Foodies connect with farmers at Petaluma’s Farmer Olympics

Now in its third year, the growing event aims to build community and boost consumer support for locally produced food.|

At the 2016 Farmer Olympics, few if any families racked up more gold medals than the Scholtens.

There was Vince Scholten, owner of Nor Cal Growers nursery in Sebastopol, and his daughter, Ariel, who co-won the watermelon toss with some impressive feats of fruit flinging.

“I put my heart and soul into that watermelon!” said Ariel, 16, after the verdant orb exploded on the grass of the Petaluma Fairgrounds.

An hour later her sister, 11-year-old Analise, bounded to victory in the potato sack race, junior division, leaving the stumbling competition far behind.

“You’ve got to hop and lean forward,” she explained afterward.

Now in its third year, the fast-growing Farmer Olympics brought people who support locally produced food together with those who grow and raise it in a fun, casual and educational setting.

Event founder Evan Wiig, director of the Farmers Guild, a nonprofit statewide organization that creates community hubs for sustainable agriculture, said the goal of the event was to build a community that would increase support for locally sourced agriculture.

As he ping-ponged around the fairgrounds in a straw hat announcing the start of the wheelbarrow relay and hay-bale stacking competitions, Wiig said there is a disconnect between the people who produce food and those who eat it.

That is best exemplified at places like the Sonoma County Fair, which has wonderful programs helping children connect to agriculture and supporting the raising of local livestock.

“Then you go should go to the food court and not have to be stuck with an $8 snow cone or a macaroni-and-cheese-stuffed hamburger on a Krispy Kreme bun, none of which comes from this county,” Wiig said.

One of many local producers supporting the event was Straus Family Creamery, which ran a booth where kids got to churn butter using nothing but Straus whipping cream, a jar and youthful energy.

It took some serious shaking by Marley Chinapen of Novato to get the fat in that cream to separate into butter and butter milk, but when it eventually did, seemingly by magic, the 9-year-old pronounced it delicious.

“It was good!” she said with a wide smile. Her churning secret, she added, was not to shake just up and down, but back and forth as well.

Another dairy-related contest saw participants vie for distance, squirting milk from the engorged teat of Chestnut the goat.

The award went to Ariel Aaronson-Eves, a former farmer from Arkansas and Kansas now studying divinity in Berkeley. She heard about the event when attending the recent National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, and was enjoying the hip, playful vibe of the event.

“They know what they’re doing, but they’re also kind of making it up as they go along,” she said.

Aaronson-Eves drew on her agricultural experience to perform well in an activity called Pipe Dreams, which involved trying to quickly install an irrigation line from a faucet to a bucket, with 10-second penalties for each leak. She had three leaks but still was on the leaderboard mid-afternoon.

Christine Aluia, a small business owner from Petaluma, shared a drink with friends in the shade as she watched some of the events. Asked why she loved farmers, as her T-shirt proclaimed, she didn’t hesitate.

“They are the backbone of Sonoma County,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or

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