- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
While most Americans choose their Thanksgiving turkeys from the meat department at the local grocery store, Brylee Aubin and Yaxeli Saiz-Tapia can tell you the life histories of their holiday birds. The Sonoma County teenagers raise heritage turkeys together as part of a 4-H youth development project and sell them for Thanksgiving. For the last two years, Yaxeli's older brother Uli has joined the project and, between the three of them, they raised 47 turkeys this year.
The Heritage Turkey Project in Sonoma County has about 15 members of the UC Cooperative Extension's 4-H youth development program and the National FFA Organization growing more than 200 heritage turkeys this year, according to Catherine Thode, who has been leading the project for 15 years.
“Our project leaders are active breeders of heritage turkeys and some of our 4-H and FFA youth are now raising breeding pairs and hatching their own birds,” Thode said. “Each project member raises their small flock of birds on their own property and shoulders the responsibility of providing their feed and care.”
The Heritage Turkey Project promotes the preservation of heritage turkey breeds, sustainable farming and responsible animal husbandry. While raising the animals, the youths learn life skills and earn money for their work.
“The money I raise from raising and selling turkeys goes towards my college fund and to more 4-H projects like market goats or sheep,” said 15-year-old Brylee, who sells her turkeys for $9.50 per pound.
Three years ago, Brylee's neighbor, Yaxeli joined her in the heritage turkey project.
“I have learned how to care for animals, the importance of raising organic and the costs involved,” said Yaxeli, 14. “I have gained a firm understanding of how my birds are raised and processed versus corporate methods. Having the opportunity to participate in this project has strengthened my value for the importance of where my food comes from.”
Consumers benefit by getting turkeys that are farmed organically, fed high-quality grains, and never frozen, said Brylee.
“There are so many benefits to raising these beautiful birds,” said Uli Saiz-Tapia, 17. “First, you learn the cost of running a business, how to reinvest for the next year, the different stages of turkey growth and how to manage issues that arise such as the turkeys fighting, how they react to fluctuating temperatures, how to keep them safe and nourished properly. Learning about the process of getting our turkeys ready to be purchased has really benefitted my understanding of anatomy, the amount of work it takes in preparing them and the importance of not wasting food.”
The group sold out of turkeys in early November.
“Back in March, we really wondered if we should even do the project this year, not knowing what was going to happen with COVID restrictions and the impact on the economy,” Thode said. “We ended up with more project members than we've ever had, and over 200 turkeys to be sold for the Thanksgiving market.”
The 4-H members started the season with more turkeys, but lost some birds to predators. Wildfires seemed to drive more predators to the Sonoma County farms this year, she said.
“Things are fast and furious right now,” Thode said a week before Thanksgiving as the group prepared their turkeys for processing and distribution to people who placed orders. “I'm about to enter the busiest seven days of our year. It will take all weekend to have the birds processed, weighed, labeled. Then, we hunker down to sort and assign turkeys to our customer list.”
While selling turkeys, the group encourages customers to meet the farmers and to visit Livestock Conservancy to look up the history and breed characteristics of the turkey they are purchasing. In past years, some customers have taken photos of themselves with the person who raised their bird.
“We not only have a master list of customers and their desired sizes, but we create a spreadsheet for every project member with a list of the turkeys they've grown that year,” Thode said. “Each turkey is identified in the spring or early summer with a small metal wing band that lists the grower and an individual number for that turkey. When the turkey is sold, the buyer knows which project number grew their turkey, and the variety of turkey that they are purchasing. We think it's important that our customers know this. In fact, when they come to pick up their turkey, they write their check to the actual grower of their turkey.”
Visit Heritage Turkey Project to learn more about the project.
