Alumna now oversees campus vineyard

Leah Groves, Fresno State's newest vineyard technician examines grape vines at the campus vineyard on March 12, 2018. (Ram Reyes/The Collegian)

Fresno State’s vineyard technician, Leah Groves, oversees over 100 acres of vineyards across campus.

Her job is to provide grapes and raisins for Fresno State products as well as other stores and wineries in the Central Valley.

“She doesn’t like sitting around,” said Pierce Hanning, a student who works for Groves. “She’s very go-getter. She’s very happy and motivated.”

Groves, 23, grew up in Trinity County, in Northern California. She said she became familiar with grape-growing early in her life, as her parents owned a winery and a vineyard.

“It was a neat experience to see how things work,” Groves said. “I got to deal with both sides – being able to work in the field with the pruning and picking the grapes as well as helping my dad in the winemaking process.”

In high school, Groves was a member of the Future Farmers of America (FFA). She also served as president during her time in the organization. FFA is a national organization that focuses on students who envision themselves embarking on careers in agriculture.

Groves said she appreciated FFA because it provided her with an opportunity to meet others as well as gain insight on other facets of agriculture.

“Not only are you meeting other students, but you’re also able to understand more about agriculture,” Groves said. “I had more experience in viticulture and forestry. I got to meet people that had experience in livestock or got to do floral projects.”

In addition, Groves said that her involvement with FFA helped spark a deeper interest in the agriculture industry.

“FFA is the reason why I wanted to continue into ag,” Groves said.

After high school, Groves attended Shasta College, a community college in Redding, and earned an associate degree in sustainable agriculture and agriculture business.

From there, she transferred to Fresno State. Groves was already familiar with the university because it’s where her father studied viticulture and enology.

“Fresno [State] is a very hands-on learning school, and that’s what I wanted,” Groves said.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science and livestock business management in May 2017.

After graduating, Groves said, she initially sought careers involving animals. She later decided that a career with orchards was better.

“Every season is different. We’re constantly changing. We’re constantly doing different stuff,” Groves said. “I like that it’s constantly moving.”

Groves began working as a vineyard technician at Fresno State in January 2018. She produces raisins as well as table grapes for consumption and grapes used specifically for producing wine.

Mark Salwasser, the vineyard manager for Fresno State, said Groves works well with the students she oversees.

“She’s easy to get along with,” Salwasser said. “She’s detail-oriented. She follows up on everything.”

Groves said that she often reminds herself that she works in an industry typically dominated by men.

“In general, they think that you don’t know what you’re talking about a lot of the time,” Groves said. “[You have] to show someone that you can drive the tractor. You can hook up different equipment or understand the operations.”

Regardless, Groves said, it doesn’t matter who fills the job. It only matters that the job gets done.

She said everyone can play a part in agriculture.

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