Tag Archives: sustainable agriculture

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

CropMobster headlines chronicle life on Sonoma County farms 

Meg McConahey, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

This just in…

Rogue Chickens Sabotage Inspires Mystery Fruit Tree Sale.

Wanted: Food for Black Bacon, a Cazadero Hills Black Hog and her babies

Deal: Two Emus Available For Sale. $50.

Looking For Work: “Need some extra hands, er … paws around the farm?”

Wanted: Three Leaves Foods CSK Wants your Uglies

The headlines at CropMobster.com offer a back fence view into the weird world of Sonoma County farms, where on an given day earnest farmers put out appeals for brewers mash and organic food waste, alerts for worm workshops and try to unload everything from surplus figs to emus.

A Craigslist for the ag set, CropMobster is where the farmer fed up with an obnoxious rooster can connect with the farmer who needs a rooster to service a flock of breeding hens. It’s a place where homely fruit unfit for the farmer’s market, can find someone to love it, or at least like it enough to can it, and where a perfectly good wheel of cheese too stinky for one woman’s kitchen can find a west county nonprofit very happy at its next meeting.

The sometimes urgent headlines telegraph the disappointments and the dreams and desperation of the farm life with a solid dose of humor.

Read more at: CropMobster headlines chronicle life on Sonoma County farms | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Local Organizations, Sustainable Living

Op-Ed: Home on the grange not so peaceful

Connie Madden, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The article, “Sonoma County’s Granges status in question” on Oct. 2 left out the character and work of the California State Grange, now called CSG, after a court order obtained by the National Grange made it unable to use the common word grange.

Living at Oasis Community Farm just outside Petaluma, we’ve learned farming is tough and isolating. To keep small and organic farms alive and kicking takes support, and our grange village has stretched to Sacramento and San Luis Obispo and beyond.

But now the National Grange has disavowed the California State Grange with a court ruling that the CSG can no longer call itself a grange and must relinquish properties.

We’ve learned while attempting to label genetically modified foods and such that Monsanto Corp. and others have so invaded our land as to threaten the integrity of organic farming altogether. So we stand against that. The National Grange does not.

The Petaluma Grange has been a great alternative to doing nothing about climate change and associated tragedies. We’ve hosted speakers from Marin Slow Food and Rafael Gardens at Rudolf Steiner Institute, from Transition US and California Farm Link. We’ve learned how to build soil and build a farm business and have carpooled to demonstrations to ban fracking because we have a right to know what is injected into our water supply. We should label GMOs because we have a right to know what is in our food. We should support legalization of industrial hemp crops, which can become car parts, building material or clothing that lasts three times longer than cotton. This is all good stuff we can help do.

We were instrumental in getting the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to withdraw its attempt to raise farmers market fees that would have sent more farmers home.

The CSG has worked hard on these issues and other causes focused on regenerating a healthier, happier world to pass along to our children and grandchildren. We’ve addressed these onslaughts by working with a lobbyist and state legislators to get industrial hemp legalized, to label GMOs and to help make regulations around small farming workable for small farmers.

But with the latest challenge to the integrity of the CSG by the National Grange, much of this may be lost; I sincerely hope not.

I’ve never heard of the National Grange backing any of the causes we hold dear. Yes, it has the fraternal organization format that originally helped small farmers, but this current National Grange seems focused only on shutting down the good works of CSG.

Read more at: Close to Home: Home on the grange not | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Sustainability efforts at Santa Rosa Junior College

Amy Reynolds, THE OAK LEAF

As the first community college in the state to receive a National Science Foundation grant to promote sustainability and sustainable agriculture education, Santa Rosa Junior College is ahead of the game.

“That’s our mantra. Everything we do here is sustainable,” said Ganesan Srinivasan, dean of agriculture, natural resources and culinary arts. “If you’re not sustainable it’s very difficult for a small farmer to survive here.”

SRJC is the only community college with a certificate program in sustainable agriculture. It is one of our fastest growing programs. We live in a region where organic farming and sustainable practices are the norm, not the exception, so it’s not surprising students are interested in learning about these practices.

Starting with an intro to sustainable agriculture, classes involve organic practices, composting and certification. Classes are a mix of entry level students and established farmers who want to learn new techniques.

Sonoma County wants 100 percent of its vineyards to be completely sustainable by 2020. The 84-acre vineyard and winery on Shone Farm is already there. They’re reducing water, chemical and energy use by using recycled water on the vineyard and using wood from their own forest on the farm.

Shone Farm has planted 150 acres of forest, teaching forestry students and park management. All lumber taken from the forest is used for fencing and other projects on the farm, so it’s all recycled. The Tiny House Club is even working on its first house from lumber harvested on the farm.

SRJC’s cafeteria gets a lot of its food from Shone Farm and all waste coming from it and the culinary café goes back to Shone Farm where they can do the composting. They use drip irrigation, so the plants receive just how much they need as opposed to flat irrigation.

Srinivasan has future plans to go far more into solar in the fall, although he has already bought a solar powered electric cart for taking visitors around the farm and plans to put some solar changing stations in. Most of the produce grown on the farm (all organic) goes towards the Shone Farm Community Supported Agriculture, although quite a bit supplies both the culinary café and sometimes the cafeteria.

In a perfect world, Robert Ethington, dean of student affairs and engagement programs, sees a bike/pedestrian bridge between Coddingtown and Elliot, something the city is looking into, a pedestrian/bike only Elliot Avenue and a shuttle between the Petaluma campus and the Santa Rosa campus.

Members of the SRJC Sustainabilty Collaborative have created the Green Print Project, a plan to help create a culture of sustainability on campus. The plan details 18 objectives to be completed by 2018, ranging from aligning water, food and waste with the best sustainable practices, to assuring green building and sustainable facilities to implement sustainable SRJC lectures and events.

They also plan on establishing sustainable transportation improvements, increasing community outreach and collaboration. The collaborative is not only trying to increase the visibility of this plan and the brand which is a sustainable SRJC, they’re focusing on making a sustainable life a little easier for students.

The collaborative is hosting a “Transportation Innovation Forum” on Sept. 23, attended by SMART Train, the Bike Coalition, Santa Rosa City Transit, Sonoma County Transit and the Sonoma County Transit Authority. The forum will focus on what they can do to make students feel more encouraged to either ride their bike or take the bus, rather than drive their car.

Another proposal the collaborative is working on is the Real Food Challenge, getting SRJC’s food service vendors to agree to certain criteria for the food they serve, such as humane regulations and local, organic and fair trade.

One of the college’s goals going forward is creating a culture of sustainability. The SRJC Sustainability Collaborative, comprised of 23 students, faculty and administration, is hoping the Green Print Project is a plan for how we can get there.

Source: The Oak Leaf : Sustainability efforts at SRJC

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation