Celebrating Love of the Land

Written By: Tim Tesconi
Published: August 1, 2013

Saralee Kunde, Martinelli Family and Tish Award Honored by 1,200 people attending the outdoor celebration at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard

Thank you to the 2013 Corporate Sponsors:

  • American AgCredit
  • McClelland Dairy
  • Artisan Sotheby’s International Realty
  • Neve Brothers
  • Aslan Insurance
  • Pauli Ranch
  • Atwood Ranch
  • PCD, Inc.
  • Balletto Vineyards & Winery
  • PG&E
  • Bank of America
  • Royal Petroleum
  • Burgess Lumber
  • Sonoma County Winegrowers
  • California Grape Rootstock Foundation
  • Spaulding McCullough & Tansil, LLP
  • Calpine
  • State Compensation Insurance Fund
  • E & J Gallo Winery
  • Stefan Professional Recruiting
  • La Crema
  • Vineyard Industry Products
  • Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation
  • Wilson Events, Inc.


Love of the Land

It was a night to remember as 1,200 people came together at Farm Bureau’s Love of the Land to celebrate Sonoma County’s bounty while honoring the dedicated stewards who are doing their part to protect the land producing that agricultural bounty.

Love of the Land was held on July 18 at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard where the county’s natural beauty was on full display among ancient oaks and sweeping vineyard vistas. The annual event celebrates the best of Sonoma County including the hard-working farm families whose legacy of care and stewardship have made Sonoma County the special food and wine region it is today. Many of those enjoying the event’s near perfect weather, spectacular venue, food and wine couldn’t help thinking about their good fortune to live in Sonoma County.

“We are truly blessed to live in this very special agricultural region and have much to be proud of. We must do everything we can to preserve Sonoma County’s farming heritage for the generations to come,” said Saralee McClellend Kunde, who was among those honored at Love of the Land.

Saralee, a pivotal figure in Sonoma County agriculture for more than 30 years, was inducted into the Farm Bureau Hall of Fame.

The evening drew a mix of people, urban and rural, from throughout Sonoma County and beyond. Attorneys and bankers rubbed elbows with farmers and vintners while sipping wines from 33 wineries and sampling food from 16 food purveyors during the Sonoma Grown reception. Then guests feasted on a barbecued beef and chicken dinner prepared by Farm Bureau directors and Preferred Sonoma Caterers. The dinner centered on locally grown food including tomatoes produced by Parsons HomeGrown Tomatoes of Santa Rosa, Rocky the Range chicken from Petaluma Poultry Processors and beef from Santa Rosa Meat and Poultry. Fresh Gravensteins from the Dutton family were used to make the apple crisp, which was topped by ice cream from Larry Peter’s Petaluma Creamery.

Tito Sasaki, president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, proclaimed the night a smashing success in terms of the event itself and its role in bringing the community together to celebrate Sonoma County agriculture and the people who propel it.

“We did it again! Only better than ever,” said Sasaki, a Sonoma Valley grape grower. “We had perfect weather, the exquisite grounds at Richard’s Grove, superb food and wine, charming helpers everywhere, a smoothly run program, and most importantly the nicest people coming to the event.”

In fact, said Sasaki, “The most frequent comment I heard was “Everybody was so nice at Love of the Land!”  The experience was like enjoying the perfect Sonoma wine with your best friends.”

But like the finest wine, said the Farm Bureau president, the Love of the Land celebration doesn’t happen by accident. Sasaki said planning for Love of the Land began immediately after last year’s event.

“Farm Bureau staff and directors, volunteers, contributing industries and organizations, all spent months of their time, preparing for this one-day event, all the way to the day of the event — and even after the event for clean-up,” said Sasaki. “I deeply thank all of them, particularly, the staff members who spent days and nights to assure the event’s success.”

Sasaki said he was indebted to all of Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s great friends who came to show their solid support for agriculture, stewards of the land and the rural lifestyle that defines Sonoma County.

Paul Wenger, a Modesto farmer and president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, told guests that there are few places on the planet that offer the natural beauty and agricultural diversity of Sonoma County and other regions of California. He said the Love of the Land event focuses on the vital role that farmland and farmers play in producing food for millions of people throughout the world.

