1st Class Graduate Sonoma County Vineyard Worker Management Preparation Course

Twelve years ago Fabian Garcia started working in the fields, the last four with Vino Farms in Healdsburg where he is now Assistant Vineyard Manager.

Ask him about his future and he replies, “The sky is the limit.

Why he said it has a lot to do with the program he and 14 other farm workers recently completed.

The Richard and Saralee Kunde Leadership Academy was launched by the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation (SCGGF) and the Sonoma County Winegrape Growers (SCWG) on January 11. Classes on topics such as effective communications, conflict resolution techniques, financial literacy, and wine production, began Feb. 10 and are held monthly. Graduation day was June 14.

“We have always had a strong relationship with our vineyard employees, and we wanted to provide them with the skills to help them become leaders in our community and in our industry,” said Karissa Kruse, Executive Director of SCGGF and President of the Sonoma County. Winemakers, said the program’s first class.

Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture and speaker at the groups’ graduation, added, “To keep agriculture and ranching viable in California, we need to create these types of inclusive opportunities for more people to learn, connect and lead. industry in the years to come.

Kruse said the concept of the academy has evolved over the past two years and is inspired by the Leadership Santa Rosa model – the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber’s leadership development program designed to identify, develop and equip community leaders. effective in giving them in-depth insight into business and community issues as well as exposure to community engagement.

The first class of the Leadership Academy included a group of men with professional experience ranging from four to 37 years (average: 18 years). Eighty percent of attendees spoke Spanish and were provided with wireless headphones so they could hear translations of each presentation.

But where were the women among the first graduates?

“Our inaugural class represents the historic and current workforce of the vineyard, as more women enter the farming community, we look forward to welcoming them to future classes,” Kruse said. “Through the foundation, we have launched other programs that will specifically support next-generation women in agriculture, which we are excited to unveil post-harvest.”

Kruse said future class sizes will average 20 students per year to ensure a good experience for attendees, a chance to ask questions and build a professional network.

Some courses focused on government and politics as well as community resources, human resources, compliance regulations, safety, and disaster preparedness.

Guest speakers addressed the need for effective communications, conflict resolution techniques and financial literacy.

Students also learned details about wine and wine production to link what they do in the vineyard to the end product. They visited Sonoma-Cutrer Winery in Windsor to see wine production in action.

According to project manager Valerie Pearce, senior manager of business development and education for the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, “Our goal is to advance the skills needed by winery employees to prepare them for leadership roles with employers. existing ones or to enhance the leadership skills they already possess in ways that go beyond learning agricultural techniques.

Last fall, Judy James was hired as a consultant to help establish the academy.

For 10 years, James was an adjunct faculty member at the SRJC, where she created an agricultural leadership program focused on economics, government relations, and public policy. As the former executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, she developed the Government Executive Institute, bringing in guest speakers to address issues related to agriculture.

Judy and her husband Jim grow Pinot Noir grapes in the Sonoma Coast appellation and have their own winery, James Family Cellars.

“Participants also had the opportunity to meet with county supervisors and came away feeling they could have access to their local elected officials. I hope this program will continue to grow and become a model for other counties and industries to consider,” said James.

Kruse said, “James followed him and offered critical recommendations and guidance in forming the initial program and helping to develop the program plan.”

Participants in this year’s academy were nominated by their employers (wine growers and vineyard management companies, etc.). In several cases, the nominees came from those previously named “employee of the month” or “of the year” by their employers and included others who demonstrated potential to take on additional responsibilities, Kruse said.