By Vicky Boyd
Although the coronavirus pandemic put a damper on San Joaquin County Young Farmers & Ranchers’ in-person activities for more than a year, committee leaders say they’re eager to reconnect.
“We’re really excited,” said YF&R Chair Donald Drake. “We’re getting a plan to bring people back together, and we’re trying to be as proactive as possible.”
The group’s executive committee met in late June to draft a schedule of social events and tours through 2021. Drake said they waited to meet until after June 15 to see the latest COVID rules released by the governor and other state and federal health officials.
“We’re just chomping at the bit trying to figure it out and trying to get back in motion with the right plan,” he said. “We want a solid plan and don’t want to rush it so we’re the most successful. We just want to try to figure out what we want to do with the rest of the year.”
Neil Norman, YF&R vice chair, said he hoped that the activities they plan will attract members who may have dropped during the pandemic and attract newcomers as well.
“I know it was tough to keep up with everybody after this (pandemic) started,” Norman said. “I think if we make it fun enough, the program will be up and going again. I’m very hopeful we’ll get the same people we had as we resurrect things.”
Outside of a few Zoom meetings, YF&R members have not met for activities for more than a year.
“It was unfortunate,” said Rachael Fleming, San Joaquin Farm Bureau program director and a YF&R member. “Our last meeting was March of 2020, and we had a great tour of the Duarte hemp operation. We had a bunch of tours in mind and a couple of social meetings planned.”
In years past, YF&R also conducted community service projects, like holding a Halloween pumpkin patch and adopting families at Christmas, among other activities. Those were expected to be part of the executive committee discussions.
Even without regular meetings and social events to attract possible members, Fleming said she has received several inquiries about how to join YF&R. What’s even more heartening, she said, is students who received SJFB scholarships during her tenure as SJFB program director have since graduated and are now asking how they can become involved in the group.
Norman’s younger brother, Kent, is one of those. He received YF&R scholarships, recently graduated Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and plans to join the San Joaquin chapter.
“I know a few of his friends from Cal Poly are going to join as well – that will be amazing,” the elder Norman said.
SJFB Second Vice President Jake Samuel, a YF&R member, said the group had strong momentum before the pandemic, and he hoped that returns quickly.
“We need to get more young people active and being involved, have events and be able to fund raise for our scheduled programs and for the kids at AgFest,” Samuel said. “The hard part has been just not being able to have events, have people mingle and socialize, and see people who we don’t normally see because they’re in different avenues in ag. It was kind of a bummer not having social events.”
For the second year in a row, YF&R canceled its annual Summer’s Bounty barbecue and dessert auction, historically held in early summer. In the past, it provided the bulk of the group’s annual funding for social and community service projects, such as YF&R tours and social get-togethers, high school and college scholarships and purchasing animals at AgFest.
Because of the barbecue’s size, YF&R members typically start planning in February. Finding a venue and date are the hardest components, said Drake, who also sits on the SJFB board. Once those are firm, then the other pieces fall into place.
Without knowing what COVID-related meeting and distancing requirements would be this summer, he said planning committee members made the tough decision earlier this year to cancel the fundraiser for 2021.
Norman agreed with the decision. “We, of course, didn’t want to set it in stone and have to cancel it,” he said. “It was disappointing, but we’ll push through and do it next year.”
Drake said they plan to hold at least one major fundraiser in 2022.
“That’s going to be one of the topics we’re going to be talking about because you don’t want to rush it,” he said. “We’re trying to see what our options are for something in the spring of 2022 and fall of 2022. We were lucky we were still able to do the scholarships and still able to buy animals.”
Without any activities during 2020, the group had very few expenses. Last year, YF&R still donated $1,000 to a Napa fire relief fund, provided seven scholarships totaling $5,000 to students pursuing ag-related studies and partnered with SJFB to buy animals at AgFest.
YF&R again partnered with the San Joaquin Farm Bureau to buy animals at the San Joaquin AgFest auction in June, with each contributing $2,500 for a total of $5,000.
The group had been judicious with their spending over the years and had put aside money for emergencies, Samuel said.
“The committee’s done very well making sure we planned for something like this so we can still do the animal purchases and scholarships,” Samuel said. “We have enough funds to carry us through on the down times like this.”
YF&R is open to people ages 18-35 who are involved in agriculture or have an interest in agriculture.