Tagged: California

What chicken cages have to do with pork

hen house

Photo by Flickr user robotika, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Frank Morris recently produced a great piece for NPR about opposition to California’s efforts to improve the living conditions of egg-laying chickens. As he describes,

most U.S. hens live crammed into very close quarters, according to Joe Maxwell, with the Humane Society of the U.S. And he says that’s just wrong.

“There are some things we should not do to animals,” says Maxwell.

California voters felt the same way, and six years ago they passed Proposition 2, requiring California producers to provide cages that are almost twice as large as most chickens have now. The Legislature followed that with a law requiring that all eggs sold in California be raised under those conditions.

Six farm-country states have joined a lawsuit against California over the issue, with support from other parts of the animal-ag business. As Morris details,

Don Nikodim with the Missouri Pork Association calls it “a clear violation of the U.S. Commerce Clause.”

Now, why would pig farmers care about henhouse restrictions?

Because when a huge state like California slaps restrictions on food it imports, farmers all over the country become alarmed. And Nikodim says this won’t likely stop with eggs.

“Logically, the next step is, we should extend our authority on how you produce pork to other states as well,” he says. “Then is it dairy, is it beef, is it corn — go down the list.”

Nikodim is worried that restrictions on cramped pig stalls, called gestation crates, may come next.

Check out the full piece here.


Brewing beer amid the California drought


Bear Republic Brewing Company. Photo by Flickr user Christi Nielsen, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Last week I caught a story on the PBS NewsHour about the current drought affecting much of California. As the piece by Spencer Michels details, ranchers, vintners, farmers, and others whose livelihoods rely on a sufficiently wet landscape are facing tough times. In a small Sonoma County town, a craft brewer is going so far as to help the municipality dig new wells:

SPENCER MICHELS: One of Cloverdale’s most thriving businesses depends on a lot of water. Bear Republic Brewing Company, a regional brewery that makes Racer 5 IPA, is trying to conserve water. For every gallon of beer, they use 3.5 gallons of water, much lower than the industry standard.

Co-founder and brewmaster Richard Norgrove says he isn’t sure if Cloverdale’s wells will provide the brewery with enough water this year.

RICHARD NORGROVE, Bear Republic Brewing Co.: We may have to truck it in. We could move our production out of state. We could move our business to a community that’s not affected by water use problems. But those aren’t really part of what the family plan is. We’re local and want to stay here.

SPENCER MICHELS: Instead, to insure an adequate water supply, Bear Republic has entered into a private-public partnership with Cloverdale to bring more wells into production.

RICHARD NORGROVE: We have lent them close to a half-a-million dollars to accelerate their well drilling, which is really helping the infrastructure for the community. If we don’t manage our watershed, we may not even be able to grow this business, because there’s not going to be enough water for everybody.

SPENCER MICHELS: And the town is equally enthusiastic with the arrangement.

For more on the Cloverdale in particular and the California drought in general, check out the full video and transcript at the PBS NewsHour website. For further details on how Bear Republic and Cloverdale are confronting the problem of scarce water, check out this recent article by Kevin Fagan for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Salmon habitat threatened in California pot country

Medical Cannabis Growing Operation in Oakland, California

Photo by Flickr user Rusty Blazenhoff, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Alastair Bland recently wrote about the consequences for struggling salmon populations of booming marijuana agriculture in northern California. As he details at NPR’s The Salt,

According to critics, marijuana plantations guzzle enormous amounts of water while also spilling pesticides, fertilizers and stream-clogging sediments into waterways, including the Eel and the Klamath rivers, that have historically produced large numbers of Chinook salmon and related species.

“The whole North Coast is being affected by these pot growers,” says Dave Bitts, a Humboldt County commercial fisherman and the president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

“I have nothing against people growing dope,” he says, “but if you do, we want you to grow your crop in a way that doesn’t screw up fish habitat. There is no salmon-bearing watershed at this point that we can afford to sacrifice.”

Growers say they’re being scapegoated, though:

[M]arijuana growers are undeservedly taking the blame for a problem that is caused by all residents of the North Coast, argues Kristin Nevedal, a founding chairperson with the Emerald Growers Association.

