Member Spotlight: The New Sonoma Valley Farmers Guild!

Every week, we’ll be spotlighting a FarmsReach Featured Farmer or community Member. Our Featured Farmers are brimming with great ideas and knowledge to share with the farming community, and our Members comprise a mix of farmers, ranchers, Extension Advisors, nonprofits, and more.

This week, Evan Wiig of the Farmers Guild and FarmsReach spoke with one of the founders of the newly established Sonoma Valley Farmers Guild! Set to kick-off on October 27th at 6 pm at the Sonoma Valley Grange Hall, its purpose is to help farmers forge new connections, share information and resources, and help support one another over the course of the seasons. If you’re a farmer or rancher, read on about their plans to create a space to gather, kick back, make some new friends, and support the farming community of the Sonoma Valley region!

Sonoma Valley Guild Founding Members

Sonoma Valley Guild Founding Members

One thing that’s tough about beginning to farm is that you often only get one chance per year to learn the many lessons vital to agriculture. So says Andrea Davis-Cetina, a young farmer who started Quarter Acre Farm back in 2008, and co-founder of the Sonoma Valley Guild. Most tasks are seasonal, each its own experiment; you’ll have to wait until the same time next year to try again. That means that Andrea has only had five chances to learn about transplanting tomatoes on her two plots just west of Sonoma (that quarter acre of hers has since grown to just under one); five chances to learn how best to harvest her heirloom popcorn varieties; and five chances to determine the best pattern of crop rotation. But with the founding of a new Farmers Guild in Sonoma, those chances will soon multiply. “Get twenty farmers in the same room,” says Andrea, “and you’ve suddenly got twenty different people trying twenty different variations of the same thing. Compare notes and you get what would’ve taken twenty years had you kept to yourself.”
Andrea Davis-Cetina, Quarter Acre Farm (Photo by In Her Image Photography)

Andrea Davis-Cetina, Quarter Acre Farm (Photo by In Her Image Photography)

Andrea is among the nine young farmers and ranchers who met last week over dinner at Oak Hill Farm to foster a new agricultural community that will, starting this October, come together each month to share resources, information, and a sense of place. A few of them had frequented the original Farmers Guild at the beautiful Grow Kitchen in Sebastopol, but for the most part these were new farmer faces. “Two of the folks who showed up [from our region],” said Andrea, “I’d never even seen. And I get around. I’ve been farming here for five years! If we don’t know each other, how can we expect our community to know who we are?”

The Sonoma and Napa Valleys are some of the most cultivated swaths of land in the state. But as everyone that night acknowledged, their neighborhood is obviously dominated by the very specific mono-crop of grapes. “There are not enough farms around here,” Andrea says. “We are nowhere near saturation level, and the more farmers people see, the more chances they’ll have to understand the importance of supporting local agriculture.” These young farmers are local rebels: no talk of merlots and zinfandels, mile-long trellises or last year’s vintage. Instead, they’re on their hands and knees pulling potatoes out of the ground, moving long-horned highlanders from pasture to pasture, and harvesting lettuce for the local farmers markets, downtown restaurants or for their CSA members. Without this enterprising, young coalition of upstart agrarians, this seemingly food-centric community would be a food desert; true locavores would end up drunk from the focus on wine, and hungry.

Terroir is a term so often reserved for grapes, but as any farmer will tell you, the importance of place affects other plants too. Which is why the Sonoma Valley Guild is so appealing to these young farmers; not only will this new chapter save them the long drive out to the Sebastopol Guild meet-ups, but it offers them a chance to address issues specific to their region. Whether it be climate or marketing, farmers face different challenges depending on where they lay down their roots. And aside from the serious issues, this new cadre of farmers can laugh at jokes that only those tending soil in Sonoma Valley would get! For those so invested in the land, a sense of belonging is priceless.

Andrea and the other Guild co-founders look forward to uniting and growing their agricultural community. They hope that the Sonoma Valley Guild will attract established farm-owners as well as those still-aspiring farm hands. No farmer ever stops learning, and there is so much wisdom that should be shared! There are of course easier ways to make money around these parts – jobs that offer such luxuries as weekends, vacations, and an eight-hour workday. So how will Andrea and the others find time to organize a group like the Guild? “Well,” she answers, “You can’t farm at night.”

True enough, and we look forward to the Sonoma Valley Guilds huge success! For more information about the Sonoma Valley, Mendocino, or North Coast Guild and their upcoming FarmsReach Groups, contact Evan Wiig. If you’d like to start a Guild in your area, even better. Get in touch!

To become a member of FarmsReach, start an online regional Group, or just stay in touch, sign up for free!

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