Tag Archives: sustainable agriculture

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

Op-Ed: Cap-and-trade funds to support creative rural solutions

Paul Dolan and Renata Brillinger, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Overview from the CALCAN (California Climate and Agriculture Network) website:

Climate Smart Agriculture Programs – The state of California currently has four Climate Smart Agriculture programs that provide resources for California farmers and ranchers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and store carbon in soils and trees, while providing multiple benefits to agriculture and the environment. The programs are funded with proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade program.

Healthy Soils Initiative – The Healthy Soils Initiative was proposed by Governor Brown in 2015 and received initial funding of $7.5 million in 2016. The Initiative provides funding for farmer and rancher incentives to increase carbon storage in soils and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions through practices that build healthy soil such as compost application, cover crop, reduced tillage, conservation plantings and more. The program will also fund on-farm demonstration projects to provide growers, researchers and other ag professionals strategies for mitigating climate change in agriculture.

State Water Efficiency & Enhancement Program (SWEEP) – The program funds growers to improve their irrigation management practices to save water and energy and reduce related greenhouse gas emissions. Eligible project activities include pump upgrades and solar pump installation; conversion to drip or micro irrigation; improved water storage and/or recycling, soil moisture monitoring and irrigation scheduling.

Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALCP) – The program funds local government projects and permanent easements on agricultural lands at risk of development to prevent sprawl.

Dairy Digester Research and Development Program (DDRDP) – The program funds dairy digesters and related research to reduce methane emissions from the dairy sector. A portion of the funding will be allocated in 2017 to a new program called the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP).

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed Assembly Bill 398, which extends cap-and-trade, California’s cornerstone climate change program, through 2030. The program requires the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., the oil and gas industry, cement plants, large food processors) to cut their emissions. Without putting a price on carbon, we are unlikely to meet our climate change goals, the most ambitious in the country.

The state Legislature and governor will now debate how to budget billions of dollars in cap-and-trade revenue. In the past three years, California has invested more than $3 billion of cap-and-trade funds in our communities to accelerate the transition toward a clean energy economy. In January, Governor Brown proposed an additional $2.2 billion for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

To date, the money has been invested across California on projects that reduce emissions by weatherizing homes, installing solar panels, improving public transportation, building transit-oriented housing and more. In addition to these urban strategies, the state has also embraced sustainable agricultural solutions to climate change.

Since 2014, nearly $200 million has been granted to farmers and ranchers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to store carbon on their land. The country’s first Climate Smart Agriculture programs are demonstrating to the world that farmers and ranchers can be leaders in climate innovation.

Read more at: Close to Home: Cap-and-trade funds need to support creative rural solutions, like those on the North Coast | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Water

The drought fighting farmer

Todd Oppenheimer, CRAFTSMANSHIP MAGAZINE

Updated August 2017

One Spring afternoon in 2014, on a small vegetable farm that Paul Kaiser runs in a particularly chilly valley in Sebastopol, California, a group of agriculture specialists gathered around a four-foot steel pole. The experts had come to test the depth and quality of Kaiser’s top-soil, and one of them, a veteran farmer from the Central Valley named Tom Willey, leaned on the pole to push it into the dirt as far as he could. On a typical farm, the pole comes to a stop against infertile hard-pan in less than a foot. But in Kaiser’s field, the pole’s entire length slid into the ground, and Willey almost fell over. “Wow, that’s incredible,” he said, wondering if he’d hit a gopher hole. The whole group burst out laughing. “Do it again! Do it again!” said Jeff Mitchell, a longtime professor of agriculture at the University of California at Davis.

The group successfully repeated the exercise, over and over—for fun, for photo ops, and to be sure that Kaiser really had accomplished the various feats he talks about, which he does almost incessantly these days. It’s not the easiest sell. Kaiser, an ebullient former woodworker who was only 40 when I first visited, farms a mere eight acres, and harvests fewer than three of them. Nonetheless, his methods are at the forefront of a farming movement that is so new (at least in the U.S.), and so built for a climate-changed world of diminishing rains, that it opens up gargantuan possibilities. One might call this methodology sustainability on steroids, because it can generate substantial profits. Last year, Kaiser’s Sonoma County farm grossed more than $100,000 an acre, which is 10 times the average per-acre income of comparable California farms. This includes Sonoma’s legendary vineyards, which have been overtaking farmland for decades, largely because wine grapes have become much more lucrative these days than food, at least the way most farmers grow it.

