I haven't always liked Mike.
Mike "Melon Head" Sullivan and I met when we were 11-year-old Junior Lifeguards. He was always running his mouth and getting in trouble. Meanwhile, I was a class pet perfectionist who would stop at nothing to win at beach flags.
After a few summers of butting heads with Melon, I didn't see him again until we were freshmen at the same high school. Little boys grow up. And Mike grew into a strapping young man, very intelligent and sweet to his mom. We became great buds by our senior year when we were both on Associated Student Body together (he, the Director of Athletics [aka the Director of Zero Period Napping], me, Student Body Treasurer [which is funny now if you look at my bank statements]); we took many of the same classes, and Mike was my biggest fan at my school sporting events. During softball season, he'd bring a lawn chair and a crew of hecklers to the left field line where they'd cheer loudly with signs and blow-horns. This was very cool because Mike & Co. were our only fans (other than devoted parents and siblings too young to avoid attending). I always played better when showing off for hecklers.
Mike and I decided on the same college (UC Santa Barbara - go Gauchos!), and since then have stayed in touch over the years, primarily through mutual friends and a shared love for surfing.
After college, Mike went to law school to study environmental law. He finished school, passed the California bar exam and became a licensed attorney in 2012! A few months later, he got an interesting offer; a proposition to manage a citrus and avocado orchard in Ojai. He slept on the idea for 24 hours. The next day, he packed up the bed of his truck with minimal possessions and moved up to Ojai. For the past 1.5 years, he's lived in an Airstream on the property, managing the orchard with the two long-time owners, Jim Churchill and Lisa Brenneis. Why the F did they trust inexperienced Mike to manage an orchard that's been in their family for 50 years?! They trusted Mike because they recognized his potential. Mike made a good point that, "Just because your grandfather was an award-winning peach grower doesn't mean you will be. Plus, where else will you find a licensed attorney for less than $100/day?" True. Also helpful, was Mike's natural interest in farming. When he came home to Huntington Beach from Santa Barbara, he needed a tangible project that gave him purpose outside of school. So he started a community garden in Huntington Beach. Three years later, the project is a huge success and The Garden still has a waiting list for the 112 plots.
“Sometimes we associate experience with talent, and that’s not always the case.”
When I visited Mike in Ojai recently, we walked the orchard grounds and sampled a dozen varieties of citrus, picked right off the blooming trees. Mike's farmer-ness was impressive. He was very knowledgeable about the climate, growing conditions, and he knew the history of each tree. I was visiting at the peak of the aromatic orange tree blossoming, so every time a breeze blew by, sweet fragrant air wafted around my head. Ojai felt like a magical place and I've never eaten a better seedless pixie tangerine.
1. Everyone is just making it up.
Mike is an intelligent guy. He was confident that he could learn the knowledge-base and skills needed to be a great orchard manager. And now, he is.