Julie and Tom Atwood: Protecting the Future of Sonoma County Agriculture
Article and photos by Rachel LaFranchi
Published August 1, 2016
|Tom and Julie Atwood at their Glen Ellen Property|
Julie and Tom Atwood are the owners of the Atwood Ranch, a 70 acre parcel of land in Glen Ellen. Twenty of those 70 acres are planted with wine grapes. Additionally, on the property the Atwoods have five horses, a few cattle, and many acres of open and riparian corridor space.
The Atwood Ranch was originally owned by the Weise Family, who operated several quarries adjacent to the ranch. The quarries produced cobblestones for San Francisco streets. There were also historic clay mines in the vicinity.
The ranch is also home to a stand of Ponderosa Pines, part of an approximately seven mile stretch that is the only place on the West Coast where there are Ponderosa Pines under an elevation of 2,000 ft, although how they came to grow in the area is still a mystery. The ranch has been the site of several forestry symposia on the subject.
Julie is originally from Clovis, but has lived in Sonoma County since the 70’s when she moved to Valley Ford.
“We didn’t live on ranches, but our family’s entire livelihood was based on ag,” said Julie, who comes from a family of produce brokers. “I think ag is in my DNA.”
Julie was also involved riding horses from a young age. Today, her passion for horses lives on and she is known throughout the community for her involvement in the HALTER Project, a program that helps to educate the community about Technical Animal Rescue and rural emergency preparedness.
When Julie first came to Sonoma County and started to absorb the culture, she realized how important agriculture and family farms were everywhere.
Julie began to see families losing their farms, but she wasn’t sure how to help. The more immersed Julie became in the community, the more she became involved with ag advocacy. Now, she considers herself an ambassador for the family farm and can be found involved with many organizations throughout the county.
Tom was born in San Francisco and raised in Marin County. He went to UC Davis, then to University of the Pacific and became a dentist until the 80’s. He then became involved in real estate and farming with ventures throughout the Western United States including California, Oregon, Texas and Hawaii.
His ranching career started in Texas where he became involved with cutting horses and broodmares. His interest in the equine industry had been sparked by the horses his family had on their summer property in Yountville.
Tom’s passion moved from horses to buying degraded ranches he could restore and eventually sell to different owners with similar ranching values.
“I found that I could improve old derelict ranches, and make money on it,” said Tom. “I didn’t grow up in agriculture, but now, I have my own ranches to hold onto.”
Tom’s dream was always to have an Angus ranch in Marin, a goal he never accomplished, instead finding his home in the Sonoma Valley. Atwood Ranch had been another of Tom’s projects, and Tom described it as a property you couldn’t even walk through because it hadn’t been cleared in over 70 years.
For Tom, his property investments taught him a lot about laws and regulations impacting farmers and ranchers. Tom described California laws as “totally foreign” and frustrating “that you can’t use common sense”. The permit process, staying current with guidelines and regulations are much stricter in California than the other states Tom has worked in, but nevertheless, the Atwoods recognize the need for increased awareness and stewardship, and strive to be models.
Together, Julie and Tom Atwood are committed to keeping agriculture viable in their community and beyond. They are passionate about animals, property and the family farm.
Among many other generous and successful endeavors, the Atwoods have chosen Sonoma County Farm Bureau Premium Membership as one way to protect the future of Sonoma County agriculture.
For more information about Atwood Ranch visit julieatwoodevents.com, AtwoodRanchNaturally.com, and for more information about the HALTER Project, visit HALTERProject.org.