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Work shut down at controversial Sebastopol vineyard project


Published: Friday, June 28, 2013 at 6:16 p.m.Last Modified: Friday, June 28, 2013 at 6:16 p.m.
Winemaker Paul Hobbs has been ordered to stop work on his controversial orchard-to-vineyard conversion near Sebastopol after inspectors found that hundreds of yards of blackberry bushes and bay laurel had been cleared illegally from a protected zone above a creek.

“It's a very serious violation of their permit,” said Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar, whose office issued the stop work order to the Paul Hobbs Winery.

Rules prohibiting the removal of riparian growth from within 50 feet of a waterway are a “cornerstone of our erosion control plan,” he said.

Hobbs has had several high-profile run-ins in recent years with county officials and neighbors over his land-clearing practices. On Friday said he had been in Asia when the clearing took place.

“I've got to say, I'm baffled and I'm very sad to see this situation. I feel bad for putting the county through this,” he said. “I'm taking full responsibility for this and I'm going to make the changes I need to make to fix it.”

The order, issued on Tuesday, also cited a failure to install proper erosion control measures, which allowed sediment to flow into the creek during recent rains.

“Hobbs let everyone down here,” Linegar said.

The Watertrough Road project has been fiercely opposed by people who say it will disturb pesticides once used at the orchard and cause them to drift to nearby schools, endangering children in particular.

On Friday, some of those parents said that their doubts had grown now about whether Hobbs could comply with measures he has promised to undertake to minimize the impact on the schools.

“If they're doing this, how about all those other steps? They're far more complicated,” said Christine Dzilvelis, whose daughter attends Orchard View School. “Mitigating the dust when they remove the trees is far more complicated than complying with regulations in a riparian zone.”

Told of those concerns, Hobbs said: “That's why I'm going to have a change of leadership. I'm going to have someone new take over. I'm confident we can do it.

"I'm painfully aware of the scrutiny and this is the last thing I wanted or needed. I really thought we had it buttoned down. We didn't.”

Agricultural Commissioner inspectors and Regional Water Quality Control Board staff discovered the violations after responding to a complaint.

“This sort of activity is not condoned by our winegrape growing community. We're all really disappointed,” said Linegar, who had previously strongly defended Hobbs' project against its critics.

Hobbs, whom Forbes magazine dubbed “the Steve Jobs of wine,” has been caught up in a repeated conflicts locally over environmental practices.

The latest came just weeks after he started the conversion of the 48-acre former orchard next to Apple Blossom School.

“It's utterly shocking, to say the least,” said 5th District Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who has harshly criticized Hobbs in previous cases.

Those included one 2011 instance in which he was also ordered to stop work after clear-cutting trees from a former Christmas tree farm near Sebastopol. That year, Hobbs also cleared trees on a 10-acre site east of Guerneville without needed permits.

Asked whether he should have learned from those missteps, Hobbs said: “That's what the whole community will be asking.

“The fact is, some of these things, it sounds like an old broken record: 'I must be stupid; I must not care about anything; I'm just the bad apple that Efren Carrillo said I was,'” he said.

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Work on Hobbs vineyard conversion halted by county


Posted: Friday, June 28, 2013 4:06 pm | Updated: 4:49 pm, Sat Jun 29, 2013.by David Abbott Sonoma West Times & News Editor |1 comment

The Sonoma County Ag commissioner’s office has ordered work stopped at the site of the Paul Hobbs vineyard conversion on Watertrough Road after a complaint of water runoff in the wake of storms earlier this week.

County and Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) officials investigating the complaint found that sediment had been washed into the creek on the property and further that Hobbs had cleared riparian vegetation along the creek.

“We discovered that there were not adequate measures taken to address runoff,” Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar said. “Bottom line is, the project manager should be prepared for any rain event.”

The vegetation removal that was discovered also violated the terms of the project’s permit that requires a 50-foot setback from the creek, according to Linegar.

“There was a significant amount of vegetation removal,” he said. “This was a serious breach of our agreement.”

Linegar added that the matter is “unfolding,” and is being investigated by several government agencies, including RWQCB, California Fish and Wildlife and possibly even the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“Certainly there will be action,” Linegar said. “The grape-growing community at large condemns this sort of activity. He is not representative of the grape growers at large.”

