Califonia Bountiful

Mentoring and motivating

November/December 2021 California Bountiful magazine

Leadership program gives young women an edge in agriculture

WG Edge alumna Karen Lopez, from left, remains involved in the WG Edge program, collaborating with mentor Catherine Barnett and director Janet Durkin. Current participant Sierra Letvinchuck interned at the Lynmar Estate tasting room garden and the Ceres Community Project. Photo: © 2021 Lori Eanes

When Judy Jordan sold Sonoma's iconic J Vineyards & Winery in 2015, she set out to ensure that others would benefit from the nearly 30 years she spent building a successful business starting at 26.

Her vision was to develop a program that supports a new generation of women entering the field of agriculture.

To make the venture self-sustaining, Jordan established the boutique winery Geodesy to fund agriculture scholarships as well as the leadership program she later founded, called WG Edge (Women Gaining an Edge). The name Geodesy combines Jordan's interest in geology ("geo") with the young women's odyssey ("desy").

"My dream was to honor the magnificent legacies of farmers, ranchers and others in ag who had mentored me during my career," Jordan said. "I want to show my gratitude by helping advance the agriculture careers of young women and support them with a network of fabulous women mentors."

Since 2019, WG Edge has awarded nine local scholarships for agriculture and natural resources studies at Santa Rosa Junior College, providing a path to four-year colleges where the young women (called Edgers) can further develop their interests and career opportunities. Many of the participants are the first in their families to attend four-year colleges, according to WG Edge Program Director Janet Durkin.

A collaborative relationship between WG Edge and Santa Rosa Junior College provides participants with hands-on experience in agriculture and resource management at Shone Farm. Photo: © 2021 Lori Eanes

A network at work

In addition to scholarships, the WG Edge leadership program connects participants with a culturally diverse network of women leaders who collectively and individually help guide, inspire and open doors for them.

"These young women have a passion for agriculture, but sometimes they don't have access to people in the field. We help provide that access through a village of women who are connected to education and business, and can offer personal recommendations for internships and career opportunities," Jordan said.

"As a young woman in ag, I was woefully aware that there were not enough women in the field to mentor each other. Thankfully, that has changed," she added.

Karen Lopez applies the hands-on learning gained through the WG Edge program to her agriculture and communications studies at Fresno State. Photo: © 2021 Lori Eanes

Edger experiences

Karen Lopez, one of the first Edgers to participate in the program and advance to a four-year college, is studying agriculture and communications at California State University, Fresno.

While studying remotely in 2020, Lopez landed an internship with the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. There, following the area's devastating wildfires, she saw how public policy impacted local agriculture and natural resources. The experience fueled her interest in agricultural law and natural resource conservation, and focused her sights on a career as an attorney or policymaker.

"My goal is to resolve the issues of feeding a growing population while adapting to technological advancements and taking action toward the effects of climate change," Lopez said. "Being in the program helped me see that, if something is your passion and you're motivated to create change, you should go for it."

Tawny Tesconi, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, observed Lopez during her internship.

"Karen came to us with a strong background in agriculture practices and current affairs from a local perspective," Tesconi said. "We were able to broaden her understanding of state and federal policies, legislation and regulations through the projects assigned to her. We all learned from each other.

"The interest of these young ladies—and the chance to experience the many career opportunities in agriculture—is going to strengthen the future of our local ag industry. In my opinion, the financial support and mentoring offered through WG Edge increases the likelihood of the students meeting or exceeding their educational goals tenfold," Tesconi added.

WG Edger Rocio Jimenez walks the vineyards with Anisya Fritz, mentor and proprietor of Lynmar Estate. Photo: © 2021 Lori Eanes

Support and connections

Catherine Barnett, former editor of Sonoma County's Press Democrat newspaper and a longtime WG Edge mentor, initially introduced Lopez to the Farm Bureau after being impressed with her at a WG Edge networking event.

"WG Edge offers real connections on a personal level," she said. "Most of the mentors are prominent women in the wine industry who aren't afraid to discuss their vulnerabilities. They lift up these remarkable young women to a place of trust and assure them that all of us have felt some of the same uncertainties in college or early in our careers."

One such wine industry leader is Anisya Fritz, proprietor and director of consumer experience at Lynmar Estate in Sonoma's Russian River Valley. Fritz, who also teaches wine business at Sonoma State University, created two Edger internships at her winery.

Lynmar intern Rocio Jimenez, a highly awarded leader in FFA, gained hospitality experience in Lynmar's tasting room. Her skills and WG Edge connections also captured the interest of La Cienega Vineyard, which appointed Jimenez as the first student member of its marketing roundtable.

Another Lynmar intern, Sierra Letvinchuck, considered becoming a florist before the WG Edge program helped expand her interest in horticulture and plant science. As an intern, she studied and identified plants in the Lynmar tasting room garden. Letvinchuck created a digital reference guide of the plants at Lynmar before participating in a hands-on gardening internship at the Ceres Community Project—a referral by another member of the WG Edge network.

"WG Edge has opened many doors for me," Letvinchuck said. "I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to strive to reach my highest potential. I get support from an amazing group of mentors."

Judy Jordan began Geodesy to fund WG Edge programs and scholarships. Photo: Michelle Pattee

Participant perspectives

"These are remarkable young women who surprise us every time we're with them. As mentors, we get as much back as we give to this group," said mentor Barnett.

Founder Jordan imagines the young Edgers 10 years from now—thriving in agriculture and supporting their communities.

"These early Edgers will be part of the village that is pulling for the next generation of women," she predicted.

Similarly, Lopez looks toward the next decade from the perspective of an Edger: "It's been amazing to watch young women my own age and imagine how successful they'll be in 10 years. It's jaw dropping."

Jolaine Collins

Shone Farm was founded in 1972 to enhance agriculture education at Santa Rosa Junior College. Photo: © 2021 Lori Eanes

Shone Farm: an outdoor learning lab

A collaborative relationship between WG Edge and Santa Rosa Junior College provides participants with hands-on experience in agriculture and resource management at Shone Farm.

The 365-acre outdoor learning lab for students enrolled in the college's Agriculture and Natural Resources Department offers learning opportunities in viticulture, wine, brewing, equine studies, animal science, sustainable agriculture and natural resource management.

Located in the heart of the Russian River Valley, about 12 miles from the Santa Rosa campus, Shone Farm is one of the largest agriculture sites in the California Community Colleges system.

The farm includes a 90-acre commercial vineyard, 100 acres of pasture, 12 acres for crop production, 4 acres of olive and apple trees and 120 acres of forest, in addition to open space that serves as wildlife corridors and habitat around its perimeter.

It's named for Robert Shone, a leader in Sonoma County agriculture and former president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

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