Our Team

Our Staff

Charlotte Mitchell

Charlotte Mitchell

Executive Director

“CFT protects the most valuable farmland so that we can continue to feed and clothe ourselves.”

Charlotte Mitchell lives in Elk Grove with her husband Ken who is a fifth generation farmer, and their two sons. She was born and raised on a commercial sheep and cattle operation on the Sonoma County coast.

Charlotte has a strong reputation in the agriculture industry, having worked many years at the Sacramento County Farm Bureau, California Farm Bureau Federation, California State Fair, and other related organizations.

Part of her motivation for doing what she does with commitment and passion is to ensure her boys have the opportunity to be 6th generation farmers. She loves working with great people who share the same values of agricultural conservation.

Melanee Cottrill

Melanee Cottrill

Associate Director

“Our work truly takes a long-term view; our mission is to protect the land that grows food forever – so in the future when there are no cars, people are using transporters and have microchips implanted in their hands instead of wallets, they will still be eating the food produced by our farmland.”

Melanee Cottrill lives with her husband in Elk Grove and comes from a family history of potato farming. Her mother worked for several years for a large farm in Yolo County.

Melanee holds Bachelor’s Degree in History and is in the process of earning her Masters of Business Administration. She previously advised many types of nonprofits. In her free time Melanee likes to walk her dog, read a wide array of books, watch shows with her husband, learn new things, and participate in her Toastmasters Club.

Melanee loves doing work that she believes in and working with people who genuinely want to take care of the world.

Our Board of Directors

Barbara Smith

Barbara Smith

President

“California farmland is a critical and necessary element in feeding our growing population, ensuring nutritional diversity and avoiding over-reliance on fuel input base mono crops to feed ourselves.”

Barbara Smith lives in Walnut Grove with her husband, Duncan and their two children, George and Hannah. Her family has been ranching in Placer County since the 1860s and Duncan’s family has farmed in the Delta since the 1860s.

Barbara is VP Senior Relationship Manager for BAC Community Bank, and in her free time she enjoys gardening, reading, camping, cooking, and spending time with her family.

As a sixth generation rancher, Barbara has a strong sense of legacy to maintain viability of California agriculture. She believes CFT is making a meaningful and positive difference for future generations.

Ron Freitas

Ron Freitas

Vice President

“My great grandchildren are able to enjoy a meal of food and drink a toast of wine produced here in the Central Valley, thanks to the foresight of the supporters and Board members of the California Farmland Trust.”

Ron Frietas lives in Modesto with his wife, Nonine. They have two married children and four grandchildren. Ron has had many family members involved in agriculture, including his grandparents on both sides.

A retired land use planner, Ron served as the Director of Planning and Community Development for Stanislaus County. Now he loves to travel, fish, and spend time with his grandchildren.

Ron believes that the Central Valley is a unique world resource, with the water, soil, and climate to grow over 400 commercial crops. He enjoys serving on the CFT board with like-minded people who understand the great resource which we steward.

Maxwell Norton

Maxwell Norton

Secretary

“We help landowners achieve their goals of preserving their farming legacy.”

Maxwell Norton lives in Atwater with his wife Diane who is a crop insurance agent. His mother’s family were farmers and he grew up on that farm.

He owns a cling peach and almond orchard near Salida and was a UC Farm Advisor for 36 years. Maxwell loves to play saxophone in jazz bands and has an interest in history; he does projects for the local historical society and serves on the Board of Directors of the historic Merced Theater.

Maxwell gives of his time and energy to CFT because of his belief that we need to work on very long term solutions to conserving prime farmland. He highly values the serious dedication of everyone involved with CFT.

Ken Oneto

Ken Oneto

Treasurer

“We are helping to keep agriculture viable.”

Ken Oneto lives in Elk Grove with his wife, Florence; they have two children, Evan and Erica. The Oneto family has been in the area since 1921 and Ken loves managing the farmland that he owns.

Ken graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Leadership and farming is his life. He was a founding member of CFT, having helped to start the Sacramento County land trust that merged with other trusts to become the Central Valley Farmland Trust (which later became CFT).

Ken recognizes that an easement is a long term investment and a partnership with the landowner. The organization needs people with a deep understanding of landowners’ needs. He enjoys working with CFT because there is great camaraderie between board members and the staff are really great to work with.

Ron Dolinsek

Ron Dolinsek

Immediate Past President

“The California Farmland Trust is diligent and highly effective in preserving prime farmland in the area we serve and enjoys an excellent reputation for its commitment and service to agriculture.  We are good at what we do!”