The conversion began earlier this month on the 40-acre property surrounding the Twin Hills Union School District campus that includes Apple Blossom School, Tree House Hollow Pre-school, Orchard View School and SunRidge Charter School.

There has been an uproar over the conversion by parents in the district and activists in the Sebastopol area over pesticides found in the soil and fears of the use of pesticides in the vineyard.

The local vintner has had some high-profile dustups over vineyard conversions in other parts of the West County.

His long-running issues with former neighbor John Jenkel led to the conversion of Jenkel’s Graton property into vineyards and in October 2011, Hobbs cleared Davis Christmas Tree Farm in Graton, leading to a public castigation from 5th District Supervisor Efren Carrillo.

Hobbs’ Marketing and Public Relations Manager Tara Sharp was unavailable for comment.


Twin Hills parents not done fighting conversion

Click here to go to the link: _

Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 3:13 pm

by David Abbott Sonoma West Editor abbott@sonomawest.com 

Public forum scheduled for May 29

Parents from the Twin Hills Union School District have mobilized in an attempt to halt a proposed vineyard conversion in order to have more tests done on the soil and to get increased mitigation efforts in the soon-to-be vineyard surrounding the school district.

“We’re hopeful,” Joy Hamel, of the Watertrough Children’s Alliance (WCA), said. “Last week, we had an initial meeting with (Paul) Hobbs’ PR folks to get the conversation moving.”

The WCA is “a group of parents, children, educators and community members” associated with five area schools, including SunRidge, Apple Blossom, Orchard View, Nonesuch, and Tree House Hollow Preschool.

On May 29, there will be a public forum to discuss what is happening on the property and what can be done to decrease the amount of spraying likely to take place near the schools.

Opposition to the proposed conversion has been brewing since late last month when the abandoned buildings on the property, purchased by Paul Hobbs Winery in late 2012, were demolished.

Hobbs plans to convert 30 acres of the 40-acre parcel to winegrapes, leaving 10 acres as they are.

News of the conversion prompted an online petition to try to stop the project and the creation of the WCA. The petition reportedly had more than 700 signatures as of Tuesday.

According to a press release from the WCA, the group is committed to “organizing to engage the current policies and standard practices that need changing,” although they are fully aware that the conversion will in all likelihood take place.

“We want to work on engaging in a conversation about current practices and keeping spraying to a minimum,” Hamel said. “First, we want to put a halt to the conversion to do further soil testing. Then, we want (Hobbs) to move forward with practices that are good for people and good for the community.”

But in order to do that, the group will have to depend on the participation of Hobbs, as the Sonoma County Agricultural Commission has basically green-lighted the project.

“We’ve had discussions with the WCA to provide them with information and explain the process,” Ag Commissioner Tony Linegar said. “There’s not a lot they can do. (The conversion) fits in the ministerial standard. Our job is to decide if it fits in the criteria.”

Linegar expects the permit to be issued within the next two weeks.

The WCA had an independent test done on soil samples from the site that found traces of DDT, which has increased concern over apple tree removal that is expected to raise a lot of dust in the immediate area.

But the Ag Commissioner believes the conversion will reduce exposure for students at the schools, as conventional apple orchards use more chemicals that are sprayed higher in the air than vineyards. He added it is likely any orchard that has been around since the 1940s or ’50s will have traces of DDT, as the powerful pesticide was used until it was banned in 1972.

“We don’t want an abandoned orchard. They become breeding grounds for pests and disease. It’s the last thing you want,” Linegar said. “I’d rather see it ripped out. … I’m glad it is staying agricultural land and not turning into a subdivision.”

It is not clear whether Hobbs will attend the public forum or not.

“We invited them to the forum and we’re hopeful they’ll come. We hope to have a peaceful and harmonious communication, however it is a public forum,” Hamel said. “We’re hoping to find a way to move forward in a healthy way. ... We’re under no illusions. He’s a wine guy and we do live in an agricultural community.”

Hobbs has already offered to work with the school district to create “educational opportunities” and to move some of the apple trees to the campus, as well as creating a buffer zone between the school and the vineyard.

Additionally, he is proposing more than $100,000 in expenditures to rehabilitate the soil in preparation for growing high-end grapes.

