Three local agriculture leaders honored at California Mid-State Fair

By The San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau

PASO ROBLES — Local agriculture organizations, recognized three San Luis Obispo County farmers and ranchers during the California Mid-State Fair’s annual Cattlemen and Farmers Day at the Paso Robles Event Center on July 21. 

The 2022 award recipients are:

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  • Tom Bordonaro, Agriculturalist of the Year
  • Sarah Kramer, Cattlewoman of the Year
  • Paul Tognazzini, Cattleman of the Year

The awards were selected by members of the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau, San Luis Obispo County Cattlewomen, and San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association. 

“These three individuals have made incredible contributions to our San Luis Obispo County agriculture community,” said Farm Bureau Executive Director Brent Burchett. “Our county’s $2.5 billion agricultural economy is built upon the hard work of farmers, ranchers and agribusiness leaders, and today we are proud to recognize a few of our very best.”

Tom Bordonaro, Agriculturalist of the Year

Photos by Tom Meinhold Photography

San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau has selected Paso Robles farmer and community leader Tom Bordonaro Jr. as the 2022 Agriculturalist of the Year.

The Agriculturalist of the Year award recognizes distinguished success in the agriculture industry and a lifetime of dedication to advancing San Luis Obispo County’s rich farming and ranching heritage. Through his community service to local youth and his advocacy as an elected official, few have done more for SLO County’s agriculture community than Tom Bordonaro.

Born in Fullerton, California, Tom is the son of Tom and Virginia Bordonaro, Sr. and has three siblings, Frank Bordonaro, John Peters, and the late Sandra Peters.

Tom Jr. moved to San Luis Obispo County in 1977 at the age of 18. The family was living in Carmel Valley, California when a family member’s car broke down in Atascadero. Tom Sr. drove down to help. He fell in love with the area and purchased land in Creston not long after. 

Tom credits his upbringing for shaping him into the person he is today. “My father was a very hard worker in construction and farming, and he set a good example of how much a person can achieve by working hard, being honest, and treating people right,” Tom says. “My mom was an extraordinary, loving person who pulled the family together and taught lessons of service to others.”

His love of agriculture began at age five spending time at his best friend’s family cattle, hay and sheep ranch. At age nine, he began his lifelong involvement with 4-H and later with FFA showing cattle and hogs. Agriculture was the focus of his education, getting a bachelor’s degree in Ag. Management from Cal Poly in 1983, and a master’s in Ag. Economics from U.C. Davis in 1986.

Persistence and overcoming adversity define Tom Bordonaro. He has managed all aspects of the family farm, Bar TJ Ranch, raising cattle, hay and wine grapes since 1979, even after being paralyzed in a car accident at age 18. Whether in the halls of the State Capitol or in downtown San Luis Obispo, he has been a tenacious advocate for farmers, ranchers, business owners, taxpayers and property owners for the past 28 years.

His calling to serve in public office began in the 1994 Republican Primary for California State Assembly. Tom won the 33rd District primary and went on to serve a second term as State Assemblyman. He was appointed by two different Governors to serve as a Commissioner on the California Board of Prison Terms. Since 2003, SLO County voters have entrusted him as their County Assessor.

His leadership as an assessor extends beyond our county, serving in recent years as President and a member of the Executive and Legislative Committee of the California Assessors’ Association, President of the Central-Southern Assessors’ Association, and a member of the International Association of Assessing Officers.

In 2020, Prop 13’s longstanding property tax protections came under attack through two new initiatives on the ballot, Prop 15 and Prop 19. Tom was a statewide leader in explaining the harm they would cause to agriculture, taking to the airwaves, newspapers and social media to help to defeat Prop 15. After Prop 19’s narrow passage, Tom led the charge in Sacramento to educate lawmakers about provisions in Prop 19 that would have put the generational transfer of family farms and ranches at risk. Tom’s work on that single issue will help California agriculture for years to come.

But making statewide impacts isn’t what keeps Tom Bordonaro motivated. His passion is working with youth organizations like Creston 4-H Club, the Grizzly Youth Academy Foundation, SLO County 4-H Volunteer Management Organization, and many others in our community to help develop future leaders.

For young people considering a career in agriculture he offers this advice: “Farming and ranching is hard work, with long hours and little pay, but it is the most noble and satisfying career one can choose. Being able to produce a product that is essential and provide it to the benefit of so many people is rewarding beyond description.”

