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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

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Planning commission works on new rules for Sonoma County winery events

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Planning Commission on Thursday made some progress to finish new rules to regulate winery events that have triggered disputes between neighborhood activists and the wine industry over past years.

The panel revisited the draft that it initially considered last June, and again in February, in its quest to find a balance between rural neighbors who have complained about traffic and noise among wine tourists, against the local industry that contends the need for visitors.

But after five hours of debate, commissioners said they realized they had more work to do and would reconvene June 7 in attempt to finish the proposal. The Board of Supervisors is slated to take up the proposal on Sept. 27.

The rules would apply to only new and modified event applications. There are more than 460 winery permits in Sonoma County and roughly 60% have visitor components, such as tasting rooms, according to county staff.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/planning-commission-works-on-new-rules-for-sonoma-county-winery-events/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags ,

Bay Area ranchers open their own mobile meat processing plant, filling key gap for local industry

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Bay Area livestock ranchers, including 24 in Sonoma County, are welcoming this week’s opening of their own slaughterhouse that fills a critical gap created more than two years ago.

The $1.2 million mobile processing plant, with a gleaming white 36-foot-long trailer purchased and set up at an area ranch by the 39-member Bay Area Ranchers Co-op, puts farmers producing beef cattle, pig, goat and sheep meat in control of their industry.

“It’s a big game changer in our food system,” said Duskie Estes, co-owner of the Black Pig Meat Co. and a co-op board member. “We are opening up the business place for small-scale animal husbandry.”

The co-op “exists solely for the benefit of the ranchers themselves who now have a guaranteed place to process their animals,” said Vince Trotter, sustainable ag coordinator at the Marin County UC Cooperative Extension, who helped the co-op get started.

“This is for ranchers who want to sell meat under their own label,” he said, noting that farmers will no longer need to share their revenue with a commercial slaughterhouse.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/bay-area-ranchers-open-their-own-mobile-meat-processing-plant-filling-key/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

Critics rip ‘half-baked’ federal plan to save California salmon

Nick Cahill, COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE

Both conservationists and water suppliers are upset with a proposal that federal and state officials say is aimed at ensuring Chinook salmon survive the California drought.

Fishing groups and water suppliers fighting the Biden administration’s proposed drought rules for California’s water system told a federal judge Friday the emergency plans won’t stop the demise of endangered salmon.

With California trudging through another disappointingly dry winter, the federal government and state officials have agreed upon a set of temporary rules they claim are necessary to preserve enough cold water on the Sacramento River for Chinook salmon this spring and summer. The rules call for new water temperature targets and improved collaboration between federal and state officials on the management of California’s two main water conveyance systems.

But the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and other conservation groups cast the “interim operations plan” as a half-baked measure that will lead to a third consecutive year of salmon die-offs. They want the feds to hold off on upcoming water deliveries and subsequently store more cold water behind Shasta Dam in the event hydrological conditions remain dreadful.

In addition, a group of water agencies claim the interim plan was untested and, if implemented, would likely violate their contracts with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The overarching issue are endangered species permits or biological opinions adopted by the Trump administration in 2019 that critics said severely weakened protections for salmon and water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Read more at https://www.courthousenews.com/critics-rip-feds-half-baked-plan-to-save-california-salmon/

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California subsidies for dairy cows’ biogas are a lose-lose, campaigners say

Michael Sainato, THE GUARDIAN

The state pumps millions into methane produced by manure – but advocates argue it increases greenhouse gas emissions and encourages factory farming

A coalition of climate, environmental and animal welfare groups is calling for California to remove the huge subsidies provided to dairy farms to turn animal waste into a form of energy called biogas.

Manure, which emits the potent greenhouse gas methane, is a big problem for US farms, and is particularly stark in California, where the dairy industry accounts for nearly half the state’s methane emissions.

Since 2011, California has been running a policy called the low carbon fuel standard (LCFS), which now includes incentives for dairy farms to convert methane into energy to fuel vehicles by enabling them to sell offset credits. This is intended to be a win-win: reducing farm emissions while allowing fossil fuel companies to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions by buying these offsets. The number of anaerobic digesters used to produce the biogas has surged in the state especially among large dairy farms.

But environmental advocates argue that the environmental benefits of biogas are exaggerated, and that the LCFS encourages the expansion of factory farms and could end up increasing emissions and pollution.

In a petition to the California Air Resources Board (Carb), the state government’s clean air agency that runs the LCFS, six environmental groups called for dairy farms to be excluded from the policy. In January, Carb turned down the request but said it would continue to engage with the petitioners.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/feb/04/california-subsidies-biogas-dairy-cows-emissions-climate

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Plan to acquire Mendocino County power plant unravels

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Plans to acquire an aging power plant in Mendocino County to ensure continued flows of Eel River water into Lake Mendocino and Sonoma County have unraveled.

A coalition of organizations from Sonoma, Humboldt and Mendocino counties abandoned their quest to acquire the century-old Potter Valley hydroelectric plant, saying it could not meet an April 14 deadline for submitting a federal license application.

The plant, about 80 miles north of Santa Rosa, is owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, which in 2019 announced plans to abandon it and surrender its license.

Water users downstream maintained the plant was critical because Eel River water is diverted through its turbines into Lake Mendocino and the Russian River. That, in turn, supplies users as far south as Sonoma and northern Marin counties.

