Category Archives: Agriculture/Food System

California’s multimillion-dollar pot farms are going up in smoke

Martha C. White, NBC NEWS

Talk about a buzz kill: In addition to charring acres of wine country north of San Francisco, California’s sweeping wildfires are also destroying cannabis farms in and around the state’s Emerald Triangle.

For many producers, the financial losses include not just harvest-ready crops, but recent investments in infrastructure to comply with licensing regulations in preparation for recreational marijuana legalization next year.

“The fires are hitting in an area of California that’s probably the predominant outdoor cultivation site in the country,” said Robert Frichtel, CEO of General Cannabis Corporation. “It has ideal growing conditions — the same reason they grow wine grapes in that region,” he said. “It arguably produces some of the highest-quality cannabis in the country.”

Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, said it was impossible to know at this point how badly production had been affected, since evacuees from many fire-ravaged areas were not yet being allowed back to their farms.

“The basic reality here is we don’t know. What we know is bad, and it’s going to get a lot worse,” he told NBC News. On Thursday, Allen said he had confirmed that seven growers among his member base had lost their crops, worth between $3 million and $6 million at wholesale; by Friday morning, the number of members with lost crops was up to 21, and the aggressive spread of the fire led him to fear the worst.

Read more at: California’s Multimillion-Dollar Pot Farms Are Going Up in Smoke – NBC News

Filed under Agriculture/Food System

Two Rock deal protects farm belt

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Nestled among wide rolling hills on the edge of the Two Rock Valley northwest of Petaluma, where generations of farmers have found fertile ground to support their livestock, the McClelland family’s vast open pasture provides ample room for cows to graze and scenic vistas that epitomize Sonoma County’s bucolic beauty.

Family members want their 330-acre property to stay that way forever, so the McClellands secured a deal with county officials this week to make it happen. Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday approved spending $1.88 million in taxpayer funds to conserve the property, ensuring it won’t be developed for housing and will remain as farmland.

The deal, about three years in the making, signals a landmark moment for the county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, because the McClellands’ pasture connects seven other properties the county conserved over the past two decades.Including the latest pasture — known as Hansen Ranch after the family who owned it before the McClellands — the county has now formed a 2,900-acre contiguous stretch of protected farmland in the area, an effort meant to keep dairy farms and other agricultural uses thriving in the southwestern corner of the county.

Read more at: Sonoma County spends $1.88 million to protect McClelland family’s Two Rock pasture | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

Sonoma County’s new crossroads for legal weed

Joe Mathews, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

Adjust your California maps: The dot marking Santa Rosa needs to be bigger.

Dramatic changes in housing, demography, and criminal justice are altering the Golden State’s geography, and no place in California stands to benefit more than Santa Rosa.

The Sonoma County seat seems poised to become the most successful example of a certain type of urbanism – the rapidly growing midsize city that serves as a crossroads between major regions. The city’s current motto – “Out There. In the Middle of Everything” – encapsulates the new and paradoxical centrality of edge cities, from Fairfield and Santa Clarita to Riverside and Escondido.

“We’re on the move and we’re interested in growing,” says Santa Rosa City Council member Julie Combs of her town.

The fifth largest city in the Bay Area, Santa Rosa, population 175,000, plays many roles. It’s the northern spillover area for people and businesses seeking refuge from the higher costs of communities closer-in. The city now boasts 88,000 jobs, its highest employment level ever.

And by dint of geography and strategy, the city is emerging as California’s weed crossroads – or, in more official language, the “farm-to-market” center for medical and recreational marijuana, connecting the North State’s cannabis growers with the retailers and consumers of the Bay Area and points south.

While other California cities have decided to limit the marijuana industry, Santa Rosa has rapidly issued permits for cannabis operations, creating a run on warehouse space. What the city wants is higher-wage professional jobs – in sales, finance, distribution or lab testing – that the newly legal industry will require.

Read more at: Sonoma County’s new crossroads for legal weed | The Sacramento Bee

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

David Ramey’s Westside Road winery approved by Sonoma County zoning board

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

One of Sonoma County’s most esteemed vintners has cleared a key hurdle on his way toward building a long-sought winery on Westside Road, but he’s bracing for continued opposition from residents who say his plans would place too great a strain on the rural corridor outside Healdsburg, already one of the most popular grape-growing and wine-tasting regions in the county.

David Ramey, winemaker and co-owner of Ramey Wine Cellars in Healdsburg, received the blessing this week from a majority of planning officials who considered his proposal for a 60,000-case winery and tasting room operation that has been in the works since he and his wife, Carla, bought the 75-acre site of the former Westside Farms nearly five years ago.