- Author: Cindy Kron
Invasive tree-of-heaven is a preferred host for two invasive insect pests that cause economic damage in California agricultural crops
It is not uncommon for commercial agriculture to share a common boundary with riparian, forested or urban areas in California. Some pest species thrive in these border areas and serve as a source of insect pest pressure on neighboring commercial crops. Invasive species that find preferred hosts in these border areas can be especially problematic in that their new environment lacks the predators from their native habitat that would normally suppress and keep their population manageable. This uncontrolled population growth can result in significant economic damage to nearby commercial crops.
The tree-of-heaven (TOH), Ailanthus altissima, is an invasive tree that has been documented in 45 states including California. This deciduous tree can be found in agricultural, urban, riparian and disturbed forested areas (Fig. 1A, 1B). This tree serves as a preferred host of two invasive species: the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), Halyomorpha halys, and the spotted lanternfly (SLF), Lycorma delicatula.
In California, BMSB is established in 16 counties and detected in 23 additional counties. The brown marmorated stink bug has over 170 host species (fruit, nuts, vegetables, and ornamentals) including the following agricultural crops: grape, pear, apple, stone fruit, citrus, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, fig, almond, hazelnut, sunflower, sweet corn, soybean, okra, bell pepper, green bean, tomato, and eggplant. To date, in California, BMSB has been observed causing damage in commercially grown almond, apple, peach, and pear orchards.
The SLF has been recorded in 6 East Coast states but has not yet been documented in California. This insect lays eggs on plant and nonplant items such as stones, pallets, outdoor furniture, railway cars, firewood, and vehicles, which contributes to their wide dispersal ability and their likelihood of unintentional introduction into California. The SLF has at least 40 host species (fruit, nuts, ornamentals, and woody trees) found in North America including the following agricultural crops: grape, stone fruits, apple, blueberry, fig, hops, walnut, and almond.
BMSB and SLF share some similarities. Both are native to China, introduced into the U.S. via Pennsylvania, cause economic damage in a range of commercial crops found in California, and aggregate in large numbers. The tree-of-heaven is a preferred host.
In addition to supporting the growth of economically damaging insect pests, the tree-of-heaven has its own impacts on the ecology of areas where they establish. The tree-of-heaven competes with native plants and trees by releasing allelopathic chemicals that prevent the establishment and inhibit the growth of native trees nearby (Fig. 1C). The tree has a rapid growth rate of 3 to 6 feet a year and is able to start bearing seeds within 2 to 3 years. Female trees can produce more than 300,000 seeds (Fig. 2A) that are easily dispersed by the wind allowing for new trees to establish some distance from the parent tree. Established trees can also spread by sending up root suckers up to 50 feet from the parent tree. In addition, small root fragments can also generate new shoots. An injured or cut tree-of-heaven responds by producing numerous root sprouts that allows the tree to spread prolifically and complicates efforts to remove the invasive tree. The tree-of-heaven is a high pollen producer aggravating those with allergies. Direct contact can cause skin irritation and, in rare cases, inflammation of the heart muscle has been documented from exposure to sap through broken skin. These features of tree-of-heaven fuels its ability to invade new environments and makes it very difficult to remove after it has become established.
Being that the tree-of-heaven is invasive and also supports two invasive insect pests that are known to cause economic damage in a range of commercial agriculture crops grown in California, it is important for the agriculture industry to become familiar with how to identify the tree-of-heaven. This knowledge can be used to increase the awareness of the proximity of these trees to host crops that you work with, manage or own. Calculated management decisions can then be made from this information.
