Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , , , ,

Sonoma County supervisors remove granny unit restrictions on some farm parcels

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Last year, Jennifer Mann sold her home in Santa Rosa’s Junior College District around the same time her son and daughter-in-law sold their home in downtown Sebastopol.

With the goal of establishing a “family compound,” they bought a home in rural Sebastopol, a unique, three-story, dome-shaped house that looks like a cross between a barn and an observatory.

It’s cramped for a growing family. Mann, a retired Santa Rosa Junior College employee, lives on the first floor, her two grandkids on the second and her son and daughter-in-law on the third.

“We have three acres and we always planned to build a second unit for me, so I could live on the land,” Mann said.

Until recently those plans were hindered by a county zoning restriction known as a “Z District,” which prohibits the construction of granny units in certain agricultural zones.

The restriction was aimed at preserving the county’s agricultural resources and preventing nonfarming residences from encroaching into agricultural lands. However, many smaller parcels restricted by a Z District do not qualify for farm-related housing because they do not meet size and agriculture production requirements.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10091428-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-remove-granny

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

$50 million Santa Rosa compost facility inches ahead as opposition from neighbors grows

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Greg Eicher and his wife, Gulten Eicher, moved to a quiet stretch of Walker Avenue five years ago, they were ready to embrace a more rural lifestyle there in southwestern Santa Rosa.

They’ve got a heap of homegrown fruits and veggies on offer, raise chickens for fresh eggs and even recently began beekeeping. There’s also a farm cat — Tekir, which is Turkish for striped or tabby cat.

Greg Eicher said they knew they were moving in a few blocks from Santa Rosa’s Laguna Wastewater Treatment Plant, which handles wastewater for 230,000 residents from Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sebastopol and portions of unincorporated Sonoma County.

The Eichers occasionally get whiffs of what is treated at the plant. But Eicher said one waste-related facility is enough, and neighbors can’t abide a push by local governments to relocate a commercial-grade composting facility across the street from the Laguna site.

“This neighborhood has been putting up with the noise and the smell and the traffic — to the benefit of the entire city of Santa Rosa — for years,” Eicher said. “You’re doubling down on me.”

There’s no organized opposition yet, but thanks to leadership changes and the fits and starts of governmental negotiations for green-bin waste, neighbors have months, if not years, to coalesce and build their campaign against the proposal.

Until then, and perhaps for many more years, the future of green waste handling in Sonoma County will remain in limbo — with both tons of material and millions of ratepayer dollars continuing to go out of the county.

It’s been more than a year since the board of Zero Waste Sonoma — the renamed Sonoma County Waste Management Agency — voted to begin negotiations with Renewable Sonoma, a private company, to handle commercial-grade composting operations, a service not offered in Sonoma County since that company’s previous site was shut down four years ago in the wake of wastewater violations.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10023046-181/50-million-santa-rosa-compost

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, WaterTags , , , , ,

Sonoma County wine executive’s vineyard business firm accused of water quality violations

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Prominent Sonoma County wine executive Hugh Reimers, who last month abruptly left as president of Foley Family Wines, faces allegations that his grape growing company has violated regional, state and federal water quality laws for improperly clearing land near Cloverdale to build a vineyard.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Board accused his Santa Rosa vineyard management company, Krasilsa Pacific Farms, of violations of the water board’s local water rules, the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act for clearing and grading 140 acres. The water quality board concluded the work on a section of Krasilsa Pacific’s more than 2,000-acre property was done without applying or obtaining the necessary permits required by the county to operate a vineyard.

The board filed a notice of its violations on June 6 to Reimers, as manager of Krasilsa, listing 28 different locations on the property three miles east of Cloverdale where infractions were found by investigators with the board and Sonoma County Department of Agriculture. Many of those spots had multiple violations within the cleared land: a steep, grassy ridge featuring oak woodland between the Russian River and Big Sulfur Creek.

The water quality agency’s findings have not been linked to Reimers’ sudden resignation from Foley’s Santa Rosa wine company he joined in 2017 and he led as president since January 2018.

