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

Number of Sonoma County farms affected by proposed ‘factory farming’ ordinance is in dispute

Phil Barber, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sometime this year, an initiative aiming to curtail factory farming will appear on local ballots. Its authors frame it as a ban on cruel and unsanitary industrial farms. The local agricultural industry calls it a backdoor attack on the consumption of meat.

The ballot measure, which would be the first of its kind in any American county, raises huge questions relating to financial cost, regulation and Sonoma County’s appetite for animal flesh. The Board of Supervisors will listen to presentations from department heads on the potential economic fallout Tuesday.

For now, the two sides are at odds over a seemingly simple question: How many Sonoma County farms would be directly affected if the measure passes?

Six months ago, Sonoma County Farm Bureau Executive Director Dayna Ghirardelli said on KRSH Radio’s “From Farm to Table” show that it would affect “most of our local dairy and poultry operations.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/chicken-farms-dairy-factory-animal-activists-farmers/

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Dozens of sheep take to Petaluma streets on Saturday during annual Transhumance Festival

Phil Barber, PRESS DEMOCRAT

As livestock drives go, this one was … different.

Pushed by ranchers on a quad, and kept in line by a pair of highly concerned dogs, a flock of about 65 sheep mobbed down urban East D Street in Petaluma on Saturday morning. They scooted in front of houses, parked cars and spectators — some delighted, some perplexed — and past an out-of-session day care center, the offices of the Burdell Building and Willibee’s Wine & Spirits.

The woolly animals started inside a small pen at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds and wound up at Steamer Landing, where they joined about 600 of their brethren that were already feasting on grasses at the park.

This was the sixth annual Transhumance Festival in Petaluma — “transhumance” refers to seasonal movement of livestock between mountain and lowland pastures — but the first since Petaluma launched a citywide grazing program in partnership with Two Rock Land Management last year.

“We hope to see this implemented in the rest of our county cities,” said Sarah Keiser, who helps the city with coordination, planning and management of the grazing program. “Regional Parks and some county sites do grazing, but Petaluma is the only city. Community members love it. It’s a really great experience for everyone to see this happening, and watch how it transitions our landscape.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/flock-of-sheep-streets-of-petaluma-transhumance-day/

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Napa Green’s glyphosate ban underscores controversy behind Sonoma County’s ‘certified sustainable’ vineyards

Sarah Doyle, PRESS DEMOCRAT

95% of Sonoma County’s Vineyards are certified-sustainable. Here’s why that’s controversial.

When Napa Green announced it would require its members to phase out the herbicide Roundup by 2026, some wondered if the move signaled broader wine industry change.

The announcement came last November from the Napa-based nonprofit, which provides sustainable winegrowing certification to vineyards in Napa Valley.

In California’s wine industry, Napa Green’s move to phase out Roundup (and glufosinate ammonium by 2028) was seen as a breakthrough.

It is the first sustainability certification specifically for U.S. vineyards to regulate the herbicide, though other organizations, such as the California Certified Organic Farmers, Regenerative Organic Alliance and Demeter Biodynamic, also prohibit Roundup across other areas of agriculture.

But other wine organizations have yet to follow suit.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/lifestyle/organic-sustainable-roundup-vineyards-napa-sonoma-county-wine/

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Sonoma County may have a new commercial composting site at the county airport

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

About 100,000 tons of green waste have been hauled out of county since Sonoma County’s last centralized compost facility closed in 2015.

A yearslong search for a new site to process much of Sonoma County’s yard and food waste may finally be over, potentially ending the need to haul almost 100,000 tons of organic materials to neighboring counties for composting each year.

Officials are now exploring the possibility of using a small piece of county-owned land in Windsor adjacent to the Sonoma County-Charles M. Schulz Airport to collect and compost green bin materials and commercial food waste to produce organic soil amendments in high demand by the local agricultural community.