The tree-of-heaven is similar in appearance and can easily be confused with a handful of native tree species: black walnut (Juglans nigra), winged/shining sumac (Rhus copallina), ash (Fraxinus spp.), staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) and butternut walnut (Juglans cinerea). Young tree-of-heaven have greenish smooth bark (Fig. 3A) that turns a greyish-brown in older trees resembling the skin of a cantaloupe (Fig. 3B). Leaves have a central stem with 10 to 40 leaflets attached on each side by a short petiole (Fig. 4A). A V-shaped or heart-shaped scar is noticeable when a leaf is broken off of the main stem (Fig. 4B). The margins of the leaflets are smooth with one to two bumps called glandular teeth that protrude at the base of each leaflet near the petiole (Fig. 4C). A corresponding gland is located on the underside of the leaflet where the glandular teeth are located (Fig. 4D). A strong odor described as cat urine, rancid cashews or burnt peanut butter is given off when the leaves or stems are crushed. Twigs break easily exposing a brown spongy pith. Tree-of-heaven are dioecious with separate male and female trees. Female trees produce red, yellow and green “samaras” that each contain one seed covered by a winged and papery tissue used in wind dispersal (Fig. 2B).
Agricultural land and nearby areas should be inspected for existing tree-of-heaven stands. There are different strategies that can be followed upon identifying this tree in or near farmed land. The first strategy is to use the tree-of-heaven as a sentinel tree that is visually inspected periodically for the presence of BMSB and SLF life stages during the growing season. This would be an easy and ideal option if either invasive pest is not reported in your county or nearby counties. Early detection can help prevent establishment in your county and the economic damage that these invasive species cause in commercial crops. Any sightings or insect samples should be submitted to your local county agricultural commissioner's office.
A second strategy could be used if detections of either invasive species have occurred in your county or local area. Traps for BMSB monitoring can be deployed using a double-sided sticky panel with a dual lure and placed near the tree-of-heaven. If SLF were to arrive in California, brown sticky bands wrapped around the trunks of tree-of-heaven can capture the immature stages as they engage in their typical behavior of walking up the tree. Trap finds can alert growers of an invasive species presence in an agricultural field and treatment decisions can then be made.
A third strategy would be to remove tree-of-heaven, but this comes with a warning: mowing or cutting, by themselves, are ineffective and can cause the tree to spread prolifically. Care needs to be taken when deciding to remove tree-of-heaven since a cut tree responds by sending up numerous root sprouts up to 50 feet from the parent tree. Timing of treatment and commitment to follow up with subsequent treatments the following year are crucial for success. If tree removal is the decision made, the root system should be targeted with a systemic herbicide 30 days before cutting the trees and the application needs to be made between July and mid-October when carbohydrates are being allocated to the root system. If an herbicide is applied outside of this range, the application would likely be ineffective due to targeting the above ground growth and not the root system. Gloves, long-sleeved shirts and pants should be worn during tree removal to prevent the contact of tree parts and sap with the skin. Follow-up monitoring is needed to determine the need and timing of additional treatment applications./h2>
- Author: Karen Giovannini
Agriculture in Sonoma County is a core industry and there is concern that small agricultural operations in particular will have a difficult time adjusting to and recovering from the Shelter In Place and this could jeopardize access to local agricultural products. The urgency ordinance provides measures that allow farmers to augment income, expand supply chain and marketing opportunities, teach residents and visitors about agriculture, and offer the public another option to enjoying the outdoors in a safe manner.
This is great news for operations looking to offer agricultural experiences. Under the ordinance, agricultural experiences can now occur without obtaining a Special Events permit from Permit Sonoma, saving time and money!
What are agricultural experiences? Could they include a tour with an outdoor activity – goat yoga perhaps? Or a farm to table meal? Educational day camp where participants make meals with farm produce? Picnic Day on the farm? Any of those and more are included.
This applies only to agriculture zoned parcels (LIA, LEA, DA). If you are not sure, visit Permit Sonoma ActiveMap and input your address. If the zoning is correct, activities must comply with the following:
- Incidental to a primary agricultural use.
- Features agricultural products grown or produced onsite.
- No amplified sound or loud musical instruments, such as horns, drums, or cymbals.
- Occurs during one day between the hours of 10 am and 7 pm. This means it's not a two (or more) day event, it's a one-day event/experience that can occur up to 4 times a month.
- No overnight sleeping accommodations.