“Paul Hobbs Winery is continuing to work with neighboring schools and the newly formed Watertrough Children’s Alliance.” Hobbs’ Marketing and Public Relations Manager Tara Sharp said. “The conversations have been constructive and useful for both sides to understand our respective perspectives and goals. We are completely aligned with regard to keeping our children safe and healthy.”

But parents are skeptical of Hobbs’ intentions, as the local vintner has had some high-profile dustups over vineyard conversions in other parts of the West County.

His issues with former neighbor John Jenkel led to the conversion of Jenkel’s Graton property into vineyards and in October 2011, Hobbs cleared Davis Christmas Tree Farm in Graton.

But apple orchards have caused their share of problems as well.

In May 1998, an apple orchard in the area was fined for the “drift” of pesticides that found their way to Apple Blossom School after officials found diazinon residue on the outside of the building.

The public forum on the “health risks of toxic chemical farming” will take place on Wednesday, May 29, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Sebastopol Grange, 6000 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol.

According to a press release for the event, speakers “will address concerns and issues related to health risks of toxic chemical farming and the progress of the WCA’s mission.”

For information on the WCA, go to watertroughchildrensalliance.weebly.com or e-mailwatertroughchildrensalliance@gmail.com.

Estrella and Arnold

Montana, soon to be a radio personality that we can all trust.

We were on KSRO http://www.ksro.com/ 1350 am Talking about Watertrough Childrens Alliance. You can click the mp3 link below to listen to our segment!

We will be on KOWS http://kows107-3.org/ Tomorrow night May 31st from 7-9 with Arnold Levine.  Please tune in to listen about last nights Public Forum and more about the work we have been doing!  

You can stream it live through your computer or tune in locally.

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Tulare County Residents Win Greater Protection from Dangerous Pesticides

Click here to go to article: _
February 21st, 2008

New rules announced for pesticide applications around schools, homes and labor camps 

PLAINVIEW, CA—After over two years of calling on local authorities for greater protection from airborne pesticides, communities celebrate the Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner’s announcement of new buffer zone rules. As spray season gets underway, communities across Tulare County welcome these changes and call for even stronger protections to protect the health of communities from toxic airborne pesticides. 

The new county rules—or “permit conditions”—require a buffer zone of one-quarter mile prohibiting aerial applications of restricted use pesticides around schools in session or due to be in session within 24 hours, occupied farm labor camps and residential areas. Gary Kunkel, the Tulare Country Agricultural Commissioner, signed the rules into effect on January 1, 2008. 

“The times are changing about when, where and how pesticides can be applied,” said Gustavo Aguirre, Assistant Director of Organizing at Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “The ‘business as usual’ approach of poisoning community members and polluting the air is no longer acceptable.” 

Community members launched efforts to establish buffer zones because of the serious health risks posed by pesticide exposure, ranging from short-term effects such as dizziness, vomiting and rashes to long-term effects including asthma, cancer, birth defects, damage to the developing child and neurological harm. Children are more vulnerable to the dangers posed by pesticides because their bodies are still developing. Over 50% of all public schools in Tulare County are within one-quarter mile of agricultural operations, putting the county’s children at high risk of exposure. 

The Cutler-Orosi School Board, the Allensworth School Board and over 1750 organizations and individuals have endorsed the call for buffer zones in Tulare County. Of the 12 schools in the Cutler-Orosi Unified school district, 11 are within one-quarter mile of fields. Visalia Unified is the only Tulare County school district with more schools—fourteen of them—situated less than one-quarter mile from fields. 

Community efforts to protect themselves from airborne pesticides have included conducting surveys documenting the general public’s exposure to pesticides, sampling for pesticides in their air and in residents’ bodies, and presenting local authorities with a petition endorsing the establishment of buffer zones around sensitive sites such as schools.

Towns such as Plainview that are next to alfalfa or cotton fields where aerial applications are common will benefit most from the new rules. The rules apply only to restricted use pesticides, or those that applicators must obtain a permit to apply because they are among the most hazardous to the health of humans and the environment. 

“This is a great victory for communities who regularly and unwillingly breathe pesticides in their day to day lives,” said Irma Arrollo, Director of El Quinto Sol de América, a local Lindsay community group. “Regular people can change things when they get together. This is just a first step to protect the health of our families from pesticides. It’s an excellent start.” 

