Meet our newest Farm Bureau member, Che Casul.
His father was Puerto Rican born on the island and raised in the projects of NYC and on his mother’s side, Che is a 7th generation rancher on the same land his family settled in Bodega in 1851.
Che said that both of his parents were in helping professions, which has been a part of his family’s legacy for generations.
“A prime example of this is that after he finished building a house for the family the first thing my great-great-great-great grandfather did was build the Watson School for the Bodega community,” Che said. “This is probably why I fell into the profession of helping others.”
Today, Che is the CEO of the Center for Social and Environmental Stewardship, which is a local nonprofit that teaches at-risk youth the trades and joys of working outside.
“We are a full-service social service organization with a focus on giving at-risk youth a chance to work with their hands, learn valuable career and life skills, put money in their pockets, and do something good for our community,” Che said.
The Center’s paid work skills projects range from youth carrying out stream bank restoration and fire fuel mitigation to non-native eradication and native planting projects. The organization is funded by private landowners hiring their work crews, grants, and local government contracts.
“Our hope is that young people will graduate from our program with the skills and know-how necessary to go on to build careers for themselves in the trades, in agriculture, and in any field where the know-how to use tools and the willingness to use them in all types of conditions will make them successful,” Che said.
The Center for Social and Environmental Stewardship was once known as Circuit Rider, which is a name Che said they plan to go back to.
“In the mid-90s, Circuit Rider had 198 employees,” Che said. “When I started just two years ago, there were only 9.”
He said that the community-based organization has a bright future and serves an important purpose in our community.
“We are working hard to slowly bring back those glory days by building a stronger vision of what our organization can do to best train and retain young talent in this community.”
At home on the ranch, Che has similar goals to grow and improve the property that has been in his family for generations. He hopes to build the family ranch up to be self-sufficient financially.
“While our family has changed from generation to generation on what we grew or raised on the place, my wife and I have launched a small but successful goat and cattle operation we hope to grow into something much more robust,” Che said.
He said he is a Farm Bureau member because he is committed to community involvement and being a part of organizations that make a difference to better the agricultural industry in Sonoma County.
“As our ranch becomes more successful, my wife and I see the Farm Bureau as a great tool to leverage our wants and hopes for our community into more effective change both locally and at higher levels of government,” Che said.
One area Che is passionate about is the need for our community to improve fire fuel mitigation practices.
“This means that we need to graze overgrown lands with a combination of grass and brush eating animals following up with manually clearing ladder fuels where feasible,” Che said. “I am really hopeful that we in the agricultural community can continue to effect change and encourage, educate and help our neighbors to graze their lands to keep our community safer and our ecology more helpful.”
He said that his crews at the Center have focused on public and privately funded fire fuel mitigation.
“There are no fire fuel mitigation contractors in this community and the demand for our crews is at a premium as will the demand for our young people’s skills when they go out on their own,” Che said.
He said that two years ago The Center did an invasive management job at a property off of Sweetwater Springs Road where they pulled 5 acres of flammable scotch broom above a family’s home. Not only did they remove the invasive and flammable weeds, but in doing so, they created a shaded fuel break.
“The Walbridge Fire came down the hill right over that house and slowed considerably when it hit that fire break,” Che said. “The work we did was a big contributor to that family still having a home to go back to,” Che said.
This year they completed 16 miles of fire fuel mitigation work on a contract with Transportation and Public Works, cutting back brush along Skaggs Springs Road. Similarly, the Walbridge Fire reached that line while firefighters bravely held it back. Che said that the fire mitigation work that The Center’s crew did had a direct impact on making the firefighters’ job easier.
He said that his favorite part about working in the agricultural industry is the men and women who work in it and what they do for the community and each other.
“I’ve benefitted from this in a big way,” Che said. “I grew up with Joe Pozzi on the next ranch over and he gave me my first job as a wet behind the ears kid that didn’t know what he didn’t know. I remember between working the ranches I’d go on ride-alongs with Joe to stack firewood, do repairs, or drop off meat to families in need or that were having a rough time.”
He said that those experiences were his first taste of being in a position to give back, and since, he’s been all in.
When he came back to Sonoma County after college, sadly, Che’s father was passing from cancer. John Balletto gave him his first job working for him and Steve Dutton in the tasting room and the cellar.
“John’s patience and kindness putting up with a young man going through that rough patch taught me how to be an employer and how to treat those that work for you,” Che said.
He said that when you grow up with the men and women involved in agriculture here in Sonoma County, it’s easy to say that his favorite thing about the farming industry is the people.