Before I go any further with this article, I would like to make sure that we are semantically on the same proverbial page and would, therefore, like to define a couple of crucial terms.
Agriculture is the science, the art, or the profession which deals with farming by cultivating the land and then growing and harvesting its crops as well as by feeding, breeding and raising livestock such as horses, cattle, sheep and poultry.
Sustainable agriculture is essentially defined in the same way as “agriculture” per se. However, sustainable agriculture must meet certain criteria and its definition has the following added elements:
* It must be socially just by treating its workers fairly.
* It must be humane in its care of livestock.
* It must be economically viable by earning a respectable living for its owners and workers.
* It must be environmentally friendly by avoiding the depletion of the land and its natural resources.
In 2002, the State of California has enacted the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing which ranks it at the head of sustainable grape farming in the nation as well as around the globe.
Out of the more than 250 growers of wine grapes in Sonoma County, close to forty percent have adjusted their modes of operation and have been reassessed in order to qualify as sustainable farmers to be included in the Sustainability report of the State of California.
Based on each farmer’s particular circumstances, personal points of view, way of life and individual farming preferences and aspirations, the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing provides a “sustainability equation” centered around fourteen distinct elements for every grower to comply with. Such elements touch on every facet of cultivating, growing, harvesting and ultimately marketing wine grapes. Management of the farm’s ecosystem, conserving energy, avoiding air pollution, recycling and reducing waste, fair and just treatment of employees, good relationships with neighbors and contributive efforts to the wine grape farming community at large are but a handful of examples of the kind of elements that are addressed in the “sustainability equation.”
For instance, one farmer may decide to make his farm organic and will, therefore, avoid using herbicides or pesticides of any kind. A second farmer may choose to protect a nearby stream from excessive sediment by planting cover crops. A third farmer might select to use farm machinery that emit fewer pollutants and provide more efficient usage of fuel. Each of these farmers made a very different choice but they all chose to improve the sustainability of their farms for those who will inherit them in the future.
Sustainable agriculture is an ongoing process that needs to be continually addressed and re-address while more improvements must be sought out through more targeted educational programs and the development of new techniques. And such are the modes of operation for many wine grape farmers in Sonoma County. They have had an impressive track record of more than 150 years of sustainable farming with often repeated statements such as, “I want to leave my farm in a better condition than it was when I first got it.” “My farm is in a much better shape today than it was in my father’s time and it will be better yet in my children’s time.”