Board of Directors

Barbara M. W. Smith
Courtland - President

Barbara works in the banking field and she has over 22 years experience serving financial and banking needs of Central Valley agriculture. Barbara holds a Bachelor’s degree from UC Davis in International Relations/World Trade. She is a Class XXX fellow of the California Ag Leadership program and is active in various other community and professional organizations. Barbara and her husband, Duncan, farm Bartlett and specialty variety pears on their family farm in Courtland which has been in Duncan’s family since the early 1860’s. She is originally from Placer County (Lincoln) where she grew up and is still involved in her family’s sixth generation sheep and cattle ranch.

Ron Freitas
Modesto - Vice President

Ron Freitas resides in Modesto and is a lifelong resident of Stanislaus County. He attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he earned a degree in City and Regional Planning. Ron’s career in Land use Planning spanned over 36 years and he held positions as LAFCO Executive Officer, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director, Airport Land Use Commission Director and was the Director of Planning and Community Development for Stanislaus County for 18 years until his retirement in 2008. During his career, Ron participated in and directed many planning activities which help form the basic land use and agricultural policies for Stanislaus County. As Director, Ron oversaw the development of the first Agricultural Element of the General Plan and its update in 2007. Ron is a member of the Rabobank Regional President’s Advisory Council North Central Valley, the Modesto Kiwanis Club and a guest lecturer at Cal State Stanislaus. Ron has served on the Board of Directors of the Farmland Working Group and the Modesto Kiwanis Club and a term as the Alternate Public Member on the Stanislaus LAFCO.

Maxwell Norton
Merced - Secretary

Maxwell Norton is a UC Farm Advisor in Merced County. His specialties are tree fruit, winegrapes and land use policy. He is a past president of the Merced County Chamber of Commerce, past president of CA Association of Farm Advisors & Specialists, and past chair of the Merced County Economic Development Task Force. He helped create the Merced County Farmland and Open Space Trust, the first agricultural land trust in Merced County and predecessor to the CVFT. He is a native of Stanislaus County and has lived in Merced County since 1979.

Ronald Dolinsek
Rocklin , Immediate Past President

Ronald Dolinsek (Ron) resides in Rocklin. He is a graduate of Fresno State College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agribusiness. Subsequently, he began his career working as a Cotton Gin Manager in the San Joaquin Valley before joining the Farm Credit System where he recently retired following 34 years of agriculture lending service with the System. He served in various roles including Branch Manager and Chief Credit Officer and served as a regional officer in its District Bank. While with the System he planned and organized the first three national Loan Officer Training Conferences each time located in different parts of the nation. Locally, he served on the Rocklin General Plan Advisory Committee and is a past member of Kiwanis.

Ken Oneto
Elk Grove - Treasurer

Ken Oneto resides in Elk Grove where he grows artichokes, cherries, dry beans and tomatoes on the family farm. He is a graduate of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, with a BS degree in Agricultural Management. He is also a graduate of the California Ag Resources Training Program Cart Class #1 and the Ag Leadership Program Class #25. He was a founding member of the Sacramento Valley Ag Land Conservancy, and Past President of the Sacramento County Farm Bureau.

Tim Byrd
Modesto - Director

Tim Byrd resides on his almond ranch west of Modesto, where he and his wife, Suzanne, raised their six children. They are members of Blue Diamond Growers and the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau. Tim is Senior Associate General Counsel at E. & J. Gallo Winery. His legal practice focuses on real estate, water rights, land use, environmental, and governmental affairs. Tim holds a bachelor’s degree, MBA, and law degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He has written articles on land use law and lectured on development and environmental law for U.C. Extension. Tim currently serves on the Sutter Health Central Valley Board of Directors. He was a founding director and past-president of the Central Valley Farmland Trust, and served on the Stanislaus County Planning Commission, the Hart-Ransom School Board, Modesto High Booster Club board, and advisory committees to the US EPA, California Air Resources Board and the San Joaquin Valley Air District. He serves on the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Glass Packaging Institute and has served on committees of the Manufacturers Council of the Central Valley.

Mike Darnell
Sacramento - Director

Mike Darnell is a graduate from UC Davis in Agricultural and Managerial Economics. He worked in the rice and dried plum agricultural industry for 15 years from 1989-2004. He became the first executive director of the Middle Mountain Foundation and served as director from 2004-2007. He was California Policy Director for American Farmland Trust from 2007-2011. He also served on the board of the California Department of Food and Agriculture from 2008-2011. He became executive director of the Sutter Buttes Regional Land Trust from 2011-2013. Mike grew up in San Joaquin County and now works for a family business located in Stockton.

Larry Ruhstaller

Larry Ruhstaller joined the CVFT board in early 2016 after a long time commitment to our efforts to conserve farmland throughout the valley. He has served as a member of the budget and finance committee and as the chairperson of our events committee. Raised in Stockton, Larry graduated from University of California, Berkeley as a U.S. history major and then served in the U.S. Navy for two years.

Larry has worked alongside constituents of the San Joaquin Valley as a business owner of various restaurants and his catering company The Alder Market & Catering Company for nearly 40 years. He is well-known for his roles in numerous positions of public service including: Stockton City Council; San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors; president of the Stockton/San Joaquin Visitor and Convention Bureau; chairman of the Delta Protection Commission; and numerous committees such as San Joaquin Valley Supervisor’s Association, Restore the Delta and Health Plan of San Joaquin.

Larry is married with three children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.