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

Recology eyes big boost in composting in Sonoma County


Carole Carpenter always felt funny about throwing thousands of pounds of used coffee grounds into the garbage.

The manager of the popular Railroad Square café A’Roma Roasters knew the rich brown granules made a great soil fertilizer, a fact she was reminded of whenever customers asked if they could take some home to sprinkle in their gardens.

“It seems like such a waste to just throw them in the garbage,” said Carpenter, who has managed the operation for 20 years.

But with limited kitchen space, no simple way to set the coffee grounds aside for gardeners, and no green bin to dispose of them in, Carpenter just did what was easiest — she told employees to toss them in the dumpster along with all the café’s other food waste.

So Celia Furber, the waste zero manager with Recology, the city’s new garbage hauler, and John LaBarge, a Recology waste zero specialist, sat down with Carpenter last week to see if they could find ways to help the eatery keep more food waste out of the landfill.

It turns out that A’Roma Roasters should have been composting its food waste since Jan. 1, 2017. That’s when businesses that create more than 4 cubic yards of organic waste a week were required under AB 1826 to begin diverting it from landfills. Larger producers were required to start a year earlier.

But the city’s previous hauler, The Ratto Group, did not make it easy to set up the service, Furber said.


Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags ,

The globalization of produce


It’s obvious to anyone who visits an American supermarket in winter — past displays brimming with Chilean grapes, Mexican berries and Vietnamese dragon fruit — that foreign farms supply much of our produce.

Imports have increased steadily for decades, but the extent of the change may be surprising: More than half of the fresh fruit and almost a third of the fresh vegetables Americans buy now come from other countries.

Although local, seasonal and farm-to-table are watchwords for many consumers, globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. And despite the protectionist “America First” message coming from the Trump administration, the growth in imports appears likely to continue.

So this is an apt moment to examine how the shift happened, and what it portends — good or ill — for American consumers and farmers.

“I had no idea that more than half our fruit is imported, and it shocks me that this has happened so quickly,” said Michael Pollan, a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, whose best-selling books have analyzed the tensions between local and global food systems.


Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, ForestsTags , ,

Judge rules Napa County violated no California environmental laws in approving Walt Ranch


A judge has ruled Napa County violated no California environmental laws when it approved a hillside vineyard development east of Napa.

Environmentalist groups and a subdivision filed the lawsuits in January 2017, about a month after Napa County approved the development of 209 acres of vineyard on Walt Ranch. Craig and Kathryn Hall, owners of Hall Wines in St. Helena, have owned the 2,300-acre property for more than a decade.

The plaintiffs, who argued their case in separate lawsuits, included Living Rivers Council and the Center for Biological Diversity, two environmental groups, as well as Circle Oaks County Water District, a water district serving a subdivision adjacent to the Walt Ranch.

Napa County Superior Court Judge Thomas Warriner rejected the plaintiffs’ claims, including that the environmental impact report is deficient in analyzing and mitigating the impacts of the development on groundwater, endangered species protected under the Endangered Species Act or the effects or airborne drifts of pesticides.


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

Forecast shows California salmon fishermen in for another year of sharp limits


A third straight year of low king salmon runs is expected to deliver another blow to one of the North Coast’s most iconic and lucrative fisheries, wildlife managers indicated Thursday, as both regulators and fishermen faced the prospect of a federally mandated plan to reverse the trend and rebuild key stocks.

The grim news comes amid a dramatic, yearslong decline in the state’s commercial salmon landings, which are down 97 percent last year from their most recent peak, in 2013, when they hit 12.7 million pounds.

The full picture for commercial and sport seasons won’t be clear for several more weeks, but spawning projections show Sacramento River salmon — historically the largest source for the state’s ocean and freshwater harvests — have fallen so low that they’re now considered by regulators to be “overfished.”

Wildlife officials acknowledged that term minimizes the many factors that have led to this point, including shifting conditions in the ocean and years of low river flows during the drought, all of which have pummeled stocks.


Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags

California court ruling ends decades of state pesticide spraying


SACRAMENTO: A judge has ordered the California Department of Food and Agriculture to stop using chemical pesticides in its statewide program until the agency complies with state environmental laws.

The injunction, issued late last week, is a sweeping victory for 11 public-health, conservation, citizen and food-safety groups and the city of Berkeley. The coalition sued the state after unsuccessfully attempting for years to persuade the agency to shift to a sustainable approach to pest control that protects human health and the environment.

Despite thousands of comment letters urging the department to take a safer approach, officials in 2014 approved a program that gave them broad license to spray 79 pesticides, some known to cause cancer and birth defects, anywhere in the state, including schools, organic farms, public parks and residential yards.

Spraying was allowed indefinitely and required no analysis of the health and environmental impacts of the chemicals at the specific application sites and no public notice or scrutiny of treatment decisions. Many of the pesticides are also highly toxic to bees, butterflies, fish and birds.

This injunction follows a Jan. 8 ruling by Judge Timothy M. Frawley voiding approval of the agency’s statewide program for numerous violations of state environmental laws, including relying on “unsupported assumptions and speculation” to conclude that pesticides would not contaminate water bodies. The ruling also cited the state’s “woefully deficient” analysis of the cumulative danger of increasing the more than 150 million pounds of pesticides already being used in California each year.


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

Who grows your pot? Petaluma startup seeks cannabis labels


It’s been more than two decades since Michael Straus helped his family forever change the landscape of local agriculture with the concept of organic dairy products. Now, he’s hoping to play the same role in Sonoma County’s burgeoning cannabis sector.

