By Vicky Boyd 

San Joaquin Young Farmers & Ranchers have taken a page out of the Warrior basketball team’s playbook about “strength in numbers.”

“What’s been keeping us going for all of these years is it’s the group of people that we have that keep things flowing,” said Jake Samuel, YF&R vice chair and a 30-year-old walnut and cherry producer in Linden. “It’s the activities we do, and I think just our age group. A lot of us are finding our place in the industry and planting roots, and having the same concerns about what’s going on within the county.”

Gary Valente, YF&R chair and a 31-year-old Lodi-area winegrape vineyard manager for Kautz Farms, agreed and pointed to San Joaquin Farm Bureau staff support as another reason for their success.

In addition, Brie Hunt, current fund-raising co-chair, credited the committee’s selfless philosophy.

“I really think our committee is second to none,” said Hunt, a 31-year-old field representation for Constellation Wines who also sits on the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Board. “There are just a number of our members who have really stuck it out the last 10 years and made the committee what it is. And it couldn’t happen without the support of the (SJFB) Board.”

Mix of social, learning activities 

YF&R, designed for those 18-35 years old, is open to anyone involved in agriculture or who has an interest in agriculture. For those interested, it also can provide a gateway to become more active within SJFB.

Valente, Samuel and Hunt have all taken that route and serve on the SJFB Board. Valente is also the Acampo Farm Center chairman as well as a member of the SJFB Water, Land-Use and Rural Health & Safety committees. Samuel is the new SJFB second vice president.

Hunt said she initially joined YF&R as a social outlet but wound up learning more about Farm Bureau and board members. As a result, it gave her the confidence to seek a board seat and not be afraid to voice an opinion. Hunt received the YF&R Star award at the state YF&R Conference in February for her involvement on the local YF&R committee, county Farm Bureau and agricultural community.

Monthly activities alternate between ones that are more social, such as Stockton Ports and Stockton Heats games, to business meetings at the SJFB office that deal more with leadership or agricultural issues. The San Joaquin committee also has exchange visits with other county YF&Rs to cross-pollinate. 

In 2018, for example, the newly founded Gold Country YF&R visited San Joaquin County. This year, Gold Country members joined with San Joaquin to tour Orvis Ranch, Locke Vineyards, the Sierra Pacific Logging Museum and Sierra Pacific Inc. to learn about forestry management.

But social get-togethers are just a small part of YF&R’s overall activities. 

The San Joaquin YF&R Committee tries to reinvest in its members by sending them to the California Farm Bureau YF&R Conference in February in Sacramento, Hunt said. It also sponsors members who want to participate in Leadership Farm Bureau.

“Maybe it helps them make the transition to Farm Bureau, but it also helps them grow as individuals and be advocates for the industry,” she said.

Giving back

San Joaquin YF&R also awards scholarships to graduating high school seniors, with a total of $5,000 given out this year. The amount has grown from the initial $1,000 in scholarships awarded about six years ago, Hunt said.

Once again this year, the group helped with AgVenture, where nearly 11,000 third-graders spent a day learning about agriculture. They also teamed with SJFB to buy animals at the San Joaquin County Fair’s AgFest in June.

For the past two years, some of the YF&R committee’s charitable activities have extended to the community, such as the October pop-up pumpkin patch for children supported by the Child Abuse Prevention Council of San Joaquin County, with pumpkins donated by Van Groningen & Sons of Manteca.

“It’s just so important that we think beyond the box,” Samuel said of community outreach.

In the past, YF&R collected toys at their Christmas party to donate to toy drives. Because the party was so close to the holiday, many local toy drives had already dispersed the gifts, Hunt said. So YF&R would end up donating the toys to drives outside the county.

Two years ago, they examined their holiday giving and decided to focus on more local efforts. In 2018, for example, YF&R adopted five families through the Child Abuse Prevention Council of San Joaquin County and gave them Christmas presents.

Major fundraiser

All of this could not be possible without the money raised during San Joaquin YF&R’s largest annual fundraiser, the summer barbecue that includes a silent auction and dessert auction. Now in its 10th year, it is planned for July 13 at Bokisch Vineyards in Lodi. See page 5 for details.

Valente credits the wineries that have hosted it and overall community support for the event’s growing success.

“I think what really makes it a lot easier on us and the staff is the help by the wineries and the facilities,” he said. “I think it’s just the community and all the word of mouth. 

“There’s just a lot of community support out there, not only to support us but they also want to come and socialize. The last few years, we sold out. I think it’s just a really fun and enjoyable event.”

Samuel agreed and said the fundraiser attracts people from Tracy to the foothills.

“It just brings a lot of different people together,” he said. “Besides the annual meeting, there’s nothing else that does that.” 

And without the teamwork of members, none of the YF&R activities would be possible, Samuel said.

“It definitely takes everybody within the group to get it done – it’s not just one person, it’s everybody,” he said. “It’s a big group effort. That’s what makes us unique.”