These new Tulare permit conditions—the same as those in Kern and Kings counties—are the strongest buffer zones in the San Joaquin Valley. Other San Joaquin Valley counties either have weaker or no general buffer zone rules in place around schools, labor camps and residences. 

“Drifting pesticides onto people is illegal, but inevitable in the way we currently farm,” commented Teresa DeAnda, Central Valley Representative of Californians for Pesticide Reform. “The writing is on the wall that pesticide air pollution is no longer acceptable. We need to support growers to grow crops without using toxic pesticides.” 

The Safe Air for Everyone (SAFE) Campaign aims to prevent pesticide air pollution in California and support a safe and sustainable farming system that protects the health of farmworkers, their families, other directly affected communities and the environment. 

This is not the first time there has been concern with these schools and pesticide usage. Read on to find out more:

Toxic Shock, featured in MetroActive.com

New report cites widespread health risks from local agricultural pesticides

By Janet Wells

WHEN JACKIE Screechfield dropped off her 13-year-old daughter at Apple Blossom School one day last spring, she noticed a plume of spray coming from a tractor in one of the apple orchards surrounding the Sebastopol middle school. "I could smell a kind of a sharp odor that goes right to your head, and I saw the spray coming off the tractor and right towards campus," Screechfield says. Could it be, she wondered, connected to whatever was making her daughter and other kids at the school sick that week?

Within minutes the scene turned from a common Sonoma County sight--a farmer rumbling along in a orchard or vineyard--into a major incident with parents, the school superintendent, ambulances, fire trucks, the sheriff's deputies, and the county agricultural commissioner swarming over the school.

Samples taken that day from Screechfield's car, as well as sites around the school, tested positive for organophosphates, a class of insect poison whose health effects include headaches and nausea at low exposures, and numbness, seizures, coma, and death at high exposures. Children are usually hit harder than adults.

From an agricultural standpoint, the pesticides found weren't particularly alarming types or amounts, and are not classified as restricted by the state. But the incident, coupled with her daughter Samantha suddenly developing severe allergies at the end of that week, certainly raised a lot of questions for Screechfield, who spent several months last summer participating in a study monitoring the air around California for evidence of pesticide residue.

The study, released by the Environmental Working Group last week in a 44-page report, "What You Don't Know Could Hurt You: Pesticides in California's Air," found pesticides drifting in the air after spraying in 62 percent of the 26 samples taken in Sonoma County.

The report also estimated that Sonoma County contributes more than a million pounds a year of smog-forming chemicals that evaporate into the air after application of pesticides. The most prevalent pesticide used in the county is sulphur, a common fungicide acceptable for use even in organic farming to combat bunch rot and other grape mildews. But the report also found airborne traces of phosmet and carbaryl, both insecticides.

"This study validates our concern that pesticides often drift beyond property lines to poison the air of our neighborhoods and schools," Screechfield says.

The report is highly critical of the state's Department of Pesticide Regulation, calling for Gov. Gray Davis to "clean house" at the department and transfer authority over airborne pesticides to the California Air Resources Board. "All other pollution in the air is regulated by the Air Resources Board, which not only has more expertise, but also has shown a much more aggressive stance in protecting the public," says Bill Walker, California director of the Environmental Working Group.

"Agriculture exerts such influence that the Department of Pesticide Regulation essentially acts as an advocate for agriculture and an apologist for people who want to use pesticides."

Veda Federighi, spokeswoman for the Department of Pesticide Regulation, bristles in response to such charges. "The idea that we're not regulating pesticides and we're not protecting people, nothing could be further from the truth," she says. "The Environmental Working Group based this [report] on fewer than one hundred samples from the air. We do hundreds every year.

"We don't allow pesticides to be used unless they are used safely," she adds.

Walker agrees that the monitoring study is not comprehensive or authoritative. "We think that's the state's job," he says. Walker points out that the state pesticide agency has never taken air samples of airborne pesticide residue in Sonoma County. Between 1991 and 1995, according to the report, the agency did monitoring 50 times in 14 locations--about one test for every 84,000 pesticide applications in the state.

