for many years,” he said. “It’s been in our family through world wars, the Great Depression and many ups and downs. It’s good to know we’ve come this far.”

Meissonnier’s grandfather came through Ellis Island. Victor Joseph Meissonnier quickly found out life was tough as a French immigrant. He had a tough time finding a job working on the docks in New York.
Fortunately, he spoke five languages and told people he was Italian. He saved enough money to move and join his brother in California.

In 1897 Victor Joseph Meissonnier for 50 cents per acre bought the 40 acres in Merced that would become Meissonnier Ranch. He started farming rice around 1910. “I’m very proud my grandfather was the first person to grow rice commercially in Merced,” Frenchy said. “He saw some people were growing small patches of rice, but he was the first to farm it commercially.”

Eventually the ranch was passed down to Frenchy’s father, who was also named Victor, and later Frenchy’s father asked him to partner with him in 1973 at the age of 23. “Rice farming is no different than any other type of farming,” Meissonnier said. “You work seven days a week most weeks. You may take a few days off in the winter. It you’re not watching it can turn on you fast. There are a lot of disease and insects. You can’t take a day off during the growing season. Then you have to harvest it before the rain comes.”

Meissonnier said his father almost always had a second job while operating the ranch. He often drove a truck. Frenchy would also work a second job in construction or work side jobs. On the rare occasions when Meissonnier is away from the farm, he likes to travel up the coast, travel with Debi, and he’s always enjoyed riding motorcycles. “My dad has always been a hard worker,” Zachery said. “He puts 150% in everything he does at work and in his home life. He’s someone who is not to be crossed with but when you get to know him underneath all that is one of the biggest, kind-hearted, softy biker-farmers you’d ever meet who is always willing to help someone out.”

Meissonnier says he still wears many hats for the ranch, including working the books, and as a mechanic and farming the crops. He’s been teaching Zachery the tricks of the trade. Life wasn’t always easy. “In the early 80s there was 23 rice farmers in Merced,” Meissonnier said. “My dad and I bought 150 acres after rice had a high price of $12 (per 100 pounds) in 1979. The next year the cost of rice went below the cost of production at $6.50. Other rice farmers went broke. We did everything ourselves. We worked around the clock.”

He says even when times were tough he never dared sell the ranch. “When I was younger I remember my grandmother telling me ‘Never sell the land, David. Never sell the land,'” he said. “I’ve always had that ghost in my ear. I had to keep the legacy going.” After being in debt most his life, Meissonnier said things started to turn in 2000 and by 2007 he was totally out of debt. “I bought 40 acres next to me and I paid in cash,” he said. “I refuse to go back into debt again.”

Meissonnier says keeping the ranch in the family means everything to him. That’s why it was special to be recognized at the State Fair for 125 years of running a continuous farming operation. The Merced County Farm Bureau was being honored on the same stage for its 100 year anniversary — meaning the Meissonnier Ranch has been around longer than the Merced County Farm Bureau. “It was fantastic because they weren’t just recognizing me but also the two generations before me who had the tenacity to stick with it,” Meissonnier said. Meissonnier still loves the grind. “It’s a daily challenge,” he said. “Jobs will take me all day when in my younger days it would take me an hour. There’s some aches and pains, but I take pride that I can still do it.”


Todd Pigott started his first business with not much more than $17 to his name. He did janitorial work, going door-to-door while he studying construction management at Fresno State. After rolling a utility vehicle, he reevaluated his career and realized that line of work wasn’t for him. He sold his janitorial company and got into a different kind of real estate service. Now Pigott operates the only certified REIT — Real Estate Investment Trust — in the Central Valley, and his business is pushing for a $100 million fundraise with a goal to expand services and footprint from 10 states to 15. Pigott took up house flipping after selling his janitorial business in 2006. Rehabilitating rundown homes and turning them around soon established a rapport with his bank. It was also in 2006 that he began lending. A line of credit from his bank and fundraising from family and friends earned him enough money to start a private capital firm named after his three children —Zachary, Nicholas and Cameron. He started by himself but quickly expanded to five employees through the Great Recession, eventually ending up with 45 today.