Kaiser and his wife, Elizabeth, manage all of this without plowing an inch of their ground, without doing any weeding, and without using any sprays—either chemical or organic. And while most farmers, even on model organic farms, constantly tinker with various fertilizer cocktails, Kaiser concentrates on just one: a pile of rotten food and plants, commonly known as compost, and lots of it. Kaiser then adds this compost to a rare blend of farming practices, both old and new, all aimed at returning dirt to the richest, most fertile seedbed possible. “It’s unique,” Mitchell told me after his visit. “I’ve never seen anything approaching that kind of thing.”

Read more at: The Drought Fighter – Craftsmanship Magazine

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County Winegrowers says its wines can be ‘100% Sustainable’ by 2019. What does this mean? 

Larrissa Zimberoff, CIVIL EATS

The world-famous wine-producing county has a five-year goal of certifying all its vineyards as sustainable—but with pesticides including Roundup allowed under the program, their definition of sustainable is controversial.

Wine is usually a fun topic, but in the Golden State, the fourth-largest wine-producing region in the world, it’s also big business: 85 percent of domestic wine comes from over 600,000 acres of grapes grown in California. Operating at this scale means the wine business must also consider land stewardship.

Two of the state’s biggest and best-known wine counties—the neighboring communities of Napa, which has more vintners, and Sonoma, which has more growers—are both working toward achieving goals of 100 percent sustainability within the next few years.

What does it mean if a vineyard claims its grapes are “sustainably certified”? Definitions of the term are wide-ranging, and, unlike the concrete rules of USDA Organic certification, few farming products are expressly banned, and there isn’t one comprehensive list of standards.

Both counties have been lauded for their progress—after Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW) in 2014 launched a goal to reach 100 percent certified sustainable, the county has reached 60 percent certified, while Napa County is at 50 percent. But if you peel back the label, you’ll find controversy brewing.

SCW uses three defining principles to determine sustainability: Is it environmentally sound, is it economically feasible, and is it socially equitable? The topics covered under those principles are vast––water quality and conservation, energy efficiency, material handling, pest, soil and waste management, ecosystem, community relations, and human resources.

Despite the goal of having every grape grower in the county earn the certification, SCW is facing resistance from farmers who don’t want to be told how to operate, as well as growers and winemakers using organic practices who oppose the fact that others in their field can still claim they’re “sustainable” while also using the controversial weed killer Roundup (a.k.a. glyphosate) and other synthetic pesticides.

Of Sonoma County’s million-plus acres, 6 percent of available land—58,000 acres—is planted with grapes. Between 1,400 and 1,500 growers farm that 6 percent of land; 85 percent of those growers are family-owned and operated, and 40 percent are operations of 20 acres or less.

This means that if you grow grapes in Sonoma, you know your neighbors, you’ve probably been in the business for a few generations, and you pay dues to the SCW based on tons of grapes sold. Grape growers vote to assess their grape sales every five years, and the resulting money––currently about $1.1 million a year––goes to operating the commission. If you don’t sell grapes, or your winery uses its own grapes, you don’t pay.

In 2013, Karissa Kruse, the president of SCW, received an email from Duff Bevill, both a Sonoma grape grower and a 1,000-plus acre vineyard manager. “Karissa,” he wrote, “what would it take to get Governor Jerry Brown to recognize Sonoma County grape growers as sustainable, and to recognize us as leaders?” While Sonoma was an early adopter of sustainability, county assessments were all over the map, so Bevill’s question was apt. Kruse, who also owns a vineyard, thought, “Holy crap. How do I respond?”

Kruse first brought up the goal of 100-percent sustainability at an SCW board retreat. Dale Petersen, a grower from a multi-generational Sonoma family and the vineyard manager of Silver Oak Cellars, recalled: “She pitched it to a group of farmers and we looked at her and we looked at each other.

”The reception was lukewarm at best. No farmer relished being told what to do. Eventually the board of directors approved it, and officially declared the goal at the January 2014 annual meeting, which typically sees around 500 growers in attendance. Despite the overarching decree, countywide sustainability is still a voluntary commitment.

Read more at: Sonoma County Says its Wines Can Be ‘100% Sustainable’ By 2019. Is That Enough? | Civil Eats

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living

Can marijuana ever be environmentally friendly?

Natasha Geiling, THINK PROGRESS (from April 20, 2016)

Another big issue that the burgeoning cannabis industry will have to confront as legalization becomes increasingly widespread is the industry’s massive environmental footprint. Cannabis is the country’s most energy-intensive crop, largely because around a third of cannabis cultivation in the United States currently takes place in indoor warehouses, a process that requires huge amounts of lighting, ventilation, cooling, and dehumidifying. According to a 2016 report released by New Frontier Financials, cannabis cultivation annually consumes one percent of the United States’ total electrical output, which for a single industry growing a single crop, is a lot — roughly the equivalent of the electricity used by 1.7 million homes. If energy consumption continues at current levels, the electricity used by indoor cannabis operations in the Northwest alone will double in the next 20 years.