The water agency is in the process of determining what sanctions to levy against Krasilsa, said Josh Curtis, assistant executive for the agency. The penalties could range from a cleanup of the property in an attempt to return it as close as possible to its condition before Krasilsa’s work started in late 2017 or early 2018, to the assessment of fines.

Investigators with the water board and county ag department have forwarded their report and underlying findings regarding the Krasilsa land to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. The case is under review by the district attorney’s environmental and consumer law division, office spokeswoman Joan Croft said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9886319-181/notable-sonoma-county-wine-executives

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Habitats, Land UseTags , , , , ,

Land use policy key to reining in global warming, U.N. report warns

Julia Rosen and Anna M. Phillips, THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE

Slashing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and power plants won’t be enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change. To meet the goals of the Paris climate accord, experts say, humanity also needs a new approach to managing the land beneath its feet.

A sweeping new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights the myriad ways that rising temperatures have impacted agriculture, wildfire risk, soil health and biodiversity. The report also examines how land and its uses can exacerbate the effects of global warming — or help mitigate them.

“It tells us that land is already doing a lot of service for us, but also that we can do a lot with land,” said Louis Verchot, a forester at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Palmira, Colombia.

A summary of the IPCC’s assessment was released Thursday after a marathon overnight negotiating session in Geneva. It will inform United Nations climate negotiations in Santiago, Chile, later this year, when countries will revisit their pledges to reduce emissions.

One of the report’s major themes is that forests play an important role in absorbing the carbon dioxide generated by human activities, and protecting them is crucial to reining in warming.

The report also emphasizes the need for a new approach to agriculture that would feed a growing population while using natural resources more sustainably.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5 or even 2 degrees [Celsius] will involve removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and land has a critical role to play,” said Jim Skea , co-chair of the climate change mitigation working group.

Read more at https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/environment/story/2019-08-08/ipcc-land-use-global-warming?_amp=true

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags , ,

Point Reyes management plan calls for shooting elk, preserving ranches

Guy Kovner and Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

How To Get Involved
To comment on the plan through Sept. 23, go to parkplanning.nps.gov/poregmpa
Two informational meetings are planned on the proposal:
When: Aug. 27, 5-7 p.m.
Where: West Marin School Gym, Point Reyes Station
When: Aug. 28, 5-7 p.m.
Where: Bay Model Visitor Center, Sausalito

Tule elk in the Point Reyes National Seashore could be shot to control their swelling numbers, and cattle ranchers would be assured a lengthy future and latitude to expand their farming operations under a proposed management plan aimed at bridging a sharp divide over the presence of commercial agriculture in the 71,000-acre national park.

The plan, which cost nearly $1 million to develop and won’t be implemented until next year, was released Thursday by the National Park Service, which manages the sprawling seashore on the Marin County coast.

Reviving a controversy that dates back to the agency’s decision in 2012 to evict an oyster farm from a Pacific Ocean inlet in the seashore, the plan — described as “shockingly anti-wildlife” by one conservationist — could also send environmentalists and the federal government back into court over the conflict between farming for profit and land preservation.

The proposal has been identified by the National Seashore staff as the “preferred alternative” of six variations developed over the past two years. The public now has 45 days to review and comment on the document.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9858446-181/point-reyes-seashore-plan-balances

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags , , , , ,

We must transform food production to save the world, says leaked report

Robin KcKie, THE GUARDIAN

Attempts to solve the climate crisis by cutting carbon emissions from only cars, factories and power plants are doomed to failure, scientists will warn this week.

A leaked draft of a report on climate change and land use, which is now being debated in Geneva by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that it will be impossible to keep global temperatures at safe levels unless there is also a transformation in the way the world produces food and manages land.