Tom and his wife of 21 years, Martha, have four children, Francesca (30), Anthony (28), William (18) and Marc (18), and two grandchildren, Collin (7) and Reagan (6).

San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau has given the Agriculturalist of the Year award annually since 1988, making Bordonaro the 34th person to receive this honor.

Sarah Kramer, Cattlewoman of the Year

Photos by Tom Meinhold Photography

San Luis Obispo County Cattlewomen have selected Paso Robles community leader Sarah Kramer as the 2022 Cattlewoman of the Year.

Sarah was born in Santa Ana, California to Jon and Julie Kramer, and has one brother, Benjamin. She grew up in San Clemente, California and graduated from San Clemente High School.

Growing up as the granddaughter of a produce broker, Sarah Kramer saw firsthand the work it takes to get fresh produce from the farm to the grocery store. When it came time to go to college, Sarah, a self-described Orange County beach bum, did not know exactly what she wanted to do in life. She came to Cal Poly in 2001 with plans to return home and work for the family business.

As happens with so many Cal Poly students, Sarah fell in love with San Luis Obispo County. After getting her bachelor’s degree in Agribusiness with a concentration in Marketing in 2005, Sarah began to look for ways to stay in the area. 

She applied for a position at Farm Credit West a year later, and Farm Credit soon realized they had found someone special. As she moved up the ranks over the next seven years to become Vice President Loan Officer, Sarah wanted to get more involved in the community.

Anyone who knows Sarah knows she does not do things half-hearted. She joined the San Luis Obispo County chapter of California Women for Agriculture in 2009, becoming Vice President then President a few years later. 

She joined SLO County Cattlewomen’s Association in 2011, where she served in multiple leadership roles including Second Vice President in 2015 and 2016, President in 2017 and 2018, Newsletter Chair since 2014, and Bylaws Chair since 2018. 

After joining SLO County Farm Bureau in 2012, she became a board member in 2016, Treasurer from 2019 to 2020, and has served as Second Vice President since 2021.

At the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, Sarah was elected to the board from 2017 to 2020, including service as Treasurer from 2018-2020 and a Wine Festival Volunteer from 2013-2019.

She has been a Paso Robles Pioneer Day Committee board member since 2016, a San Luis Obispo County Ag Education Committee board member since 2014 and Treasurer since 2016, a California Mid-State Fair Heritage Foundation member, a Paso Robles High School Agriculture Department Advisory Committee member since 2016, and Sarah is the Ag Finance Representative on the SLO County Agricultural Liaison Advisory Board after serving as an alternate since 2016.

In 2013, she became Vice President Commercial Relationship Manager at Umpqua Bank, and serves today as Senior Vice President Commercial Relationship Manager at Bank of the Sierra. 

Her extensive network in the local agriculture community and financial experience continues to make her one of the most sought-after volunteers and board members in SLO County. Sarah says she loves being involved because of the people she gets to work with.

“The majority of the people in my life today came from me being involved in community organizations,” she explains. “I’ve come to realize that people who are involved are the most fun!”

Sarah takes pride in giving agriculture a voice through her work with Cattlewomen’s and Farm Bureau. “People – especially government decisionmakers – need to see and hear from people whose livelihood depends on agriculture,” Sarah explains. “We need to educate the community as a whole; the general public has no idea where their food comes from or how it is produced, many of them think their food comes from the grocery store.” 

Sarah is passionate about teaching kids about the importance of farmers and ranchers. She says her most enriching volunteer role has been with the annual Great AGventure, an agriculture education field trip for fourth graders organized by the SLO County Ag Education Committee.

For young people wondering how they can work in agriculture, she offers this advice: “Get involved! Remember, if a beach girl from the OC can do it, you can too! Never stop learning! Learn from those who done it before you. We might have more technology these days, but the basics of agriculture haven’t changed much. But, the best reason to get involved is the people. The agricultural community is just that, a community!”

San Luis Obispo County Cattlewomen are proud to recognize the 2022 Cattlewoman of the Year, Sarah Kramer.

Paul Tognazzini, Cattleman of the Year

Photos by Tom Meinhold Photography

San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association has named fourth-generation rancher Paul Tognazzini the 2022 Cattleman of the Year.

Born in San Luis Obispo and raised on the family ranch near Cayucos, Paul is the son of Peter Tognazzini Sr. and Amelia Gianolini Tognazzini, and has three siblings, Peter Jr., Phil and Pam. The Tognazzini and Gianolini family’s deep California agricultural roots date back to 1869 and 1890.

