January is the month for beginnings. We are expected to leave the past to molder and go forth to new adventures.
It was with this in mind that I read the headline — big headline, lead story — in the New Year’s Day newspaper: “Legalized pot poised to transform region.”
While “poise” is not a word I would normally associate with pot, so be it. The region is about to be transformed. Again.
I suppose, along with our northern neighbors, we will become Pot Country, just as we share the Wine Country label with Napa and Mendocino.
Some of us aren’t sure what to think about this.
Those who look back seeking answers have ceased comparisons to Prohibition since cannabis has long outstripped bootleg liquor as a disruptive part of the economy.
The other three crops that have had their own time in the spotlight and earned their capital letters would be Gravenstein Country, The World’s Egg Basket and The Buckle of the Prune Belt.
When you think of how many identifying slogans have come and gone through the 195 years of recorded North Bay history, the mind boggles.
Each of these eras, ages, phases, for lack of a more socially scientific term, has a beginning. Everything has a beginning.
Where and when these money crops got started would seem to be a matter of historical record, often pointing back to a single individual (which is probably too easy, but we persist). Agoston Haraszthy, the enterprising Hungarian nobleman wasn’t the first to plant grapes, but he gets the credit because, in the 1860s, he persuaded the state of California to pay for his trip to Europe to bring back cuttings of varietal vines.
They flourished and wine grapes survived Prohibition, the Depression and war to earn the capital letters on Wine Country.
Amasa Bushnell came here in 1858 from the East Coast with, of all things, hop plants. Pioneer farmers were trying all sorts of things in this new land. Bushnell and his partner, Otis Allen, speculated that these exotics, grown in a few special places around the world, might do well in the alluvial soil along our streams. They planted some trial vines, and, for the next 100 years, Sonoma County was the go-to place for America’s brewing industry.
In Petaluma, in the 1870s, Lyman Byce, more tinkerer than inventor, devised the first commercial incubator, enabling hatcheries to provide baby chicks by the hundreds — and turned Petaluma into the World’s Egg Basket.
Warren Dutton’s happy notion about planting French prunes in the Russian River Valley didn’t make us Prune Country (thank heavens!) but it did put money in orchardists’ pockets and give Healdsburg the honor of being capital of the Prune Belt.
A Laguna rancher named Nathaniel Griffith worked with his friend Luther Burbank, who had 500,000 apple trees of his own, and together they made the Gravenstein orchards more productive. Burbank, who also had his hand in development of Dutton’s prunes and in the early wine industry, earned worldwide fame, but Griffith claimed his capital Gs as Grandfather of the Gravenstein.
The craft beer industry, which brings beer-lovers on pilgrimages to savor the flavors, has a number of more recent pioneers but it is Byron Burch and Nancy Vineyard who get some pioneer credit for awakening home brewing skills here in the 1970s, Burch and his then-wife Vineyard started The Beverage People, bringing interested start-up brewers to his doorstep for tutorials.