Growers blow off steam at Sonoma County Farmers Olympics

Farmers Guild event is a way to show off skills near and dear to a farmer’s heart.|

Five interwoven circles and a mascot greeted people entering the arena. Medals - gold, silver and bronze - awaited the winners. The athletes gathered to show off well-practiced skills, and the band played patriotic songs as opening ceremonies began.

It was the Farmers Olympics, held Tuesday night in the field behind the Sebastopol Grange.

The “Olympic circle” was formed by five barrel hoops hung with farming implements and a watering can. The mascot was a scarecrow, the medals were painted Masonite jar lids.

The athletes were farmers of all ages and genders who knew their way around compost and fence posts. They were serenaded by Sonoma County’s brass “honk” band the Hubbub Club, dressed in its motley finest and complete with a hoop dancer.

The Farmers Guild organized the event as a way to celebrate and blow off steam with athletic competitions that included skills near and dear to a farmer’s heart. Several dozen contestants began with a potato sack race and, to cheers, hopped to the finish line.

One dad earned extra cheers as he picked up his young struggling son, threw him over one shoulder and put him down a few jumps from the finish line.

There was a fierce wheelbarrow race in which the athletes had to shovel a load of compost into the barrow, race to the end, relay the barrow to a partner who then raced it back and dumped it. Men, women and children participated, at times pitching compost so quickly it was lifted by strong winds and coated some spectators.

One tough but popular contest was hay lumping. Racing against the clock, contestants unloaded a truck full of hay and then loaded it again. The gold-medal winner, Steve Conwell of Montgomery Ferguson Farms in Sebastopol, finished in a remarkable 50 seconds.

“I could hardly breathe by the end,” he said, grinning and holding up his jar-lid medal painted with a rooster. A pig farmer, Conwell had contributed some of his harvest for the pork barbecue that was served.

The T-post driving contest demanded a lot of strength of athletes that included an attractive young woman in a little black dress and tasteful jewelry. A rematch was declared when depth and speed came into question. Two over-enthusiastic athletes bent and broke their posts. The fashionable young lady took the silver.

The drip tape unraveling competition wasn’t as easy as you’d thing. The stuff kinked a lot. Andrea Davis-Cetina, who has a farm called Quarter Acre Farm in Sonoma, said she won because she and her buddy only had one kink.

Kids immediately claimed the unraveled tape to use as a jump rope. Some adults also jumped in, but the kids were clear winners in this category.

After competing in events that included the mobile-fence limbo, scarecrow contest, lasso, competitive irrigation and the egg and spoon race, athletes mingled with admirers and made their way to the food table, where farmers’ eats were for sale.

Estero Café of Valley Ford did the cooking, and local farmers provided the ingredients, from pork for barbecue to lamb burgers from a Sonoma County ranch. Fresh greens abounded. Local growers and brewers also supplied beer and wines.

The whole tongue-in-cheek event was the brainchild of Evan Wiig, who founded the Farmers Guild in 2011.

It began as a kitchen table group called “Meat Loaf Monday” at a Valley Ford farm, with young beginning farmers gathering over a meal to exchange information. Outgrowing the kitchen, they moved into the GrowKitchen quarters in Sebastopol and outgrew them as well. Finally they partnered with the Sebastopol Grange.

Today the meetings are about serious, nitty gritty farming problems and always include two white boards. One says “I Need” and the other “I Have.” Thus the farmers are able to help one another, so much so that the Guild now has 10 California chapters and several thousand on the mailing list.

At first called Young Farmers, the group changed its name to Farmers Guild when participants realized that they could learn a lot from older farmers, and that older people were also going back to the land.

One meeting a year is a pot luck picnic, and last year some spontaneous games broke out. That’s when some decided a Farmers Olympics would be a lot of fun. About 250 people turned out on a Tuesday for the free event, both farmers and the general public.

“It was all about celebrating not just our farmers but those we call our ‘Food Champions,’” Wiig said.

“They are the people who buy our food, like restaurant owners and chefs, and the people at farmers markets. They support our new generation of farmers.”

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