Celebrating Sonoma County’s Land and Those Who Love It
1,000 people attend Farm Bureau’s Love of the Land celebration
By Taylor Pires
Vineyards, pastures and orchards flourish throughout Sonoma County’s agricultural landscape. This region’s bounty is credited to the rich farmland and the hard-working people who farm, protect and conserve it. Farm Bureau’s Love of the Land celebrates Sonoma County’s stewards of the land, who have dedicated their lives to ensuring the land thrives for generations to come.
“Love of the Land recognizes farmers’ role in protecting the land and enhancing its harmony with nature. It takes strong resolve and efforts on our part. We are here to confirm our commitment to Love of the Land and celebrate the fruits of our labor,” said Sonoma County Farm Bureau President Tito Sasaki.
Love of the Land was held July 17 at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens in Fulton. This year marked a change in scenery, as the event is traditionally held at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard near Windsor. The Jackson family graciously donated their Fulton wine estate for the event, carrying on the Kundes’ generosity. Guests enjoyed Sonoma County food and wines among the hillside vineyards and vibrant gardens of the magnificent Kendall Jackson wine estate.
The evening began with a “Sonoma Grown Reception,” featuring 27 wineries, 12 culinary vendors and a large selection of silent auction items. Love of the Land attracted 1,000 guests, a mix of agricultural and urban community members who enjoyed sampling the award-winning wines and locally grown cuisine that makes Sonoma County such a special agricultural region. The “Wine Country Buffet” later in the evening also highlighted local producers. Parsons HomeGrown Tomatoes, McClelland Dairy butter, Rocky the Range Chicken from Petaluma Poultry, and Dutton Ranch apples were just some of the Sonoma County products featured in the meal prepared by Sonoma County Farm Bureau Directors and Preferred Sonoma Caterers.
While guests enjoyed Sonoma County’s bounty, they also celebrated those who work tirelessly to provide it while holding a deep respect for the land and a passion for the community. This year the Sonoma County Farm Bureau inducted Art Ibleto into the Hall of Fame, recognized Fred and Nancy Cline with the Luther Burbank Conservation Award, and named the Gambonini Family the Farm Family of the Year. Brent Farris, Master of Ceremonies, said the honorees are the standards we look to and people who we say we want to be like.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane echoes that statement. “Love of the Land is one of the great celebrations each year when we pause to recognize community leaders who make Sonoma County agriculture shine, not just here but around the world. We love the land but we owe the people who farm the land our highest respect,” she said.
There are many who respect Art Ibleto and hope to have the same enthusiasm for life that he exudes. Chris Smith from the Press Democrat introduced Art as the “wisest, most observant, and most commonsensical man in Sonoma County. He is also without a doubt one of the most caring and generous.” Smith spoke of Art’s big heart, mastery of storytelling, patriotism, unrivaled work ethic, and love for others. “What happens often is that Art reads about some compelling need, a tragedy or a worthwhile endeavor in Sonoma County or somewhere in the world…he’ll call me and says ‘I gotta do something about that,’” Smith shared. Art certainly does something about it, by organizing pasta feeds that have benefitted a number of causes.
In accepting his award, Art was incredibly humble saying, “I don’t know if I deserve it or not but I’ll take it,” and used his time at the podium to appreciate others. He spoke of how he has spent 64 years with his wife and thanked his lifelong friends in attendance. Art shared that he has received many awards in his life but that the Hall of Fame Award touches him the most. He also gave the audience a valuable piece of advice, “The secret to living a long life: work. For many reasons, because work is the one that keeps your health going, your blood circulating and your tongue moving.”
Tito Sasaki introduced Fred and Nancy Cline. Sasaki shared how the Clines have been good neighbors to him and others in Sonoma County. They are always helping people and always caring for the land. Sasaki admired the Clines for their spirit, parenting and how tirelessly they work with the land. He also added how the family restores what’s damaged, like scale models of the California Spanish Missions and the Villa Laura in Tuscany. “They have a great passion for restorations, for anything that represents heritage and value. For anything that is neglected or damaged, they will go right up there and try to restore it.”
In addition, Sasaki said, the Clines have restored our faith in humanity.
Fred jokingly gave Nancy the “first and last word” when accepting the Luther Burbank Conservation Award. “We’re inspired to be here today,” Nancy shared, “We are humbled and honored to be chosen among such an incredible group of people.” She also recognized and thanked their family, friends and employees who attended in their honor.
Last, but certainly not least, to be recognized was the Gambonini Family. They were introduced by dairy industry leader and Sonoma County native Ralph Sartori, who shared that he has been privileged to know five of the six generations of the Gambonini family and witnessed how they overcame challenges to survive in agriculture. Sartori gave the audience a glimpse into the family’s rich history, starting with “the original” Battista Gambonini and ending with fifth-generation dairy farmer Frank Gambonini’s three daughters, Frankie, Alex and Sammie. Today Frank, his wife Stacey, their three daughters, and Frank’s parents George and Margaret, live and work on Gamlake Dairy. “The Gambonini family has been part of the local dairy industry for 146 years, 101 of those years on the same ranch, unbelievable,” Sartori said.
Frank Gambonini accepted the award on behalf of his family. “Agriculture is a huge family and I think we all know that and it is evident by the people here,” Frank said, “I’d like to thank Farm Bureau for their work to keep us all involved in it and help support us to make it possible for all of us to do what our life dreams are: work the land and feed the people.”
The night came to an end with a demonstration of Sonoma County generosity. Fifteen graciously donated live auction lots were purchased by supportive community members. Among the top sellers was a two-night stay and private dinner at the Cline Villa, complete with VIP tastings, which went for $4,400. The highest bids of the night were in honor of Saralee McClelland Kunde, a central figure in Sonoma County, known for her generosity, dedication to agriculture and youth, and big, colorful garden hats. The coral hat Saralee wore to Love of the Land last year as a Hall of Fame inductee sold for $6,000. Her brown Kentucky Derby Days hat followed close behind at $5,500.
Love of the Land is an event by the community for the community. One-hundred volunteers, dozens of sponsors and donors, Farm Bureau directors and staff, vendors and of course, attendees, make this event a success. Love of the Land also makes a statement, as shared by Assemblymember Marc Levine.
“Love of the Land could just be about loving the delicious local food and wine Sonoma has to offer. But it is more than that. Love of the Land represents a tight-knit family all coming around to express how important protecting and nurturing the land is. If we stay true to those values we can enjoy the land for future generations to come,” said Levine.