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Social media emissaries of Sonoma County

Amy Lieberfarb (@amylieberfarb)

Food and wine blogger and founder of #SonomaChat

16.5K Instagram followers

103K Twitter followers

Tucker Taylor (@farmert)

Director of culinary gardens for Jackson Family Wines

44.7K Instagram followers

1,884 Twitter followers

Adam Decker (@adamdecker, @igersnorthbay)

Freelance photographer, started Instagramers of the North Bay, #igersnorthbay

3,870 Instagram followers @adamdecker

1,023 Instagram followers @igersnorthbay

On Tuesday, Tucker Taylor posted a picture of cauliflower to his Instagram page that got more than 450 likes, which is pretty good for cauliflower.

To be fair, it’s Romanesco cauliflower, an uncannily beautiful cruciferous varietal, with a bright-green hue and a fractal pattern to set mathematicians’ hearts aflutter.

But, still. Cauliflower.

In his role as a culinary gardener for some of Wine Country’s biggest names, Taylor (@farmert), has not only become an internet star but an unofficial ambassador for Sonoma County.

So, too, have Amy Lieberfarb (@amylieberfarb), a wine and food blogger, and Adam Shindledecker, who goes by Decker (@adamdecker), a photographer who runs a group called Instagramers of the North Bay.

Together, the three have a combined following of more than 150,000 on Instagram and Twitter, the two popular social media networks that daily are used by an estimated 340 million people around the world.

The trio are not the most followed social media users hailing from Sonoma County, a distinction that belongs to celebrity chef Guy Fieri, tech pioneer Tim O’Reilly and cellist and activist Zoë Keating, each with more than a million followers.

What differentiates Taylor, Lieberfarb and Decker is their focus: online conversations about our region with people all over the world, helping form virtual communities revolving around shared passions of food, wine and photography.

They are among about a dozen Sonoma County residents with expansive social media followings that Tim Zahner, the chief marketing officer for Sonoma County Tourism, considers social media influencers.

“These posts represent the idea of a place of amazing food and wine and experiences,” Zahner said. “It’s an idealized Sonoma County.”

The social media posts are what out-of-towners want to visit when they come on vacation, Zahner said, whether their interests are escapist or aspirational.

“There is the representation of that life in the social media posts that people find exciting,” he said.

Amy Lieberfarb’s popular #SonomaChat Twitter series began as a means to an end.

When her two daughters transitioned from private to public elementary schools in 2007, she learned of the lack of library staff in Sonoma County public schools. As a business-minded marketing guru with a background in web design, Lieberfarb began thinking of ways she could promote public school libraries.

In 2013, she was attending a lot of Wine Country events. Wondering if winery owners might be interested in helping out her cause, she quickly found her pitch difficult to sell.

“It was a really fraternity, sorority world,” said Lieberfarb, who moved to Sonoma County from the East Bay in 2002. “I couldn’t talk the talk. I couldn’t walk the walk. ... It was a matter of making myself important in Sonoma County.”

So she came up with the idea for #SonomaChat, a weekly hourlong Twitter event on Wednesdays where a community of online wine-lovers from all over the world participate in a themed conversation, hosted by a specific Sonoma County winery, and moderated by Lieberfarb. Each “chat” features at least six questions to which winery representatives and Twitter users respond.

The weekly chat averages between 220 and 350 active contributors — most of whom don’t live in Sonoma County, and Lieberfarb charges wineries $500 to act as host. Of the contributors, there are about 20 of what Lieberfarb calls “power fans,” those who faithfully open up a bottle from the host winery each week.

“If they miss #SonomaChat, they’ll get on there and say what they did” instead, she said. “For them, it’s like a club.”

The 40-year-old Rincon Valley resident is a force to be reckoned with on her blog siponthisjuice.com, and her multitude of social media accounts, most notably her Instagram and Twitter accounts @amylieberfarb, where she has a combined 119,500 followers.

“The reason people love hashtags, is they belong to the community,” Lieberfarb said. “They’re suddenly part of a club. You can join without fees. It’s something you love. It’s something you’re passionate about. And you can speak your mind without being interrupted.”

Two years after #SonomaChat’s creation, Lieberfarb is at work on the nonprofit application for Sonoma Readers are Leaders, set to officially launch in 2017 with a board stacked with Sonoma County wine and food industry representatives, to benefit public school libraries.

“I hated social media,” Lieberfarb said, recalling her pre-Twitter days. “I didn’t even do Facebook. … So I came out of nowhere, and now I’m at the top.”

Tucker Taylor flirted with a career in banking after college. It only took a year for him to realize that wasn’t for him. He re-enrolled at the University of Florida, but this time, with an environmental horticulture major.

