YF&R membership rebounds and more activities planned

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By Vicky Boyd

With the pandemic in their review mirror, San Joaquin Young Farmers & Ranchers committee members are regaining their momentum and recently completed a full year of activities. They don’t plan to slow down, with their annual Summer’s Bounty Fundraiser planned for July 15 as well as myriad social activities, leadership programs and giving back to the community the rest of the year.

“We were kind of afraid going into the fundraiser last year on how many people would show up and how successful the fundraiser would be compared to previous years,” said Kent Norman, YF&R committee treasurer. “It was just not knowing whether the same support would come back from pre-pandemic times. We now know the support is still there and we can continue to help support young people in ag and the community.”

Some of the money from last year’s fundraiser has already gone to scholarships for graduating high school seniors as well as to purchase animals at AgFest, said Jenna Rose Lee, community service co-chair.

While YF&R Committee Co-Chair Dennis Drake said giving scholarships is worthwhile, buying animals shines a spotlight on the group’s community activities.

“When we buy animals, we’ve got a lot more outreach or physical contact with others, and I feel people relate to us more,” he said. “A lot of us grew up in FFA or 4-H and showed animals. It’s really an amazing experience for anyone showing to have someone purchase their animals and help out the youth.”

Lee, along with community service co-chair Alison Drake, is also developing a year-long plan to guide YF&R in its other efforts to give back to the community.

“We’ll definitely help out with families in need at Christmas,” said Lee, 27. “We’re also trying to figure out something new we can do this year.”

Membership rebounds

The pandemic hit YF&R hard as some members lost interest in virtual meetings while others aged out. The program is designed for those 18-35 years old who are involved in agriculture or have an interest in it.

But Committee Co-Chair Neil Norman said membership is rebounding. YF&R alternates social activities, like tours of local ag businesses and craft breweries, with office meetings that deal with more business-related topics, such as leadership skills or ag issues.

“Last year, I think people were still a little hesitant, but they’re now ready to get back to work,” Norman said. “Our first couple of meetings were social, and we had more and more people. I think we’re going to have more office meetings now to get new people who we really want to keep engaged in issues.”

Brother Kent Norman agreed. “We’ve been getting some new people trickle in the last two years, so it’s been really nice. We have a few new faces almost every meeting.”

Drake said he made increasing membership one of his goals as co-chair before he ages out.

As evidence of an active committee, Neil Norman pointed to the roughly dozen YF&R members – about double what they normally have – who stayed after the recent SJFB Annual Meeting to help clean up.

In addition, the San Joaquin committee holds social activities with nearby YF&R committees to get to know one another and to discuss similarities and differences. The next joint social is with Sacramento County YF&R.

“I think it’s pretty important, honestly,” he said. “We’re kind of in our own bubble. Other people have crops we don’t even grow here. It’s kind of cool to see us bonding over like-mindedness and different things as well.”

Neil Norman, who is involved with the family farm that grows almonds and row crops near Manteca, said he joined YF&R originally so he could be engaged in the ag community.

“Even though I’m no longer in school, I’m still really educating myself about new laws and regulations,” he said. “It’s nice to be in the loop. It’s nice to have a grasp on what would be coming up in the future and kind of bond with other people.”

Harney Lane Winery marketing specialist Lee, who described herself as an “ag girl at heart,” said joining YF&R just felt natural.

“The connections you make through YF&R are truly invaluable and really just add to your life,” she said. “It makes your life full, and volunteering and doing things for the community and the industry I care deeply about is so rewarding.”

Because of her convictions, Lee said she wasn’t content just being a YF&R member and wanted to become more involved. When Fundraiser Chair Brooklyn Petersen mentioned the community service co-chair opening, Lee jumped at it.

Summer’s Bounty, July 15

The committee’s main fundraiser is the Summer’s Bounty, July 15, at Intercoastal Wine Co., 13731 N. Highway 88, in Lodi. Petersen said she chose the venue because owners Mitch and Rachele Spaletta were supportive of YF&R and “wonderful to work with.”

“My goal is to showcase a different winery throughout San Joaquin County each year,” Petersen said. She also hopes to create a fun atmosphere that will draw attendees from all parts of the county.

In addition, the fundraiser will go back to its farmers’ market-themed roots that highlights as much locally produced food as possible. The cooking committee, which “absolutely nailed it” last year, will be back cooking, she said. Among them are Jake Samuel, Neil Norman and brothers Dennis and Donald Drake.

The popular silent auction and live dessert auction are returning, and Petersen said she has added three “non-dessert hot ticket items” to the live auction. New this year will be a live band.

In addition to the countless volunteer hours put in by YF&R members, Petersen said the event wouldn’t be successful without the generosity of local farmers and businesses, who donate food, auction prizes and other items.

Tickets are $45 for individuals or $400 for a reserved table of eight and are available through SJFB at (209) 931-4931 or Jessica@sjfb.org. Sponsorships are also available. The social hour begins at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m.