State spokeswoman Federighi counters that, with the use of technology, there is no need to go to every county in the state. "The area we select for monitoring is the county with the highest use for that pesticide. We pick the month of peak use. That represents the worse case. Then we use computer modeling to estimate what might be found in other areas," she says.

"We know how the air behaves in Sonoma County. We need data on how pesticides behave generically."

She adds that the department is not surprised that the study found detectable traces of pesticide in the air in Sonoma County. "All have been well below health concerns," she says. "The biggest point of disagreement between us and [the Environmental Working Group] is that EWG is saying there's no level of pesticide that's safe. What we're saying is the dose makes the poison. If the exposure is low enough, there is no health effect."

Judy James, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, agrees that farmers are not overusing chemicals.

"Pesticides are expensive and cumbersome and difficult as far as regulations are concerned. Most farmers don't want to use more than is absolutely necessary," she says.

But small doses don't necessarily mean safe doses, according to the report, and it is crucial for the public to receive advance notification of pesticide use--something that is not mandated by state or county regulations. The report calls for 72-hour written notice to all homes, schools, and businesses within 1,000 feet of a field before application of any toxic pesticide.

"It would be a physical impossibility," says Mike Smith, the county's assistant agricultural commissioner. "How would you notify everybody? There's no way of monitoring the whole county to accomplish this."

Rick Theis, executive director of the Sonoma County Grape Growers Association, echoes that opinion. "Do people call up their neighbors when they put Sevin on their roses? That's probably more dangerous than sulphur," he says. "These things are made to be applied in a way that essentially is not a threat to neighbors."

IN A COUNTY where the suburban population is increasingly bumping up against agriculture, pesticide use boils down to a "good neighbor policy," Smith says. "We encourage people to communicate with each other."

Screechfield hopes that policy will work. In talks with the farmers who cultivate land surrounding Apple Blossom School, parents acknowledge that last year was particularly difficult for farmers, with heavy rains necessitating use of high amounts of sulphur and other pesticides to avoid mold and fungus on grapes.

The farmers agreed to notify the school of sprayings, and to do any school-day sprayings before 6 a.m., and the school has purchased a water blaster to wash down playground equipment.

"It's hard for the farmers. A lot of the fields are addicted to the pesticides, are used to having fertilizer and spray," Screechfield says. "We're trying really hard not to create a hostile environment, instead looking for ways for them to move into more sustainable ways of farming, and ways they can move into it without economic hardship."

The county Agricultural Commission leaves it up to individual growers to decide whether to employ more organic-style farming methods, which use fewer toxic chemicals. Both the Sonoma County Grape Growers Association and the Farm Bureau are pursuing programs and funding to decrease the use of traditional pesticides.

"The problem is there are not a lot of alternatives right now," James says. "Until we have viable alternatives to pesticides, we don't want to ban them. They are tools, and can be good tools."

A copy of "What You Don't Know Could Hurt You: Pesticides in California's Air" can be obtained by calling 415/561-6698.


Apples for Grapes 

A bad tradeoff: yep, Paul Hobbs is at it again

Over 400 people signed a petition last week against Paul Hobbs Winery and its plans to convert an apple orchard into a vineyard surrounding five schools in rural Sebastopol.

Hobbs is an international wine baron who owns vineyards in at least half a dozen countries, and who has a history of clearcutting without permits and then paying fines afterward. He is among those responsible for changing the Redwood Empire into "wine country."

Though the orchard-to-vineyard conversion in Sebastopol has been in process for around a year—as some school officials have apparently known—parents didn't find about it until last week, when workers in hazmat suits showed up.

"Nobody wants their child exposed to something that could hurt them," said mother Christine Dzilvelis who, along with others in the new Watertrough Children's Alliance, is concerned with pesticide drift, asbestos, lead and arsenic poisoning in the soil and water contamination.

"As the director of a preschool on the Apple Blossom campus," writes Barbara Stockton, "I am utterly appalled that his development might occur."

"We have children at Apple Blossom and Orchard View schools," wrote Michelle Muse upon signing the petition. "Our children will be within feet of herbicide and pesticide applications. This is not acceptable."

Mothers and allies met last week with various officials, including agriculture commissioner Tony Linegar, who has the power to deny a permit for the vineyard conversion, which is still being reviewed.

