Helping Understand Sonoma County’s Most Important Time of Year
By Steve Dutton, President
Published September 1, 2017
Every year, farmers and ranchers harvest their crops and agricultural products. Some of us do this once a year, some every day. In recent years, our operations have been increasingly surrounded by new families who have moved to Sonoma County and may not be familiar with or quite understand our rich agricultural heritage. As ag-zoned areas of the county become populated with rural residences, we need to stay at the forefront of educating our neighbors about the importance of agriculture and what we do here in Sonoma County. We can no longer assume that our neighbors appreciate that farming is the livelihood and backbone for many of the families who have called Sonoma County home for generations.
Many of our neighbors and tourists moved here or visit Sonoma County because of the wonderful bounty that is agriculture and its effects: the products we produce, the viewscapes we provide, the open space that surrounds our farms and ranches, the rural roads for biking that pass our properties. It seems though that fewer and fewer of these people have an understanding of the efforts farmers put into providing everything listed above.
Whether it is a milk truck picking up from a dairy, trucks hauling feed into a ranch, apples being picked and delivered to the cannery or grapes being harvested at night and delivered to the winery, we all have an impact on our neighbors and community. As agriculturalists, we need to work on educating people about the reasons we do the things we do during this time of year.
This is especially critical as grape harvest starts to swing into high gear. As Sonoma County harvests its 60,000 acres of grapes with a value of $586,517,700, growers need to become public relations experts more than ever. Communicating with our neighbors needs to be part of our standard operating procedure just like prepping for harvest itself.
We are all in a harvest frenzy to bring in our crops, but we need to stop and take a moment to recognize how we affect the people around us. Some neighbors are fellow grape growers and agriculturalists who understand the importance of this time of year and how critical it is to harvest at the right moment. Others have an appreciation of harvest and view the noise, smells and slow traffic as part of Sonoma County life or just a slight inconvenience. However, for those few who are disconnected from agriculture and may only see its impact as negative, it is critical for us to inform and educate. In addition to our neighbors, the harvest season always brings many visitors to Sonoma County who are allured by the winemaking process. During harvest, not only are the roads inundated with trucks, tractors and employees, but we also have tourists trying to navigate our county. Educating our community can help our neighbors understand why patience is not only important but necessary for the harvest work and for the economic value that the wine community delivers to Sonoma County.
The logistics of harvest from moving equipment to delivering the fruit have made picking at night a common practice in Sonoma County and beyond. Night harvests can be an inconvenience to the people around us, so growers should be having conversations with the residents of Sonoma County to explain to them the reasons night harvesting is better for the grapes and the employees. Picking grapes at night provides more favorable conditions for our vineyard employees who prefer the lower temperatures versus the heat of the day. It also saves energy as grapes brought in at significantly lower temperatures don’t have to be chilled when delivered to the winery. In Sonoma County where the grape growers and vintners have committed to sustainability, environmentally friendly practices and providing favorable conditions for our workforce are important parts of our businesses.
Harvest season can be an exhilarating yet stressful time of year for farmers and the community alike, and through education we can help the community understand the pressure agriculturalists are under. To do this, we need to work with our community and visitors so that they understand what we are doing and continue to support Sonoma County agriculture. Taking the time to have one conversation with a frustrated neighbor or visiting tourist about why we do what we do can make a difference.
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the author and Sonoma County Farm Bureau when reprinting this item.