While working for Morrison, Steve met John Braley, the CCA Executive Vice President, who at the time was in Class 18 of the California Agricultural Leadership Program. Having experienced the program himself, Braley told Steve he was going to recommend him for it. Braley did just that and had an application for Class 19 of the Ag Leadership program sent to Steve.”I looked at [the application], and it was one of those things that it’s pretty easy for a guy that just gets on his horse every day and does his thing to throw in the trash,” Steve said. “So instead of Class 19, I took a serious ass-chewing from John Braley about throwing the stupid thing away.”
The following year, Steve again received an application, but this time he didn’t discard it. He and Debbie worked on the application and got it submitted. Steve later did an interview and was accepted into Class 20 of the California Agricultural Leadership Program (Ag Leadership).
“I’m going to give all the credit in the world to Bob Morrison, the owner of the Cammate Ranch, because he allowed us to do things that I would have never done, and he allowed me the time to go do the Ag Leadership,” Steve said. “It changed my life entirely. That two-year span right there, everything changed.”
While Ag Leadership greatly impacted Steve, he says Nock does deserve some of the credit. Even years after working for him at the Templeton Livestock Market, Nock constantly pushed him to be a leader within the cattle industry.
Involved with San Luis Obispo Farm Bureau for a long time, having joined the board after completing Ag Leadership, Steve knew he couldn’t commit to leadership roles with both Cattlemen’s and Farm Bureau. Eventually, he went off the Farm Bureau board and joined the San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association board with Nock.
“When I got into the leadership portion of San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen, Dick was the guy that was always in the background that would be chipping away… [saying], ‘Stevie, what are you going to do about the membership?’”
Nock, unfortunately, passed away two years ago, but Steve knows he had gained Nock’s approval of his work and successful efforts in growing the number of members in San Luis Obispo County. Even if Nock never directly told him, a thumbs up from him during the membership update at each meeting was enough.In addition to Morrison and Nock, Alex Madonna was another mentor of Steve’s at a young age. One he was able to spend a great deal of time with before Alex passed.
“There’s a lot of mentors I’ve had that have been really good,” Steve said.
Following their time at the Cammate Ranch, Steve and Debbie came back to Pozo in the early 1990s. Today they have a cow-calf operation and live on portions of the same land in Pozo that Steve’s great-grandfather settled on in 1919. The old original homestead on the south side of the Pozo road is almost exactly as it was a hundred years ago, with the original houses still standing and the same fields being dry land farmed.
Although pieces of the ranch have stayed the same, the land on the north side has seen changes. When Debbie and Steve moved back to Pozo, they started thinking about how to keep the ranch sustainable and successful by diversifying. With good soil and some groundwater, growing vegetables was an idea tossed around at one point. Eventually, they passed on the idea as it turned out that vegetables would be more of an undertaking year-round than Steve and Debbie wanted.
Instead, they were advised to try wine grapes. While Steve admits he knew nothing about the commodity before signing his first contract, a few decades later it led the Arnold family to have a vineyard on the property still and now have the Vintage Cowboy Winery on the ranch too.
“We have two kids, and they are the winery part of our vineyard operation,” Steve said. “Our daughter, Michelle, runs all the books and sales and all the paperwork that goes along with producing alcohol. Our son, Joey, is the winemaker and designated socialite of the group. My only job involving the winery anymore is to make sure that we have grapes. I’m the vineyardist, so to speak.”
With the vineyard enduring as a key part of the family business over the last few decades, cows also continue to be an interest for the family with Steve’s son Joey and son-in-law Ryan helping him manage the herd.
“My grandad ran registered Hereford cows,” Steve said. “My father got us into commercial herds, and we bred some Brown Swiss into our system for our milkability. Then we went all black…. But we are moving back in to the Herefords.”
When asked how he and Debbie manage the ranch, vineyard and winery, family time with his two kids and all four of his grandkids living in the area, Debbie’s role as a supervisor for San Luis Obispo County and everything in between, Steve had a quick answer: “She’s a really hard worker and then there is me.”
As hardworking as Debbie is, in 2020 Steve was honored as the San Luis Obispo Cattleman of the Year. His peers and neighboring cattlemen and women recognized he must have had something to do with the Arnold family’s land remaining in production all these years. Additionally, they must have noticed Steve’s success at making a life in ranching, the career he always desired to be in.