Sonoma Valley grape grower Tito Sasaki, a remarkable, one-of-a-kind leader, has completed a whirlwind two-year term as president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, the county’s largest and most influential agricultural organization. Tito is taking a deep breath after spending the last 730 days being the face, eyes and ears of Farm Bureau, volunteering his time to do what’s right for the organization’s nearly 3,000 members.
Tito, who will continue as a director on the Farm Bureau board, is being succeeded by Healdsburg grape grower John Azevedo, whose day job is Director of Grower Relations for Kendall-Jackson Winery, based in Santa Rosa. Azevedo will serve as president for the next two years.
Azevedo concedes he has big boots to fill. Since its founding in 1917 as a grassroots organization for the county’s farmers and ranchers, Sonoma County Farm Bureau has had dozens of presidents who take time from their farms and ranches to lead the organization. But few have devoted the time and energy that Tito has given to representing agriculture and defending the rights and livelihoods of farmers and landowners in Sonoma and Marin counties and beyond. Anyone involved in water, energy, land-use issues and agriculture policy knows that Tito has been anywhere and everywhere over the last two years to represent Farm Bureau members.
Tito’s keen intelligence, analytical skills and bulls-eye business acumen have served Farm Bureau members well. During his tenure as president, Tito represented Farm Bureau members at hundreds and hundreds of meetings, traveling thousands of miles in his olive green Jeep to be the voice of common sense on issues like water and land use. He is a strong advocate for the rights of property owners and a staunch supporter of our farm youth. As a Sonoma Valley grape grower, scientist and businessman, Tito always brought a reasoned, scientific perspective to issues. He focused on key points, formulated resolutions and then relentlessly fought to implement them.
Farm Bureau member Nancy Gates wrote a letter to Farm Bureau directors praising Tito’s dedication and tenacity. “Tito is consistently responsive and communicative, so that Farm Bureau members always know that he hears them and is working for them…..He has taken the time to participate at local hearings and continues to provide behind-the-scenes support to local and state participants in the agriculture community,” Gates wrote.
Gates and many others praise the incredibly insightful columns Tito has written over the last two years for the Sonoma-Marin Farm News. Gates wrote that Tito’s columns are “thoughtful, well-written and provocative, and often relate local matters to world issues in a compelling way.”
Tito’s educational background is fascinating and explains his skills as a thinker, writer and leader in the complex arena related to land use and planning. He holds advance degrees from the Royal College of Art in London and an advanced degree in Ekistics, which is the science of human settlements related to regional and community planning – all with a view to the physical environment.
In addition, Tito did post graduate studies at U.C. Berkeley and the Scripps Institute at U.C. San Diego. Truthfully, I believe Tito found grape growing boring so plunged into the politics of farming. He left management of the Sasaki Vineyards to his capable wife Janet so that he could delve into complicated issues and battle increasingly challenging regulations at the county and state levels.
Tito has a mission. He believes that agriculture’s very future is at stake because of growing urban and environmental pressure in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tito has said, “Unless we find a way of peaceful co-existence on every front, but mostly in environmental regulations, we may be forced to surrender.”
Tito has spent his presidency making sure we don’t surrender, working 24-7 to keep agriculture strong and viable.