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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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Court orders E.P.A. to ban chlorpyrifos, pesticide tied to children’s health problems

Eric Lipton, THE NEW YORK TIMES

A federal appeals court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday to bar within 60 days a widely used pesticide associated with developmental disabilities and other health problems in children, dealing the industry a major blow after it had successfully lobbied the Trump administration to reject a ban.

The order by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit came after a decade-long effort by environmental and public health groups to get the pesticide, chlorpyrifos, removed from the market. The product is used in more than 50 fruit, nut, cereal and vegetable crops including apples, almonds, oranges and broccoli, with more than 640,000 acres treated in California alone in 2016, the most recent year data is available.

In March 2017, just a month after he was confirmed as the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt rejected a petition by the health and environmental groups to ban the pesticide. He did so even though the agency’s own staff scientists had recommended that chlorpyrifos be removed from the market, based on health studies that had suggested it was harming children, particularly among farmworker families.

A three-judge panel, on a 2-to-1 vote, gave the agency two months to finalize the ban on the product, whose leading manufacturer is DowDuPont. The company, along with others in the pesticide and agriculture industry, had intensely lobbied the E.P.A. and Mr. Pruitt, who resigned under a cloud of ethics scandals last month.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/09/us/politics/chlorpyrifos-pesticide-ban-epa-court.html

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Apple season starts

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

…the county’s orchards have long been “dry farmed,” or without irrigation. Other regions, including parts of Washington and California, have proven far more productive, both with irrigation and with newer, high-density growing methods.

Apple season kicks off next Sunday with a celebration at the Sebastopol Farmers Market, where Slow Food Russian River will have a community apple press and fresh juice.

This Friday will mark the opening of Sonoma County Cider Week, an inaugural series of events with 10 craft cideries taking part.

The celebrations will continue Aug. 11 and 12 with the 45th Gravenstein Apple Fair at Sebastopol’s Ragle Ranch Park.

Apple season in Sonoma County

The Chevy flatbed farm truck has been hauling apples and other crops for 43 years. The small yellow tractor has been chugging through the orchards for over 50. And some of the nearby Gravenstein apple trees have been blossoming for nearly a century.

The farmer, Paul Kolling, is 63.

“We keep the old stuff going somehow,” said Kolling, standing in a sparse orchard in Sebastopol where a crew of workers Thursday shook trees and collected apples for cider vinegar.

Kolling, a former engineer who switched to apple farming four decades ago, was thinking about the half-century- old Massey Fergusson tractor, whose front and back ends each carried a wooden apple bin. The tractor wouldn’t start until the farmer adjusted a loose battery cable.

However, “the old stuff” just as easily could have referred to the orchard’s aged trees, a few of which keep producing apples though their insides are nearly hollowed out or the holes in their trunks are big enough to put a hand through.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/8572505-181/gravenstein-apple-harvest-a-taste

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New angle for Sonoma County apples

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Stan Devoto wants to try something new in Apple Country: Plant an orchard, not with the tasty Gravenstein but with such bitter, hard cider varieties as Kingston black, Dabinett and Herefordshire redstreak.

In a west Sonoma County industry that has seen little but decline for half a century, Devoto is trying to build a new kind of apple business. He wants to grow fruit that doesn’t end up in juice or apple sauce but in an alcoholic beverage whose sales are growing faster than craft beer.

“I think there’s a future in that,” said Devoto, a longtime Sebastopol farmer and grape grower whose daughter and son-in-law have started a hard cider business. He even offered a startling prediction: If he can plant a new orchard, he can make almost as much money growing cider apples as growing winegrapes.

A few Sonoma County apple growers also have started producing hard cider, a fermented drink with an alcohol content similar to beer but more popular with women. While the efforts remain fledgling, they suggest a new avenue to keep alive an iconic west county crop for another generation.

via New angle for Sonoma County apples | The Press Democrat.