Petaluma FFA hosts Drive-Through Tri-Tip BBQ fundraiser

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For over 30 years, the local Future Farmer of America boosters have been helping to fund and feed the efforts of our next generation of leaders. Next week marks one of its biggest fundraisers of the year, the Petaluma FFA Fall Drive-Through Tri-Tip BBQ, a dinner fit for royalty, and big enough for leftovers for the minions.

The deadline to place an order is Monday, Oct. 7, with the dinner pick-up set for Wednesday, Oct. 9, from 2:10-5:30 p.m. at Petaluma High School. The $40 meal includes a perfectly cooked barbecue tri-tip, a quart of beans, a loaf of bread, a salad kit and dessert. Visit the Petaluma FFA club’s Facebook page for a link to the order form.

When you fill out the order form, you will notice a space designated for “the FFA member responsible for sale.” If you were not sold on this by one of the FFA kids directly, I encourage you to write in “Frances Katen.”

While speaking with organizer Phil Brooks, one of the founding booster members of a group that has been supporting local ag programs for over 30 years, he cited the critical role of his fellow volunteers. He made special mention of Frances Katen, who now in his 80s, and has been helping since day one. However, Katen’s doctor recently forbid him from helping with the barbecue because of the smoke and the 10-12 hours of standing, so Brooks is looking to give Katen some special recognition.

The National FFA Organization, as it was renamed in 1988, is still known to most as simply the FFA, “a dynamic youth organization that changes lives and prepares members for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. FFA is the largest of the career and technical student organizations in U.S. schools.”

Founded in 1925, FFA now has over half a million members, including great community leaders such as President Jimmy Carter, racecar legends Carroll Shelby and Sterling Marlin, sports stars Bo Jackson and Mark Tauscher and even Johnny Cash and Beyoncé. That is right – Beyoncé grew up in Texas and is a country girl at heart.

Brooks explained how it all got started. He was injured on the job and could not afford to send his daughter, Barbie, a Petaluma High student at the time, to the FFA national convention. Bill King, whose name is synonymous with the FFA, paid Barbie’s way. Brooks was so appreciative that he wanted to give back to the organization.

With the help of friends, cousins and his employer Van Bebber Brothers, Brooks built a barbecue for FFA food fundraisers, and has been hosting them ever since. Along with the tri-tip drive-through, which has been going on for almost a decade, they also cook for the Elks Lodge’s FFA dinner/dance, Penngrove drive-thru for outdoor education, the big 4-H pancake breakfast in February in Rohnert Park, the Liberty School Walkathon and the PHS football camp, just to name a few.

Brooks himself was an army brat who moved to Petaluma in 1962, while his wife, Toni, was born and raised in Petaluma, a member of the Azevedo clan. Together they bought 40 acres from Toni’s parents and raised their kids on the farm, where Barbie and brother Matthew benefited from the FFA, as both showed diary and beef livestock throughout their youth. They also prospered under the tutelage of King and fellow FFA teacher John De Jong, just as their parents had.

“I learned a lot from Bill and John,” says Brooks. “In fact, that’s where I learned to weld, which lead to a 38-year career with Van Bebber. And both the kids have used their FFA experience to enhance their lives.”

Matthew is part of the farm accounts team with Fidelity Savings out of Texas and Barbie works in purchasing for Medtronic.

Brooks is particularly proud of his grandson, Lucas Cheda, who was just named to the Press Democrat’s list of “30 inspiring individuals under 30 from Sonoma County 2019.” It read, “…Cheda helped to set up and run a livestock evacuation center at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds during the 2017 North Bay fires. He covered several overnight shifts, as well as helped build corrals, set up watering systems and distributed food to a variety of animals, including nearly three dozen of his own family’s calves.” He grew up as an active 4-H and FFA member and is currently attending college in Bozeman, Montana. After his studies, he hopes to return to Petaluma to work as an ag teacher. It does not come back around much more satisfactorily than that for the Brooks family.

Brooks says he cooks up the tri-tip Santa Maria-style, which is a barbecue method that dates all the way back to the mid-1800s on the Central Coast of California. Considered a “mainstay” of California cuisine, it revolves around black pepper, garlic and salt seasoning on beef tri-tip. Because of the regular winds in that region, Santa Maria-style traditionally involves cooking over an oxygenated fire. So unlike covered barbecues, which cook with reduced fires, Santa Maria is all about the open air and flaring heat.

He learned to barbecue from family and friends, including local legends such as Richard “Shorty” Baxman and Willy Bird himself.

“For this event, we usually barbecue between 300 and 400 tri-tip,” said Brooks. Much of the food is donated, or offered at cut-rate prices, from places like Golden Gate Meats, Petaluma Market, Clover, Safeway and Lucky’s.

Currently Kim Arntz and Jake Dunn are leading the ag program at Petaluma High School and say it is as important as ever to our youth, both as future leaders and needed hands-on education.

Organizations like the FFA and 4-H play a huge roll in connecting to our deep agrarian roots, especially as those youth return home as adults, with new worldly views and experiences, and meld those back into making Petaluma a better community. The price for this hand-made dinner is clearly a bargain, but supporting our local youth as they grow and develop into incredible leaders is truly priceless.

Visit ffa.org to find out more about the organization, from getting involved to attending fundraisers.

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