Fresh crab, fine Sonoma County wines and a big splash of Wine Country camaraderie combined to make Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest a grand night for not only feasting and socializing but in raising $50,000 in scholarships to help educate the next generation of agricultural leaders.
There were more than 1,300 people attending the 23nd annual Crab Fest, held Feb. 4 in the Grace Pavilion of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The Crab Fest is a benefit that raises money for agricultural education and scholarships, which are annually awarded to more than 25 students majoring in agriculture at college. The Crab Fest has become the winter social event for the county’s agricultural and business communities and their friends and supporters. The guests come together to connect and support the young farmers and ranchers who will carry on Sonoma County’s rich farming heritage.
Guests enjoyed more than 4,500 pounds of Dungeness crab in addition to gallons of clam chowder, “Pasta King” pasta, salad and dessert, all polished off with fine wines from Sonoma County. Hovering over the 1,300 guests – and the 200 volunteers that included 4-H, FFA and SRJC Ag Ambassador members - was a giant, 30 foot wide inflatable crab that added to the festive atmosphere of what many guests called a great party
“The best crab feed of the year, hands down,” said Sonoma County supervisor Efren Carrillo. Supervisors Mike McGuire, David Rabbitt and Shirlee Zane also attended the Crab Fest along with Congressman Mike Thompson and other elected officials.
At the live auction, guests bid on special lots ranging from a Tule Elk Hunt on the historic R & R Ranch, donated by businessman Gary Rasche, to the Pork and Pinot feast, donated by swine breeders Jube and Sally Begley of Santa Rosa and Sebastopol winegrowers Domenic and Lynda Carinalli. There were sports packages, a cave dinner at Kunde Family Estate Winery, a Western-style barbecue at the Dutton Ranch and many more items that reflected the Wine Country lifestyle.
Auctioneer Rex Williams of Williams Ranch in Sebastopol used his quick wit and country humor to coax bids from the generous crowd, with overall prices higher for auction lots this year than in 2011.
Auction items like a stainless steel grape gondola from the Guadagni Bros in Dry Creek Valley and a dinner of locally grown lamb from Bruce Campbell of Healdsburg clearly indicates that this is an event where both donors and guests are closely connected to the land and the county’s annual $3 billion agriculture industry.
Eeve Lewis, retired Sonoma County Clerk and Registrar of Voters, was the winner of the drawing for a fabulous 10 day trip for two to Italy. Lewis, a long-time Farm Bureau member, is a big supporter of agriculture and farm youth, annually donating to the agriculture scholarship fund.
Many of the people who come together to orchestrate the crab feed or donate wine, food and auction items are dedicated to preserving Sonoma County’s farmland and agricultural industry. The volunteers who help stage the event also believe a strong and viable agricultural industry is essential to maintaining what many consider the heart and soul of Sonoma County.
“It’s so gratifying to see agriculture come together for Farm Bureau’s Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest. This event not only gives people a chance to see old friends and enjoy fresh crab from our coast but to raise money for agriculture education, which is so important,” said west Sonoma County rancher Joe Pozzi, president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau.
Pozzi said the 4-H’ers, FFA members and SRJC Ag Ambassadors who helped serve at the Crab Fest best tell the story of why Farm Bureau members and staff work so hard to keep agriculture viable and visible.
"This is a tremendous event that shows the spirit of our great county,” said Pozzi.
The Crab and Wine Fest is a totally homegrown event orchestrated by the staff of Sonoma County Farm Bureau with the assistance of an army of dedicated volunteers. Many of the groups benefiting from Farm Bureau’s agriculture education program pitch in to help set up tables, decorate and serve the meal. Joining the work crew were volunteers from the Santa Rosa Junior College Ag Ambassadors, FFA, 4-H and the Santa Rosa High School Ag Boosters. Members of the Piner High School football team used their muscle to tear-down tables and clean up.
Lex McCorvey, executive director of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, said Farm Bureau is committed to providing agricultural education to youth, adults and community leaders so they can better understand the unique aspects of farming, no matter if it’s dairy cows, horses or vineyards. He said the proceeds from the crab fest are used to bring agriculture to those who would otherwise not benefit from a farm experience.
One of Farm Bureau’s major educational efforts is Ag Days, which have been held for 31 years to bring a taste of farm life to city kids. Last year more than 5,000 school children came to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds for Ag Days, which includes livestock displays, a hay maze, horsemanship demonstrations and samples of Sonoma County farm products like apples, cheese and milk. This year’s Ag Days are March 27 and 28.
As part of Ag Days, Farm Bureau also sponsors a number of contests including essay, poster, book mark, scarecrow, mural and photography contests for school children. The contests are a way to get kids thinking about the Sonoma County farms that unfold on the urban fringe. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Healthy Farms, Healthy Foods.”
Farm Bureau also uses the proceeds from the crab fest to support farm youth organizations like the SRJC Ag Ambassadors, FFA and 4-H and to fund agricultural scholarships. Last year, the Farm Bureau Foundation awarded more than $30,000 in scholarships to students studying agriculture at college.
“We take great pride in preparing individuals for careers in agriculture through our scholarship programs,” said McCorvey.
Kendall-Jackson Winery gave the scholarship fund a tremendous boost by donating $10,000. Kunde family members, Jeff and Keith Kunde and Marcia Kunde Michelson, again donated $10,000 in memory of their parents for the 2012 Bob & Leslie Kunde Memorial Scholarship. Arnie Riebli, a partner in Sunrise Farms, donated $6,000 to assist in students in their agricultural education. The John Jordan Foundation and NucCal Foods each donated $2,500. Larry Peter of Petaluma Creamery and American AgCredit each donated $2,000 for scholarships. Dairymens Feeds gave $1,500. Other major scholarship donors are Clover-Stornetta Farms in Petaluma, Beretta Organic Dairy in Santa Rosa, Sonoma Marin Cattlemen & Cattlewomen, Rob Davis of Jordan Winery, Wesley Barry, Kirvin Holtz, Walt & Joan Ryan, Jerry and Don’s Yager Pump and Well Service, Don Calegari in memory of the late Mike Lee and Supervisor Efren Carrillo.
Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s crab feed has grown from a few hundred people to more than 1,300 over the last two decades. When it started 22 years ago, the Great Sonoma Crab & Wine Fest was held at the Sebastopol Veterans Memorial Building and then as it grew to the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building. Eight ears ago, the Crab Fest moved to the Grace Pavilion at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds to accommodate the ever-growing numbers of people who now consider it a traditional event on their social calendar.
“Thanks to everyone who made the Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest such a wonderful event and such a memorable gathering,” said McCorvey.
Plans are already underway for next year’s event, which will be held the first Saturday night of February.