Mitch Mulas Retires After 40 Years on the Board of Sonoma County Farm Bureau
Sonoma-Marin Farm News, February 2011
Story by Tim Tesconi
Photographs from the Farm Bureau Archives
Sonoma Valley rancher Mitch Mulas has retired from the board of directors of Sonoma County Farm Bureau after dutifully serving as a director for 40 years, which included five years as president of the county’s largest and most influential agricultural organization.
Mulas, 82, a respected rancher and agricultural leader for a half century, said it’s time to move over and let younger people represent the interests of the county’s farmers and ranchers. He warned fellow Farm Bureau members to be ever vigilant in protecting their land and livelihoods from misguided public officials and bureaucrats who don’t understand agriculture or covet the county’s farmland for uses other than farming.
“Farmers need to be familiar with the problems and issues that Sonoma County is facing and more importantly with the issues that our agricultural industry is facing. It’s our responsibility to let our county supervisors and other elected officials know what we need to keep farming. We all need to stand up for ourselves, our farming businesses and for agriculture,” Mulas told the Farm Bureau board of directors last month when he retired. His farewell message was greeted with a standing ovation that showed the respect and admiration directors have for Mulas who has been such a steady and guiding force on the county’s farm front for so many decades.
“Mitch has provided a great example of leadership for the agriculture community in Sonoma County, with his commitment to public service and dedication to protecting our rural heritage. Mitch has always been a quiet leader, providing input on so many issues based on his lifelong experiences farming and ranching in Sonoma County. He will definitely be missed at Farm Bureau’s monthly meetings, but I know he is only a phone call away if I need something,” said livestock rancher Joe Pozzi, president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau.
For his part, Mulas said Sonoma County agriculture would be greatly diminished if not for the grassroots efforts of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, founded in 1917 to be the voice of the agricultural community. Farm Bureau is a voluntary, non-profit, non-government organization dedicated to keeping farms and ranches part of Sonoma County’s economy and landscape. He said Farm Bureau is a unifying force and collective voice for the county’s large and diverse agricultural industry.
“Farm Bureau policies are formulated to benefit the whole agricultural industry. It serves all of agriculture,” said Mulas. He said Farm Bureau’s political clout is derived from its strength at the county, state and national levels. Farm Bureau continually monitors legislation that is proposed in Sacramento and Washington D.C. and educates lawmakers on issues related to farming and farmland.
Mulas was first elected to the Farm Bureau board in 1959, working on issues that spanned the gamut from land use to farm labor. He left the Farm Bureau board from 1968 to 1980 because he was serving as a trustee of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District while actively running his large dairy operation. He returned to the Farm Bureau board in 1980 and continued as a director until last month. He served as Farm Bureau president in 1965, 1966, 1967 and then again in 1985 and 1986.
Mulas’s son Ray Mulas, who continues on the board of directors of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, served as president of Farm Bureau in 2003 and 2004. Mitch and Ray Mulas are the only father and son in Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s 94-year history to both serve as Farm Bureau president.
The father and son’s terms as president, a span of 40 years from Mitch’s first term, not only shows the longevity of Farm Bureau but the continuity of the Mulas family’s farming operation in the Sonoma Valley. The Mulases produce milk and wine grapes on their landmark ranch along Fremont Drive between Sonoma and the community of Shellville. The Mulases settled on the ranch in 1920 and, depending on markets and Mother Nature, plan to be producing milk and wine grapes for generations to come.
One of the highlights of Mulas’s first term as Farm Bureau president in 1965 was hosting Ronald Reagan as the guest speaker at Farm Bureau’s annual meeting held in Cloverdale. Reagan was running for governor of California and had come to Sonoma County in 1965 as part of his campaign stump. For Mulas and the many Reagan supporters it was a night to remember even decades later when Reagan served as the 40th president of the United States. A photograph of Mulas with Ronald and Nancy Reagan at the annual Farm Bureau dinner, held at the Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds, is part of Farm Bureau’s historical archives.
“Ronald Reagan was truly a patriotic and inspirational speaker. That night in Cloverdale we all realized why he would become the legendary leader known as the Great Communicator,” said Mulas.
Mulas said during his terms as Farm Bureau president the focus was on landuse and providing input for the agricultural element of the Sonoma County General Plan, the blueprint that guides urban growth and puts restrictions on what farmers and ranchers can and can’t do with their land. He also had a role in establishing the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, which preserves farmland by purchasing the development rights so the land stays in agricultural production.
Like Farm Bureau itself, Mulas believes that if restrictions are coming from government, it is better to help make them than to let government impose them. That’s why Mulas has worked with Farm Bureau on major land-use planning and regulations during the 40 years he served as a director and board president.
Ranchers like Mulas have learned to work within the changing political landscape in Sonoma County. Not so long ago, farmers had no “they” to contend with. Agriculture dominated Sonoma County’s economy and farmers’ political clout was understood. Farmers held positions on the board of supervisors and the agricultural industry called the shots. Today, while farmers and ranchers own and manage half of Sonoma County’s one million acres, the increasingly urban population has a dominant voice in the political arena.
Mulas said it’s more important than ever for agriculture to communicate its needs so those in power understand what it takes to produce food and fi ber in Sonoma County. He said to preserve farmland in Sonoma County, politicians and policy makers need to know that farmers and ranchers have to earn a living from that land.
“A lot has changed in the last 50 years. We have to let government representatives know what agriculture needs and what it takes to operate our farms and ranches,” said Mulas. “Every generation in agriculture has to be involved in the political process.”