Humans now exploit 72% of the planet’s ice-free surface to feed, clothe and support Earth’s growing population, the report warns. At the same time, agriculture, forestry and other land use produces almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, about half of all emissions of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, come from cattle and rice fields, while deforestation and the removal of peat lands cause further significant levels of carbon emissions. The impact of intensive agriculture – which has helped the world’s population soar from 1.9 billion a century ago to 7.7 billion – has also increased soil erosion and reduced amounts of organic material in the ground.

In future these problems are likely to get worse. “Climate change exacerbates land degradation through increases in rainfall intensity, flooding, drought frequency and severity, heat stress, wind, sea-level rise and wave action,” the report states.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/03/ipcc-land-use-food-production-key-to-climate-crisis-leaked-report

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , , ,

A time of reckoning in the Central Valley

Mark Schapiro, BAY NATURE

Inside a climate-controlled laboratory at the Duarte Nursery outside Modesto, an experiment is taking place that could help determine what food we will eat for decades to come. Rows of steel racks contain numerous tiny almond, apple, walnut, pomegranate, pecan, avocado, fig, and pistachio trees in small translucent plastic cylinders. The saplings, planted in a high-nutrient agar mix that accelerates growth, are no more than two inches high and a few weeks old. Each is being subjected to versions of the stresses experienced just outside these walls in fields across the Central Valley: declining levels of water, escalating levels of salt. The big overarching, if unmentionable, force driving these experiments is climate change, which is beginning to roil the Central Valley.

Duarte, one of the largest commercial nurseries in the world, specializes in tree nuts and fruits, which have boomed across the valley in recent decades. Founded four decades ago, the nursery grew rapidly as water piped into the valley from the Sierras gave birth to the most bounteous center for agriculture in North America. The nursery now sprawls over 200 acres in the town of Hughson, just outside Modesto. Things began to change about a decade ago, according to John Duarte, the nursery’s president.

When I first met Duarte back in 2012, he resisted calling the shifts he was seeing climate change: “Whether it’s carbon built up in the atmosphere or just friggin’ bad luck,” he said then, “the conditions are straining us.” Today, he still avoids the climate change label. (“You should meet my daughter; I think she agrees with you on the climate business,” he told me recently.) But even seven years ago, Duarte was on the forefront of researching tree varieties suited to a hotter, drier, saltier future.

Trees present a particular challenge: Conditions shift, but the trees can’t move. A fruit or nut tree planted today may, depending on the species, be ill-suited to climatic conditions by the time it begins bearing fruit in five or ten years. So the question Duarte is trying to answer, the one bedeviling farmers across the valley, is, what to plant today that can thrive and bear fruit over the next quarter century or more?

“Everyone,” Duarte said, “is thinking about the impacts of warm winters and not enough water.” Valley temperatures are predicted to rise between 3.5 and 6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, while periods of extreme heat are expected to lengthen. Even now, it’s often not cold enough in winter to permit trees’ metabolism to slow down, a process critical to the spring flowering that produces fruits and nuts later in the season. Irrigation water is becoming saltier, too. Desperate farmers drilling ever-deeper wells are pumping up saltier water. And a new state law, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, will likely serve as a catalyst of change. Starting in 2020, it will regulate how much water farmers can withdraw from the Central Valley aquifer. The law promises to shake up the methods and business of valley agriculture.

The lessons learned here, or not learned, have implications for agricultural regions elsewhere, from the American Midwest to North Africa, southern Europe and southwest China. These breadbaskets are already experiencing similar extremes of heat, drought, and flood, and new pests and diseases.

Climate change is revealing the vulnerabilities of an industrial agriculture system that relies on predictability. And it’s shining a light on alternative growing practices that are potentially more resilient to these environmental shifts.

“When I drive to the Central Valley, I get goose bumps; I feel the urgency,” says Amélie Gaudin, an agronomist at UC Davis who works with many Central Valley growers on improving soil quality. “I see an agriculture that is basically hydroponics. It’s like a person being fed/kept alive by an IV.”

Read more at https://baynature.org/article/a-time-of-reckoning-in-the-central-valley/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Our love of almonds is seriously jeopardizing honeybees

Paige Embrey, HUFF POST

In January, with the almond bloom in California’s orchards a month away, beekeepers across the country were fretting over their hives. A lot of their bees were dead or sick. Beekeepers reported losing as much as half their hives over the winter.