One of the first things that Tyson Haworth does when we meet on his farm in rural Oregon is spread his palms out, up toward the April sunshine, and apologize. “I just applied some predatory fungus in the greenhouse,” he says, splaying his fingers and inspecting his hands. He doesn’t use any synthetic pesticides on his farm, he explains, preferring predatory bugs and bacteria and fungi instead, and before he can show me around, he excuses himself to wash his hands in his house adjacent to the farm. Between the farm and the house, on the other side of the gravel driveway that leads visitors from the winding back roads onto Haworth’s property, is a wooden play structure — a sign of Haworth’s two kids, who are the reason he moved from Portland, about thirty miles north, to Canby.

Them, and because it was getting hard to keep growing his cannabis in a garage.

Haworth started cultivating cannabis in 2007, after his wife had to undergo a second back operation. The first time around, she took opiates to manage the pain, but she didn’t want to do that again. So Haworth — who grew up around his father’s wholesale produce company and worked as a manager of a wholesale organic distribution company himself — started growing cannabis, medically, both for his wife and for Oregon’s decades-old medical market. For years, Haworth cultivated cannabis on the side, not able to make enough profits from the medical market to become a full-time cannabis grower. Then, in 2013, Oregon’s medical marijuana market shifted, allowing, for the first time, a legitimate retail component.

And so Haworth put his organic produce job on hold and jumped feet first into cannabis cultivation, moving SoFresh Farms to Canby in 2014. But he didn’t want to completely eschew the decades of knowledge he had gained working in the organic produce industry. And so Haworth decided to do something that not many cannabis farmers were doing at the time: create an organic, sustainable cannabis farm, a place without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, a place that sequesters carbon and helps repopulate native flora. A place that grows cannabis and leaves the environment better for it.

“It’s not enough to not be bad,” Haworth said. “We want to be good. It’s not enough to not be part of the problem, we want to be part of the solution.”

Read more at: Can Marijuana Ever Be Environmentally Friendly?

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, Sustainable Living, Water

Sonoma County’s Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery shows sustainability is sound business

Jane Bender, Center for Climate Protection, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

In 1978, Jennifer Bice took over her parents’ small goat dairy. Today, her award-winning goat milk yogurt, kefir and artisan cheese are sold nationwide, and she has expanded her offerings with a line of organic, lactose-free cow milk products.

Growth has been consistently double-digit: 25 percent in the earlier years and now closer to 12 percent–14 percent. She has built this successful enterprise with no investors and, until 2005, no bank loans.

From the beginning, Jennifer has steadfastly maintained the highest standards of sustainability. As she says, “It’s not just smart business. It’s who we are.” And who they are today is a company of more than 70 employees, working proof that profits and sustainability can go hand in hand.

SUSTAINABILITY TAKES MANY FORMS

Jennifer treats her animals and employees with the same respect she shows the environment. They are all dimensions of Redwood Hill’s sustainability program, deserving of the highest consideration and care.

Her farm and the creamery are showcases of resource preservation and renewable energy. Along with extensive recycling, insulation, LED and sensor lighting, and electric charging stations, the creamery runs primarily on renewable energy generated by two acres of solar panels.

The farm runs on 100 percent solar energy as well.The company reclaims its wastewater and pumps it to neighboring lands for irrigation. In addition, Jennifer is currently implementing a 100,000-gallon rainwater catchment system at the farm. That system will enhance the salmon habitat in nearby Green Valley Creek as well.

Redwood Hill Farm is also growing a drought-resilient goat feed called Tagasate that allows the farm to reduce its trucked-in feed, which in turn reduces its carbon footprint as well as saving dollars on feed.

“Sustainable milk production starts with good animal care, which is foundational to our business,” she explains. As a result of that commitment, Redwood Hill Farm was the first goat dairy in the U.S. to become Certified Humane, a standard that focuses on animal health, freedom of movement and nutritious diet.

Read more at: Sonoma County’s Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery shows sustainability is sound business | The North Bay Business Journal

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Many 2016 Emerald Cup winners disqualified for pesticides 

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Emerald Cup has brought an audience of tens of thousands to the Sonoma County fairgrounds each of the last four years, and the contest’s environmental focus sets it apart from other cannabis competitions.

But this year, pesticides upended many of the winners of the three-day marijuana festival in December known for its focus on organic and sustainable outdoor farming.

