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Napa County takes first step to rein in wineries that break the law

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After years of wrangling, Napa County took a first step to better police its more than 500 wineries with an updated code enforcement program approved by its board of supervisors on Tuesday.

The board by a 4-0 vote approved a resolution that would revamp the county’s winery enforcement program that has been criticized as ineffective and having no teeth for violators. For example, county officials found in 2014 that almost half of the wineries audited did not comply with code requirements, such as exceeding their production or visitor limits.

The vote comes with increasing backlash to the wine sector that wields considerable political influence through the Napa Valley Vintners trade group and as the dominant economic driver in the county of more than 140,000 residents.

In recent years, industry opposition has been bubbling up, especially over greater traffic on Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. In June, local voters narrowly rejected an amendment that would have limited vineyard development on hills and mountains to provide greater protection to the environment.

Read more at https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/napacounty/9036162-181/napa-wine-tourism-regulation

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Wilson family wins Sonoma County approval for 11th winery

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ken and Diane Wilson’s latest winery, to be built in the heart of Dry Creek Valley, won final approval Tuesday from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, leaving the couple relieved to get a green light 13 years after the project was first proposed.

Culminating a three-hour public hearing packed with accolades for the winemaking family, the board voted 4-1 to deny a valley resident’s appeal challenging a previous county decision supporting the project, which was first proposed in 2005.

Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents winery-rich Sonoma Valley, cast the lone no vote, saying she was concerned that supervisors have failed to resolve the high-stakes question of over-concentration of wineries, which number more than 440 outside city limits.

“We have yet to grapple with it,” she said, referring to an issue that gained public traction in 2014.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8871075-181/wilson-family-wins-sonoma-county

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A last, lingering taste of farm eggs

Michele Anna Jordan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Although most of us don’t think about it this way, eggs are, for the most part, a seasonal food.

A few breeds continue to lay when there is less daylight and cooler temperatures, but for most hens raised naturally, outside on pasture where they can scratch and peck, egg production slows in fall and winter. The slow-down often begins sometime in September, when many breeds begin to molt. Some flocks lay no eggs at all for weeks and other months; others slow from an egg a day per hen to just a few eggs a week.

This cycle has little if any bearing on the commercial egg business, especially the larger ones. If you get your eggs at a supermarket, they are simply always there. But if you get your eggs from your own backyard flock or from a local farm stand or farmers market, you understand this slowdown has already begun. Some farmers have no eggs at all right now, and others have a fraction of what they had in late spring, when production peaks.

Most farmers markets have eggs year round, but not as many at this time of year. This means you need to reserve them or show up early at your farmers market. Depending on what sort of winter we have, production will begin to increase not long after the first of the year and by spring, you can sleep in on weekends and still snag great eggs at your local farmers market.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/8836724-181/seasonal-pantry-a-last-lingering

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Animal-rights protesters rattle Petaluma poultry farmers

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Tensions between animal rights activists and Sonoma County officials remained high Monday after 58 protesters were arrested this weekend attempting to take chickens from a Petaluma poultry farm.

The Saturday protest at McCoy’s Poultry Services marked the third large animal-rights demonstration organized by the Bay Area chapter of Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, in Petaluma this year.

The group said late Monday it plans to stage a protest at the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office this afternoon after those arrested this weekend appeared in court to demand charges against protesters be dropped, claiming their actions were lawful rescue of animals, said Matt Johnson, a spokesman for the group.

Law enforcement officials condemned the latest protest in Petaluma as illegal and disruptive, while animal-rights activists called the action necessary to send a message and save the lives of chickens they described as lethargic, malnourished and injured.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8799484-181/animal-rights-protesters-rattle-petaluma-poultry

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Huffman bill assuring 20-year leases for Point Reyes ranchers clears House

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cattle ranchers would be assured a lengthy future in Point Reyes National Seashore under a bill written by Rep. Jared Huffman that was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives, with environmental groups divided over the issue.

