Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest: From 150 to 1,500

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Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest: From 150 to 1,500

1,500 Gather as Sonoma County Farm Bureau Celebrates 100 Years of Promoting Agriculture & Education

By Rachel LaFranchi, Photos by Matt Salvo

Published March 1, 2017

Kim Vail
Guests enjoy crab at the 28th Annual Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest. The crab feed began 28 years ago as a 150 person event in Petaluma and has now grown to a 1,500 person evening which sells out weeks in advance.

2017 marks Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s 100th year of promoting and protecting agriculture lands and farming operations through advocacy and education. As Sonoma County Farm Bureau celebrates a century of helping the community, this year’s Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest held strong in its 28th year.

Started in 1990, the Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest has grown from a small crab feed first held at Herzog Hall in Petaluma with a mere 150 people to an event that continues to sell out weeks in advance.

The first crab feed, held on February 10th 1990, was uniquely preceded by a membership drive. Farm Bureau directors met early in the morning and drove around the county, competitively aiming to get the most members signed up by the end of the evening where the winner would be announced at the crab feed. The group finished around 5 p.m. and hurried to the hall to set up the event that started an hour and a half later.

The Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest began to sell out in it’s third and fourth years. Judy James was Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s executive director through these crab feeds, and she said it quickly became one of Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s largest events of the year. There weren’t many crab feeds at the time and the event slowly started to gather a following.

“It was such a nice community event,” said James, “We were able to go beyond our membership borders and bring in a lot of non-members. It was a great way to showcase what we do and educate the public in a way that wasn’t political or controversial.”

For James, one of the most memorable Crab Feeds was a year remembered by intensive flooding. The hall where they had planned to hold the event was turned into an emergency evacuation shelter and they had to change the location at the last minute; they were scrambling to call hundreds of attendees days before the event.

By the time James left in the early 2000’s, the crab feed had already quadrupled in size to accommodate 600-700 people and moved locations multiple times.

This year, one of the most successful years to date, saw more than 1,500 guests from across the country, some who traveled to Santa Rosa just to attend the crab feed.
The event features a live and silent auction, with proceeds benefiting Sonoma County Farm Bureau and some specifically benefiting the Farm Bureau Foundation of Sonoma County, a 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to educating youth in our county about agriculture.

Heather Borck, a past scholarship winner and intern of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, spoke to the crowd about her personal experiences with Sonoma County Farm Bureau and how it helped to shape her future.  Borck described herself as a “city kid who strongly believes in the future of agriculture.” Her experiences in 4-H and FFA led her to the Santa Rosa Junior College during which time she also interned with Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

“My internship with Sonoma County Farm Bureau played a large role in my interest to lobby for agriculture,” Borck said, “I soon realized that if I really wanted to make a difference in the future of ag, I needed to work with our next generation of voters.” Through her work in Nebraska and now with the Sonoma County Fair, Borck has had the opportunity to influence the lives of the next generation and strongly encouraged everyone attending the crab feed to help by donating to the Farm Bureau Foundation of Sonoma County.

Sonoma County Farm Bureau uses funds from the crab feed, the organization’s largest fundraiser of the year, to promote Sonoma County agriculture and protect agriculture from over regulation and legislative hurdles. Over the last year, SCFB endorsed six agriculture friendly candidates who were all elected, took a political position on four ballot measures and participated in discussions on water rights, cannabis regulation and winery events. Next month, SCFB will host its annual Ag Days where nearly 5,000 school age children are expected to attend and learn about agriculture, perhaps seeing livestock for the first time up close and in-person.

The crab feed, held February 4th at the Sonoma County fairgrounds, began with a food and wine reception. Guests mingled while bidding on the silent auction and buying tickets for the trip and diamond raffles as well as general raffle for one of 20 items. The E.R. Sawyer diamond raffle for a one carat set of earrings was won by Marie Russell, and the trip raffle was won by Steve Dutton.

As guests walked in the door of the event, they were asked if they were a member of Sonoma County Farm Bureau. Those who were members received stickers with SCFB’s centennial logo and “member” written on them. Farm Bureau members stood out and could be easily identified around the room.

For many attendees, the most memorable part of the evening was when the crowd sang the national anthem. Led by Brent Farris, radio show host for KZST and emcee of the event, more than 1,000 people joined in to sing. Farris commented that it may have been the largest group in Sonoma County to sing the national anthem together.


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