The California Rangeland Trust recently commemorated 25 years of keeping ranchers ranching and conserving the Golden State’s working lands at A Western Affair 2023. To celebrate the fruits of its labor, the A Western Affair weekend was spent honoring the achievements of the past, celebrating the bounty of agricultural goods and services provided by the land, enjoying good company and pasture-to-plate flavors, and looking ahead to all that is possible for the future.
The festivities kicked off with a special pre-party on Friday, May 19th at the California Agriculture Museum in Woodland. While walking through the museum’s impressive collection of antique tractors and farm and ranch artifacts, approximately 80 guests were treated to a culinary experience like no other. Stations of food and beverage pairings were set up throughout the museum, offering guests “bites” of delicious food prepared by acclaimed regional chefs and “tastes” of superb wine and whiskey from several Yolo County wineries and the Nevada-based distillery, Frey Ranch. Participating chefs included: Juan Barajas of Savory Café (Woodland), Steven Gordon of Lucy’s Café (Esparto), Bobbin and Patrick Mulvaney of Mulvaney’s B&L (Sacramento), and Elena Winks of Franquette (West Sacramento). Participating wineries included: Beryessa Gap Vineyards (Winters), Grindstone Winery & Vineyards (Esparto), Great Bear Vineyards (Davis), and Haarmeyer Wine Cellars (West Sacramento).
After enjoying this extraordinary “taste-of-the-land” experience, guests made their way outside to the museum’s courtyard to hear from special guests, Danny Johnson of Taylor’s Market in Sacramento, and A Western Affair hosts, Scott and Karen Stone of Yolo Land and Cattle Co. The Stones talked about their family’s decision to conserve their ranch back in 2005 and what the conservation easement has meant to their family.
Reflecting on their journey, Karen admitted that the family has had some tough times in the cattle business – in recent years they have been impacted by two wildfires and a prolonged drought. “These times make you contemplate some very difficult decisions. If we did not have the easement, the offer to develop a little here and sell a little there may have been a palatable conversation for our family. But we never had to have that conversation,” said Karen proudly. She then added, “Our family is forever grateful to the California Rangeland Trust; the decision we made to conserve the ranch in perpetuity for us and our future generations is one that we will never regret.”
Following Scott and Karen’s passionate testimony, Rangeland Trust CEO, Michael Delbar presented the Stones with a custom oil painting showcasing Yolo Land and Cattle’s iconic red barn – the same location where A Western Affair 2023 would take place the following day. As the pre-party concluded with live music from Chad Bushnell, guest knew it was only the beginning of what would be a truly spectacular weekend for all.
On the evening of Saturday, May 20th, nearly 400 guests made their way through the ranch’s beautiful rolling hills and lush grasslands toward the stunning red barn with the Yolo Land and Cattle Co. ranch brand emblazoned on the front. Upon arrival, guests entered a world of western wonder and were immediately greeted with mouthwatering aromas coming from a display of beef steamship rounds roasting over an open-fire grill.
Cocktail hour was spent mingling with friends over glasses of delectable wine, supplied by Wilson Vineyards and Matchbook Wine Company, and bidding on an array of western specialty items that lined the inside walls of the barn. “Bolo,” the Stone’s handsome pinto miniature horse also added to the excitement by delivering cold beer and countless smiles to guests throughout the evening.
After cocktail hour, guests gathered around the dinner tables for a gourmet meal. Event co-hosts, Bruce and Robyn Rominger and Morris Noble, Jr., welcomed attendees and thanked the Stones for hosting such a wonderful weekend. Tim Koopmann also helped kick things off by leading the invocation. Afterwards, Andy Mills, Rangeland Trust Chairman, took the stage to thank the group of generous sponsors, which included: Visit Yolo, Farm Credit, Raley’s, Van Vleck Ranch, Cook CPA Group, and Wells Fargo Advisors. Meanwhile, a family-style beef dinner prepared by Ravin Patel of the Hyatt Centrix, was served alongside an array of delicious vegetables prepared by Juan Barajas of Savory Café.
Following dinner, and as a variety of scrumptious desserts prepared by Zest Fresh Pastry were served, the names of the conservation award winners “arrived” in style. Two envelopes attached to small parachutes fell from the sky after being dropped by drones. The drones were operated by the company, Zipline, which uses the open space of Yolo Land and Cattle Co. for testing of its equipment to drop medical supplies to remote places throughout the world.
The envelopes revealed that Dr. Jaymee Marty would be receiving the 2023 Conservation Impact award and Steve Sinton would be receiving the 2023 Conservationist of the Year award. Marty was recognized for her work in helping to change perceptions around grazing vernal pool ecosystems. Sinton was recognized for his leadership in helping to get the Rangeland Trust off the ground 25 years ago, his many contributions to advancing rangeland conservation in California, and his personal commitment to conservation made evident through his family’s decision to conserve their San Luis Obispo County ranch in 2017.
Sinton remarked, “While I am honored to follow in the footsteps of many past recipients of this award, I want to acknowledge that conservation is the effort of many not just one. The work that the Rangeland Trust and their landowner partners are doing is making a huge difference for our industry and the state.”
After honoring the pair of conservation award winners, Rangeland Trust Director, Clayton Koopmann, recited a few of his original cowboy poems. Filled with passion and dash of humor, Clayton perfectly summed up the ranching community’s grit, innovation, and commitment to care for the land and livestock despite daily struggles and challenges. Hanging onto every word, a strong sense of pride and gratitude for California’s ranching stewards overwhelmed the crowd. Following this special moment, Bruce Rominger returned to the stage and led the crowd in a toast to celebrate the 84 ranches, encompassing more than 377,000 acres of pristine rangeland, that have been conserved through the Rangeland Trust to date.
As the program concluded, auctioneer, Travis Moniz, introduced an exciting lineup of one-of-a-kind experiences. Energy ran high as guests raised their paddles in support towards the Rangeland Trust’s next big goal of conserving 100 ranches by the end of the year. Afterwards, guests ended the night dancing to live country music by Buck Ford.
Thanks to the generosity of those who both attended and supported the event from afar, this unforgettable weekend raised more than $360,000 to further rangeland conservation efforts in California, making it one of the most successful events to date in the Rangeland Trust’s 25-year history. And because of that, the future of California’s working lands is a little bit brighter.