The bill by Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat known for his environmental politics, would require the Secretary of Interior to issue 20-year permits to the long-standing family-operated beef and dairy ranches in the scenic Marin County seashore managed by the National Park Service.

The four-page bill also orders the government agency to manage the seashore’s famed tule elk herd to keep the grazing animals separate from the ranches and dairies.

“We’re thrilled,” said Jackie Grossi, whose family runs a 1,200-acre Point Reyes cattle ranch. “We just want to ensure that there is long-term stability for the ranches.”

Jackie and Rich Grossi, their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter manage the ranch, which is, like all of the affected cattle operations, on federally owned land purchased by the government decades ago.

Ranchers say they need long-term permits to justify investment in their operations.

In an unusual exercise of bipartisanship, the bill, HR 6687, was co- authored by Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee and last year advocated for repeal of the Endangered Species Act, a move Huffman has vocally opposed.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8782302-181/huffman-bill-assuring-20-year-leases?ref=mostsection

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Crops of the past

Janet Balicki Weber, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Harvest season is underway in Sonoma County and for those living in Wine Country that means grapes.

But let’s not forget the multitude of other crops that have jockeyed for the title of top crop through the years. Hops, apples and prunes have all taken turns dominating the economy at one time.

And there were other crops, too: walnuts, cherries and berries were once part of a diverse agricultural landscape that in recent years has become more grape-centric.

Agriculture has always been important to Sonoma County. In the 1920s, Sonoma County was ranked eighth in the country in agricultural production. In 1931, it was 10th, with all this coming from around 7,000 farms, 5,100 of which were 50 acres or smaller.

The small family farm usually grew multiple crops; producers often grew three or four to back up their primary yield. When prices dipped for one, they were prepared.

Of course, there also are animal products. Although crops like hops have nearly disappeared from the county, poultry and dairy continue to be big producers from Cloverdale to Petaluma.

View photos at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8756663-181/historic-photos-of-harvest-in?sba=AAS

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Farmers and environmentalists work hard to save Gravensteins

Daniel Mueller, SONOMA MAGAZINE

Cider as savior?

The Gravenstein, derived from Europe and named after a Danish castle, transformed west Sonoma County into one of the world’s premier apple growing regions. Its namesake highway (CA-116) now runs through what remains of Sonoma’s apple country, north of Sebastopol.

In recent years, however, this area has quietly become a destination for cider lovers, with some 10 cideries and a growing numbers of taprooms.

Paula Shatkin and her husband were driving along Sonoma County’s scenic back roads when she first noticed something was amiss.

“We saw apple orchards in bloom just being chopped down, willy-nilly, everywhere,” said Shatkin.

That was 18 years ago, right when vineyards were booming and apple farmers were having trouble making ends meet. The iconic Gravenstein had transformed west Sonoma County into one of the world’s premier apple growing regions. In the booming 1940s, nearly 15,000 acres in the county were planted with apple trees. By 2016, that number had fallen to about 2,200 acres.

“Whole orchards were being chopped down and made into vineyards, without a lot of work being done to make sure they weren’t damaging the ecosystem,” said Shatkin. “We were losing our biodiversity.”

Shatkin, a social worker, took action. She rallied local growers, preservationists and environmental advocates to create a local chapter of the Slow Food movement, an international effort to preserve local cuisines and promote biodiversity. “Save the Gravenstein” became a popular rallying cry on bumper stickers and store windows in west Sonoma County.

Shatkin’s Slow Food Russian River was soon on a mission to get more people excited about local apples. Shops in Sebastopol were handing out free, locally grown apples. Banners in town announced “The Gravensteins Are Coming” in July and “The Gravensteins Are Here” in August. The group acquired an apple press and invited residents to press juice at the Luther Burbank farm in Sebastopol.

“We have made a huge difference in the demand for Gravensteins at this point, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still losing apple acreage to vines, unfortunately,” said Shatkin. “But all these years one of our goals has been to help farmers raise the price-point of the apples so that they could maybe make a living growing apples.”

