Austin Murphy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Strolling past his company’s aging creamery in Marshall on Thursday morning, Albert Straus called to mind a pasteurized version of Willy Wonka:
“We’ve got ice cream here, yogurt over there, and there’s the butter room” said the 63-year-old dairy farmer and CEO of Straus Family Creamery. “Our soft-serve ice cream is made in those vats.”
It won’t be for long.
On Monday, construction begins on the company’s new creamery, a $20 million, 70,000-square-foot structure in Rohnert Park. While the Marshall dairy plant produces 16,000 gallons of milk a day, the new one “will have the capacity to almost double that, and do it much more efficiently,” Straus said. That increased capacity is key: the 25-year-old company is expected to double in size over the next seven to 10 years, according to its founder.
With more and more North Bay dairy farmers switching to the production of organic milk in recent years, prices have softened considerably. Despite that glut, Straus Family Creamery has remained profitable, and is moving full speed ahead on its creamery upgrade.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9434361-181/straus-family-creamery-moo-ving-from
Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
With gray skies drizzling upon him, Doug Beretta rode his all-terrain vehicle back to the milking barn after doctoring a downed cow.
The brown-faced Jersey had calved the day before and looked healthy that same night when Beretta checked on his animals. But the next morning the cow wouldn’t stand and showed signs of milk fever, a potentially fatal malady caused by low calcium levels in the blood. So Beretta, whose green overalls quickly became streaked with manure, slowly injected a solution of calcium and phosphorous into one of the cow’s veins. About an hour later the animal was back on its feet.
If only the third-generation farmer could find such effective medicine to turn around a struggling organic dairy industry.
Over the last 12 years, North Bay dairy farmers like Beretta have switched in droves from conventional milk production to certified organic operations. The conversions allowed them to earn a premium price for their milk and to gain more stability for their businesses as the market for conventional milk weakened.
But the U.S. today is awash in organic milk. Farmers have seen prices fall, and many worry whether their processors will keep taking their product.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/8144369-181/organic-milk-market-sours-for
Cynthia Sweeney, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
People who endure the stress of city life may dream of a life in the country, but not many take the leap.
Two and half years ago, Lori and Chris Melançon did.
The couple had initially purchased 12 acres of dormant pasture in Sonoma County, as an investment. Then it “called to them” with visions of farming vegetables and raising pigs, goats, and chickens. So they left lucrative jobs in San Francisco, Chris at a startup and Lori at a cancer-focused pharmaceutical company, and started LOLA Sonoma Farms.
“The entrepreneurial thing for us (in the city) started to fade,” said Chris. “In the early stage of this venture we realized the potential on the land and the entrepreneurial spark emerged again. We had the opportunity to take a small part of Sonoma County and show people — just as those who are interested in wine tasting — what it takes to grow sustainable, organic food. To have a lasting impact. And it doesn’t hurt that we’re outside in the fresh air and sunshine.”
Read more at http://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/7949227-181/urban-farming-organic-sonoma
Amie Windsor, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS
Sometimes, what the community loves and what the community values end up on opposing sides of the spectrum.
Take, for example, Lao’s Strawberries. The ever-loved strawberry stand, located on Highway 12, just east of the Sebastopol Grange, is a popular stopover for locals and tourists alike. Lao Saetern’s stand is known for its impossibly juicy, ever-red, super sweet strawberries, available from mid April through October.
However, the strawberries, as indicated by a report obtained from the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner, undergo pesticide and insecticide treatment, a practice in contrast to west county ideals and values of organic, chemical-free food.
The report is also in contrast to what the strawberry stand told Sonoma West Times and News back in April, when we reported on the season opening of the stand.
According to the report, Saetern used Roundup Powermax and Roundup Weathermax herbicides, along with Acramite 50WS — a pesticide — on his 12 acres of strawberries 17 times between February 2015 and November 2016.
“We spot treat,” Saetern said. “We don’t spray the whole field.”Saetern said he uses the pesticides and herbicides to fight off bugs and weeds that bring disease to the crops, such as spider mites and leaf blight.
“We have to attack so there’s no disease,” Saetern said. “If there’s disease we don’t use it. If there’s disease, there’s no food to eat or sell.”
While some might feel slighted about the revelation of Saetern’s chemical use, since the family farm maintained they used organic practices despite lacking an organic certification, it is important to understand that all strawberries — organic or conventional — are started in chemically-laced soil.
Read more at: Use of chemicals confirmed at strawberry stand | News | sonomawest.com
Center for Food Safety, ECOWATCH
The Center for Food Safety celebrated a huge victory in Sonoma County, California, on Wednesday when voters approved a measure that will prohibit genetically engineered crops from being planted in the county.
The passage of the Sonoma County Transgenic Contamination Ordinance, better known as Measure M, will protect local and organic growers and producers who choose not to plant GMO seed.
“Enacting change in the food movement, or any movement, starts at the local level and the passage of Measure M is an incredible victory for Sonoma farmers and gardeners,” Rebecca Spector, West Coast director of the Center for Food Safety, said. “Farmers deserve the right to grow food that is not contaminated by genetic engineering, just as the public deserves the right to purchase organic or GMO-free foods that are free from GMO contamination.”
