Turn the clock back fifty years and we would not be engaged in a debate about green-washing. At that time most people didn’t think about reducing their green-house gas emissions, conserving water or implementing “sustainable” practices on their working lands.
It is fair to say that the times have changed. Now sustainable is the buzz word: we are all rushing to purchase green cars, construct green buildings and talk about our sustainable farm practices. While farmers did not use the word “sustainable” fifty years ago, the concept was very familiar. Our livelihoods throughout history have depended upon nurturing the soil and wisely protecting our natural resources so that the soil would yield crops for decades into the future.
That brings us to the local, and rather unfriendly, dialogue that is occurring today. Some individuals are making claims that wine community is green-washing. In fact these same people have been so bold as to liken wine to corporately owned “big oil”. These individuals ignore, or perhaps are completely ignorant of, the facts. Sonoma County farmers, which include vintners, are overwhelming multi-generational family farmers, with the bulk (80%) farming less than 100 acres. Even given the fact that Sonoma County has over 1,800 grape growers, the community has collectively made a commitment to continue and document their decade’s worth of sustainable practices, building upon those practices to adapt to climate changes, drought, and air quality issues. The grape growing community has pledged to become 100% sustainable by 2020!
Anyone who has participated in these sustainable programs knows just how rigorous they can be. Documenting and monitoring sustainability practices is a time-consuming and expensive process. The expense is largely related to the third-party certification process. That is why the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission committed up to $100,000 in funding to help support grower’s sustainability certification. Some wineries are offering a premium price on grapes that are certified sustainable. For instance Jackson Family Wines is paying their growers an additional $20 per ton for third-party certified grapes and they are not alone.
It is worth sharing just a few components of the sustainable practices farmers are adopting. While programs may vary slightly, information on practices and commitments are tracked and confirmed in each. The Code of Sustainable Winegrowing (one example of the numerous sustainable programs available to grape growers) requires continual progress in adopting 138 sustainable practices in the vineyards and 103 sustainable practices in the winery. Practices include water management to reduce erosion and conserve water, soil and plant management to reduce use of pesticides and fertilizers, ecosystem management practices that aid in maintaining or enhancing the ecological integrity of the ranch or winery site, and practices to achieve energy efficiencies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If time and space allowed, I could continue on about the many other practices, of which the reuse of waste water, solid waste reduction practices and environmentally preferable purchasing practices are just a few.
The point is – people who claim that the agriculture community is green-washing have no understanding of what is really happening on the local ranches. I would agree with our critics that “sustainability is not all economics: it must include ethics and truth-telling” (Shepherd Bliss). So anytime our neighbors in the community want a public discussion on sustainability we would welcome the opportunity. Farmers wake up every day, till their fields and grow their crops with sustainability in mind. I doubt very many professions – or for that matter people – can honestly make that claim.