Sonoma County Farm Bureau coordinated the “Ag and Natural Resources Day” programs for 80 Santa Rosa area students selected for Tomorrow’s Leaders today, a program for high-achieving high school junior who have been identified as potential community leaders.

The students in the Tomorrow’s Leaders Today program are from private and public high schools in Santa Rosa. The tours for the two classes of TLT students were held on Nov. 4 and Nov. 18. The tours were planned to show the diversity and complexity of Sonoma County agriculture and the dedication that farmers and ranchers have for their land, crops, livestock and way-of-life. The tours focused on the valuable work that the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District is doing to protect working farms and preserve the county’s rich farming heritage.

Sorrel Allen, the public engagement specialist with the Ag and Open Space District, joined the tour to discuss the district’s land preservation programs and point out the agricultural lands that have been forever protected by tax payers. The district is funded by a one-quarter cent sales tax that voters have overwhelmingly supported to protect farmland and open space in Sonoma County.

Both tours visited the Bianchi Dairy-Valley Ford Cheese Co. in Valley Ford, Sonoma Compost in Petaluma, the Dutton Ranch in Graton and Tierra Vegetables in north Santa Rosa. Both days included a Farm Bureau prepared luncheon of Sonoma County products including chicken, vegetables, fruit and Clover-Stornetta Farms milk and ice cream.
Students were impressed by Karen Bianchi Moreda’s passion for dairy farming and cheesemaking. A fourth generation dairy rancher, Moreda started Valley Ford Cheese Co. to add value to her family’s farming operation and to showcase her family’s cheesemaking heritage. She makes a cheese similar to what family members still produce in the Swiss Alps.

“Karen Bianchi Moreda is obviously very determined. She clearly loves what she does and works hard to be successful doing it. She was also inspirational because she proved if you love what you do and work hard you can be successful. She was also ambitious and wanted to continue to grow and improve her company,” said Brook Bierling of Santa Rosa High School. At Sonoma Compost, Will Bakx, a soil scientist and co-owner of the Company, explained the science and art of taking yard clipping and other recyclable materials and turning it into a rich compost that is used on the county’s farms, orchards and vineyards to add nitrogen and organic material to the soil structure.
“Will Bakx was very enthusiastic in discussing how he runs Sonoma Compost.  Bakx encourages people to compost, helping the earth and creating rich fertilizer for other plants. Bakx was very knowledgeable and did an excellent job explaining how the compost was made and showing us through the entire process. He was very effective in his overall presentation,” said Francesa Scardino of Maria Carrillo High School.
Steve Dutton of the Dutton Ranch explained his family’s farming operation which includes more than 1,000 acres of vineyards and 200 acres of apples. He talked about issues like immigration reform as a way to ensure a reliable and sustainable labor force for agriculture now and in the future.

“The Dutton Apple farm is unique, as Steve Dutton has a program which benefits many individuals who work on the ranch. The program brings immigrants from Mexico work on the Apple Farm where they earn three times the wages they would make in Mexico while living on the Dutton property. It is a great situation where both sides gain,” said Ethan Foster of Santa Rosa High School.

Wayne James is the farmer and co-owner of Tierra Vegetables along with his wife Evie and his sister Lee James. They farm on protected land on the urban edge that they lease from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. James explained the tough economics of vegetable farming and the challenges of financially providing for himself and his wife’s retirement when he can no longer farm. Students were amazed at James’ dedication to farming but were surprised by the small financial returns he earned for working seven days a week, 365 days a year. Students respected his goal of producing fresh healthy foods.
“Wayne James represented leadership qualities because he is trying to change our community by providing farm fresh vegetables to local residents. He encourages people to shop locally and although his business in the farming industry may not be the best right now, he never gives up. He is determined and showed a lot of care for his farm,” said Emily Abraham of Maria Carrillo High School.

Many of the students said the tour helped them understand the value of purchasing local food and supporting the farms and ranches that not only provide working agricultural landscapes but drive the county’s economy.