In a sort of grapes versus eggs story, a small-time Windsor farmer this week decided to shut down his drive-up business rather than fight a neighboring winery’s insistence that he no longer use a small stretch of their access road.
After almost four years of selling fresh eggs from a stand just off Arata Lane, Wise Acre Farms closed down its direct-to-consumer operation, rather than get into a court battle with Windsor Oaks Vineyards & Winery, which owns the road to the farm.
“I kind of have no choice,” said Wise Acre owner Bryan Boyd, explaining that the winery denied him the use of their road and he would need to build a new driveway to Arata Lane — estimated to cost $7,000 to $10,000 — if he wants to stay in business there.
His predicament provoked some backlash against the winery on social media as well as some loyal customers who arrived at the farmstand only to find it closed.
“Oh my God, I’m so upset. Where will we be able to buy our eggs?” said Carrie Marvin, as she drove up to the closed farmstand on Monday.
Considering the small number of vehicles that pull up to the stand — Boyd estimates about eight per day— she expressed dismay that the winery couldn’t accommodate the egg-laying operation.
“That’s a pretty un-neighborly, un-Windsor type of thing,” she said. “I’m so sad. This is an agricultural area.”
On Wise Acre’s Facebook page, some of the egg-buying public suggested picketing the winery or boycotting its wines.
But winery officials lay the blame at the feet of Boyd’s landlords, who agreed a decade ago to restrict their use of the winery road to residential access. The winery says that precludes an egg-selling business.
Douglas Lumgair, general manager of Windsor Oaks, said the winery has been put in a difficult situation, but the easement they worked out about 10 years ago with Boyd’s landlords, Bob and Edna Honsa, clearly stated they could only use the winery’s driveway for residential use, to access the two houses on the Honsas’ property.
One of those houses is where Boyd and his girlfriend, Raina Brolan, moved to in 2011 and set up their business, which now includes 1,200 egg-laying hens.
“It’s a simple matter of landlords who represented that a tenant could use the access for one thing and the landlords didn’t have permission for the tenants to do that,” Lumgair said. “We’re not trying to be the bad guys. We’ve been asking nice and gently and reminding them for a very long time now.”
Boyd said his egg-laying operation is now surrounded by more and more vineyards, making it difficult for small farmers like himself to operate.
“The biggest problem is trying to farm in Windsor, because of the amount of vineyards that are occupying Windsor farmland,” he said. Boyd said he may have to move to Petaluma — once dubbed the “Egg Capital of the World” — because there is more land available and it’s “more friendly to the small farmer.”
Eggs highly regarded
Most everyone seems to agree that Boyd’s Wise Acre Farms produces tasty eggs, laid by free-roaming hens, fed with the best grains and hydroponically-grown barley sprouts. The birds are rotated around an approximate 15-acre site using mobile fenced enclosures.
Boyd works 12-hour days, with little time or no time off, aided by a massive Great Pyrenees guard dog that fends off predators, from foxes, to bobcats, raccoons and skunks.
Customers could pull in to the farm stand off Arata Lane, help themselves to a carton or more of the blue-green eggs in the refrigerated case and leave their money in an honor-system transaction.
Although Wise Acre eggs are offered for sale in a couple of markets and a few produce outlets, Boyd said he makes most of his money on his farm, and has finally begun to show a profit, with customers paying $8 for a dozen eggs.
Boyd’s rented home and the farm operation is reached by driving over an approximate 30-foot stretch of the Windsor Oak winery’s gravel road, the link to nearby Arata Lane.
Landowner Edna Honsa, who comes from the pioneering Brooks family that settled in Windsor in the 1850s, said that the winery road originally was built in 1921 to access the family ranch where they raised sheep and grew apples and grapes.
The Honsas sold all but 100 feet of the gravel road to Windsor Oaks and she acknowledged they signed an agreement in 2003 that restricts access to residential use, after being “ill advised” by an attorney.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think they would land-lock us off our property,” she said.
Winery in expansion
The winery’s plans to expand operations by building a tasting room and host events apparently brought the issue to a head.
In late 2013, Windsor Oaks was granted approval by the county Board of Zoning Adjustments to more than double its production and hold more than a dozen public events annually, which prompted protests from nearby residents over the increased traffic and potential disruption it would bring to their rural neighborhood.
The permit was based in part on a traffic study that predicted an average of 53 new daily trips generated by winery events.
As part of the expansion, the main access to the winery will no longer be Hillview Road, which is lined with a number of residences. Instead, the winery traffic is to be funneled down its 1.7-mile gravel driveway, which will be improved with a chip seal surface.
Recently, the winery began building a fence and installing landscaping along the access road as part of an initial expansion that includes winery improvements and construction of a tasting room.
Some months before that, Boyd said he received a letter threatening him with a lawsuit if he didn’t stop his farm stand operation.
After consulting with an attorney, he decided not to fight it because “it would be a tough case to go after and win.”
He expects his farmstand will be out of business for two to five months, until he can either afford to build a new access road or move elsewhere.
“It is frustrating trying to find land and get along with the neighbors,” Boyd said. “It makes farming that much harder.”
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter@clarkmas.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Sonoma County Farm Bureau does not categorize egg producers and the number of their hens as commercial or noncommercial. This story has been updated to correct a description of the bureau's position.