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Moving It Forward: ‘An opportunity for all’: YF&R group reaches out

Issue Date: October 28, 2020
By Christine Souza
A father and son ride tractor pedal cars at the 2019 Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol. The pedal-car activity was organized and hosted by the Sonoma-Marin YF&R chapter.
Photo/Courtesy of Sonoma-Marin YF&R

(Editor's note: This is the final installment of a three-part Ag Alert series highlighting individuals and committees participating in the Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers program.)

Along the California coast, two counties are well known for specific commodities—Sonoma County for winegrapes and Marin County for dairy products—and together, the two are home to a large group of energetic young farmers, ranchers and agriculturalists who form Sonoma-Marin Young Farmers and Ranchers.

Taylor Serres, a sixth-generation farmer and past chair of the Sonoma-Marin YF&R Committee, said the group has many members involved in the winegrape business, plus dairy and livestock and associated businesses such as banking and marketing.

"You don't have to be a farmer to join," Serres said. "We want it to be open; it is an opportunity for all people, even if you have an interest in farming. Young Farmers and Ranchers is a great place to network, to see if this is really something that you're interested in."

For the committee's outstanding work during 2019, the Sonoma-Marin YF&R committee received the annual Committee of the Year award from the YF&R State Committee.

California Farm Bureau Federation First Vice President Shannon Douglass described Sonoma-Marin YF&R as "a great group."

"I'm excited for the work that they have done and their ability to attract new members, because their energy and passion are going to be so important for us statewide moving into the future," Douglass said.

Current Sonoma-Marin YF&R chair Regina Pozzi said the committee organizes monthly meetings, which, before the pandemic, were held at a dairy, ranch or local business as a social event to provide networking and professional development opportunities.

"YF&R members come to our meetings every month because they have the opportunity to listen to a local agricultural operator or businessperson," Pozzi said.

Douglass, who participated as a guest speaker at one of the group's monthly meetings—held online due to COVID-19 restrictions—said Sonoma-Marin YF&R has gotten creative with virtual happy-hour meetings that help engage people and keep them engaged.

"That is so important," she said, "because it helps get people to stay involved in Farm Bureau long term, so that we've got Farm Bureau board members and leaders for the future."

Daniel Charles, an assistant vineyard manager for Chalk Hill Winery of Healdsburg, said he joined Sonoma-Marin YF&R four years ago after returning home from college.

"I wanted to continue to be part of the agriculture community," Charles said. "I wanted to get to know professionals that were in my range of work, but also see what other people are doing, such as dairies and cheese shops or all of the agriculture we've got going on. YF&R is a social club with plenty of networking, but getting out into the community sets us up for future enrollment and just kind of keeps the vibe going."

Pozzi, who works for the county of Marin, serves as county manager for the Marin County Farm Bureau and takes part in her family's sheep and cattle ranch, described the Sonoma-Marin YF&R committee as a resource for young people in agriculture.

"I think the biggest benefit of Young Farmers and Ranchers is professional development, where you are learning from someone who has had success or is operating in the industry," she said.

In addition, Pozzi said, the group provides an opportunity for its members to give back to the community.

The committee's main annual fundraiser is a sporting clay shoot that usually happens in the spring. In 2019, YF&R members raised $25,000 and attracted 75 participants and 100 guests. Some of the money funded scholarships for graduating high school seniors. The committee also purchases animals at junior livestock auctions at county fairs that are donated to a local food bank. In addition, the YF&R committee participates in the Harvest for All food donation program, donating 20,000 pounds of food and logging 160 volunteer hours in 2019.

Sonoma-Marin YF&R members volunteer at events such as county Farm Bureau dinners and take part in agricultural days and festivals to help educate children and others in the community about agriculture.

"Our YF&R does a lot of community service and outreach," Charles said. "Sonoma County is a pretty large agricultural area, but there is a large percentage of the population that still doesn't know much about agriculture. At events like ag days, we reach out to the younger kids in elementary school on up."

The Sonoma-Marin YF&R committee also conducts outreach through social media to attract prospective members and visits high schools and colleges to introduce young people to the group.

Many members have joined their respective county Farm Bureaus. Noting that the Sonoma-Marin YF&R chair serves as a voting member of the county Farm Bureau board, Serres said, "YF&R allows for young people coming up in the industry to get their feet wet."

"At our YF&R meetings, we had issues that we were dealing with, but it's a little buffered," she said. "When you get to the county Farm Bureau, these issues are make or break, especially with Proposition 15 (the split-roll property tax initiative) on the ballot. This would be a huge detriment to all of California, but Sonoma County as well. If it passes, many farming businesses will go out of business because they literally just can't afford to stay in business with these extremely high property taxes. I have been very active on the No on Prop. 15 (campaign)."

Serres said YF&R also helps engage the next generation of agricultural professionals.

"Just as 4-H and FFA are so important, Young Farmers and Ranchers is as well, because these are stepping stones that help you get to wherever you want to be, be it on boards, in public office, staying in farming or whatever you desire," she said. "You still need to know what is going on in agriculture, and that comes with involvement in Farm Bureau."

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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