While Ramey’s project passed the county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments on a 3-to-1 vote Thursday, it could be appealed to the Board of Supervisors by any one of the residents who oppose the project, citing concerns about its scale and impact, including traffic from events and visitors to the public tasting room. Ramey is expecting an appeal, meaning supervisors could have the final say on the matter, barring a court battle.

Read more at: David Ramey’s Westside Road winery approved by Sonoma County zoning board | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

Westside Road winery seeking expansion

Frank Robertson, HEALDSBURG TRIBUNE

Whether the rural splendor of Westside Road can withstand its evolution into a high-end wine tasting mecca will be one question in the air at a public hearing coming up in two weeks.

The Sept. 21 county Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) hearing will address renowned winemaker David Ramey’s ambitious plans for a winery with multiple tasting rooms, guest housing, commercial office space and picnic grounds to accommodate more than two dozen annual promotional parties, some with up to 300 guests.

Ramey’s project has drawn outcry from opponents who say it’s simply too much even for Westside Road, one of the most visitor-centric destinations in wine country.

“This is the most intense project ever proposed for Westside Road,” read a letter from the Westside Community Association regarding the Ramey project on 75 acres known as Westside Farms, where a weathered hop kiln building is a designated county historic site.

Besides a new winery and wine cave, The Ramey project includes a tasting room in the old hop kiln building and another private tasting room in the adjacent barn, along with overnight marketing accommodations and parking for approximately 80 cars.

Read more at: Westside Road winery seeking expansion | News | sonomawest.com

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

Chocolate industry drives rainforest disaster in Ivory Coast 

Ruth McLean, THE GUARDIAN

The world’s chocolate industry is driving deforestation on a devastating scale in West Africa, the Guardian can reveal. Cocoa traders who sell to Mars, Nestlé, Mondelez and other big brands buy beans grown illegally inside protected areas in the Ivory Coast, where rainforest cover has been reduced by more than 80% since 1960. Illegal product is mixed in with “clean” beans in the supply chain, meaning that Mars bars, Ferrero Rocher chocolates and Milka bars could all be tainted with “dirty” cocoa. As much as 40% of the world’s cocoa comes from Ivory Coast.

The Guardian travelled across Ivory Coast and documented rainforests cleared for cocoa plantation; villages and farmers occupying supposedly protected national parks; enforcement officials taking kickbacks for turning a blind eye to infractions and trading middlemen who supply the big brands indifferent to the provenance of beans.

When approached for comment, Mars, Mondelez and Nestlé, and traders Cargill and Barry Callebaut did not deny the specific allegation that illegal deforestation cocoa had entered their supply chains. All said they were working hard to eradicate the commodity from their products.

Read more at: Chocolate industry drives rainforest disaster in Ivory Coast | Environment | The Guardian

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County vineyards want to build bunkhouses for more than 170 seasonal farmworkers

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Eyeing both the region’s persistent lack of affordable homes and the more recent labor shortage in its signature wine industry, Sonoma County is advancing plans for five vineyards to build housing for more than 170 farmworkers.

The Board of Supervisors will consider authorizing agreements Tuesday for two 37-bed bunkhouses that would shelter workers at vineyards in the Geyserville area. If approved, the agreements would follow similar plans supervisors signed off on last month to bring bunkhouses with nearly 100 total beds for farmworkers near Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Annapolis.

“We certainly have a labor shortage in Sonoma County, but I think that’s an effect of a housing shortage — there’s not enough affordable housing,” said Cameron Mauritson, vineyard manager for Mauritson Farms, which will host one of the bunkhouses.“

The way we saw it is we didn’t have a choice: We can’t not have people here to get the work done, but if they can’t afford to live here, then we have to figure out as a business how to make sure that we can control some housing that our employees live in.

”The bunkhouses are targeted for workers hired through the federal government’s H-2A program, which allows the agriculture industry to employ foreign guest workers for jobs that last as long as 10 months. Local grape growers have increasingly turned to the program as a way to address a short supply of available vineyard labor, hiring about 300 workers through H-2A this year, but employers have to provide housing in order to participate.

Read more at: Sonoma County vineyards want to build bunkhouses for more than 170 seasonal farmworkers | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

National Heirloom Expo draws crowds at Sonoma County Fairgrounds

Meg McConahey, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The goal of the National Heirloom Expo is to change the way people see and grow fruits and vegetables.

Shiny, uniform, smooth and common are out. Old varieties that at one time would have been considered homely and unworthy of a spot in the supermarket produce section are venerated by the thousands of growers, home gardeners and vendors pouring into the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa this week for the seventh annual harvest event.

