Watertrough Childrens Alliance-
help us protect our children

Finding balance


EDITOR: Your article about residents protesting the conversion of another Sebastopol apple orchard missed the wider picture by a mile (“Residents protest orchard-to-vineyard plan,” June 18). The fact that Paul Hobbs winery is “working with local officials” and “following regulations” only points out that regulations need to change, and maybe local officials need to change too.

Sonoma West Letter to the Editor


Editor: As a mother, when I look at the map and see the vineyard wrapped around Apple Blossom Elementary School, it is the disregard that hurts. Disregard for the environment, schools, children and community.

Disregard on the vintner’s part, for buying the property that impacts five different schools, from his PR person Tara Sharp, for her lack of outreach and the Twin Hills School district for their lack of timely notification to parents. Some parents were uninformed until the public forum on May 29, hosted by the Watertrough Children’s Alliance.

Sharp claimed they “do not plan on spraying during the regular school year.” Yet she was unaware that the Tree House Hollow Pre-school had not been notified about the conversion. Willow Spring School Summer Drama Camp will be open June 21 to July 8. Tree House Hollow Pre-School will be open during the summer. Sharp was surprised that the superintendent had not informed anyone, and said she would “Look into it.”

Really? Conversations with the school district started six months ago and parents found out this past few weeks. Yes please, look into it; you will not have to look far. It comes down to money and power. Apparently, Hobbs has so much he does not have to take this into consideration.

He does not consider our children or those with less power, including the farmers who are financially forced to sell their land. They are dismissed and get continued neglect, toxic spray and dust coating their communities and schools. Toxic substances like Round Up that Tara reports they will use are banned in Europe and have been shown to cause cancer and abnormal growth.

This will not happen until later. It will happen when our children are far from the orchard, but don’t worry; there is a “good neighbor policy.” A policy based on people having moral character. Who are we talking about? Paul Hobbs. You do not have to go far to hear about who this international wine grower is and his reputation for disregard of the environment, community and now our children.

Jina Brooks


It is with sadness and frustration and a bit of optimism too that I read the story about the planned destruction of apple orchards and replacement by yet another vineyard in Sebastopol.  The Apple Core committee of Slow Food Russian River has been working for 11 years to promote Sebastopol apples and apple farmers and to save the Gravenstein apple from commercial extinction.  We work to bring awareness to our community of the real risk of slowly but surely losing our apple heritage, and with it some of our food security.  Wine grapes are not food!   

There are many more issues at stake here, and pesticides and water use and fences blocking wildlife corridors and the use of Roundup, a known carcinogen, are just some of them.  Apples are part of Sebastopol's cultural heritage, part of how our sense of community has evolved, and they are family friendly too.  Wine is none of these things.  Vineyards are often owned by corporations or by "vanity" owners who pay little or no attention to responsible water use and farming techniques.  Children cannot pick or eat wine grapes.  Families cannot preserve wine grapes or make cakes and pies out of them.  Vineyards are not beautiful, and they do not remind us of Spring.  They may make more money per acre for their owners, but they destroy so much in the process and put our agricultural biodiversity at serious risk.

We support the parents and are heartened by the fact that a new group of us has become aware of this awful conversion issue and are willing to take a stand.  We hope that the powers that be in our town wake up too, and realize that the tax revenues and personal wealth created by corporate alcohol cannot begin to make up for the losses we are suffering to the quality of our lives.  We welcome new volunteers to our efforts.
Paula Shatkin
Co-Leader, Slow Food Russian River
Coordinator, Save the Gravensteins 
Paula Shatkin
P.O. Box 453
Occidental, CA

Children are sacred

by Craig Litwin | 2 comments

Many of us enjoy the bounty of Sonoma County’s agricultural community, our local meats, dairy, fruits and vegetables and the value added products. We produce fantastic olives, cheeses, breads, and of course our world renowned wines.

We also have one of the fastest growing organic food industries in the United States. Our farmer’s markets, restaurants that offer seasonal and spray-free dishes, even national chains are offering organic product lines.

This is a trend for a reason. Increasingly, individuals understand that reducing and ultimately eliminating our synthetic, chemically dependent agriculture is critical to a healthy future. Spray-free local agriculture protects our lands, our communities (note the recent horrific explosion of the chemical-fertilizer plant in Texas next to a school), ourselves and those with the most to lose when inundated with poisons, our children.

I urge every farmer to at least be spray-free. I also understand that things happen in stages. Even though the organic movement is developing quickly it is not all going to happen at once. We do, though, need to advance to the next stage. We need to end spraying within a quarter mile of all of our schools in Sonoma County. This need is illustrated by the proposed development of a vineyard next to Apple Blossom and Orchard View schools.

We have the opportunity to petition the State to create safety zones around our schools that are spray-free, though it is very difficult to acquire such a designation. The potential risk to our children is too great to not move this policy forward. Think about it, a 150 pound adult and a 40 pound child may both be exposed to the same chemicals, but the ratio of chemical to body mass is much higher in the smaller person who also has a less developed immune system.

It is true that we as parents should have been monitoring the spraying of the apple orchards next to the schools for much longer. It is public knowledge that in 1998 children were poisoned from chemical drift at Apple Blossom.

That being said, parents are organizing now. And any spray near the schools is clearly not worth the health risk for the economic reward. I see protective mothers, outraged, organizing. The school board and superintendent are involved. Something has shifted in what is acceptable. Concerned parents have created a working group with our Agricultural Commissioner, Tony Linegar.

In the short-term, we urge the landowner, Paul Hobbs, to make this vineyard an organic vineyard. Many other wineries in our beautiful county grow organic grapes, and make a lot of great wine in the process. Of course, we would be even happier to see the apple orchard remain and be converted to an organic orchard, perhaps even a learning center for the adjacent schools. There is a valid concern over what heavy metals and other toxic residue would be stirred up if the old apple trees are uprooted.

We have the opportunity to create a real partnership for our schools, economy, and between neighbors. We have the chance to play it safe, and not potentially endanger the children. I remember when I was a child on the bus to Apple Blossom and the bus driver yelled at us to shut the windows fast; we could all see the pesticide cloud billowing out of the tractor and drifting over Watertrough Road.

In the long-term, we also need to work with the County Supervisors to improve the Vineyard Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance, (VESCO).

Currently, a farmer needs to file a report a month after pesticides have been sprayed. Spray notification beforehand makes sense. Let’s eliminate pesticide runoff to neighbor’s properties, our creeks and ground-water supplies. And we need to create policies to infiltrate more of our groundwater instead of sheeting or piping it off the property as fast as possible.

So what do you say, Team Human, can we all work together to protect the children?

Craig Litwin is a graduate of Apple Blossom and Twin Hills, and has three children in the school district.