He moved from Athens, Georgia, in 2007 to California where he got his start in Wine Country as the head culinary gardener for the French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s famed Yountville restaurant. Taylor, whose Instagram account now has almost 48,000 followers, first posted to the social media platform in 2011.

Working for Keller, who opened his Napa Valley restaurant in 1994, Taylor turned the French Laundry garden into an attraction all its own. He soon became a household name in the culinary world.

“A friend of mine was really encouraging me to get Instagram, and I was just like, ‘That’s one more thing that I don’t want to do,’” he said. “But she knew that I had outgrown the garden — the small space there — and she was like, ‘You need to capitalize on this.’”

Instagram, founded in October 2010, was still a small social media community at the time, and Taylor was invited to be a featured user after engaging with the founders’ posts.

His follower count skyrocketed, going from 350 of his friends to 18,000 strangers.

And then Instagram featured his account again. And again.

“I feel like I have a good eye, but it didn’t hurt that I was growing for Thomas Keller at the French Laundry,” Taylor said.

His posts — mostly the specialty produce grown in his gardens — are something he takes care in producing, paying attention to lighting, detail and composition, though he always uses the same Instagram filter: Lo-Fi.

Taylor, 45, who now lives in Healdsburg and works as the director of culinary gardens for Jackson Family Wines, tends 12 acres in all, four at the Kendall-Jackson Winery and eight more in Geyserville. From that acreage, he grows produce that only a handful of farmers in the country have access to before it’s sold to Bay Area chefs or used in the Kendall-Jackson kitchen.

“I’ll take a picture of something, and then I’ll start getting texts or emails or comments on Instagram from chefs saying they want whatever I’ve taken a picture of,” he said, such as ice lettuce, a native of coastal Africa which he grew from seeds obtained from a source in France.

While Taylor is lighthearted in his social media postings through his use of hashtags, he sees his role as not only a food advocate but, in a sense, a life coach too.

“I’ve met people, and I’ve been friends with people, who just feel stuck in their lives, but one decision can change your whole life, and I think that’s just it,” he said of what he tries to express on his Instagram account. “You’re trying to show people they could live the life they want to live.

“I’m trying to get people to look at produce more, to desire produce more and I’m hoping to inspire people to want to garden for themselves more.”

Adam Decker, unlike Lieberfarb and Taylor, got his start in the Instagram world on the consumer side in January 2013 with a poorly lit selfie. To say he was a casual Instagram user is an understatement: He didn’t post again for another six months. All the more ironic that four years later, the app has changed his career path. It’s also his primary avenue for making friends — messaging them almost exclusively through the app.

Decker picked up photography as a hobby while working in marketing. Frustrated with the photographs he received as promotional images he’d have to transform into marketing material, he took it upon himself to get his own photographs.

Soon the hobby became more serious, and his Instagram account took on a new meaning.

“I started meeting people through Instagram because I wanted to see how other people were taking photos of (the North Bay),” he said. “Most of the photos were just your standard iPhone pictures, with the sun hitting the lens, completely blurry. But then there were a couple people where I’d be like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s actually quite good.’”

Scrolling through his Instagram feed, which now has almost 4,000 followers, his progression from hobbyist to professional is clear — marked by a transition from an iPhone to a DSLR camera.

He fell into an Instagram community of his own, Instagramers of San Francisco (@igerssf), a branch of the Instagramers community that has affiliates in cities all over the world.

Decker followed other people who used the #igerssf hashtag, and would comment on their pictures.

“I was nervous to do it at first, but then after a while it was like, that’s kind of what’s expected,” he said. “It was a nice community developing where you appreciate what people are posting, and they appreciate that you appreciate them.”

In October 2015, Decker, who lives in Windsor, created his own branch of the Instagramers community: Instagramers of the North Bay (@igersnorthbay). At his first meet-up — sunset at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park — only two people showed up. Decker was thrilled.

“I was waiting for someone else to start one, and I was like, ‘It’ll happen. It’ll happen,’” he said. “It never happened. So I was like, you know what, I’m doing this.”

Since then, he’s quit his marketing gig and works full-time with his photography. The @igersnorthbay community has grown, and this summer he hosted 12 meet-ups with about 20 people attending each one. The @igersnorthbay account has grown to just over 1,000 followers, with people from Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties participating in meet-ups.

“I wanted (the North Bay) to have a community where people could learn from others and get hooked on photography like I did,” he said. “(It) was such a huge turning point in my life, a complete 180-degree turn, and I wanted others to have that experience.”

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.

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