Ronald Dolinsek lives in Rocklin with his wife, Georgetta. They have two married daughters and four grandchildren. Ron grew up in Santa Rosa and was a member of the local FFA where he worked with livestock and dairy.

Ron retired from 34 years in the Farm Credit System and now enjoys overseas traveling where he realizes how blessed he is to live in California.

Ron sees how California is experiencing an accelerated rate of housing and commercial development on the world’s best farmland. He feels that we must protect what is left so future generations can enjoy what we have.

Michael Darnell

Michael Darnell

Director

“We need to be doing all we can to protect the best farmland in the world.”

Michael Darnell lives in Sacramento with his wife, Sarah and children Eli, Charlotte, and Ethan. Mike is President of Intermod Industries and in his free time he likes to play basketball and to go camping, fishing, and hiking.

He has a degree in Agricultural Economics from UC Davis and an MBA from the University of Phoenix. Mike has worked for agricultural business since 1989 and specifically with land trusts since 2004. He served on the board of the California Board of Food and Agriculture from 2008-2011.

Mike really appreciates working with a board and staff that strongly believe in the mission of CFT – to protect the best farmland in the world.

Tim Byrd

Tim Byrd

Director

“CFT is a farm oriented organization that works with farming families who share the mission to protect the best farmland in the world – a unique resource.”

Tim Byrd lives in Stanislaus County, west of Modesto, with his wife Suzanne. They have six wonderful children and 3 grandchildren. Tim’s family has farmed in the Central Valley since the 1930s and he and his wife farm almonds on land that has been with the family for over 50 years.

Tim is an attorney for E. & J. Gallo Winery, and in his free time he likes to spend time with his family at the farm and the beach. He also likes to spend time with friends, watch his grandchildren play sports, run, and travel.

Tim is a founding board member and past president of the land trust that is now CFT. He loves the dedication to the CFT mission that the board and staff have and truly enjoys working with the whole team.

Larry Ruhstaller

Larry Ruhstaller

Director

“We all need to eat; California feeds the world because of our wonderful soil and farmers.”

Larry Ruhstaller lives in Stockton with his wife, Kitty. His family owns farms in several counties, where his grandfather grew the ingredients for his world-famous beers.

Larry served on the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors from 2006-2014. Now, he owns an antique store, Ruhstaller’s Camel and the Bear. He serves on several boards and loves to engage with local politics, smoke cigars, and drink single malts.

Larry chooses to support CFT’s work because “the most important thing is preserving quality agricultural land.” His favorite aspect of working with CFT is the truly dedicated, smart, and fun people he has the pleasure to work with, and what they have accomplished together.

Jim Jorgensen

Jim Jorgensen

Director

“Give of yourself to make the world better.”

Jim Jorgensen lives in Rocklin with his wife, Dianne. His grandfather came to Gustine in the 1880s and his father farmed 300 acres of walnuts. Jim and his sisters inherited the ranch and placed an agricultural conservation easement on it in 2008.

As well as managing Jorgensen Ranch, Jim owns Jorgensen Sports Services. In earlier days, he was a school administrator for 35 years. In his free time, he likes to travel, play golf, attend athletic events, and volunteer in the community.

Jim gladly gives of his time, money and effort to support CFT because his parents set that example in his life. He enjoys the friendships of others on the board and the common goal to save land for farming.

Jon Harvey

Jon Harvey

Director

“We are in this for the long haul.”

Jon Harvey lives in Pleasanton with his wife, Kitty; they have two children. Jon’s grandfather grew up on a farm in Nebraska and later inherited part of that land. Jon helped his parents manage the farm and has visited with his mother and uncle.

Jon worked for Cisco Systems and is now a ski patroller at Sugar Bowl. He loves to go backpacking, while also enjoying soccer, cooking, playing drums, and fixing cars.

Jon became immersed in land conservation at a young age, when he recognized the connections between his appreciation for wildlife, a family history of farming, and his love for fresh food. He also understood that farmers give so much to the environment and to their communities. As he works with CFT, Jon loves being surrounded by inspired people who are both experts in farming and who value nature and the communities in which they live and work.

Denny Jackman

Denny Jackman

Director

“We provide tools so that farmers may commit their land to food production in perpetuity, under the laws of the State of California, and the USA.”

Denny Jackman lives in Modesto; he grew up on a farm and his grandparents were farmers.

