Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Mitch Lasgoity, escorted by his wife Rosemary, is the 2017 Madera Chamber of Commerce Senior Farmer of the Year. He will be honored at the annual dinner March 30 at the Madera Municipal Golf course.
Raising cattle, sheep, grapes, stone fruit and almonds demonstrates the versatility of the Madera Chamber of Commerce 2017 Senior Farmer of the year John Mitchel Lasgoity.
On March 30, at the Madera Municipal Golf Course‘s St. Andrews Ballroom, the agriculture community will gather to pay tribute to this Madera native and lifelong resident.
“We have been farming neighbors with the Lasgoity family for more than 50 years,” said fellow grower Rick Cosyns.
Rick’s father, Albert Cosyns, the 2009 Senior Farmer, nominated Lasgoity for this year’s award. The annual tradition began in 1981. Each year, the recipient is chosen based on a point system administered by a committee of past Senior Farmers.
The Cosyns and Lasgoity families reared their children together, worship at St. Joachim Church and have helped each other as growers in Madera, said Rick.
“We grew up with caring parents and our parent’s friends looked out for us and didn’t hesitate to correct us if they saw us getting into things we shouldn’t, telling our parents if needed,” said Cosyns.
Lasgoity is a living almanac, possessing a wealth of knowledge about Madera’s agriculture lands and the history of its owners, said Cosyns. He is a true steward of the land.
“Mitch is a very qualified recipient of this honor and I am grateful that the chamber continues to honor the senior farmers and ranchers who have done so much to contribute to our way of life,” said Cosyns. “This award gives the ag community the opportunity to celebrate the lives of those who have contributed so much.”
We are celebrating Mitch Lasgoity and his contributions to the agriculture community and the farming and ranching industries,” said Cosyns. “His knowledge of plant production and animal husbandry is amazing. He is appreciative that agriculture has provided him and his family with a good life.”
Born April 11, 1930, to Jean Lasgoity and the former Jennie Ospital, he goes by the name Mitch.
The elder Lasgoity came to the United States in 1917 from French Basque country as a sheep herder. Saving his money while working for others he struck out on his own with a flock of ewes by 1921. In 1928, he and Jennie wed and set up housekeeping on the 40 acres where she grew up, just south of Madera on Road 26.
The couple tended their flock and farmed the 40 acres, growing alfalfa, peaches and Muscat grapes. When their son was born two years later, they lived on the family ranch with his maternal grandmother, Anna Biscay Ospital, and two bachelor uncles, Mitchel Ospital and Michel Lasgoity.
The French Basque immigrants spoke Basque more frequently than English at home, so Mitch grew up bilingual with Basque and English. The family nurtured and taught the curious and energetic child the intricate and age old Basque methods of shepherding and farming.
Mitch excelled at all aspects of farming and ranching. His father Jean and uncle Michel taught him animal husbandry and the sheep business while his Uncle Mitchel schooled him in tractors and farming. The young man learned to raise sheep, hogs, chickens and cattle.
His chores as a youngster included cleaning and plucking the chickens for Sunday dinner. He raised hogs that were sold to nearby Noble’s Meat Co.
Working closely with his father, Mitch learned to successfully raise market lambs from a productive flock of ewes. Employing Suffolk rams, the herd thrived with a crossbreed of Hampshire and Rambouillet ewes.
The flock thrived moving between grazing land by crisscrossing the San Joaquin Valley. In the summer, the flock ranged beneath Mount Ritter and Mount Banner in the Sierra National Forest stretching to the winter range in the coastal foothills near Harris Ranch.
Mitch loved farming, tractors and equipment. He learned to drive tractors very young and, by the age of 10, did so unsupervised. At age 14, he drove loads of the family’s dried peaches to a Reedley packing house. Beginning at age 15, he operated a grain harvester during the summers working for Eldred and Buddy McKinney, John Bishel, Joe Urrutia and Walter Curran harvesting grain until he graduated from college.
He attended Alpha School, graduated from Madera Union High School and attended Santa Clara University, graduating with a business degree in 1952.
After college, he became partners with his father in the sheep business and took over the farming of their 40 acres. And by the age of 26, he was the sole owner of the flock.
Mitch married Rosemary Mastrofini in 1957 and together they reared four children, Michele, Monica, John and James. Raising their family, the couple worked diligently to grow and diversify their business.
Their flock grew to 5,000 ewes and expanded their summer grazing territory to a ranch in Elko County, Nevada, owned by Joe and Bob Heguy.
Soon after their marriage, Rosemary’s uncle Herb Buchenau ask Mitch to be partners in his beef cattle business. Together they bought the Copper Sheep Company in Ely, Nevada, where they had 10,000 ewes and 500 head of cattle. Mitch also began to manage the cattle in their partnership in California and then purchased the Collins Ranch near Eastman Lake in 1967, his first ranch.
Mitch and Rosemary expanded their farming operations to a 320-acre ranch, which had been in her family in western Madera County near Road 16 producing alfalfa, cotton, grapes, sheep and cattle. They have added almonds, wine grapes and increased their herd of cattle.
The operation encompasses more than 3,500 acres and the cattle operation grazes more than 33,000 acres, primarily in Madera County.
Mitch’s community service includes Farm Bureau membership, more than 55 years in the Madera Rotary Club, Madera County and California Cattlemen’s associations and he was founding director of the Western Range Association since 1958.
He served as the president and director of the board for the California Woolgrowers Association and belonged to St. Joachim’s Knights of Columbus, Madera County Grand Jury and the San Joaquin Valley Winegrowers Association.
Along with raising livestock, Mitch has been an avid equestrian and a longtime member and former director of the board of the Rancheros Visitadores.
This men’s riding club makes an annual trek the first week in May from a ranch in Santa Barbara, a 60-mile trek after receiving a blessing at the Santa Ynez Mission. The 550-member men’s fraternity has a waiting list for its membership. On the pilgrimage, the group breaks into 17 camps with each man bringing his own tent. Lasgoity served several terms as captain of his group, “Campo Seco.”
“A team of wild horses wouldn’t keep them away from the campo,” said Rosemary. “When he shattered his knee in an accident in 1971, his first words were I’m going to miss Rancheros.”
This summer, Mitch and Rosemary will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. Three of their children, Michele, Monica and John rely on agriculture for their livelihood.
They have six grandchildren who call him “Aitachi,” Basque for grandpa, and her “Noni,” Italian for grandma.
The Senior Farmer of the Year award is bestowed on an individual who is a longstanding farmer or rancher in Madera County selected by previous recipients of the award.
The Lasgoity family is honored that the chamber has selected Mitch as this year’s Senior Farmer.
Information on sponsorships and tickets for the dinner is available at the chamber office, 120 N. E St., or by calling 673-3563.