Tawny Tesconi, the executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, recently took the job that once was held by her older brother, former Press Democrat farm reporter Tim Tesconi, who retired as the farm bureau’s top staff member in 2015.
Tawny Tesconi, 56, became the group’s interim director in December and was named to the permanent position in March. She brings 29 years of experience in fair management, including eight years as the manager of the Sonoma County Fair. She also served more than a year as the director of General Services for the County of Sonoma.
Here she discusses such topics as cannabis, a proposed county housing bond and a recent animal rights demonstration at a county egg farm. Her answers have been condensed for readability and length.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: In the Farm Bureau’s May newsletter, you wrote about the efforts to regulate legal cannabis. What would you highlight for readers?
TESCONI: I’m not so sure everybody knew what they were biting off when they voted for (the state initiative). The fact that cultivation of cannabis comes with some challenges is nothing that anybody had thought through. I think it’s growing pains right now.
People were hoping that the illegal grows (would become legal). It doesn’t seem to be happening for a number of different reasons.
I personally can say that I have no desire to have somebody growing cannabis next door to me. I can understand people’s concerns. But from a standpoint of Farm Bureau, we’re all about protecting a property owner’s rights to do what’s legal and lawful on their property. So do we support the thousands of illegal grows? Absolutely not, because they’re not legal. But if there is a cultivator out there and he’s following all the rules and regulations and requirements and getting his permits, then we’re definitely not opposed to what they’re doing.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: How optimistic are you that the county will have the means to deal with the illegal grows?
TESCONI: One thing we believe at Farm Bureau is that the cannabis industry needs to be policing their own. It’s something we’ve done when we’ve had farmers not necessarily following the best management practices. We as an industry, as a fellow grape grower or livestock producer, have said to that farmer, ‘Hey, you know what, you’re making us all look bad. So how can we help you bring yourself back into compliance?’ And I believe the cannabis cultivators out there need to figure a way to self-police because there isn’t going to be enough public funding available to manage and deal with all of these illegal grows.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: Your members are divided on the issue.
TESCONI: I think where we’re mainly divided is the concern about public safety. I’ve had a few of our members call because they have illegal grows next door and they’re concerned about personal safety. Another area that members have voiced a concern about is smell.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: Can cannabis cultivators join the Farm Bureau?
TESCONI: Yes, as a business member, because the California Department of Food and Agriculture does not recognize cannabis as an ag crop at this point. Our guiding principles for cannabis say that if a person is (a Farm Bureau) ag member already and starts cultivating cannabis, their ag membership is not in jeopardy. But if a person who just grows cannabis comes and wants to join the Farm Bureau, then they’re a business member. And we have lots of business members.