- Up to 4 agricultural experiences per month. Note: hikes, tours, and educational seminars without additional activities are not limited.
- Attendees cannot exceed the lesser of the following:
- The maximum number of individuals in a group allowed under the County Health Order for outdoor recreation activity businesses, or for gatherings if outdoor recreation activity businesses are no longer specifically limited; or
- 49 attendees.
- No permanent improvements are necessary to accommodate or support the agricultural experience, such as construction or grading.
- Compliance with environmental health requirements, including those related to food service, porta-toilets, and trash containers, fire and building code requirements, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and any other applicable requirements.
This is a wonderful way to bring customers to your farm and to build your customer base. And an effective way to test out agritourism. Is it for you? If you are new to agritourism, we recommend you consider the following as you plan inviting visitors to your farm:
- Insurance can be expensive but is a necessary protection. Talk to an agent familiar with agritourism.
- Safety of visitors: tripping hazards, aggressive animals, climbing hazards. (See: safeagritourism.org)
- Sanitizing, restrooms, and wash stations; follow guidance from Sonoma County public health officials.
- Your capacity for added activities, along with that of your family members, employees.
To learn more about this ordinance, visit ucanr.edu/AgOrd.
Publication: Agritourism and Nature Tourism in California, available for purchase from UCANR catalog.
Contact: Ag Ombuds: email@example.com/h2>/h2>
- Author: IPM Program
- Contributor: Karen Giovannini
Author: UC Integrated Pest Management Program
Have you had unexpected seeds show up in the mail? Unknown seeds could be invasive plants, contain invasive insects, or have plant disease causing agents. Here's what the United States Department of Agriculture Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) has to say about it. APHIS Stakeholder Announcement July 28, 2020 (Language from their website)
USDA Investigates Packages of Unsolicited Seeds
USDA is aware that people across the country have received suspicious, unsolicited packages of seed that appear to be coming from China. USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection, other federal agencies, and State departments of agriculture to investigate the situation.
At this time, [USDA does not] have any evidence indicating this is something other than a “brushing scam” where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales. USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.
USDA is committed to preventing the unlawful entry of prohibited seeds and protecting U.S. agriculture from invasive pests and noxious weeds. Visit the APHIS' website to learn more about USDA's efforts to stop agricultural smuggling and promote trade compliance.
What to do with the Seeds
Do NOT plant or dispose of these seeds!
Please hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label.
In Sonoma County
Anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds can drop the seeds and packaging off in the Drop Box at the Agriculture Department, 133 Aviation Blvd, Santa Rosa CA 95403 or contact the department:
Contact your County Agriculture Commissioners office.
Best Practices: do not plant seeds from unknown origins/h3>/h3>/h3>/h2>/h2>
Smith described as icon and heroine for work in advancing wine grape production
A scientist first and foremost, Rhonda steadily emerged as Sonoma County's resident expert on all things wine grape during her nearly 34 years as the viticulture advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension. Over the decades, she used her scientific know-how, meticulous research methodology and incredible work ethic to advance wine grape production in Sonoma County.
She cultivated real working relationships with growers and vineyard managers during her time setting up field trials and collecting data in vineyards throughout Sonoma County. As the years rolled by, she earned the respect and admiration of grape growers who wonder what they will do without her as she leaves her longtime post and heads into retirement.
“Rhonda Smith became a true icon in Sonoma County viticulture for her timely research and her effective way of communicating valuable information to the wine grape industry,” said grower Bob Dempel of Santa Rosa.
Tito and Janet Sasaki who farm wine grapes in the Sonoma Valley are among the growers who have benefited from Rhonda Smith's dedication to the wine grape industry. The Sasakis said Rhonda is continually studying the latest developments in viticulture science but is always ready to be in the field to help growers – often at a moment's notice when a new problem crops up.