Jack Brumley, a California beekeeper, said he’d heard of people losing 80% of their bees. Denise Qualls, a bee broker who connects keepers with growers, said she was seeing “a lot more panic occurring earlier.”

Rumors swirled of a potential shortage; almond growers scrambled to ensure they had enough bees to pollinate their valuable crop, reaching out to beekeepers as far away as Florida, striking deals with mom-and-pop operations that kept no more than a few hundred bees. NPR’s “All Things Considered” aired a segment on the looming crisis in the almond groves.

By May, it was clear that California’s almond growers — who supply 80% of the world’s almonds — had successfully negotiated the threat of a bee shortage and were expected to produce a record crop of 2.5 billion pounds, up 10% from last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But the panic, it turns out, was justified. The results of this year’s annual Bee Informed Partnership survey, a collaboration by leading research labs released Wednesday, found that winter colony losses were nearly 38%, the highest rate since the survey began 13 years ago and almost 9% higher than the average loss.

The panic underscored a fundamental problem with the relationship between almonds and bees: Every year, the almond industry expands while the population of honeybees, beset by a host of afflictions, struggles to keep pace.

Read more at https://www.huffpost.com/entry/honey-bee-census-almonds_n_5d0a8726e4b0f7b7442b3aaa?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9uZXdzLmdvb2dsZS5jb20v&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAGJJBiDGRCve7o6jN4qUrECrkbbhGDnhUcRQUW1kZcFn7P04RMyb9W9JKjmXY3Wk3I_uT-5O6weQrkuir5KZs5KJMF__gto7nuGAd6lTmxupeKBzyVN4YWJ1DlV_8QtfZpy72-bVD4mVdod1i9-3iaoZ5y7ZWFQ6GSHHbMRm0CFU

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Animal welfare activists protest at Sonoma County Jail, courthouse

Nashelly Chavez, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Animal welfare activists gathered in front of the Sonoma County Jail on Tuesday, protesting the arrest of about 80 people who demonstrated a day earlier at a west Petaluma duck farm.

Tuesday’s action drew about 50 members of Direct Action Everywhere. The group organized the protest at Reichardt Duck Farm that included at least 300 demonstrators and prompted a response of more than 50 local and state law enforcement officers.

Monday’s arrests mostly involved suspected trespassing and felony conspiring to commit a crime, Sonoma County Sheriff’s spokesman Spencer Crum said. Protesters were given the option to be cited out of jail, though many refused to sign the citation form, he said.

“We’re calling upon Sonoma County authorities to prosecute criminal animal cruelty, not the whistleblowers,” said Cassie King, who took part in both protests.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9667427-181/animal-welfare-activists-protest-at

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California to ban pesticide chlorpyrifos

Brian Melley, ASSOCIATED PRESS

The nation’s most productive agricultural state moved Wednesday to ban a controversial pesticide widely used to control a range of insects but blamed for harming brain development in babies.

The move cheered by environmentalists would outlaw chlorpyrifos after scientists deemed it a toxic air contaminant and discovered it to be more dangerous than previously thought. California Environmental Secretary Jared Blumenfeld said it’s the first time the state has sought to ban a pesticide and the move was overdue.

“This pesticide is a neurotoxin, and it was first put on the market in 1965,” Blumenfeld said. “So it’s been on the shelf a long time, and it’s past its sell-by date.”

The decision comes after regulators in several states have taken steps in recent years to restrict the pesticide used on about 60 different crops in California, including grapes, almonds and oranges. Hawaii banned it last year, and New York lawmakers recently sent a measure to the governor outlawing use of the pesticide.

DowDuPont, which produces the pesticide, said it was disappointed with the decision and that farmers who rely on the pesticide say it will hurt their ability to control insects.

Read more at https://www.apnews.com/94c594ce51f441b6998fb83a4cda2c79