Harvest Fair has honored young farmers for decades

When the Sonoma County Harvest Fair Awards were presented at a grand dinner at Grace Pavilion on Sept. 24, Ryan Petersen ascended the stairs to the stage as the newest recipient of the Young Farmer Award, the longest-running of four awards that acknowledge members of the agricultural community and its supporters.

Petersen, who heads up Petersen Land Management and is a volunteer with the Geyserville Fire Department, joins 35 previous recipients.

The Harvest Fair has recognized a young farmer for both excellence and commitment to the community annually since 1976. Recipients includes fathers and sons — Ryan's father Dane Petersen was the 1981 awardee — and brothers, like Mike Sangiacomo, who received the award in 2007, and Steve Sangiacomo, the 2009 awardee. The late Warren Dutton and his sons Steve and and Joe were honored in 1977, 1999 and 2000 and Lee Martinelli Sr., Lee Martinelli Jr. and George Martinelli were the 1978, 2004 and 2008 recipients. To find a woman, you have to look back 11 years, when Kelly Parsons of Parsons' Homegrown was the 2001 awardee, one of four women to be honored to date.

2011 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Grand Tasting


The other awards include Young Person in Agribusiness, added in 1980, and Lifetime Contribution, added in 1984. In 1987, a fourth award, Friend of Agriculture, was added to honor an individual who supports the local industry without necessarily being directly involved.

Awards overlooked

In the frenzy to taste award-winning wines and snag a case of a sweepstakes winner, people tend to overlook the agriculture awards. Yet the awards, especially the two that acknowledge the younger generation, are crucial to the industry.

"It is critical for agriculture to think about where the next generation of farmers will come from," said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers Commission, "and it comes from these people. The award seems to signal a responsibility to get more involved in the agricultural community."

Frey points to the Dutton brothers as an example. Both have been on the board of the commission since its founding in 2006 and next year, Steve Dutton begins a term as president of the Harvest Fair board of directors.

Recipients are selected in the spring by a committee made up in part of previous awardees; each nominee's overall agricultural endeavors, leadership activities and community activities are considered before a winner is selected.

Age 40 or younger

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