“Rhonda Smith is the quiet heroine of the vineyards in Sonoma County. She has been the family physician of Sonoma County vines for more than three decades,” said Tito Sasaki, past president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau and a longtime agriculture industry leader. He marvels at how Rhonda has managed the challenges of raising a family while coming to the rescue of growers facing problems like red blotch virus, vine mealybug, Pierce's disease and many other threats.
“Her serene and relaxed demeanor conceals the rock-solid strength of her dedication to others,” Tito said.
Said Janet Sasaki, “Rhonda is the hardest working person I know. My friends and I have been working with her since 1989. No vineyard is too small for her to take an interest in the problem. She is very respected by everyone in the wine grape industry.”
For her part, Rhonda, who is 66 and the mother of two grown children, said she has been fortunate to work in a field she loves, particularly, being able to focus so much of her time and energy on plant pathology, which has intrigued her since her days as a student at the University of California, Davis. She was inspired by professors and Cooperative Extension farm advisors who used scientific research to find ways to combat the diseases that were impacting agriculture and causing economic losses to farmers.
Becoming the viticulture advisor in Sonoma County gave her the opportunity to do the research she loved while providing the best possible opportunities for growers to thrive and produce the world class wines that have made Sonoma County famous. She said her goal has always been to assist the industry in successfully navigating the delicate balance between grape quality and economically acceptable crop yields – the essential combination to prosper as a premium grower of wine grapes.
“It's been fun and rewarding to be part of the Sonoma County wine industry for so many years,” said Rhonda, a resident of Windsor. Over the years she has been recognized with awards and accolades for her many contributions. In 2008 the Harvest Fair board of directors named her “Friend of Agriculture,” noting her hard work “to keep agriculture part of the Sonoma County landscape.”
Rhonda arrived in Sonoma County in 1986 to fill the UCCE viticulture advisor position held for many years by Robert Sisson, who had helped orchestrate Sonoma County's transition to premium varietals like chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. It was a move that took Sonoma County from jug wine producer to a celebrated player on the world's wine stage.
Realizing the importance of maintaining quality and economic viability for Sonoma County's most important farming endeavor, Rhonda rolled up her sleeves and plunged into research and grower outreach to assist the viticulture industry as it faced continued new threats.
Shortly before starting as viticulture advisor, there was a crisis: vineyards throughout Sonoma and Napa counties were in decline, displaying lackluster vigor and sharp drops in yields. The culprit was phylloxera, a tiny insect that feeds on grapevine roots.
At that time, more than half the vineyard acreage in Sonoma and Napa counties was planted on a rootstock that had become susceptible to the insect pest. As a result, the majority of the vineyard acreage had to be replanted once severely infested with phylloxera.
Growers desperately needed a path forward. Rhonda and other scientists from UC Davis launched trials to evaluate the performance of alternative rootstocks for vineyards in the North Coast counties.
Through her rootstock trials, Rhonda was able to inform growers of the suitability of specific rootstocks in sites with heavy, cracking clay, wet soil conditions and high nematode populations.
Stephanie Larson, who is the director of UCCE in Sonoma County, said Rhonda Smith's targeted work on so many important issues epitomizes what a UCCE advisor should be – diligent and dedicated to finding solutions to growers' problems and channeling information and research from the University to the field. She said Rhonda's work spanned the spectrum from identifying the best rootstocks to coping with powdery mildew.
“Rhonda was a solid advisor who was extremely dedicated to the wine grape industry. She held UCCE Sonoma County Grape Day each year, without exception since 1987. Grape Day provided growers the most current information on issues such as pests, water, diseases, clones and rootstocks,” said Larson.
For 20 years Rhonda also coordinated the Sonoma County Vineyard Technical Group's nine monthly programs each year, working collaboratively with grower-members to select topics and speakers – including those from out of state - to bring research-based information that addressed farming practices and pest management applicable to the local industry.
“Throughout her career, Rhonda collaborated with state and local regulatory and resource agencies to provide expertise on issues that directly affect wine grape production,” Larson said.