Without the option of acquiring the plant, stakeholders predict years of uncertainty, quarreling and, ultimately, higher costs to water users.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/multicounty-partnership-yields-on-potter-valley-power-plant-license-scramb/

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

California is about to witness its biggest change to trash since the ’80s. Hint: It’s all about composting

Chase DeFeliciantonio, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Dawn has just broken over Recology’s vast Blossom Valley Organics composting facility, about 70 miles east of San Francisco in Vernalis (San Joaquin County). The cold fall air hits like a slap to the face as orange light creeps over the horizon.

As the sun rises over the site, one of six the company operates statewide, a fine grit rides on the air, which is thick with the smell of earthy decomposition.

Operations Supervisor Clifford Reposa casts a wary eye on a 25-ton trailer of organic waste as it is hoisted on a hydraulic lift almost vertically against the pale and reddening sky.

“Not good. Lots of plastic bags,” Reposa mutters, his arms crossed as he watches a flood of pumpkins, apple cores, bits of wood and piles of leaves trucked in from San Francisco tumble out, adding to the towering piles of refuse that dwarf huge bulldozers moving it around in a deafening, mechanical dance.

This load of refuse is just a fraction of the roughly 1,500 tons of compostable material the 120-acre facility takes in every day from San Francisco and parts of the East Bay and South Bay. It comes here to be reborn as natural fertilizer used on vineyards and farms, and in varietals that are crafted specifically for different types of soil.

After those plastic bags and nonorganic materials are plucked out by men, women and gargantuan machines with names like The Titan, what remains will be placed into heaping piles that eventually break down into dark compost some farmers call “black gold.” Those heaps that stand higher than a person are spritzed with water and heated and cooled for two months to help trillions of microorganisms turn the solid waste into rich food for hungry crops.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/projects/2022/california-compost-law-climate-change-effect/

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Straus Family Creamery puts Sonoma County dairy cows on seaweed diet to test method to fight climate change

Susan Wood, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Straus Family Creamery is widely known for all things food, but red seaweed isn’t one of them — until now.

This summer, ecologist-at-heart Albert Straus, who is a pioneer in organic farming, signed up his 24 cows on his Petaluma farm to help determine if feeding them red seaweed would reduce their methane emissions, mostly from belching. He mixed the ocean plant into their feed, like humans would add green onions to their scrambled eggs,

And over a 50-day trial in which the cows were tested four times a day, methane releases dropped by 52%. In some circumstances, the experiment showed the methane was cut by as much as 90%. Straus, who produces an assortment of mass-produced dairy products, believes a second trial planned in January will produce more consistent results.

“We know we can do better than that,” he told the Business Journal, referencing the lower percentage of reduction.

So far in the first trial, the equivalent of five metric tons of harmful greenhouse gases, blamed in causing the planet to heat up, was cut.

As part of a state climate initiative, California’s 2030 mandate requires a reduction of methane by 40%. It has been determined that cow burps are responsible for 35% of total U.S. on-farm greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/north-bay/straus-family-creamery-puts-sonoma-county-dairy-cows-on-seaweed-diet-to-tes/

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

Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office files civil case against vintner Hugh Reimers for environmental damage

Bill Swindell, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch has sued vintner Hugh Reimers and his business over environmental damage her office says was caused by improperly clearing land near Cloverdale to build a vineyard in late 2017.

The prosecutor cited two specific causes of action in the case that was first filed in July by Deputy District Attorney Caroline Fowler against Reimers and his business, Krasilsa Pacific Farms: water pollution and stream bed alteration; and unfair business competition.

The civil complaint was the result of an investigation that was led by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board and the Sonoma County Department of Agriculture. The water board found in 2019 that Krasilsa Pacific violated the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act for clearing and grading 140 acres. The board concluded that the work on a section of the farm’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 water board is in settlement negotiations with Reimers and Krasilsa over a cleanup and abatement order it issued over specific water code violations, said spokesman Josh Curtis.

“If we cannot come to mutually acceptable terms, the regional water board will consider all its enforcement tools as options in resolving this matter to the benefit of our community and the people of California,” Curtis said in an email.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/sonoma-county-district-attorneys-office-files-civil-case-against-vintner-r/?ref=mosthome

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Supes say no to cannabis moratorium, recommend ‘wide net’ exploring policy options

Brandon McCapes, SOCONEWS

The county’s comprehensive update of its cannabis cultivation ordinance was back before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Sept. 28 — and along with it came the usual controversy between cannabis farmers and anti-cannabis neighborhood groups.

After hours of presentations, discussion and public comments, the supervisors approved county staff’s recommendations that seven broad topics be explored in the context of the future ordinance and the environmental impact review (EIR), per staff recommendation.

Significantly, a moratorium on cannabis cultivation permits was not included in the list of recommendations nor supported by the board. A moratorium of all new cannabis cultivation permits until the adoption of the new cannabis ordinance is an option favored by neighborhood and environmental groups, and one the board has discussed. Earlier last month, the board passed a 45-day moratorium on new multi-tenant cannabis permits, but not on cannabis permits altogether.

On June 8, the supervisors directed county staff to complete a comprehensive update of the county’s cannabis ordinance, based on community input and an EIR. Though public outreach will continue throughout the three-year process, slated to end in 2024, this summer’s public outreach efforts were a first step toward an ordinance update, according to the board’s meeting agenda report.

Read more at https://soconews.org/scn_county/supes-say-no-to-cannabis-moratorium-recommend-wide-net-exploring-policy-options/article_a1e2bff0-2dd2-11ec-a9d9-ff30ec144a7f.html?utm_source=soconews.org&utm_campaign=%2Fnewsletters%2Fheadlines-soconews-west-county%2F%3F-dc%3D1634320840&utm_medium=email&utm_content=headline