The roughly 15-acre site at 5200 Slusser Rd. is part of a one-time county landfill decommissioned in 1971 and covered over with 9 feet of compacted soil.

Though its conversion to a commercial composting facility is still years off, an initial feasibility study of the site determined in 2022 there were no disqualifying physical or environmental hurdles.

If successful, selection of the site would put an end to a string of bad luck that has plagued local officials and their partners in providing a destination for organic waste just as an aggressive push is underway to keep as much as possible out of landfills, where they contribute to planet-warming greenhouse gases.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-may-have-a-new-commercial-composting-site-at-the-county-airpo/

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Sonoma, Mendocino County grape growers battling new rules designed to reduce sediment, pesticides in local waterways

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

A new program targeting 1,500 commercial grape growers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties and designed to improve water quality in local creeks and rivers is drawing criticism from members of the agricultural community.

The draft rules include reporting requirements, annual fees, well and groundwater monitoring, ground cover requirements and restrictions on wintertime operations that growers deem excessive.

Vineyard operators and agricultural representatives say the costs and mandates are overkill for an industry that is already working to reduce sediment runoff into waterways and protect fish habitats.

Small growers are especially likely to suffer because “their margins are really small, and the proposed permit is going to create costs that are significant to them,” said Robin Bartholow, deputy executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

But staff of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board say the soil disturbance and chemical use in many vineyards, as well as potential disruption of riparian plants needed to shade fish habitat, can degrade water quality in creeks and rivers.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-mendocino-county-grape-growers-battling-new-rules-designed-to-reduc/

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California commercial Dungeness crab harvest again delayed

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The commercial harvest of Dungeness crab off the North Coast and Central California has once again been delayed due to large groups of federally protected humpback whales still foraging in the fishing grounds.

They’re fewer in number than in late October, when state Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham first hit pause on the season’s start. But the whales still remain at concentrations high enough to raise the risk of ensnaring them in fishing gear if the fleet were to deploy the thousands of traps used each season.

The whales also exceed thresholds established three years ago to more closely manage the commercial fishery in a way that reduces entanglement of marine mammals protected under the Endangered Species Act — notably blue and humpback whales and leatherback sea turtles.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/california-commercial-dungeness-crab-harvest-again-delayed-to-safeguard-wha/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , , ,

Water crisis slams tomatoes

Kim Chipman, WASHINGTON POST

Tomatoes are getting squeezed.

California leads the world in production of processing tomatoes – the variety that gets canned and used in commercial kitchens to make some of the most popular foods. The problem is the worst drought in 1,200 years is forcing farmers to grapple with a water crisis that’s undermining the crop, threatening to further push up prices from salsa to spaghetti sauce.

“We desperately need rain,” Mike Montna, head of the California Tomato Growers Association, said in an interview. “We are getting to a point where we don’t have inventory left to keep fulfilling the market demand.”

Lack of water is shrinking production in a region responsible for a quarter of the world’s output, which is having an impact on prices of tomato-based products. Gains in tomato sauce and ketchup are outpacing the rise in U.S. food inflation, which is at its highest in 43 years, with drought and higher agricultural inputs to blame. With California climate-change forecasts calling for hotter and drier conditions, the outlook for farmers is uncertain.

“It’s real tough to grow a tomato crop right now,” Montna said. “On one side you have the drought impacting costs because you don’t have enough water to grow all your acres, and then you have the farm inflation side of it with fuel and fertilizer costs shooting up.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/spaghetti-sauce-is-under-threat-as-water-crisis-slams-tomatoes/

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Salamander protection tied to permit streamlining in Sonoma County vineyards

Jeff Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

The origins of a new public-private solution for the longstanding environmental quandary facing Sonoma County grape growers operating in critical habitat for the endangered California tiger salamander can be traced to recent reforms of county permits for erosion control on vineyard projects.