“It’s just so easy to point a finger at cannabis growers because it’s a federally prohibited substance,” she tells The Salt. “The truth is, if you flush a toilet in the hills, you’re a part of the problem.”

Find the full article here.

Trees versus grapes

Redwood Majesty

Photo by Flick user Danielle Martin [MizzD], used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Alastair Bland recently posted at NPR about an ongoing fight over approval that California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection granted a winemaker to clear land for vineyards:

In the California wine mecca of Sonoma County, climate change is pitting redwood lovers against red wine lovers.

This [past] Friday morning, a coalition of environmental groups [were] in a Santa Rosa, Calif., courtroom fighting to stop a Spanish-owned winery from leveling 154 acres of coast redwoods and Douglas firs to make way for grapevines.

Redwoods only grow in the relatively cool coastal region of Northern California and southern Oregon. Parts of this range, such as northwestern Sonoma County, have become increasingly coveted by winemakers.

Chris Poehlmann, president of a small organization called Friends of the Gualala River, says the wine industry is creeping toward the coast as California’s interior valleys heat up and consumers show preferences for cooler-weather grapes like pinot noir.

Leaving aside Bland’s false dichotomy—I’m pretty sure plenty of redwood lovers enjoy red wine, and vice versa—It’s an informative piece that places details of this particular case in a larger context. Check out the full article here.

Cross-country road trip: Wish you were (drinking) here, part 2

Picking up where I left off yesterday, here’s a look at more of the beer and wine adventures that J and I had on our recent road trip to the West.

Oregon wineries: We visited a few Willamette Valley wineries this time, including a visit to the Van Duzer tasting room. As you can see below, the view is just gorgeous. Our friends told us that the wines have greatly improved in recent years after a new winemaker came on board; the work is paying off, as we enjoyed our tasting flight. We also made a repeat visit to Sokol Blosser. There we got to visit their beautiful, new, sustainably built tasting room, and once again sample their amazing wine. We left with a bottle of the dessert wine that on our last trip I was surprised to love so much. Speaking of our last visit here, our tasting guide Jim was on duty again this time around. Amazingly, he remembered us and our friends from our visit a year ago, and he was as engaging as ever. Thanks to search-term bots that scour the web (for mentions of, say, Sokol Blosser), he even knew that I’d talked about the winery on this blog last fall. Very cool!

The view from one end of the patio at Van Duzer's tasting room. Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The view from one end of the patio at Van Duzer’s tasting room. The slightly fish-eye effect is an artifact of the very wide panorama shot. Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The Local Beer Bar, Eureka, CA: On our drive from Oregon to the San Francisco Bay Area, we stopped at this great bar, which I discovered on Yelp. They had dozens of amazing beers on tap, and a cooler full of a wide array of bottles for drinking on site or taking to go. The bartender was friendly and extremely knowledgeable, and the patrons all seemed to be beer geeks (90% men when we were there) who were happy to be drinking great craft beer in the company of their own kind. We geeked out with a few of them about West Coast and Midwest brews. Once again, I neglected to take notes on which hoppy beers J tried, but I know that I had the Noel de Calabaza (on tap) from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, a holiday seasonal that I was delighted to try even in August. It was an absolutely fantastic sour! As the Jolly Pumpkin website describes, you can expect “deep mahogany and malty, layered hops, figs, raisins, sugar plums, cashews betwixt rum laden truffles.” Mmmm! I also picked up a sour from Mikkeller that I’m saving for another day: Spontannoble 2012. If you are in the area, I highly recommend a visit to The Local.

Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Russian River Brewing Company, Santa Rosa, CA: Of course, no self-respecting lover of great beer could drive near Santa Rosa, California, without visiting Russian River Brewing Company. The place was very busy even at 2 pm on a weekday, but we managed to snag two stools squeezed in near the front end of the bar. It was a bit of a madhouse there at the entrance to the pub, with folks crowded around to buy bottles, growlers, and swag to go or a beer to drink while they stood waiting for a table or a seat. Nevertheless, it was well worth the stop. J tried Pliny the Elder (I think) and Row 2, Hill 56. I was driving, so I kept it to one: Propitiation, a truly delicious barrel-aged sour porter. We also snagged a few bottles for the road, including Damnation (bottle-fermented golden ale), Temptation (sour ale aged in chardonnay barrels), and Supplication (sour ale aged in pinot noir barrels with cherries added). And yes, most of their beers have “-ation” religious names, making it nearly impossible to keep straight which is which. We even heard a bartender tripping over his tongue and getting confused as he tried to name and describe several beers to a patron.

Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Our perch at Russian River Brewing. Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Steins Beer Garden, Mountain View, CA:  J and I missed this the last time we were in town, but we were happy to find it this time. (The prices are steeper than Montana Ale Works, but this is Mountain View after all.) I had the amazing Cuvée Des Jacobins Rouge on tap for the first time, and then had a fun flight of mostly stouts that included North Coast Brewing‘s Old Rasputin (nitro), Clown ShoesVampire Slayer, and High Water Brewing‘s Campfire Stout. The bartenders weren’t nearly as knowledgeable as at the Local, but we had a nice time regardless.

We had to let the bar staff know that the menu incorrectly lists Vampire Slayer as a milk stout. Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

We had to let the bar staff know that the menu incorrectly lists Vampire Slayer as a milk stout. At double-digit ABV, you’d have thought that someone would’ve realized it’s an imperial stout? Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

And still more?! Yes, yesterday and today’s extensive lists still don’t cover all the great (and occasionally not-so-great) beverages that we enjoyed on our trip. Others included Terminal Gravity Brewing‘s Bar X Stout (delicious!) on tap in Oregon and Unibroue‘s Éphémère Apple (too reminiscent of a green apple Jolly Rancher) on tap in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Coming soon: post(s) about some of our culinary adventures!

Farming without irrigation

Central Coast Organic Farm Tour

Dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes at Dirty Girl Farm on California’s Central Coast. Photo by CUESA via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

About a year ago, I posted about a farming technique known as dry farming. I thought the topic was interesting and unusual enough that it merited a re-post while I was away last week. My timing turned out to be spot-on, since yesterday NPR ran its own piece on the subject.

As Alastair Bland describes,

At Happy Boy Farms, near Santa Cruz, sales director Jen Lynne believes dry farming could be an important agricultural practice in the future, when water will likely be a less abundant resource.

But the taste of her dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes is the main reason chefs, wholesalers and individuals around the country are increasingly calling to place orders…. The idea behind dry farming is that by restricting a plant’s water intake, its fruits wind up with less water content and a greater density of sugar and other flavor compounds.

The main problem?

farming without irrigation has a major drawback: dramatically reduced yields.

Stan Devoto, a farmer in Northern California, says his dry-farmed trees produce 12 to 15 tons of apples per acre per year. Irrigated trees, on the other hand, may bear 40 or 50 tons. And McEnnis says he harvests about 4 tons of tomatoes off his acre of vines each summer and fall, whereas conventional growers may reap 40 tons per acre.

Head here for the full piece, and use one of these links to check out my earlier post.

Dry farming on the California coast

David Little of Little Organic Farm. Photo by Gary Yost Photograph, retrieved from CUESA via Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Thanks to Civil Eats, I discovered this article by Brie Mazurek for the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, which operates the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. She profiles farmers on the California coast who raise fruits and vegetables without any irrigation, a process known as dry farming. As she writes,

David Little of Little Organic Farm has had to adapt to water scarcity in Marin and Sonoma Counties, where most farmers and ranchers rely on their own reservoirs, wells, and springs, making them particularly vulnerable in years with light rainfall. Through a technique known as dry farming, Little’s potatoes and squash receive no irrigation, getting all of their water from the soil.

Mediterranean grape and olive growers have dry-farmed for thousands of years. The practice was common on the California coast from the 1800s through the early 20th century, but it became a lost art during the mid-century. Today, it is experiencing a modest resurgence along the coast, where temperate, foggy summers offer ideal conditions for dry farming grapes, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, melons, grains, and some tree fruit….

Deprived of any surface irrigation besides the coastal fog, dry-farmed plants develop deep, robust roots to seek out and soak up soil moisture. Because they absorb less water than their conventionally irrigated counterparts, dry-farmed crops are characteristically smaller but more nutrient-dense and flavorful.

It’s a fascinating read, and includes some great links and photos, so check out the full piece here.


The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on August 16, 2012.