Paul’s great-grandfather Pietro (Peter) Tognazzini immigrated to San Francisco from Switzerland in 1869 at the age of 17 and began working on dairy farms in Marin and Sonoma County. Pietro came to Cayucos in 1873, starting his own dairy a year later on leased land in Cayucos Creek, then expanded with the purchase of two adjoining properties and an 800-acre ranch in Oso Flaco (Guadalupe). In 1891, Pietro married Maria De Los Angeles Gaxiola, whose family lived in California since 1755. Pietro and Maria had 7 children, 5 of which lived to adulthood. Their oldest son, Romeo, was Paul Tognazzini’s grandfather.

Romeo started his own dairy on the Cayucos ranch after graduating from Saint Mary’s College. He married and had two children, Marilyn and Peter, Paul’s father. After Romeo passed away at the early age of 56, Peter took over the ranch in Cayucos, transitioning from dairy to beef cattle in the 1940s. Peter was the first cattleman in the area to raise Limousin bulls. The Oso Flaco property was sold outside the family, but Peter Tognazzini purchased the Cayucos ranch.

Paul’s Swiss-born maternal grandfather Antonio Gianolini immigrated to California in 1890, where he settled in Los Osos Valley near present-day Turri Road to start a dairy. In 1904, Antonio married Serafina Male’ and together they had 10 children, 9 of which lived to adulthood. Paul’s mother Amelia was the ninth child. Heirs of Antonio still own and operate the Turri Road property today.

Paul believes his agricultural heritage and growing up on the family ranch in Cayucos made him the person he is today. “We learned the importance of putting in a long days’ work and working together,” Paul says. “You learn to follow through on your commitments and not let anyone down.”

At an early age, Paul and his siblings were taught to drive a tractor, build fence, haul hay, care for cattle, repair things, and tend to other farm chores with their parents and uncles. As a 4-H member, he would take steers to the Salinas Valley and Mid-State fairs. Paul graduated from Mission High School in 1968 and earned a bachelor’s degree in Ag Business Management from Cal Poly in 1972. While in college, he purchased his first herd of 35 cows for $150 a head.  

In 1973, Paul began his banking career as a Management Trainee for Security Pacific Bank, working as an ag lender in the Central Coast and later at Sanwa Bank in Fresno until he accepted a position at Heritage Oaks Bank in Paso Robles in 1990. His 22-year career at Heritage Oaks culminated with being promoted to Executive Vice President and Chief Lending Officer before eventually retiring in 2012. For the past four years, Paul has worked part-time at American Riviera Bank.

In 1985, Paul married the love of his life, Fran. Paul and Fran have three children, Stephany, Brian and Charlie, and three grandchildren, Chloe, Spencer and Leo.

Over the years, Paul leased ranches in Cayucos, Los Osos and Huasna Valley, running over 400 cows at one time together with his brothers. Today, Paul operates the Turri Road ranch with his son Charlie, and the Cayucos ranch with his brothers. Paul’s son Charlie and his growing family live and work on the Gianolini Ranch today.

His volunteer work for the local community spans decades. From 2011 to 2018, he served as a director on the Cancer Support Community Board, where he was honored with the “Founders Award.” Paul has been a 4-H beef leader, a Paso Robles Ag Tour Committee volunteer for 20 years, and he and Fran were recipients of the California Mid-State Fair “Blue Ribbon Award.” He has been a SLO County Cattlemen’s Association director for many years and serves today as Treasurer. 

Paul says he is honored to be recognized by his peers with this award, following in the footsteps of his father, Peter Tognazzini Sr., who was named Cattlemen of the Year in 2012. Paul encourages everyone who cares about the future of agriculture to stay involved in advocacy organizations.

“We need to make sure there is a place for future generations,” Paul explains. “The percentage of people involved in farming and ranching continues to decrease, and groups like the Cattlemen, Cattlewomen and Farm Bureau make sure our voices are heard.”

In his free time, Paul enjoys spending time with family and friends, helping local ranchers with annual brandings and shipping, and fishing in Alaska.

For young people considering a career in agriculture, he has this advice: “Get a good education, diversify your operations and, as it’s likely not all years will be great, find an understanding banker.” 

San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association has given the Cattleman of the Year award annually since 1963, making Tognazzini the 59th person to receive this honor.