Hobbs—who took over a portion of neighbor John Jenkel's land in a contentious and highly criticized maneuver in 2011, and then cut down even more trees along a designated scenic corridor—is often called a "bad apple" of Sonoma County's wine industry. But the obvious issue rose from Amy Taganaski, who has two children at Apple Blossom School: "How can the school continue to be called Apple Blossom if there are not apples to be found nearby?"

Shepherd Bliss operates a farm near the proposed vineyard, teaches college, and can be reached at 3sb.comcast.net.


Mothers and Allies Challenge Wine Industrialist

By Shepherd Bliss 

Half a dozen mothers from Sebastopol and its countryside quickly rallied hundreds of people to their side to challenge Sonoma County’s Paul Hobbs Winery. He wants to convert a 40-acre apple orchard into a vineyard that would use pesticides; it borders five schools on Watertrough Road, including Apple Blossom and Orchard View. Together they have around 700 children. 

The mothers only found out in late April about Hobbs’ plan and in less than a week got over 400 signatures on their petition “Stop alcohol firms from endangering children and the environment.” The conversion has been in process for around a year--as some school officials apparently knew—but parents did not find about it until recently, when workers in hazmat suits showed up to demolish a house and barn.

“We are deeply troubled by the cumulative, chronic, and acute health effects from the use of pesticides, fumigants, insecticides, rodenticides, and other toxic chemicals,” the petition notes. 

Parents complain that this fast-moving conversion has had no public input yet and is reaching its final stages. They see it as primarily a health issue. The parents are especially concerned about the possible presence, after decades of pesticide use in the orchard, with the presence of lead arsenate in the soil and the damage it is known to do to children.

Hobbs is an international wine baron with a history of clear cutting forests without permits and then paying small fines from his extensive wealth. He owns vineyards in at least half a dozen countries and sells wine for an average of around $60 a bottle. 

The petition was signed mainly by locals, but residents of Norway, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Poland and Saudia Arabia also signed the online version. At least one signer is a local elected official, John Eder of the Sebastopol City Council. In 1999, the Sebastopol City Council passed a resolution to avoid using pesticides on City-owned property. 

Some signers of the current petition request that people boycott wine made by Hobbs, which includes his Cross Barn label.

Sonoma County Agriculture Commissioner Tony Linegar met on May 1 with half a dozen adamant mothers, as well as a former Sebastopol mayor, an attorney, a scientist, and a teacher. The meeting lasted for well over two hours. Linegar agreed to form a working group on the problem and meet with them again May 13.

The first public news of this conversion appeared at WaccoBB.net. The conversation on the thread there has included over a hundred posts and remains lively: 


“We represent many people who are upset by this vineyard conversion. We do not want to be poisoned,” mother-of-two Nicole Baum said. She hopes that this incident might lead to changing some laws, especially as more people move into the countryside.

“Nobody wants their child exposed to something that could hurt them,” added Christine Dzilvelis. “My daughter loves the orchard. It is peaceful and pretty.” It also provides nutritious food—“an apple a day keeps the doctor away”--rather than alcohol.

Dzilvelis and others in the new Watertrough Children’s Alliance are concerned with pesticide drift, asbestos, lead and arsenic poisoning in the soil, and water contamination in the Atascadero Green Valley watershed.

“As the Director of a preschool on the Apple Blossom campus,” writes Barbara Stockton, “I am utterly appalled that this development might occur.” 

“My motivation for challenging this vineyard is the science that shows the short- and long-term negative effects of pesticides on children,” commented Estrella Phegan, mother of a five-year-old. “If even one children was impacted with increased asthma, and many more will be, I want to make sure that would not happen here. We Moms are the children’s voices. Keeping our children safe at school is basic.”

Photo: Amber Risucci
“We have children at Apple Blossom and Orchard View schools,” wrote Michelle Muse upon signing the petition. “Our children will be within feet of herbicide and pesticide applications. This is not acceptable.”

Supporters of the mothers are sending letters to the daily Press Democrat and the weekly Sonoma West, which published articles on the pending vineyard during the first week of May. “We work to bring awareness to our community of the risk of losing our apple heritage, and with it some of our food security. Wine grapes are not food!” wrote Paula Shatkin of the Slow Food Russian River chapter, which is part of an international organization started in Italy with hundreds of thousands of members.