Larson said Rhonda's retirement leaves a huge gap in viticulture knowledge and expertise for the industry. Unfortunately, she said, because of the state's current budget crisis, the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources will not be filling Rhonda's position. But Larson said the University would entertain a discussion with the wine industry to hire a new viticulture advisor if the industry would fund half the cost of the position. She said there must be a five-year commitment for the funding.
Rhonda, who came from a military family, grew up in El Dorado Hills outside of Sacramento. She didn't have a farming background but early on knew she wanted to work outside, not in an office cubicle, after spending time at her uncle's walnut and hog ranch in Galt.
She went to UC Davis and in 1977 earned a bachelor of science degree in plant science, with an emphasis in plant pathology. In 1983 she completed a master's degree from Davis in horticulture, with an emphasis in viticulture.
Before taking the viticulture position in Sonoma County, she worked as a research associate for UC Davis, UCCE and the Department of Food and Agriculture in various parts of California.
Rhonda said her work in Sonoma County was more expansive and productive because of the tremendous cooperation of growers, vineyard managers and wine industry executives who provided vineyards and support for the field trials she conducted. She worked with dozens of vineyard industry professionals during her long career, often, bonding over mutual interests in chardonnay clones or vexed by the vagaries of Pierce's disease, caused by a bacterium spread by the blue-green sharpshooter.
Mark Lingenfelder, who was at Chalk Hill Estate Winery for many years, worked with Rhonda on a number of projects including chardonnay clonal studies and trials investigating the efficacy of a plant growth regulator to improve fruit set. Lingenfelder said because of Rhonda's expertise and professionalism it was a pleasure cooperating and collaborating on research trials that yielded valuable information that was shared with the viticulture industry.
“I was always amazed by Rhonda's energy, persistence and meticulous attention to detail. But she was not only a dedicated and tireless researcher. She was also a friendly, knowledgeable and patient advisor who was always incredibly generous with her time whenever I turned to her for advice,” said Lingenfelder. “We've had some great long conversations.”
Dana Grande, grower relations manager at Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Healdsburg, said she first met Rhonda Smith in 1994, a time when there were few women working in the viticulture industry.
“At that time, you could count the number of women in Sonoma County viticulture on one hand. Our relationship has always been one of mentorship – her to me - and it encompassed not only viticulture expertise, but how to carefully balance the career/mom life,” said Grande.
From 2002 to 2008 Grande worked with Rhonda on a study of berry shrivel in a cabernet sauvignon block, which was known as “Rhonda's Rows,” at Jordan. The collaboration forged a long, lasting relationship and mutual respect between the two viticulture professionals.
“I can't imagine what Sonoma County viticulture will look like without Rhonda Smith,” said Grande. “I and many others have relied on her advice, experience, and expertise for decades.”
In retirement, Rhonda plans to take a deep breath and then catch up on projects around the house and do some traveling. She will also have more time to spend with husband Dana and her grown children. Her daughter Emma, 29, is a US Air Force Captain and a Medical ICU nurse now preparing for her second deployment to the Middle East. Son Charles, 26, recently graduated from Chico State University with a degree in criminal justice and is seeking a job in law enforcement.
And at some point, Rhonda plans to sit back and reflect on her long and fruitful career while savoring Sonoma County wines.
Like many who appreciate wine, Rhonda is intrigued by the sensory elegance of what wine grapes become when entrusted to the hands of a masterful winemaker. “I appreciate the growers who provide wineries with the best fruit possible by making critical farming decisions driven by experience, knowledge and research based information.”
“Sonoma County has an ideal climate for growing wine grapes, but it is up to growers to establish then farm a vineyard with a balanced crop load, adequate soil moisture and canopies that maximize desired fruit composition. All that while managing pests, diseases and labor shortages.
I feel honored to have been able to work with
the people who are in this industry.”
Written by Tim Tesconi