Under an agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the North Bay Water District will oversee a program in which owners of participating vineyards that have adopted and implemented best practices to preserve or add salamander habitat can avoid being sued by third parties for “incidental take” of the rare amphibian under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The deal also offers participating growers assurance that vineyard operations can continue without additional permits.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Sonoma County population of the salamander as endangered in March 2003. Shortly after, the agency designated a wide swath of the Santa Rosa Plain as critical habitat. That put in place a regulatory system requiring costly studies and special permits for farming and many other activities in the area.

The most affected properties were near the species’ breeding grounds in seasonal wetlands and existing ponds or reservoirs, along with surrounding areas at higher elevations.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/industrynews/deal-for-salamander-protection-in-sonoma-county-vineyards-builds-on-permit/

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Balancing protein in your diet could improve water quality

Kat Kerlin, UC DAVIS NEWS

Eating Too Much Protein Adds to Nitrogen Pollution in U.S. Waters

…when a body takes in more protein than it needs, excess amino acids break it down into nitrogen, which is excreted mostly through urine and released through the wastewater system. This brings additional nitrogen into waterways, which can result in toxic algal blooms, oxygen-starved “dead zones” and polluted drinking water.

Balancing how much protein you eat with the amount your body needs could reduce nitrogen releases to aquatic systems in the U.S. by 12% and overall nitrogen losses to air and water by 4%, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.

Protein consumption in the United States, from both plant and animal sources, ranks among the highest in the world. The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, said that if Americans ate protein at recommended amounts, projected nitrogen excretion rates in 2055 would be 27% less than they are today despite population growth.

The study is the first to estimate how much protein consumption contributes to excess nitrogen in the environment through human waste. It also indicates that coastal cities have the largest potential to reduce nitrogen excretions headed for their watersheds.

“It turns out that many of us don’t need as much protein as we eat, and that has repercussions for our health and aquatic ecosystems,” said lead author Maya Almaraz, a research affiliate with the UC Davis Institute of the Environment. “If we could reduce that to an amount appropriate to our health, we could better protect our environmental resources.”

Read more at https://www.ucdavis.edu/climate/news/balancing-protein-your-diet-could-improve-water-quality

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California vineyard laborers wanted wildfire safety. Then came a shadowy counter-movement

Alleen Brown, THE GUARDIAN


As harvest season becomes riskier, workers are pressing for safer conditions including disaster insurance and hazard pay

But in recent months, a slick website has appeared under the name Sonoma Wine Industry for Safe Employees, or Sonoma Wise, featuring counterpoints to demands from North Bay Jobs with Justice.

When Margarita García, a 39-year-old mother from Oaxaca, Mexico, picks wine grapes during a wildfire, the sky is red and thick with smoke. Ash falls on her face, irritating her throat and eyes. The hot, fast work makes N-95 masks too suffocating, so she and her colleagues opt for bandanas.

In this part of northern California, the grape harvesting season has been transformed by fire. Sonoma county is known internationally for its pinot noir and – increasingly – for intense wildfire seasons made worse by the climate crisis. That has created new economic threats for both grape growers, who can lose an entire season’s harvest in a matter of hours, and for workers, who must operate in increasingly dangerous conditions without replacement income if work is called off.

Now, vineyard laborers like García are pressing officials to enact stronger worker protections during wildfire seasons. They want hazard pay, disaster insurance and safety trainings translated in Indigenous languages – García’s first language is Mixteco. They are also pushing for community safety observers to be allowed to monitor working conditions in evacuation zones and for clean water and bathrooms, even when the ash is falling.

It’s an example of a type of climate-driven labor organizing that is growing across the US, as workers face new climate hazards, such as exposure to extreme heat and hurricane disaster zones littered with dangerous materials.

In turn, a surprising counter-movement has arisen – one that has the veneer of being worker-led, but is driven by the wine industry itself.

Labor organizers say it’s a familiar tactic – one that’s long been used by powerful industries to curtail movements for worker’s rights.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/11/california-vineyard-laborers-wildfire-safety