In most people’s minds, November signals the start of the holiday season, but for Farm Bureau, it is the beginning of a new business year. Wouldn’t we all like to get 2020 behind us a few months early and be starting a new year?
In retrospect, 2020 has been anything but normal for our organization, our members, and the world in general. What started out to be one of our most successful years ever for the Sonoma County Farm Bureau suddenly became a period of uncertainty, isolation, and protocols.
In February, our members and friends of agriculture showed record-breaking support of our programs by buying dinner tickets, purchasing auction items, and raising their paddles high and often with donations to our Foundation’s scholarship program. In its second year of a “two-building” format, the 31st Annual Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest was well received by attendees and ended up being one of the last community events of the year.
Fast forward to early March, and our flagship youth agriculture education event did not fare so well. Scheduled for March 10th and 11th, we were ready for our annual Ag Days event. Students were registered, ag partners were set to participate, and we had over 4,500 student bags stuffed with goodies by our volunteers. Art’s pasta had been ordered and our BBQ Team was on point to prepare delicious tri-tip for our 800 guests attending the awards dinner where hundreds of students were to be recognized for their winning entries in the various competitions including essays, posters, bookmarks, and the like.
Starting a month earlier, the concerns around the fatal impact that COVID-19 could have on our residents and the ability for this virus to be spread easily from one person to the next dominated the news. On Friday, March 6, the executive board had to make the difficult decision to cancel our annual Ag Days Event that was in its 40th year of production. Although the cancellation was a disappointment to thousands of elementary school students, it was the right decision to make to protect our local kids, teachers, and the hundreds of community members who volunteer to create such a nurturing, educational experience for attendees. Just as our crab feed was the last large community event held in our county in 2020, our Ag Days event was the first large event in our region to be canceled because of COVID-19.
With businesses shuttered and workers either furloughed or working from home, our essential agriculture members and their employees continued to work, often under strict protocols and costly new ways of doing business. Your local Farm Bureau continued to operate to support its members. At first, staff worked from home, but as harvest began and our farmers and ranchers needed in-person support from our team, the staff developed protocols and voluntarily returned to the office in late May. Sadly, when it was obvious that we were going to be hard hit financially by COVID-19 because we were not able to hold our two summer fundraisers, the Golf Tournament and Love of the Land, the staff was reduced and two of our team had to be let go. Anita Hawkins and Debra Allender were stellar staff members and are missed daily.
Sonoma County Farm Bureau became ground zero for up to date, important COVID-19 information. As of this writing, we have produced 75 Eblasts specific to the pandemic and have provided invaluable information to our members about funding available, employer-related regulations, and opportunities to secure personal protective equipment. SCFB staff have participated in dozens of Zoom calls focused on helping our members continue their businesses whether the discussion was around protecting farm workers during the harvest, developing protocols for horse shows and pumpkin patches, or for U-Pick and on-farm product sales.
To say the Sonoma County Farm Bureau board and staff have had to pivot this year is an understatement, but we are not unique and, in some ways, fortunate compared to closed local businesses that may never reopen. We have been able to keep our doors open and to continue servicing agriculture because of the continued support from our members and the community. We held four successful drive through BBQs which netted us over $50,000. Even with the loss of our major fundraisers, we will end the 2019-20 year with net income over budget. We were worried we would lose members because of the catastrophic economic downturn but luckily, we were proven wrong. It is likely we will meet our annual membership goal set by the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF). We must be doing something right because members continue to renew, and we are adding new members to the fold. And I am proud to share that CFBF just announced that we are a finalist in the County of the Year Award.
This year was one for the Farm Bureau history books, and although I do not want to repeat it, I am proud that we made it through. There are many to thank for our resilience. Our board members for their personal time and dedication to our organization; our small, but mighty staff; the “BBQ Posse” who prepared delicious meals in the heat of the day for our fundraisers; Will Seppi of Costeaux Bakery and Lori Bianchi for providing those amazing side dishes at cost to round out our drive-thru dinners and most importantly, my greatest appreciation is to you, our members.
Looking forward to our 2020-21 year, we will have a Crab Feed fundraiser and the details of this modified event will be announced soon. Although we will not have an in-person Ag Days event that has become a tradition, we will be creating ag education experiences for our students and their teachers and parents. Finally, we will continue being the Voice of Agriculture for Sonoma County by providing trainings, advocacy, and networking for our members.