Friday, September 14, 2018

A Letter to Steve From Your Pro-Sustainability Penpal

A NOTE: Dear Steve Dutton
In response to your letter:

I'm sorry that you're upset about being named in two of my blog posts. It wasn't slander to publish factual data about pesticide use. My goal is not to single out individuals, but rather to question the communication and enforcement of sustainability certification systems that apparently didn't communicate clearly enough to you that it wasn't okay to use Mancozeb. 

I removed your name from my second blog post except for the listing of the PUR Mancozeb data. And I've added a note that you stopped using Mancozeb in 2017. 

And I've emailed your winery to see if you and I might connect after harvest. It would be great for us (after harvest sometime) to speak in person - coffee? lunch? 

I am very grateful that you've taken stopped using Mancozeb and for the example you're setting for your county's sustainability movement. And I'm particularly happy about what you are doing in terms of your contribution to the health of your neighbors, your workers and, especially, your family.

I also want to let you know, as head of the Sonoma Farm Bureau, of the large contribution organic and Biodynamic growers in Sonoma make to the county's economy. According to the crop report, they brought in $13.6 million in revenue, more than all of the county's organic dairy operations combined. 

Is it time that Sonoma County's promoters call some attention to this valuable tourist resource, since that organic farming appeals to visitors (especially honeymooners and Millennials) interested in agrotourism?

[Postscript: I originally published a much longer blog post as a response, but have decided to break up what I have to say in a series of shorter, more focused posts.]

For the others in Sonoma and beyond who are still using Mancozeb, you may know that the authorities have been considering banning Mancozeb since the National Academy of Sciences raised issues of its toxicity back in 1987. The EPA moved towards stopping its use as far back as 1989, but reversed itself after industry supplied data and politics changed the regulatory landscape and pro-industry voices dominated.

Many more recent scientific studies, including three from UCLA in the last 9 years, have now even more firmly established that Mancozeb can increase the risk of getting Parkinson's 75% to 200%. Those who are affected are not just applicators but residents, too, according to the studies' authors.

In 2014, the Department of Pesticide Regulation assessed its priorities on the most dangerous chemicals posing health risks.

California's DPR lists it as a carcinogen, a toxic air contaminant, and a top health risk.

In 2014, its committee report found that Mancozeb was #1 on the list of the top 10 human health risks.

That is why I've been focusing on it. I hope that the Sonoma Certified Sustainable movement will tackle this chemical head on and make a concerted effort to make sure that no grower uses it.

Agriculture Pesticide Mapping Tool, Statewide Mancozeb use (2016)

In 2016, there were 4,441 pounds used on 3,018 acres of Mancozeb used in Sonoma vineyards, according to the Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Statewide the numbers were 15,050 pounds on 10,064 acres. So Sonoma, with roughly 11 percent of the vines in California, uses about 1/3 of Mancozeb applied statewide. That's three times more than the average.

ON SUSTAINABILITY: I Am For Sustainable and Regenerative Farming

The headline of your published letter says "Dutton disagrees with anti-sustainability movement link."

I'm not sure where that came from, but I certainly am not anti-sustainability. I am anti certification systems that are not transparent and accountable and are failing to enforce their standards. This is what caused your dilemma, which I am now somewhat sympathetic to. (You didn't know, and when you found it, you took action.)

This issue - of trust and accountability by sustainable certification systems and programs - is what I'm really talking about in the two blog posts about the Dark Side of Sonoma's Sustainability. It is hard, for anyone, to understand how a substance prohibited under FFF and CSWA - especially a dangerous one - is used, especially on vineyards that are certified sustainable.

I am happy when growers plant cover crops, use sheep to mow the weeds, and practice other sustainable approaches. Bring on the efforts to reduce the vineyard road generated dust. Don't let sediment choke salmon and waterways. Bring on carbon conscious farming and green awards. Down with over fertilizing and over irrigating. Down with fertigation with fossil-fuel intensive chemicals. Down with degenerative systems.

