Photo taken by Julie Sardinha
Joe Sardinha harvesting
Joe Sardinha harvesting on his farm in Summerland
The fruit industry lost the irascible, always moving, helpful, considerate and hard working Joe Sardinha when he passed away from a heart attack on Saturday, August 31, 2013.
His parents immigrated to Canada from Portugal before Joe was four years old. Later, as a young man and his enthusiasm for farming became evident, they helped him to begin farming when they leased land with him.
Joe farmed in Summerland on 11 acres with his wife Julie, where they raised two children, Brian and Katie. Being an active farmer and family man was, however, only a part of the contribution he made to his community.
During the past few years all those in the orchard industry recognize just how difficult it has become to make a living, but the ever optimistic Sardinha pushed every opportunity he could from his vision to sell off and reinvest money from unused packing buildings to pushing federal and provincial politicians to fight the dumping of apples from Washington state.
Norm Letnick was the MLA in Joe’s riding and, until recently, the Minister of Agriculture for British Columbia. Letnick first met Joe in 2009, and quickly learned to respect the then-president of the BC Fruit Growers Association. Says Letnick, “He always liked to work with government, but he had no hesitation in advocating what was important for farmers and the whole industry.”
Letnick is impressed by how Joe handled himself in tough situations, when orchardist returns were low. “He was always a gentleman. He handled himself with integrity and was concerned for orchardists and farmers.”
In 2000 Joe added to his plate by becoming a member of the BCFGA’s executive. For five years he worked in various positions on the executive, then led by Penny Gambell. When Gambell stepped down Joe ran for the president’s position, which he held for the next six years.
His VP was Fred Steele. A few days after Joe’s passing Steele relates that in a conversation with Julie he confided to her that they had both lost their best friend. Steele says, “Joe and I talked every single day, usually at about 9:30 at night.”
Steele’s admiration is virtually unbounded because of the energy and enthusiasm with which Joe took on tasks coupled with his tact and insight. “Joe should have had a cape – he was a superman and was everywhere.”
Sardinha wanted to step down as president of the BCFGA after five years, but was persuaded to stay on for one more year. One of the things that impressed Steele was Joe’s foresight in handling people who could help the cause of farming. “He knew the principle rule of talking with politicians,” says Steele. “If you couldn’t get what you wanted, don’t put them in a place where the only thing they can say is ‘no,’ so that you can come back later and try again.”
Steele notes proudly that no one ran against Joe during his six year tenure. Of course, Steele admonishes, not everyone agreed with everything Joe did, including Steele himself.
“It was really a privilege to serve with him when he was president. We didn’t always agree, but I think we each became the other’s second, sober thought.”
Echoing Letnick, Steele says Joe kept his cool publicly, treating everyone respectfully. “It wasn’t just the ‘Joe show.’”
After stepping down as president in 2012, Joe backed Steele’s bid to become president, which was derailed by the disastrous election of Kirpal Boparai, but by no means did that mean Joe was stepping away from service to the agricultural industry. Joe was still serving with the BC Agriculture Council, ARPA and the Canadian Horticultural Council searching for ways to improve the living for all farmers, not just fellow orchardists. “That was the way he looked at it,” says Steele. “He didn’t just look at the orchardists, but for ways that all farmers would do well going ahead.”
Steele says, softly, “We discussed the future everyday. He was really about the future.”
The future won’t be lucky enough to benefit from any more direct contributions by Joe Sardinha, but the farmers of British Columbia have a better future than they would have because of his many thoughts, deeds and service.
Joe Sardinha was 52 years old.
An open memorial was held at the Catholic Church of the Holy Child, at 14010 Rosedale Avenue in Summerland at 11 am on Saturday, September 14.
The staff at Orchard & Vine would like to pass on their sincerest condolences and sympathies to all the friends and family of Joe Sardinha.