About 25 percent of 263 samples in the concentrates categories submitted from producers across the state were disqualified, mostly because they tested positive for pesticides, according to the event’s official laboratory, Santa Cruz-based SC Labs.

The issue wasn’t uncovered until after the Dec. 11-13 contest due to a late crush of entries plus internal miscommunication about deadlines, said Emerald Cup founder Tim Blake. Blake said he was troubled by the discovery and has apologized to contestants.

“We were dumbfounded that we’d see this (pesticide use) at that level,” Blake said. “We’re going to have to be very careful about that in the future.”

Read more at: Many 2016 Emerald Cup winners disqualified for pesticides | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Groups ask judge to halt Point Reyes National Seashore farm leases 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Three environmental groups have asked a federal judge in Oakland for an order to halt the process of granting long-term leases to the cattle ranches operating on government-owned land at Point Reyes National Seashore.

The Resource Renewal Institute in Mill Valley, Oakland-based Center for Biological Diversity and the Idaho-based Western Watershed Project contend the National Park Service is moving to grant 20-year leases to the ranches without completing an assessment of their impact on the 71,000-acre national seashore, a popular wilderness destination visited by 2.5 million people a year.

The original lawsuit, filed in February, rattled ranchers whose families have been working on the windswept peninsula for generations.In the request for a court order filed last week, the groups said the Park Service intends to “short circuit” the case by completing a ranch management plan and issuing the leases, thereby denying the groups “any chance at meaningful relief.”

“The Park Service cannot simply predetermine that ranching should continue long-term at the national seashore without any public input or environmental study,” Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a press release.

The park is currently operating under an “antiquated plan” prepared 36 years ago with no environmental impact statement, the release said.

The environmental groups contend that decades of cattle grazing have trampled the seashore’s landscape and polluted its waterways. Huey Johnson, a former California secretary of resources who now heads the Resource Renewal Institute, has called the Park Service’s management of the ranches a travesty.

The Park Service, ranchers and their allies contend the agriculture and wildlands can coexist side by side. When the seashore was established in 1962, preserving the peninsula from development, it specifically included the historic ranches, marked by signs along the seashore roads.

Read more at: Groups ask judge to halt Point Reyes National Seashore farm leases | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

North Bay dairies shift to organic milk production, seeking higher income and stability

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Eighty percent of the dairies in Marin and Sonoma counties now produce certified organic milk, a change that allows them to command a premium milk price and also has sheltered them from a severe downturn that has buffeted the conventional dairy market for more than a year.

The North Bay’s shift away from the conventional dairy business, which has taken place over more than two decades, represents a striking contrast with the rest of California, where organic milk comprises less than 2 percent of total dairy production.

So many local farmers have switched to organic production that Petaluma-based Clover Stornetta Farms, the Bay Area’s largest independent dairy processor, has reached out beyond the North Bay’s coastal grasslands to the Central Valley to satisfy its need for conventional milk.

“We have had to move east where the milkshed is,” said Marcus Benedetti, president and CEO of the company with the iconic mascot, Clo the Cow. “And that will be a trend that continues.”

But even moving to organic won’t entirely protect the local dairy industry from volatile ups and downs, as the nation’s organic sector faces a milk surplus. Already two large local buyers of organic milk have announced what they characterized as small price cuts, and some dairies could have difficulty finding processors for their milk.

Some are predicting upheaval in the larger organic market, though not as severe as what the state’s conventional dairies have been suffering.

Read more at: North Bay dairies shift to organic milk production, seeking higher income and stability | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County supervisors delay decision on proposed anti-GMO ballot measure

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A proposed initiative to ban genetically modified crops and seeds in Sonoma County appears headed to voters this November, more than a decade after a similar proposal failed under intense political opposition.

The county’s top voting official has validated 20,065 of the 24,072 signatures collected by supporters, surpassing the minimum requirement to qualify a measure for the ballot.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, however, postponed a decision on the measure, instead electing to analyze costs associated with enforcement of a ban, as well as potential impacts on land use regulations and local businesses.

The county expects to spend $30,000 to $60,000 for the University of California Cooperative Extension to study the issue, according to William Rousseau, the county’s Registrar of Voters.

Supervisors must decide in the next 30 days whether to adopt the ordinance outright as is or place it on the November ballot.

“The law is very clear,” Rousseau said. “They don’t have a choice. They have to put it on the ballot or adopt it.”

The board is unlikely to decide such a divisive issue on its own. A majority of the supervisors signaled a preference to advance the question to voters at the end of the study period next month.

Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors delay decision on proposed anti-GMO ballot measure | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System