Kathy and Steve Reese are common figures at the Great Sonoma Crab & Wine Fest, Ag Days, and numerous 4-H and FFA events around Sonoma County. They are quick to offer a helping hand
and their time, energy and talents to the benefit of the agriculture community.
Together, they live on and operate Denner Ranch, which was established in 1890, alongside Kathy’s cousin Russ Denner and his wife Joanne.
“The ranch started out with my great-grandfather and it’s been passed down generation to generation,” Kathy said. “My cousin Russ and I are the 4th generation to live and work on the ranch.”
Over the years, the ranch has raised horses for the U.S. Calvary, hogs, potatoes, hops, beef and dairy cattle, corn silage, and hay. Today, Denner Ranch leases 180 acres to a local vegetable farmer and has 42 acres of Russian River Chardonnay. Additionally, the property has organic pasture, which is leased to a local cattle company. The family also runs its own small herd of cattle.
Kathy and Steve met at Santa Rosa Junior College when Steve, who is from Lake County, was studying law enforcement and Kathy was studying business. They married in 1970, moved to the ranch in 1982, and alongside Kathy’s cousin Russ, took over the day to day operations in 1994.
“The ranch is always where I wanted to be,” Kathy said. “When I graduated, my parents weren’t ready to retire so I worked as a florist for 16 years and then worked for a law office for a few years until my parents decided that they were ready to slow down.”
Kathy’s father, Stan Denner, became a Farm Bureau member straight out of high school during the era of Farm Centers. She said that when he retired, she happily picked up the baton and became
a Sonoma County Farm Bureau member and director.
Steve remarked that for the past 23 years that Kathy has been a director, he has been the ultimate volunteer.
“I support my wife as best I can in all that she is involved with,” Steve said. “I tag along and do what I can to be helpful. I help cook at events and enjoy getting together with all the guys to
barbeque. As a member of the ag community, it’s just part of what you do.”
Kathy said that Steve is a jack of all trades.
“There’s nothing he really doesn’t know how to do,” Kathy said. “Together, I think we make a pretty good team.”
Steve, who grew up participating in 4-H but wasn’t necessarily raised in agriculture, said that when he came to work on the ranch he jumped in with both feet because “it’s just what you do to
support your partner.”
Kathy, who is the youngest of three sisters, said that she was the tomboy of the family. While her sisters were at dance lessons, she said that she was handing her dad wrenches while he was working on equipment, riding horses in the creek, or helping at the dairy.
“My cousin Russ and I are just six months apart in age and we had a good time growing up on the ranch together,” Kathy said. “We learned to love the land, we fished when there was steelhead in the creek, and we learned a lot from our parents about common sense and how to care for the land.”
She said that her family harvested their own beef for the freezer, canned beans, corn, tomatoes, and apple sauce, drank milk straight from the dairy, and made their own butter.
“Growing up, my family really lived off the land and I know not many people get to experience that,” Kathy said.
Motivated by her rural upbringing, passion for agriculture, and determination to help both kids and adults learn about agriculture, Kathy serves as the Chair of Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Agriculture Education Committee, which is the driving force behind the beloved Ag Days. On March 12 and 13, over 5,000 students, teachers and parents descended on the Sonoma County Fairgrounds to experience the sights, smells, and sounds of agriculture.
“Children can see a picture of a cow in a book, but to see one in person and have the chance to touch and smell them leaves a lasting impression,” Kathy said. “Both students and parents benefit from experiencing agriculture in person.”
Kathy said that it is important to reach out and educate the general public about agriculture because it is the key to agriculture’s success in Sonoma County and beyond.
“If the general public doesn’t understand where their food comes from and how it gets to the table, agriculture is not going to survive,” Kathy said.
She said that the main reason she and Steve have been so involved in Ag Days is because she believes in agriculture and recognizes the importance of agriculture education.
“We think that Ag Days is so important and we also try to take every opportunity we have to sit down and talk with people about all of the good things agriculture does,” Kathy said. “For example, most people don’t know that restoration projects are often funded out of pocket, which the public doesn’t see because they are on private property.”
In addition to their work with Farm Bureau, Steve and Kathy have been involved in the Laguna Foundation, worked with the Sonoma County Water Agency on different projects, served on and helped with the Sonoma County Fair Beef Advisory Committee and the Russian River Watershed Committee, and with a group of friends called the End of the Road Gang, created a local agricultural scholarship.
“We enjoy following students and watching them progress and come back to the community to be an ag teacher or vet,” Kathy said. “It is really special to be able to support students in
accomplishing their goals.”
Kathy also helped start the Bred and Born class at the Sonoma County Fair because she said she wanted to support local growers who raise outstanding animals in Sonoma County and she currently Co-chairs Farmer’s Day at the fair.
“When you stop and think about it, few people are engaged in their own communities like agriculturalists are,” Steve said.