It’s a niche in real estate finance. House flippers rely on different kinds of home loans than regular homebuyers. Loans are given on terms typically less than a year with higher interest rates. And because of the state of the homes, they aren’t backed by government entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Pigott started lending not only with distressed asset loans, but also loans on multi-family properties and refinance deals. He quickly learned the lessons of working with C-Class and D-Class multifamily properties. The promises of profit couldn’t outweigh the attention and maintenance required on those properties. He decided to narrow the focus and now ZINC Financial, listed with the SEC as ZINC Income Fund, primarily writes bridge loans for house flippers as well as auto loans for people who don’t qualify for normal financing. Pigott says house flipping is a win-win-win. Neighbors like distressed homes being cleaned up, investors get a percentage, flippers get paid and families get to move in to renovated homes. The Central Valley market presents investors low buy-ins compared to other parts of California — in addition to high returns.

The Los Angeles Times named Fresno the hottest real estate market in 2021. Real estate investment firm Lima One Capital released a market study pointing out the strength of Fresno investments. Out of 233 flips, investors averaged a $94,000 return on a $235,000 median purchase price. Pigott said his firm averages between five and 20 a month in the Central Valley. Outlying communities such as Pixley, Sanger, Madera and Chowchilla have significant populations of blue-collar workers looking for affordable housing. “ZINC recently rehabbed homes in Reedley, Sanger and other small surrounding communities and all had multiple offers and went above asking price,” Pigott said.  But flipping isn’t an easy business. Year-over-year appreciation on home values averaging 20% and time on market less than a week might give investors strong exit strategies, but that means competing against a glut of other offers.

Supply chains have also made timelines for flippers more difficult. Having to wait months to get supplies in when the average loan term is 7.5 months leaves very little room for contractors to finish work on time. And local governments are still only partly back at the office. Pigott warns investors to stay away from anything needing structural work or permits. “If you have to go pull a permit and go down there,” Pigott said, “what would normally take two-to-four weeks is taking two-to-four months now.”  Still, Pigott says he has consistently netted investors 8%-10% returns. When he first started the capital firm, he would seek out investors who would write checks of upwards of $800,000, he said. But Pigott said establishing the REIT was more efficient and they are able to get funds quicker. The process took years and $200,000. He contracted with lawyers who specialize in enforcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission. “It’s very expensive to form and very expensive to monitor, but — but, it creates an efficiency for us because we can just fund what we need to fund and it creates some definite benefits for our investors,” Pigott said.

Soon ZINC needed to find its own home. The bank offered to Pigott its own distressed property — the former KKDJ and United Security Bank building at 1525 E. Shaw Ave. The building had been vacated after the former tenant, Alta Pacific Inc., left. Pigott said they redid the roof and the HVAC system. Now, the 11,000 square foot building houses all the different divisions for ZINC Financial. Each room is decorated with a different antique bicycle, the gears matching the industrial theme. Biking is one of Pigott’s passions. Pigott spends his days looking at market reports, studying how many requests for forbearance are made or how many requests for default are made.  Rather than affordability, what Pigott looks for is liquidity from lenders. In 2005, when affordability was 38%, Pigott said everybody was buying a home. Two years later when affordability was 78%, nobody wanted a home.  “I know for a fact that the value of my collateral is directly related not to affordability but to liquidity on the secondary market,” Pigott said. “Can that person get a loan at a reasonable price?” In his business, he sees a lot of people from all demographics and incomes — major investors to those struggling to get car loans and he says he’s learned a lot of lessons. And through it all, he prefers real estate.  “I can’t fix people with poor credit,” Pigott said. “What I can fix are troubled houses.”