“Apples are part of Sebastopol’s cultural heritage, part of our sense of community, and they are family friendly. Children cannot pick or eat wine grapes. Families cannot preserve them or make cakes and pies out of them,” Shatkin added.

Sonoma County does have many sustainable grape growers who are environmentally friendly and use organic, biodynamic, and other integrated pest management practices. 

Sun Ridge, a Waldorf charter school based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, is one of the five schools contiguous with the planned vineyard. At their annual May Festival at their downtown campus, attended by a couple of hundred people, the vineyard was a subject of conversation among parents, as well as some children.

“I’m upset about not only the health risks to children but also to birds and bees, as well as the loss of open space where wildlife can live and visit,” commented six-year-old Ely’s father Thomas Cooper. “Even young kids at Sun Ridge are upset by pesticides,” commented Jina Brooks. “Waldorf schools are about sustainability and this vineyard would be the opposite.” 

“Sonoma County is apples. The annual Apple Blossom Parade is our tradition,” commented eleven-year-old Olivia Litwin. “Apples taste better when they are from here. Apples are good for you and you can make lots of tasty things with them.”

“I got involved with this struggle because I know we can do better for everyone involved—the kids, the farmers, others in the world,” added Dzilvelis. “My daughter loves being at Orchard View School. We would have to leave if circumstances prove not to be safe.”

“We just got a grant to teach eco-friendly things about communicating with the land, rather than taking away from it,” mother Amber Risucci noted. “This is a whole eco-system that we are trying to protect. Many parents have organic gardens and feed our kids as best as we can. Why would we then send them to schools next to large corporate vineyards that negate what we do at home? We try to live as people whose food nourishes us, rather than harms us.”


Setting up a new conventional vineyard is like chemical warfare against the soil and other living creatures nearby. Only a few would be pests to the vines, but in the attack the protected chemical warriors kill many beneficial insects and other critters to create their sterile mono-crop. Then the stakes go orderly into the ground in regimented, industrial rows. 

This is not nature’s way. Nature will then try to recover by sending up a cover, labeled weeds, to which the chemical warriors return to de-nude the ground again. One would not want to be nearby, especially if you are young, fragile, and vulnerable.

The hazards of agricultural chemicals are revealed by the following:

  • The West Fertilizer Company near Waco, Texas, accidental explosion of chemicals on April 17 this year killed 15 people, mainly firefighters, and leveled 80 homes.

  • 168 people were killed in 1995 by the deliberate igniting of agricultural chemicals at the Oklahoma City Federal Building, including 19 children under 16 years old. 324 buildings were damaged and 680 people were wounded.

  • The European Union recently banning certain pesticides because they have been implicated in the massive bee colony collapses, which threatens the pollination of one third of humans food supply.

“How can the school continue to be called Apple Blossom if there are not apples to be found nearby?” writes Amy Taganaski, who has two children there. It is not the right place for a vineyard, contend the mothers and their growing number of allies.

Nor the right winery. Hobbs has been described as the “bad apple” of Sonoma County’s bloated wine industry. 

Hobbs’ Public Relations Manager Tara Sharp claims that the winery plans to be “good stewards of the land.” Its track record is otherwise. Hobbs “zeal for deforestation” was detailed by journalist Will Parrish in a June 2, 2011, article in the Anderson Valley Advocate (AVA). 

Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo published a blistering critique of Hobbs in 2011. “Hobbs has shown a blatant disregard for Sonoma County, its resources, his fellow vintners and community sentiment” Carrillo is quoted as saying on the Sonoma County Gazette website. “His wines are unpalatable as they carry strong tones of environmental harm with overwhelming notes of arrogance.”

This current struggle, according to former Sonoma County Planning Commissioner Rue Furch, may “help us move the county to a more sustainable agricultural future.”

The petition can be found at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/263/347/984/stop-corporate-alcohol-firms-from-endangering-children-and-the-environment/#sign

The Watertrough Childrens Alliance recently set up the following website:

(Shepherd Bliss operates a farm near the proposed vineyard, teaches college, and can be reached at 3sb.comcast.net)