They come from throughout the United States and around the world to admire odd squash, have their pictures taken in front of towers of vegetables, buy organic heirloom seeds and other gardening supplies, and listen to talks from more than 100 speakers, including environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

The Kennedy family scion appeared Tuesday night on a panel discussion about the controversial weed killer glyphosate, commercially sold as Roundup and determined to be carcinogenic.

“This is to preserve our vegetable heritage and pass it on to the next generation. If we don’t do it, no one will,” said David Johansen, one of 300 farmers who grow plants to supply to Baker Creek Seed. The Missouri-based seed company is a leader in the global movement to preserve disappearing heritage varieties and the force behind the expo, now in its seventh year.

Read more at: National Heirloom Expo draws crowds at Sonoma County Fairgrounds | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Group aims to tackle Sonoma County food waste

Christi Warren, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

To add an emergency food provider to the directory, click here. Interested in more information about getting involved with the Sonoma County Food Recovery Coalition? A panel and screening of the film “Just Eat It” will be held at Healdsburg SHED, 25 North St., 6-8 p.m., Sept. 14.

In Sonoma County, about 45,500 tons of food waste go into the landfill each year.A group of local nonprofits is aiming to change that by diverting it instead into the hands and homes of the estimated 82,000 people who go hungry each month in Sonoma County.

Called the Sonoma County Food Recovery Coalition, the group is at work on a mapping tool to help the public reduce its food footprint. It will allow someone to punch in their ZIP code to find the nearest drop-off spot accepting whatever they’re trying to donate, whether prepared food, unsold farm stand produce or excess apples from a family’s backyard tree.

“That, for me, is like the 2.0 iteration of food recovery and food waste prevention,” said Suzi Grady, program director for Petaluma Bounty and a founding member of the coalition.

Many producers across the North Bay already have such relationships with emergency food providers, Grady said, like when Petaluma’s Della Fattoria has leftover bread, or San Rafael’s Wild West Ferments accidentally orders too much cabbage.

“So we’ll go pick that up and distribute it to an emergency food provider,” Grady said.

The newest effort is a way to simplify that process and make it easier for small producers — even private citizens — to connect to the food recovery movement, broadening the supply chain for emergency food providers across the North Bay. Private donations are covered by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, which excludes donor liability except in cases of gross negligence.

Read more at: Group aims to tackle Sonoma County food waste | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners 

Alastair Bland, GREENBIZ

Kellie Anderson stands in the understory of a century-old forest in eastern Napa County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. To her left is a creek gully, a rush of the water audible through the thick riparian brush. The large trees here provide a home for deer, mountain lions and endangered spotted owls, while the stream supports the last remnants of the Napa River watershed’s nearly extinct steelhead trout.

“They want to take all of this out,” said Anderson, who sits on the steering committee of a local environmental organization, Save Rural Angwin, named for a community in the renowned wine country of the Napa Valley. She is studying a project-planning map of the area as she waves her free arm toward the wooded upward slope. “It looks like this will be the edge of a block of vines,” she said.

Anderson and two fellow activists, Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett, were visiting a property of several dozen acres that the owners plan to clear and replant with grapes, the county’s principal crop. The project is one of many like it pending approval by Napa County officials, who rarely reject a vineyard conversion project in the Napa Valley, a fertile strip that runs northward from the shores of San Francisco Bay.

In Napa County, neighboring Sonoma County and farther to the north in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, concern is growing among some residents, environmentalists and scientists about the expansion of vineyards into forested regions and the impacts on watersheds and biodiversity. In Napa, an aerial view reveals a carpet of vines on the valley floor, which is why winemakers hoping to plant new vines increasingly turn to land in the county’s wooded uplands. At these higher elevations, “about the only thing standing in the way of winemakers are the trees,” said Hackett.

“Napa is getting really carved up,” said Adina Merenlender, a conservation biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, who began studying the ecological impacts of vineyard conversions in the 1990s. “We see it all over the western and eastern ridges — it’s been relentless.” The transformation of shrub, oak and conifer habitat into new vineyards threatens wildlife migration corridors, she said. “We’re down to the final pinch points,” said Merenlender, referring to narrow corridors that eventually could become functionally severed from the relatively expansive wilderness areas in the mountains north of Napa County.

Federal fisheries scientists also have expressed concerns that the wine industry is harming endangered populations of steelhead trout. The creeks flowing off the hills of Napa County are critical to remnant populations of steelhead and salmon, and biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) say the irrigation of vineyards has reduced stream flows and clogged waterways with eroded soils. “Extensive water diversions, groundwater pumping, and increased agriculture (vineyards) water use during the dry season have reduced the extent of suitable summer rearing habitat  … throughout much of the Napa River watershed,” NMFS scientists wrote in the Napa River chapter (PDF) of a 2016 report.

Read more at: In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners | GreenBiz

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, Water, Wildlife