“Join Farm Bureau in protecting the farmland that provides all this bounty,” said Wenger.
It was a night to toast the agricultural award winners honored by Sonoma County Farm Bureau. In addition to Saralee Kunde, the award winners were Lee & Carolyn Martinelli Family, recipients of the Farm Family of the Year Award and Tish Ward, manager of the Atwood Ranch in Glen Ellen, who is the recipient of the Luther Burbank Conservation Award.

Saralee Kunde, who has worked tirelessly over the 30 years to elevate Sonoma County on the world stage of food and wine, was inducted into the Sonoma County Farm Bureau Hall of Fame for her lifetime achievement in agriculture and community service. The Hall of Farmer award recognizes the giants of Sonoma County agriculture – the men and women who have made outstanding contributions to Sonoma County agriculture and the community. Past recipients include such leaders as Saralee’s husband Richard Kunde. Others include Angelo Sangiacomo, Kip Herzog, Dr. Fred Groverman, Louis Ricci and the late Jess Jackson, Mitch Mulas and Larry Bertolini.
Gaye LeBaron, Press Democrat columnist and Sonoma County historian, introduced Saralee as the recipient of the Hall of Fame Award, asking why it took Farm Bureau so long to recognize one of the most influential agricultural leaders of the last half century. Gaye said Saralee has played a key role in the historical evolution of Sonoma County agriculture.

Gaye commented on Saralee’s remarkable legacy of agricultural leadership, saying Saralee has been behind most anything that has happened in agriculture during the last three decades including founding the Russian River Valley Winegrowers and building the Sonoma County 4-H Center. For more than 20 years, Saralee and her husband Richard have donated the use of Richard’s Grove to non-profit wine, food, agriculture and farm youth groups organizations for events, which have raised millions of dollars for those organizations.

Saralee was gracious and humble in accepting the Hall of Famer award.

“I only played a small part,” said Saralee, “It took a lot of people and dedicated leadership to get all of us – and Sonoma County – where we are today.’

Today, Sonoma County is considered California’s premier wine and food region, a special place that produces world class wines and an array of specialty foods that range from artisan cheeses to grass feed lamb.

Richard Kunde, a leading figure in Sonoma County’s transformation to Wine Country, was inducted into the Sonoma County Farm Bureau Hall of Fame in 2008.

Sonoma County rancher and conservationist Tish Ward received the Luther Burbank Conservation Award, which recognizes her environmental ethic and tireless efforts in conservation and sustainable farming.”

“Tish isn’t just a ranch manager with an environmental conscience, she is a conservation crusader who encourages others to adopt sustainable farming practices that are compatible with nature,” said Farm Bureau executive director Lex McCorvey in naming Tish the recipient of the Luther Burbank Conservation Award.

The Lee and Carolyn Martinell Family, who farm 450 acres of vineyards and 75 acres of organic apples and own Martinelli Winery in Windsor, received the Farm Family of the Year. Lee and Carolyn’s grown children, Julianna, Lee Jr. George and Regina, are partners in the family’s farming and winery operations. George and Lee Jr. do much of the farming and Julianna and Regina are involved in sales and marketing of the Martinelli wines.

The Martinelli family carries on the legacy of farming, land stewardship and leadership that started 125 years ago when their immigrant Italian ancestors settled in Forestville. The Martinellis are symbolic of the longtime Sonoma County farm family. They represent many generations deeply rooted in agriculture and their community,” said McCorvey in bestowing the Farm Family of the Year award on the Martinelli family.’
The award recipients were escorted to the outdoor stage in a wagon pulled by Belgian draft horses, offering a taste of the power and glory of the Old West. The wagon and horses were driven by Dick Dilworth of Geyserville who generously donated his time and talented draft horse team for the night. He was ably assisted by his wife Jan and son Casey.

Many people swelled with pride – and had tears puddle their eyes — when the spectacular Petaluma Riding and Driving Club’s senior drill team presented the colors while the national anthem was sung by Petaluma horsewoman and country singer Andrea Krout, who is the district representative for Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt.

The pageantry of the magnificent horses and beautifully costumed riders in the Petaluma Riding and Driving Club set against the natural beauty of Richard’s Grove was touching and inspiring.

The Love of the Land event was planned and coordinated by Farm Bureau directors and staff and assisted by dozens of tremendous volunteers from the community and members of the 4-H and FFA along with agriculture students who are recipients of scholarships provided by the Farm Bureau Foundation of Sonoma County. The Piner High School football team assisted in set-up and clean up for the event.

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