The Straus Family Creamery, a Petaluma icon founded in 1994, became the first certified organic dairy west of the Mississippi and the first 100 percent organic creamery in the U.S. Michael Straus handled marketing, preaching the gospel of organics in a time when that concept was largely foreign to most consumers.

About two years ago, the epiphany for his newest venture, Hugo Straus, came to him as he was smoking a joint on the family farm in Marshall. As he inhaled the pungent smoke, he realized he didn’t know a whole lot about the cannabis carefully arranged in the rolling paper.

“My career was knowing about sustainable agriculture and local food and organic, small-scale farms and all that stuff. I knew where all my food came from,” said Straus, 50, who also founded Straus Communications, a public relations agency focused on organics and sustainability. “One day I’m smoking a joint and I look at myself like … Oh my god, I have no idea who grew this pot.”

His research into cannabis exposed what he described as a gap in the industry — some products were grown with pesticides, and “no one seemed to be paying attention,” he said. This year, California introduced more stringent testing regulations, and additional hurdles are set to kick in this July. But, some studies, including a 2016 study by Berkeley-based cannabis testing and analytics business Steep Hill, have shown that contamination has been found in cannabis products.

For Straus, it’s an issue for both the consumer and the environment.


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

Meet the new crop of urbanites-turned-farmers in Sonoma County


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.”


Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , ,

Jerry Brown officially downsizes Delta tunnel plan. But can he sell one tunnel?


The troubled Delta tunnels project was officially downsized Wednesday, as Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration announced it would attempt to build a single tunnel in its effort to re-engineer California’s elaborate water-delivery system.

Unable to secure enough money from California’s water agencies for the original twin tunnels concept, the California Department of Water Resources said it would now try to build the project in phases: one tunnel now and a second tunnel years down the road.

The long-awaited announcement doesn’t appear to immediately solve the financial questions looming over the project, known officially as California WaterFix.

A letter to water agencies from DWR Director Karla Nemeth says the first tunnel would cost $10.7 billion. That’s much less than the price tag for building two tunnels, now officially pegged at $16.3 billion. But the one-tunnel option also is considerably more expensive than the estimated $6 billion to $6.5 billion that’s been pledged so far by participating south-of-Delta water agencies.


Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, WildlifeTags , , ,

Garden Docs: Insecticides that are bad news for bees and butterflies

Joan T. of Santa Rosa asks: I was at a nursery the other day, and I had a rose fertilizer/systemic product in my cart. As I was walking through the nursery, a woman approached and asked me if I knew anything about the product, such as what it affects bees and other beneficial insects. I was puzzled and said I did not. After she told me about the concerns with this product, I was surprised, and put it back.

Can you please tell us what certain insecticides do to our bees and beneficial insects and what we should avoid buying?

Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticides that have been, and are being used by gardeners, farmers and professional landscapers. They are supposed to protect plants from sap-sucking and leaf-chewing insects. Neonicotinoids are systemic, which means they are absorbed by the plant, and are spread throughout all parts of the plant, including the nectar and pollen.

Unfortunately, bees, butterflies, and other flower-visiting insects are harmed by them and have been identified as a factor in overall pollinator declines. These systemic insecticides cause entire plants, including pollen and fruit, to become toxic to pollinators. They also are slow to break down in the environment. A large and growing body of independent science links neonicotinoids to catastrophic bee declines.

What is extremely alarming is that these products are readily available at garden centers and nurseries and sold to the home gardener, although the state of California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation has imposed a freeze on any new applications for products containing neonicotinoids while the issue is under study. The moratorium comes just as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Trump administration, began considering dramatically expanding use of the highly toxic neonicotinoid thiamethoxam on more than 165 million acres of farmland in the United States.

Before purchasing plants, ask your local nursery or garden center if they have been treated with neonicotinoids. You can also check the label for information about how the plant has been treated.

Read more for a list of products containing Neonicotinoids that you might see at nurseries and garden centers:

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

Op-Ed: The delta smelt heads for extinction, marking a half-century of failed California water policy

Michael Hiltzik, LOS ANGELES TIMES

The delta smelt is on the brink of extinction. This species…has fallen to the point where it can hardly be found anymore.— Doug Obegi, Natural Resources Defense Council

You might wish you had as much power to affect the environment and the economy as the delta smelt.

Enemies have blamed the tiny freshwater fish for putting farmers out of business across California’s breadbasket, forcing the fallowing of vast acres of arable land, creating double-digit unemployment in agricultural counties, even clouding the judgment of scientists and judges.

During the presidential campaign, the lowly smelt turned up in Donald Trump’s gunsights, when he repeated California farmers’ claim that the government was taking their water supply and “shoving it out to sea…to protect a certain kind of three-inch fish.”

But the delta smelt couldn’t be as powerful as all that. The latest California fish population survey in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which along with San Francisco Bay is the species’ only habitat, turned up only two delta smelt in four months of trawling from September through December. That’s the lowest count since 1967, and a far cry from the peak of 1,673 in 1970. The count is especially worrisome because it came after a wet year, when higher water flows in the delta should have led to some recovery in the numbers.

The figures arrive just as the Trump Administration is proposing to loosen Endangered Species Act protections for fish in order to “maximize water deliveries” to users south of the delta—that is, farmers—according to a Dec. 29 announcement by the Interior Dept. .

Read more at: The delta smelt heads for extinction, marking a half-century of failed California water policy – LA Times