Al Cadd, the Man of the Russian River

Written By: Admin
Published: June 1, 2012

For all of his 86 years, Al Cadd has lived on a bend of the Russian River that meanders through the Alexander Valley, the agriculturally-rich vale where his family has farmed since 1914. He considers himself a lucky man to live in a place that not only offers incredible natural beauty but fertile farmland that has sustained generations of families for more than 150 years.

The Cadd family, spanning six generations in the Alexander Valley, has produced hops, prunes and apples over the last century and, at one time, operated a 50 cow dairy. Today, the family ranch, like most of Alexander Valley, is planted to wine grapes that achieve world-class eminence in the valley’s terroir.

Cadd, equal parts farmer, environmentalist, hydrologist and rural philosopher, is a steward of the valley’s farmland and a vigilant protector of the Russian River and its fish, believing all are resources that must be preserved for future generations. He is committed to farming in a way that is ethical and sustainable, living the adage that if you take care of land and water it will take care of you.

“In my heart I have always felt that we must preserve and protect what we have so there will be something left for those who follow us,” said Cadd, whose long and productive life is a profile in healthy, simple living on land he loves. He and his wife of 65 years, Alyce Cadd, who shares her husband’s passion for fishing, live in a two-story ranch house built by his grandfather in 1919.

Cadd’s dedication to farmland preservation and his long tenure as keeper of the Russian River have earned him Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s 2012 Luther Burbank Conservation Award. The award recognizes Cadd’s stewardship and environmental ethic at a time when those values are such an important part of the public pact.


“Al is a man with a passion about the environment, protecting nature’s steams and farmland. His commitment has helped make Sonoma County a better place to live and enjoy life,” said grape grower Jim Murphy of Murphy Family Vineyards in the Alexander Valley. Murphy grew up on his family’s ranch, which is across the road from the Cadd homestead.  Over the years, Murphy has come to appreciate and value Cadd’s worth ethic, honesty and integrity as a neighboring farmer and conservationist.

Cadd will be honored at Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Love of the Land celebration on July 19 at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard at 3575 Slusser Road in Windsor.  Also being honored are Art Lafranchi, a Santa Rosa rancher and attorney, who is being inducted into the Sonoma County Farm Bureau Hall of Fame and sheep ranchers Rex and Kerry Williams of Sebastopol who have been named Farm Bureau’s “Farm Family of the Year.” The Love of the Land dinner and celebration is a public event, open to anyone who wants to celebrate the land and people that define Sonoma County’s agricultural heritage. Ticket information is available by contacting the Farm Bureau office at 544-5575.

Except for the two years he was in the U.S. Maritime Service following his graduation from Healdsburg High School in 1944, Cadd has lived and farmed in the Alexander Valley while taking an active role in protecting the valley and the Russian River. He and his wife Alyce raised their two children, Larry and Cynthia, on the family ranch.

Long ago, Cadd and other farmers formed the Alexander Valley Association to keep the valley in agriculture, beating back creeping subdivision and preserving it as a rural treasure. Today, the Alexander Valley is the picture postcard image of Wine Country.

For the last 15 years, Cadd served as president of the Russian River Valley Property Owners Association, a leader in the river’s restoration.  Earlier in his life Cadd worked for the Sonoma County Flood Control, a job that not only honed his natural interest in water but expanded his knowledge of water management and hydrological principles.

“Al has been a leader of the Russian River Property owners who have funded stream and well monitoring in Alexander Valley with a goal of preserving grape growing while protecting threatened or endangered steelhead and salmon,” said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission.

Cadd recently stepped down as president of the Russian River Property Owners because of the increased time demands for collecting vital information about waterways and wells in the Alexander Valley. For the last four years, Cadd has been monitoring stream flows in the Russian River and its tributaries, gathering data about the impacts of pumping water in early spring for frost protection in vineyards.  He said the scientific data that he has collected proves that farmers are not harming fish by using river water to protect their vines from spring frost.


From March 15 to May 15, Cadd and his son Larry Cadd, who runs the family vineyards, monitor water levels. They place four gauges in the main stem of the Russian River and additional gauges in three of the river’s tributaries. The gauges are linked by USB cables to a computer, which collects the data for analysis. The information is being provided to the California State Water Resources Board.

“The data shows that water used for frost protection is not instantaneously lowering the stream flow. We hope this information convinces the powers that be that we are not hurting the fish in the Russian River and its tributaries in the Alexander Valley,” said Cadd.

Cadd’s prevailing philosophy is “balance’ in the use of land and resources, like water. He believes farming and fish can both survive in the Alexander Valley. Balance also becomes an issue in the battles over gravel mining of the Russian River.  He said judicious gravel mining is beneficial to the River and the people who live along its banks.

“My feeling is that there is room for conservation, agriculture and gravel mining,” said Cadd, who has supported regulated gravel mining. “Leaving the River go wild is as bad as over-mining it.”

Cadd believes the Russian River is a clean as it was when he was growing up and spending his time fishing from its banks. One thing has changed, however, and that’s the number of people who are at the river for recreation and relaxation, especially on weekends.

“It’s really changed. When I was a kid I would go down to the river and dream of meeting someone there,” said Cadd. “Now it’s like Coney Island with people running up and down the River.”

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