Lemoore aviators featured in new ‘Top Gun’ movie

The “Top Gun” fever continues at the box office, as the iconic sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” is breaking records past the speed of sound. The movie holds even more significance as aviators stationed at Naval Air Station Lemoore actually flew in the movie, helping create those captivating flight scenes playing out on the big screen. When asked if this is the greatest aviation film ever made, NAS Lemoore Commander Kristen Hansen, call sign “Dragon,” says, she’s biased, but yes. “It’s probably the best footage anybody has ever been able to take in a cockpit,” Hansen said. “The cameras they had in the cockpits were just so cool.” Years ago, when Top Gun: Maverick was in the early stages, Hansen was stationed at another base in Fallon, Nevada. Aviators often fly between the two bases.

Hansen was asked to help with scenes of the new Top Gun movie, and so were many pilots at NAS Lemoore. “Pretty much went down the flight line,” Hansen said. “And if we had somebody that was home and available and interested, they asked if they were interested in flying in the movie, and we obviously did not have trouble finding volunteers.”

Hansen also confirms the incredible flight scenes were real, not animated. “Very, very little CGI,” Hansen said. “Pretty much everything was done in an aircraft.” “The CGI that was used was in small instances when it would’ve been unsafe to have the aircraft that close, and in those cases, they filmed the maneuvers and just CGI’d them closer, or they might have added an aircraft.” “If you’re seeing it, an aircraft most likely actually did it.” Hansen’s part was about one week, flying with actress Monica Barbaro and actor Lewis Pullman–who plays a Weapons Systems Officer, or “wizzo,” from Lemoore.

The actors also received training beforehand, including water training simulating being ejected from a jet. “Obviously they’re portraying characters, but the people themselves, pretty much for all the characters you would have in a normal ready room, and they were just so laidback,” Hansen said. The production utilized parts of the base, getting shots along actual training routes from Lemoore to Nevada. All the shots captured in the F-18 Superhornet. “If you’re on the West Coast and you’re flying F-18s,” Hansen said, “You’re in Lemoore.” The real work these aviators do to stay ready for any enemy at any time brought to life on screen.

Hansen believes Paramount really did capture the lives of those who serve the United States. “To be able to showcase the aviation community like that, and hopefully for everyone in the Central Valley to realize that, that’s what’s happening in our backyard all the time, and every single day there’s flights and missions out coming of Lemoore, California,” Hansen said. “That’s really at the heart of it all.”

States with the biggest agriculture industry

Most Americans don’t recognize just how much the agriculture industry affects their everyday lives. The connection is not solely confined to your grocery store, either—industries affected by the agricultural sector include food/beverage service, forestry, and textiles, just to name a few. Less than 2% of the American workforce was directly employed in agriculture in the year 2000, a drastic transition from 40% a century earlier. To improve consumer’s relationships with this industry, organizations like Future Farmers of America and 4-H help to bridge the gap between consumers and farmers and fight agricultural illiteracy from youth.

Stacker ranked each U.S. state by the size of its agriculture industry. To come up with the list, we analyzed USDA data including 2018 state agricultural overview reports and commodity values from 2012 ranked by the total value of agricultural products sold. We also took a look at the economic and environmental impact of the agriculture industry for each state, based on data from the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, as well as how the industry affects residents and what aspects about that state make it ideal for agriculture.

States like Alaska and Hawaii generated a wide range of unique agricultural commodities due to climates that differ from the rest of the country. States such as Texas and Wisconsin produced crops and livestock like cotton, cattle, and dairy cows known worldwide for their quality. Of course, there are always the corn belt states of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas that provide a majority of the country’s corn supply thanks to level landscapes and nitrogen-rich soil. Keep reading to see where your state’s agriculture industry ranks.

Chevron, Partners Advance Groundbreaking Carbon Capture Project in California’s Central Valley

A groundbreaking carbon capture power generation project is in the works by Chevron Corp., Schlumberger New Energy, Microsoft Corp. and Clean Energy Systems Inc. (CES) that could open the door to producing carbon negative power in Mendota, CA. The bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS) project in the state’s agricultural mecca of the Central Valley is designed to convert agricultural waste biomass, such as almond trees, into a renewable synthesis gas. The gas then would be mixed with oxygen in a combustor to generate electricity. “More than 99% of the carbon from the BECCS process is expected to be captured for permanent storage,” the companies said, as carbon dioxide (CO2) would be injected underground into nearby deep geologic formations.

