(Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of college-application essays organized by graduating senior and Index-Tribune intern Jesse Summers as part of his senior project. The essays are unique snapshots of life through the eyes of SVHS students.)

By Erica Larson

One-hour northeast of San Francisco, at the southern end of the Sonoma Valley, in the heart of the Northern California wine country, there is a winery.

It’s just off the Carneros Highway, down a tree-lined gravel road with vineyards. Visitors to this place will see an old redwood barn on the left and, if they continue on along Sonoma Creek, a historic yellow Steamboat Captain’s house on the right. There are sheep and pygmy goats, as well as three Labradors, the official ambassadors of the Larson Family Winery.

These 101 acres of land have been in my family for more than 120 years. It’s the place I call home.

Over the years, my family’s land has seen many changes. At various times there was a dairy, a ranch where racehorses and livestock were raised, and a rodeo venue. It is now a working vineyard and a family-run winery. Thanks to the tough and independent spirit of my family and those who worked this land, we have made it through hard times that drove countless other farmers, homesteaders and fair-weather winemakers from the Valley.

While most of my friends were learning to drives cars, I had already been driving a tractor since I could reach the pedals. I took as many agriculture-related classes at the high school as I could. I have also raised and shown market sheep since I was nine years old, and I am doing my senior project on Gleaning.

Gleaning is the art of using crops that would otherwise not be utilized. The Glean Team delivers the crops we pick from local gardens and orchards to food shelters and churches that serve the food to people in need.

Through my mentor, Pastor Phina Borgeson, I have learned about the Food Justice Movement – how transforming the current food system so food can be grown, distributed, and accessed efficiently and fairly provides a means of eliminating disparity.

To me, this land is much more than a business or a commodity. It is a special place that helps keep our family together. It is a place where weddings, baby showers, reunions, graduations, birthday parties and even memorial services are held. The land I grew up on, like the family and community I come from, requires care and understanding. It requires patience and hard work and celebration when it yields its success, and it offers the chance to share (gleaning) during times of abundance.

As I work towards pursuing a career in the business of agriculture, through my studies and continued involvement in my community, I hope to return to my family’s land, to give back what the land has given me.

• • •

Erica Larson is a senior at Sonoma Valley High School.