Read more at https://www.sonomamag.com/for-the-love-of-apples-sonoma-county-farmers-and-environmentalists-work-hard-to-save-their-favorite-fruit

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County residents request a moratorium on new winery spaces

Liza B. Zimmerman, WINE SEARCHER

While many wine country regions have welcomed revenue from new businesses, the somewhat-still-rural hamlet of Sonoma County clearly has conflicted sentiments.

Compared to the top-dollar region of Napa Valley, which was smart enough to self-regulate itself a half century ago, and less affluent areas such as the New York Finger Lakes that tend to support new development for economic reasons, wine industry regulation and growth in Sonoma has not been an easy process.

The county includes some of the most bucolic land – complete with ocean views – in California wine country. Its major towns of Sonoma, Healdsburg and, more recently, Sebastopol have been attracting low-key, yet quite profitable tourism for some decades. Most of the area’s tasting rooms also don’t charge a $50-plus per-person reserve tasting fee and traffic has primarily been manageable on Sonoma’s small roads for a number of decades.

However, local residents have come to a boiling point about vehicles, noise and general exuberant indulgence within their county’s limits. Roads in the region are rustic and new wineries have been sprouting up like poppies for decades.

According to Tennis Wick, the Santa Rosa-based director of Permit Sonoma, the county currently has 467 wineries approved in unincorporated areas. The “general plan for Sonoma County projected 239 wineries by the year 2020 because that number was environmentally prudent. From 2000 to 2015 there was a 300-percent increase in new winery facilities. Sonoma County was home to 127 wineries in 2000 and has nearly 500 now,” shares Padi Selwyn, the co-chair of Preserve Rural Sonoma County (PRSC), a group that has spearheaded local residents’ desires to moderate new winery and event space openings.

Read more at https://www.wine-searcher.com/m/2018/08/locals-continue-to-clash-with-sonoma-wineries

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Cannabis and the environment

Heather Bailey, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

In an industry that wants to be seen as green, what are the real impacts? The answer is, no one knows for sure.

When you hear anti-cannabis groups complain about the impacts of legal cultivation, one concern that is often expressed is the impact on natural resources and the environment caused by growing cannabis. But how significant are those impacts, and what do they consist of? The answer is, it’s hard to say.

The research on impacts is limited and has been done almost exclusively on illegal grows. The fact they were illegal limited funding for research, limited what grows could be studied and creates significant questions as to whether the research findings can be predictive of the impacts from legal operations.

Sonoma County cannabis ordinances for legal cultivation have a strong environmental protection component, including pages of regulations about water and watersheds alone.

But are they enough? Research into environmental impacts of legal operations are in their infancy, so it may take time and research to determine best practices.

Read more at http://www.sonomawest.com/cannabis-and-the-environment/article_e1566fb4-a249-11e8-b62e-bfe48d93d62c.html

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‘Complicated choice’ looms in Sonoma County over next compost operator

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Every week, hundreds of thousands of Sonoma County residents dutifully gather grass clippings from their yards and food scraps from their kitchens, toss them into green bins and then cart them to the curb alongside their garbage and recycling.

Tons of this so-called “green waste” is then hauled, at a cost of $5 million per year, to other counties, where it is chopped up, often mixed with chicken guts, encouraged to rapidly decompose, and then sold as compost.

The process takes place entirely outside Sonoma County — mostly in Mendocino, Napa and Marin counties — ever since Sonoma Compost, the county’s longtime compost operation atop the Central Landfill, was shut down nearly three years ago for wastewater violations.

Now local officials face a complex but crucial decision about the future of composting in Sonoma County, one that will have major implications for the life of the county landfill, the rate of emission of greenhouse gases and the size of people’s garbage bills.

That decision is whether to encourage the construction of a new, modern composting facility here, with costs of $50 million or more, or whether to continue hauling the material to existing facilities elsewhere indefinitely.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8595931-181/complicated-choice-looms-in-sonoma