By Vicky Boyd
When Donald Drake moved up to chairman of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers from treasurer early this year, he had a number of goals he wanted to accomplish for the group, including increasing membership. But the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shelter-in-place order put a damper on those plans as well as many other YF&R activities.
“Membership had dropped off, and my thought going into this year was trying to get more social with the meetings and having more visibility in the community,” said Drake, San Joaquin Delta College farm manager who also grows walnuts and cherries with his family near Linden. “If we can’t do the social meetings and tours, we can at least give back to the community to ensure our name is still out there and supporting youth agriculture in the area.”
Throughout the years, the group has remained active because of the people involved, said SJFB Program Director Rachael Fleming, who oversees YF&R.
“We plan fun activities, like the socials and tours that help keep people interested,” she said. “I’ve gotten some contacts from people who want to become involved, so there are still people who want to become active.”
SJFB Second Vice President Jake Samuel, who has been in YF&R for the past five to six years, said it’s hard to put a finger on the reason why the San Joaquin chapter has kept going.
“It takes a lot of active people to make it as successful as it is, and we’ve had a lot of momentum over the last five to six years,” he said. “There are people who have shown interest and continue to show up at meetings. I think that’s part of why we’re still able to be a strong committee where some others have had a hard time doing that.”
YF&R didn’t do as much in the community during 2019 as it had in the past because the community outreach chair’s position was vacant, said Fleming, who’s also a YF&R member. But the group was asked to participate in the inaugural National Farmers Day at the World of Wonder Science Museum in Lodi in October 2019. The free day-long collaboration between the museum and SJFB was designed to raise awareness of agriculture and the technology that goes into it.
“We were planning on doing it this year where YF&R would have a booth,” Fleming said, adding she doubts the event will be held in 2020 because of COVID-19.
“Hopefully, we can bring that event back since the first year was quite successful, and we already had a plan for that for year two.”
Probably the biggest blow to the SJFB YF&R this year was the cancellation of its largest annual fundraiser, the Summer Bounty, which historically was held in July. In addition to ticket sales and sponsorships, the barbecue also raised money through its popular desert auction.
Based on practicality and logistics, Fleming said YF&R wouldn’t have been able to put on the event like members envisioned. In addition, they wanted to be sensitive to sponsoring businesses that might be hurting economically. Instead, they asked businesses to throw their support behind FFA and 4-H youth who were showing at AgFest.
For YF&R Vice Chair Neil Norman, who had been on the event’s organizational committee in the past, not holding it this year was disappointing.
“It’s rewarding to see people having fun at something you helped put together,” said Norman, who works on his family’s row-crop and almond farm near Stockton.
Proceeds from the fundraiser were used for scholarships, AgFest support, community outreach and support, and YF&R activities. To foster relationships among different YF&R groups, for example, the San Joaquin chapter had visited other areas for tours or invited other groups to travel to San Joaquin County for agricultural activities.
Despite the Summer Bounty’s cancellation, YF&R this year still awarded seven scholarships totaling $5,000 to students who plan to pursue ag-related fields of study. The group also doubled to $5,000 the amount it usually spends to purchase animals at the 2020 AgFest Junior Show and Auction, which went to an online format because of the pandemic. SJFB typically matches that amount.
Drake said San Joaquin County members were looking forward to getting together with their counterparts from Stanislaus and Sacramento counties to socialize and for ag tours before COVID-19 halted their plans.
With those shut down at least for the moment, he said funds that had been earmarked for the social outings may be redirected to community support.
“As with any business in this kind of situation, revenues are lower,” Drake said. “Obviously we’re going to have to tighten our belts. A lot of our monthly activities have come to a halt, so we have some reserves. We still want to be as active as we can and give back as much as we possibly can but in a fiscally responsible manner. We’re just going to have to get a little creative when it comes to the end of the day and get the most bang for our buck.”
Norman said he and fellow Executive Committee members have stayed in touch and are communicating in smaller groups. The downtime has given them an opportunity to take a hard look at YF&R’s efforts and look at possibly different ways to recruit new members.
“We’re focusing on how to keep interest in the organization,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out how to bring in more people and keep different people interested in it. We want to figure out what our next move should be after this (pandemic). Even after this is over, it’s going to be tough for a lot of people to get back into the groove of things.”
Despite obstacles created by the pandemic, Drake said he also sees positives.
“It’s always refreshing to see when the ag community comes together in times like this what we can do and what we can accomplish,” he said.