I am also for organic systems that prohibit the use of toxic chemicals because health and communicating health risks has been a major part of my career.

You say in your letter that I must be writing about the failures of these certification processes or systems because I have a financial interest in a different certification program, citing the fact that  I worked with Demeter USA as a consultant this year. 

That is pretty darn funny. I worked with them because I believe in organic and regenerative farming.

I believe in it so much so that I left my handsomely paid freelance Apple gig last year to work on the Demeter's first International Biodynamic Wine Conference, held in May in San Francisco (a priceless experience). The conference brought together Biodynamic wineries from the U.S. and around the world, becoming the world's largest gathering of Biodynamic wine professionals in its first year. More than 47 wineries participated, including 9 from Sonoma. You can see how much fun we had in the photos. (Wish you could have joined us).

My consulting time at Demeter was for four months, half time, and even then, at half my usual rate - and I ended up working much more than full time, so essentially, I have worked pro bono for Demeter for thousands of dollars that I was never paid for in terms of money. So much for my financial benefits. 

Furthermore, to imply that these certification groups are in competition, is not in the spirit of the game. We are all in collaboration here because the real foe is climate change - not other people's certification standards. We are all moving the ball down the same field.

My real career has been in health and health information systems and in marketing and journalism. My latest clients in health have been Stanford School of Medicine and the Stanford Cancer Institute. I've worked with the world's leading cancer experts (Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Stanford, etc.) while at, where I was the editor in chief of Jim Clark's high profile genetics startup. I launched all the genetics content on WebMD for both consumers and clinicians. I wrote 100 page reports on genetic and cancer risks for DNADirect. I created the first web site for the California Medical Association. I have worked with more than 200 health care institutions as well as on A-list projects on health for Dr. Koop and Al Gore. It is my awareness of the role that agrochemicals play in disease that motivates me - and the inspiring people who choose to farm with as few toxics as possible.

This spring, as a journalist, I covered the glyphosate trials in San Francisco for Civil Eats and PRI. I listened to the world's leading cancer risk assessment experts (many of whom are former top federal health officials from the U.S.) present all the medical evidence about Roundup to a federal judge and their rationale for why they labeled it a carcinogen.

I have been publishing articles about the use of pesticides in vineyards here on this blog since 2010, since there are few publications today that are willing to report on this topic. I have also featured stories about solutions and organically and biodynamically grown wines because I see them as a healthier path for residents, workers and owners, and consumers.

Publications don't cover pesticides in vineyards because they are financially fragile and often beholden to the wine industry and its advertising dollars. (Examples: SF Chronicle, Sunset, Press Democrat and Napa Valley Register). For them, touting the benefits of sustainability alone (without looking at the chemicals used) has been just fine. (It has also been fine for Big Wine and its relationship with Walmart and other big corporate retailers with sustainability requirements.)

In wine I am both a journalist (at times) and a consultant, neither of which is self sustaining financially. Occasionally I write for wine industry magazines (my new article on green wine trends is coming out in Beverage Media next month) and I am the co-organizer (also pro bono) of a Women of the Vine & Spirits webinar on Oct. 18 for the industry featuring organic and biodynamic experts as well as WOTVS member wineries.

I am participating in a tasting and discussion about biodynamic wines later this month at Baygrape, an Oakland wine shop, with Esther Mobley from the Chronicle.

We in the organic and biodynamic world all need to do more education for trade, consumers and media to cultivate awareness and appreciation for these wines, which have often been misrepresented. (By the way, note to Esther Mobley on her recent article about green wines: No lunar calendar required under Demeter standards.)

The Women of the Vine & Spirits webinar is geared to a mainstream industry audience in order to help them understand trends (Waitrose in the U.K. just reported a 57 percent increase in organic wine sales) and the business case. (Both Shaw Organic and Earthwise, owned by Bronco and Delicato, respectively have just released new organic brands). It is open to the public.

Our wine industry in the U.S. is lagging in terms of organically grown wines (our organic vines are at 2 percent; compare that to 10 percent in Italy, France and Spain). And there may be business consequences.