Before he retired, Denny played a role in the development and promotion of farmland protection policies. He has ongoing interests in land-use and transportation planning, and he loves to garden, cook, travel, and undertake remodeling projects.

His favorite aspect of serving on the CFT Board is the honor of working alongside people who are committed to the generational protection and provision of our food source. Denny gives of his time because of his strong belief that we all have a duty to preserve our local food source.

Jim Gwerder

Jim Gwerder

Director

“It maintains a legacy for our future generations.”

Jim Gwerder lives on a farm in unincorporated San Joaquin County with his wife, Anna who owns Anna’s Irresistibles, making confections using locally grown almonds. They have three sons and three grandchildren. Jim’s property has an agricultural conservation easement on land growing alfalfa.

He is a real estate broker and business owner with 29 years in real estate sales and consulting work, and in his free time Jim loves to play with his grandchildren, play music, and ride his mountain bike.

Jim enjoys lending his experience and expertise to the worthy cause of protecting farms through serving on the CFT board. His favorite aspect of this work is being a part of the passion and professionalism of the board and staff.

Patrick Johnston

Patrick Johnston

Director

“Land conservation is a critical ingredient in ensuring agricultural viability in our future.”

Patrick Johnston lives in Brentwood where his family has been farming since 1923. He became a partner in Dwelley Family Farms in 2006 and grows both conventional and organic fruits and vegetables. When he’s not farming, Patrick likes to spend time with his wife, Amy, and two daughters, traveling, hiking, and relaxing at home.

Patrick has a degree from UC Davis in Sociology, Rhetoric and Communications. He served on the board of the Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust from 2009 until its merger with Central Valley Farmland Trust to form CFT. He believes it is important that everyone do their part to participate in something that benefits the community in the future.

Our Trustee Council

Emily Rooney

Emily Rooney

Trustee

“Land conservation programs are a necessary tool for many farm families, but only work if they can remain working lands, which is the mission of this group.”

Emily Rooney lives in Lodi with her husband Pat and their son Jake. Her father’s family manage cattle in Lodi and her mother’s family grows row crops and cherries in Tracy. In her free time, Emily loves to go to the coast with her son.

Emily is the President of the Agricultural Council of California and graduated from UC Davis with a BS in Agricultural Economics. She has worked many years in the agriculture policy field including addressing the Williamson Act and the Farm Bill, with connections to land conservation programs.

Emily enjoys serving on the CFT Trustee Council because the organization is managed and run by people in agriculture for agriculture.

Paul Wenger

Paul Wenger

Trustee

“Providing food and farm products for an increasing world population in the most sustainable fashion, requires the protection of the most productive farmland with the greatest potential for producing a cornucopia of diverse food crops.”

Paul Wenger lives in Modesto with his wife Deborah and farms alongside two of their sons. He is a third generation farmer and works land purchased by his grandfather in 1910. He has raised dairy steers and now grows almonds, walnuts and various field crops.

Paul recently completed an eight year term as President of the California Farm Bureau Federation and now is farming full time again. In his spare time he loves to be hiking in nature.

Paul believes that prime farmland is an increasingly valuable and limited resource. Every effort must be made to protect these resources from urban encroachment and development.

Ed Nishio

Ed Nishio

Trustee

“Good farmland is a finite resource that must be protected and conserved.”

Ed Nishio lives in Roseville with his wife, Fran. His father farmed in southern California and his grandfather also started a farm in Orange County and organized a celery cooperative in 1906.

Ed retired from CoBank, part of Farm Credit System, where he financed farmer-owned cooperatives/agribusiness across the western US for 41 years. He now enjoys golf and spending time with his grandson.

Ed’s passion for protecting farmland comes in part from growing up in Whittier and Huntington Beach, where he watched precious farmland get bulldozed and covered with houses and strip malls. He has seen the same thing happening in the Central Valley. He loves to work alongside staff and volunteers at CFT who are passionate about preserving farmland for the future.

George Gomes

George Gomes

Trustee

“If you like to eat, CFT should be your BFF”

George Gomes lives in Carmichael with his wife Ella. They have two children and three grandchildren. George grew up on a dairy farm that also produced hay and grain.

Before retiring from regular working hours, George was the Undersecretary for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). Now he likes to visit family, especially his grandchildren. He also enjoys doing volunteer work, hunting, and gardening.

Between his roles at CDFA and at the California Farm Bureau Foundation, George devoted 26 years to keeping family farms in business. He serves on the CFT Trustee Council because he grew up watching family farms struggle and wants to help them succeed. He loves seeing CFT keeping family farming viable.