No financial details were disclosed. However, the project is designed to make “a vital contribution to the local economy by restarting an idled biomass plant,” said CES CEO Keith Pronske. Schlumberger New Energy’s Ashok Belani, executive vice president, said the project would show “how we play an enabling role to deploy carbon capture and sequestration solutions at scale…This unique BECCS project in California is a game-changing example of this.”

By using biomass fuel to consume CO2 to produce power and then permanently store the carbon leftovers, the process as designed could result in net-negative carbon emissions, according to the companies. If all things go to plan, the facility could remove about 300,000 tons/year of CO2. “There’s tremendous opportunity to use cloud technologies in the energy sector to help accelerate the industry’s digital transformation,” said Microsoft’s Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Cloud + AI. “Innovation at this scale” would be accelerated by the partnership.

Chevron’s Bruce Niemeyer, vice president of strategy and sustainability, said by leveraging its experience working in California, where the supermajor is headquartered, building projects “can be repeated” including large-scale CCS operations.  The completed facility is expected to improve air quality in the agriculture center of California, the Central Valley. When it ramps up, the facility is expected to use about 200,000 tons/year of agricultural waste. That figure is in line with California Air Resources Control Board’s plan to phase out most agricultural burning in the region by 2025.  The project is expected to create up to 300 construction jobs and about 30 permanent jobs once in operation. Front end engineering and design already has begun, with a final investment decision set for 2022.

Fresno State engineering students help make protective gear for health workers

Engineering students, faculty and alumni from Fresno State’s Lyles College of Engineering have been working up to 10 hours a day in recent weeks to design and produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for Central Valley health care workers. They plan to donate about 1,000 face shields to Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno. Last week during Fresno State’s spring break, the team completed the final design and began production of the face shields — the first part of a three-phase, innovative project to support the community at a time when protective equipment is scarce for doctors, nurses and other health care providers.

Fresno Hospital First in Central Valley to Use New Hybrid Operating Room

The healthcare industry is constantly evolving and improving and community regional medical center is the only facility in the valley with two hybrid operating rooms able to perform highly complex, advanced surgical procedures.  But, it’s the team inside the operating room that really makes the difference. We got a first-hand look at what it takes and what it means for patients. Alfredo Gomez is an interventional radiology technologist who’s worked in the hybrid operating room since 2014.  The room is a combination of a traditional operating room and an image guided interventional suite– providing all the necessary capability and personnel in one space.

Report: Visalia’s Kaweah Delta hospital generates $1 billion a year locally

Kaweah Delta medical center in Visalia does more than provide healthcare services to the region and the Central Valley — it also infuses nearly $1 billion into the local economy each year, according to a new study. Kaweah Delta makes an estimated $973 million annual economic impact and accounts for $550.4 million or 3.2 percent of Tulare County’s economy, says an economic impact analysis commissioned by the Tulare County Economic Development Corporation and prepared by Impact DataSource of Austin, Texas.

Port of Stockton operations not crimped by COVID-19 pandemic

California’s largest inland seaport, the Port of Stockton, is open and operating normally, officials say, although some measures are in place to prevent the spread of the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness. “The Port of Stockton’s priority is to ensure the health and safety of all Port stakeholders; to date, the Port of Stockton’s ability to support our business partners has not been impacted by COVID-19,” says Port Director Richard Aschieris.

Central Valley schools aim to reduce poverty through job training

Almost half of Fresno Unified students take part in career and technical programs. The training helps students as well as local industries that area struggling to find skilled workers. On a recent school day in Fresno, Fernando Valero repaired a 32,000-pound diesel truck with failed sensors. Then he crawled under another truck before lifting it with a floor jack. The morning school work left his hands black from grease.