Guests say Farm Bureau’s Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest is so much more than a seasonal crab feed. It’s a mid-winter party where people from the farm and business communities come together to socialize while raising money to support agriculture education and, ultimately, Sonoma County’s farming future. This year’s event raised more than $50,000 for agricultural education and scholarships.
“What I love about the Crab and Wine Fest is seeing all the 4-H and FFA members bustling bowls of pasta and crab, pitching in to help raise money for the agriculture education programs that are so essential to preserving our agricultural heritage in Sonoma County,” said Saralee McClelland Kunde, who was among the record 1,350 guests attending the 24th annual Crab Fest held Feb. 2 in the Grace Pavilion at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. She also was among the generous bidders at the Crab Fest’s live auction, spending $2,750 for a lamb dinner prepared by rancher Bruce Campbell, who has been a friend of Saralee’s since their days in 4-H. Connections like this are what binds Sonoma County’s close-knit agricultural community and drives its strong support for the next generation of young farmers who will take over the land.
The Crab Fest was a grand night for not only eating fresh crab and sipping fine Sonoma County wines but for renewing old friendships and making new friends. It was a chance for farmers to rub elbows with business and political leaders and for elected officials to connect with the people they represent. All five members of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors were at the Crab Feed along with other state and federal legislators and many county officials including County Administrator Veronica Ferguson, County Recorder Assessor Bill Rousseau and Grant Davis, chief of the Sonoma County Water Agency.
“I was overwhelmed to see that so many of our friends came to the Crab Fest. We had all five County Supervisors, past Supervisors, Congressman Mike Thompson, Assemblyman Marc Levine, many public agency heads, city council members and city mayors,” said Tito Sasaki, a Sonoma Valley grape grower who is president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau.
Sasaski said besides Farm Bureau members the Crab Fest drew an impressive number of industry leaders from trade, distribution, banking, insurance, and other businesses.
“All of them are vital members of the Sonoma County agricultural community,” said Sasaki. “We all help each other to survive and prosper. Despite the general sluggishness of the nation’s economy, their generosity was remarkable.”
Sasaki during a portion of the live auction guests had the opportunity to raise their paddles to support agriculture education and scholarship programs. The bidding raised more than $30,000 in donations with additional funds raised at the Crab Feed putting the total to more than $50,000. The money will be used to teach urban school kids about local food production and provide agricultural scholarships to at least 30 of Sonoma and Marin counties’ best and brightest students.
“I was deeply touched and grateful for our guests’ warm friendship and support. It certainly gave our directors and staff additional impetus to continue working hard to keep the Farm Bureau at the forefront of our community effort to strengthen agriculture in Sonoma County.”
Guests enjoyed more than 4,500 pounds of Dungeness crab in addition to gallons of clam chowder, “Pasta King” pasta, salad and dessert, all polished off with fine wines from Sonoma County. There were more than 200 volunteers helping to stage the event and serve the guests.
At the live auction, guests bid on special lots ranging from a buck hunt on the Cooley Ranch in northwest Sonoma County to the Pork and Pinot feast, donated by swine breeders Jube and Sally Begley of Santa Rosa and Sebastopol winegrowers Domenic and Lynda Carinalli. There were sports packages, a cave dinner at Kunde Family Estate Winery, a Western-style barbecue at the Dutton Ranch and many more items that reflected the Wine Country lifestyle.
Auctioneer Rex Williams of Williams Ranch in Sebastopol used his quick wit and country humor to coax bids from the generous crowd, with overall prices higher for auction lots this year than in 2012.
Auction items like a stainless steel grape gondola from the Guadagni Bros in Dry Creek Valley and the complete installation of an edible landscape garden, donated by Harmony Farm Supply in Sebastopol, clearly indicates that this is an event where both donors and guests are closely connected to the land and the county’s annual $3 billion agriculture industry.
Sebastopol rancher Gail Dutton, who is an owner of Dutton Ranches with sons Steve and Joe Dutton, was the winner of the trip raffle, which offered an option for fabulous vacations to Italy, Ireland or Fiji. Gail, a long-time Farm Bureau member and a supporter of agriculture and farm youth, said she is enjoying pondering which trip she will take. She has not yet decided on her destination.
Nancy Cartan, a teacher at Procter Terrace School in Santa Rosa and co-owner of a vineyard with her husband Jim, won the drawing for the $6,500 diamond offered by ER Sawyer Jewelers in Santa Rosa.
“I bought the ticket thinking one of our children could use it someday in a setting for a wedding ring and that offer is still out there,” said Nancy. “The diamond is “full of luck” and will have a fun story that goes along with it as a Cartan heirloom passed down through the generations.”
Many of the people who come together to orchestrate the crab feed or donate wine, food and auction items are dedicated to preserving Sonoma County’s farmland and agricultural industry. The volunteers who help stage the event also believe a strong and viable agricultural industry is essential to maintaining what many consider the heart and soul of Sonoma County.
The Crab and Wine Fest is a totally homegrown event orchestrated by the directors and staff of Sonoma County Farm Bureau with the assistance of an army of dedicated volunteers. Many of the groups benefiting from Farm Bureau’s agriculture education program pitch in to help set up tables, decorate and serve the meal. Joining the work crew were volunteers from the Santa Rosa Junior College Ag Ambassadors, FFA and 4-H. Members of the Piner High School football team used their muscle to tear-down tables and clean up.
Lex McCorvey, executive director of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, said Farm Bureau is committed to providing agricultural education to youth, adults and community leaders so they can better understand the unique aspects of farming, no matter if it’s dairy cows, horses or vineyards. He said the proceeds from the crab fest are used to bring agriculture to those who would otherwise not benefit from a farm experience.
One of Farm Bureau’s major educational efforts is Ag Days, which have been held for 32 years to bring a taste of farm life to city kids. Last year more than 5,000 school children came to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds for Ag Days, which includes livestock displays, a hay maze, horsemanship demonstrations and samples of Sonoma County farm products like apples, cheese and milk. This year’s Ag Days are March 22 and 27.
Farm Bureau also uses the proceeds from the crab fest to support farm youth organizations like the SRJC Ag Ambassadors, FFA and 4-H and to fund agricultural scholarships. Last year, the Farm Bureau Foundation awarded more than $50,000 in scholarships to students studying agriculture at college.
“We take great pride in preparing individuals for careers in agriculture through our scholarship programs,” said McCorvey.
Plans are already underway for next year’s event, which will be held the first Saturday night of February.