These Sonoma County businesses aren’t just cultivating crops or raising livestock, they’re farming carbon

Pulling carbon dioxide out of the air and returning it to plants and the soil seen as key to helping solve problem of climate change.|

Gold Ridge and Sonoma Resource Conservation Districts at-a-glance

Founded: Gold Ridge, 1941. Sonoma, 1946

Executive directors: Gold Ridge: Brittany Jensen. Sonoma: Valerie Quinto

Headquarters: Gold Ridge in Sebastopol; Sonoma in Santa Rosa

Employees: Gold Ridge: 11. Sonoma: 16

Product: Help for agriculture including carbon farming website:,

Editor’s Note: The Press Democrat is publishing a series of stories about Sonoma County innovators who are tackling global warming. We invite readers to propose stories of those involved locally in climate change. Share your ideas by contacting our editor,

Major studies of climate change, including decades of reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, conclude that pulling carbon out of the atmosphere has to be part of the solution to global warming.

Some experts say Sonoma County is in a position to make a valuable contribution in this effort.

Using techniques called carbon farming, local agriculture experts know how to draw carbon into plants and soil, and many farmers and ranchers are open to tackling the challenge, they say.

The knowledge, skill and will are here, if financing can be found.

“Carbon farming is one of our best opportunities to achieve our climate goals in this county. Farmers and ranchers are already being part of the solution, and that’s only going to increase,” said local ag expert Valerie Quinto.

Leaders in this Sonoma County effort are two 80-year-old organizations that grew out of a national movement to help farmers during the desperate years of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.

In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt urged states to form conservation districts that would teach, finance and support farmers to voluntarily conserve soil, water and natural resources for future generations. In 1941, the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District was the first to open in Sonoma County.

Today, the county has two of these districts -- the Gold Ridge district, which serves west county from a farmhouse on Sullivan Road near Graton, and the Sonoma Resource Conservation District, which serves the rest of the county from an office on Farmers Lane in Santa Rosa.

The districts provide inspiration, technical expertise and financial assistance for farmers and ranchers. That includes helping craft Carbon Farm Plans that detail strategies to reduce emissions.

“Born out of the Dust Bowl, and quietly going about their work ever since in collaboration with farmers, they are the boots on the ground standing ready and able as we now face a much greater problem,” said Jeff Creque, co-founder of the Carbon Cycle Institute in Petaluma.

That group helps a growing number of resource conservation districts nationwide develop carbon farming programs.

Scientists still have a lot to learn about effective carbon farming, and some experts say money should be spent on more immediate ways to replace fossil fuels.

But supporters say sequestration -- the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide -- is critical because industrial techniques are limited and farmers can sequester today.

Carbon farming uses dozens of strategies, including compost application, cover cropping and tree and hedgerow planting to absorb carbon and reduced tilling and manure management to prevent carbon release.

These strategies can help reverse the impacts of practices like heavy tilling and deforestation that contributed to the greenhouse gas buildup.

“Agriculture is part of our community, which has emissions from many activities. We’re in this together,” Quinto said.

The potential impact of carbon farming on Sonoma County greenhouse goals can be significant, according to the Regional Climate Protection Authority in Santa Rosa that coordinates countywide climate efforts.

In a 2016 study, it estimated the county has 160,250 acres of agricultural land and 104,443 acres of grazing land conservatively able to sequester 1 metric ton of greenhouse gases per acre per year.

In a 2021 study, it said that by 2030, Sonoma County needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% and sequester about 750,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually to achieve carbon neutrality.

The authority notes that homes, businesses, nonprofits and governments can also use carbon farming techniques.

Several local groups have carbon farming programs, such as Soil Carbon Management in Fulton which works to put carbon back into the ground and the nonprofit Daily Acts that is developing educational tools to encourage capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide at home.

At the Gold Ridge and Sonoma districts, trained carbon farm planners work with clients to write the carbon farm plan and help with such tasks as finding funds and supplies, filling out grant applications, getting permits, calculating emissions and monitoring progress.

Thus far, Gold Ridge has completed 19 plans covering 3,638 acres. Sonoma has finished 13 plans covering 3,600 acres with seven plans at 2,900 acres in progress.

Of the 32 completed plans, 13 are rangeland, 11 are vineyard and others are dairy, cropland and orchard. The plans estimate this work has the potential to save 20,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year.

An example is Bodega Pastures, a 982-acre sheep cooperative just west of Bodega that has long been managed ecologically.

Its Carbon Farm Plan, completed by Gold Ridge in 2018, is 54 pages of single-spaced text, charts and maps that describe the farm and ways it can potentially save 355 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually.

So far, Pastures has applied compost to 35.8 acres, improved grazing practices by using portable water systems and solar-powered electric fences to move their 200 sheep often, and planted 325 feet of hedgerow around the vegetable garden.

Gold Ridge estimates greenhouse gas benefits at 55.7 metric tons in the first year, 1,115 metric tons over 20 years.

“It’s thinking beyond one’s lifetime, to do what we can to reduce climate damage,” said Hazel Flett, a spokeswoman for Bodega Pastures.

For most farmers, financing is the key impediment to carbon farming, said Brittany Jensen, executive director of Gold Ridge.

“In Sonoma County we definitely have enough interest. Our limiting factor is funding,” said Jensen.

Some help may be on the way, with September’s announcement that the two districts are included in two out of 70 projects selected from among 450 applicants for climate grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Financing is also a problem for California’s resource conservation districts, which don’t have secure funding as do districts in some states.

More than 90% of their financing comes from grants and government contracts and varies year by year. Precious staff time is spent piecing together various funding sources and filling out applications.

In their most recent fiscal year, Gold Ridge reported $3.4 million in revenue and Sonoma had $3 million.

The Regional Climate Protection Authority has called for the two districts to get $20 million in secure, permanent, annual funding by 2030.

Mary Fricker is a retired Press Democrat business reporter. She lives near Graton. Reach her at

Gold Ridge and Sonoma Resource Conservation Districts at-a-glance

Founded: Gold Ridge, 1941. Sonoma, 1946

Executive directors: Gold Ridge: Brittany Jensen. Sonoma: Valerie Quinto

Headquarters: Gold Ridge in Sebastopol; Sonoma in Santa Rosa

Employees: Gold Ridge: 11. Sonoma: 16

Product: Help for agriculture including carbon farming website:,

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