2017 Ends with Transition and a Call for One Ag Voice in 2018

Written By: Steve Dutton, President
Published: January 1, 2018

Happy New Year to you all! Now that 2017 is closed out, I am sure that we are all happy to put it in the past. It will be remembered as quite a year – starting with historic rainfall and flooding which signaled an end to the four-year drought and finishing with the most devastating firestorm ever experienced in Sonoma County.

At Sonoma County Farm Bureau, 2017 will also be remembered as a year of change. We started the year by moving to our new building and offices in January. This was a significant milestone for Farm Bureau. We were able to capitalize on the investment made by the board in the 1960s at Piner Road. By selling that property in the Light Industrial Area, the current board was able to buy the 25,000-square foot building at 3589 Westwind Blvd, with a 40% down payment. Exchange Bank, an important community banking partner in Sonoma County, provided long-term financing to ensure completion of the deal.

This significant and major decision was considered for over a year by the current board of directors. Our new building, which we occupy only a third of for our office and meeting space, will provide ongoing financial stability by having 17,000 square feet of rental income.

During the year, we had our major fundraising events – Crab Feed, Golf Tournament and Love of the Land, which were all successful and well attended. They continue to enjoy a prominent role in bringing together the Sonoma County community to support agriculture.

As a result of the wildfires in October, Farm Bureau was asked to partner with the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation to establish a Housing Recovery Support fund to support Ag workers and their families impacted by the fires. This partnership has resulted in over $650,000 in donations and the direct support of over 170 farm families in Sonoma County to date. Donations have come from local farmers and wineries, industry partners and from individuals and foundations from around the country demonstrating the love of Sonoma County ag and our amazing workforce. I am hopeful that this is the first of many collaborations with our Ag Association partners. I know that we are more powerful with ONE UNITED VOICE.

On November 9th, Sonoma County Farm Bureau celebrated two milestones at our annual meeting. Farm Bureau turned 100 years old in our county and we had an official ribbon cutting ceremony for our new building and office. Over 150 farmers and community members came together to recognize this critical milestone and celebrate the importance of agriculture to Sonoma County.

Throughout the year, members of the Board and I were meeting to discuss and strategize about the future of Sonoma County Farm Bureau and its legacy for the next 100 years. We came to the hard decision that we did not have the right leadership in place to ensure a strong future for our organization, and in early November, our Executive Director left. This decision allows us to look for a local leader to guide Farm Bureau and execute on a vision for Sonoma County ag. To support our transition, the Executive Committee and I asked Tawny Tesconi to join us as our Interim Executive Director.

We are excited about Tawny’s agricultural experience and leadership in the county and have been impressed with her ability to already make significant improvements and decisions since taking over the role on December 16th. She is well poised to help us during this critical time. I am excited about working with Tawny and her ability to run the day-to-day operations of the business allows the board an opportunity to evaluate the future needs for Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s leadership and pursue a formal recruitment and search.

2017 has seen many changes for Sonoma County and our own Farm Bureau organization. Just like the decision of our Farm Bureau board in the 1960s had such a profound impact on our ability to operate today, it is critical that we work together to bring the vision for Farm Bureau in 2018 and beyond to fruition. My vision is for Sonoma County Farm Bureau to become even more relevant and continue our leadership as the go to voice for agriculture in Sonoma County. This will require support from all of our farmers and ranchers, our amazing community partners and our community at large to ensure a healthy and sustaining environment for agriculture for generations to come.
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