Measure M passed by a large margin—55.9 percent to 44.9 percent—and Sonoma County now joins several neighboring counties including Marin, Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity and Santa Cruz that have passed similar ballot initiatives to protect farmers and crop integrity.
The Center for Food Safety is especially proud to see the democratic process work on behalf of our food, farmers and environment in this case for local food rights. The legal staff assisted in the drafting of the Sonoma ballot initiative and provided legal and scientific counsel throughout the last year, as with past county bans in California and in other states.
Source: Sonoma County Bans GMO Crops
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Known as Measure M on the November ballot, it would make it unlawful for people or entities of any kind to “propagate, cultivate, raise or grow genetically modified organisms.”
The ordinance prohibits genetically engineered animals. Violators would be subject to a fine of $100 for the first offense.
What the ordinance will not do:
- The ordinance would not prevent the sale or purchase of bio-engineered food or seed in Sonoma County.
- Forbid medical treatment for humans or animals using altered vaccines or medications.
- Prevent research into genetically modified organisms within the county as long as it was conducted in secure labs.
At McClelland’s Dairy west of Petaluma last week, cows needed no prodding to line up alongside metal rails where workers attached pumps to teats on the animals’ swollen udders. Fresh milk flowed through tubes, the amounts registered on digital meters.
When the session ended, a long gate like that on a carnival ride automatically released to let the cows out. Another group plodded in, and the milking began again.The ritual has been repeated at the Two Rock Valley ranch bordering Bodega Avenue for 51 years. But standing outside the milking barn in a warm afternoon sun, third-generation rancher Jana McClelland expressed concerns for the dairy’s future from a nearly invisible — some would say, imagined — threat.
McClelland fears the dairy could lose its coveted certification as an organic milk producer should pollen from a bio-engineered crop grown by a neighbor drift onto her family’s ranch. She and a number of other organic farmers in Sonoma County are supporting Measure M, a November ballot measure that proposes to ban genetically modified crops and seeds from being grown or used in unincorporated areas of the county.
“As an organic farmer, we want to use sustainable practices without the use of GMOs,” McClelland said. “This cross-pollination problem infringes on our right to be able to stay organic.”
A decade ago, Sonoma County voters overwhelmingly rejected a ban on GMOs following what likely was the most expensive ballot measure campaign in county history, with both sides spending a combined $850,000. So far, the 2016 campaign has not generated nearly the same heat. Citizens for Healthy Farms and Families, the group formed to support Measure M, has reported campaign contributions of $63,348, according to county records. Nearly half of that amount came from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.
Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris said the contribution reflects the tribe’s environmental mission and concerns about the risks of GMOs contaminating organic crops, including a 200-acre organic vegetable farm behind the tribe’s casino near Rohnert Park.
“For us, it was a no-brainer,” Sarris said of the donation.
To date, no organized Measure M opponent has reported raising any money.
Nevertheless, passions remain inflamed on both sides of the controversial issue. If passed, Sonoma County would join Mendocino, Marin, Trinity, Humboldt and Santa Cruz counties as the only communities in California to enforce bans on GMO seeds and crops.
Read more at: With Measure M, Sonoma County’s GMO foes seek to bolster organic agriculture | The Press Democrat
Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Eighty percent of the dairies in Marin and Sonoma counties now produce certified organic milk, a change that allows them to command a premium milk price and also has sheltered them from a severe downturn that has buffeted the conventional dairy market for more than a year.
The North Bay’s shift away from the conventional dairy business, which has taken place over more than two decades, represents a striking contrast with the rest of California, where organic milk comprises less than 2 percent of total dairy production.
So many local farmers have switched to organic production that Petaluma-based Clover Stornetta Farms, the Bay Area’s largest independent dairy processor, has reached out beyond the North Bay’s coastal grasslands to the Central Valley to satisfy its need for conventional milk.
“We have had to move east where the milkshed is,” said Marcus Benedetti, president and CEO of the company with the iconic mascot, Clo the Cow. “And that will be a trend that continues.”
But even moving to organic won’t entirely protect the local dairy industry from volatile ups and downs, as the nation’s organic sector faces a milk surplus. Already two large local buyers of organic milk have announced what they characterized as small price cuts, and some dairies could have difficulty finding processors for their milk.
Some are predicting upheaval in the larger organic market, though not as severe as what the state’s conventional dairies have been suffering.
Read more at: North Bay dairies shift to organic milk production, seeking higher income and stability | The Press Democrat
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A surge of interest in natural foods, local sourcing and environmental sustainability is bringing new life to the Civil War-era Grange movement, driving participation and restoring its relevance among modern folks yearning for connection to one another and to the food they consume.
The Sebastopol Grange — part of the nationwide farmers alliance that spans 147 years of agricultural development, economic expansion and vast social change — is among the groups that are thriving, its membership surpassing 200 people just a few years after its existence was threatened.
“It’s a process of revitalizing community,” President Jerry Allen said. “It’s going on all over, and it’s sure going on here.”
Granges in Sonoma Valley, Bennett Valley, Petaluma, Windsor, Bodega Bay and Hessel also are gathering strength, building community and blending a long-held commitment to the land with more contemporary views about how best to sustain it in a changing world.
Read more via New life at Sonoma County’s historic Granges | The Press Democrat.