Local food and wine producers pressed lawmakers Monday to relax some agricultural regulations while also emphasizing the merit of their voluntary efforts to create sustainable food systems.
Joe Pozzi, president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and fourth-generation rancher from west Sonoma County, argued that private landowners play a key role in sustainable food production, and said producers need more acreage to feed people in Sonoma County and across the state.
"To me the private owners are the ones that make their conservation work," Pozzi said. "I think we need to look at private ownership as a way to keep things fresh, keeping things vital, keep things vigorous in the sense of production."
A state legislative committee focused on California's local, organic and sustainable food systems met in Santa Rosa to discuss how the Legislature could help improve food production. Led by Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, the committee heard from a range of agriculture and wine industry representatives, environmentalists and public health advocates.
"Without farmers, we have no food," Evans said, agreeing with Pozzi that farmers play an important role in land stewardship.
Speakers argued that environmental goals were best achieved by collaborating with landowners, rather than imposing regulations that can be confusing and costly. They praised the success of certification programs such as Fish Friendly Farming, organized by the California Land Stewardship Institute, which works with farmers to create and sustain healthy fish habitat on private lands.
In Sonoma County, 22,000 acres are enrolled in the program, and Napa County has 52,000 acres, said Laurel Marcus, executive director of the California Land Stewardship Institute.
"It's important to note that all of this was done through voluntary means and working collaboratively with landowners," Marcus said. "In the Russian River as well as Napa River, we do see a lot of stream restoration going on. . . . We see farmers being willing to give up some of their land and turn it back into habitat."
The Code of Sustainable Winegrowing has been a popular tool for local grape growers to improve their operations, said Nick Frey, president of Sonoma County Winegrape Commission.
"As a result of this voluntary program, we've had over 400 growers do self assessments and over 300 have submitted data for the statewide sustainability report, and those growers farm over 60 percent of the grape acreage in the county," Frey said.