Another aspect of your letter suggests that because I worked for one certifier, I would consider other certification systems to be competitors. Not so.

While organic regulations cover materials, and sustainability programs have tackled regenerative practices, the only standard that I have found that combines both organic and regenerative is Demeter. However, it's just one of the multitude of organizations working on these issues.

CSWA was in fact a conference sponsor of Demeter USA's recent wine conference and I was proud that they felt moved to be a sponsor.

And we all know, especially this week here in San Francisco with the Global Climate Summit taking place, how dire the consequences of not solving our issues (and increasing our resilience in the light of climate change) are. Where we have common ground, we need to stick together.


Our work together should be collaborative and synergistic. I would like to remind everyone that organic and sustainable are not separate camps. They're overlapping, not competing.

Many of the sustainability movement pioneers - including Bonterra founder Paul Dolan, who wrote the first book on sustainability (True to Our Roots) - came out of the organic movement. (Today he's board chair of Demeter USA).

Andy Hoxsey, the biggest organic grower in the North Bay (with more than 500 certified acres in Oakville and Yountville in Napa) helped establish the CSWA standards, showing other growers across the state how to use less water and fertilizer in the program's early days.

Last night I took a look at the many certified organic or biodynamic wineries that ALSO participate in sustainability certification. Here's a list:

CSWA Certified

Benziger Family (BD)
DeLoach Vineyards (BD)
Eco Terreno (BD)
Merriam Vineyard
Preston (FFF)
Puma Springs (BD)
Quivira (FFF)
Ridge (FFF)
Turtle Vine

Haiku Vineyard

Grieve Vineyard
Morgaen Lee
Napa Wine Co., Yount Mill
Rock Cairn
ZD Carneros

South Bay
Cooper Garrod

Ampelos Vineyard

Bokisch Vineyards

(I'd like to include the FFF but their web site doesn't feature a master list of certified vineyards yet; FFF says a new web site will launch next week).

As the head of the Sonoma Farm Bureau, I hope you know that there are more Demeter certified Biodynamic wineries in Sonoma than any other county in the U.S. All of these growers and vintners minimize their impact on climate.

I'd like to emphasize the sustainability standards that these growers adhere to, which is summarized in the Demeter USA Farm Standard:
"The heart of a Biodynamic farm's fertility system is the sequestering and recycling of carbon....the integration of animal agriculture also assists in reducing petrochemical inputs compared to conventional agricultural practices. These factors, in addition to Biodynamic farming's focus on soil health, water quality, and biodiversity combine to make it one of the highest paradigms of sustainable agriculture."

I hope that the Sonoma Certified Sustainable movement, the Sonoma Farm Bureau, and the Sonoma Winegrowers would be looking out for the interests of both Biodynamic vineyards and wineries and those of Sonoma's organic growers in the county as much as any other grower they serve.  In a recent county crop report, organic wine grapes in Sonoma were valued at $13.6 million, ahead of the entire organic dairy industry in the county. 

Their contribution is 2.5 times as much as all the organic fruits and nuts grown.

It's also more revenue and crop value than all of the vegetables - organic or conventional - grown in 2015 in Sonoma County. And it's 300% more than all of the apples grown in the county.

2015 Crop Report

Ideally we would become a state where more than 2 percent of the vineyards are certified organic (better for kids' health) and where every farmer is farming regeneratively (better for climate change and health). Where childhood cancer rates, autism, ADHD, Parkinson's, and other diseases that come from using toxic substances in growing grapes are eradicated, not increasing, as they are today.

(More on that soon: I'll be publishing an interview with Dr. Michelle Perro, Petaluma pediatrician on her new book, What's Making Our Kids Sick? and talking about what pediatricians are concerned about in vineyard chemicals).

Perhaps it's a good moment to wish "Happy Climate Action Summit Week" to all the farms who are on the path - at different stages and in different ways perhaps, but on the path - to farming sustainably. We're all supporting California's pioneering work in building regenerative and resilient systems. And we know that's healthy for all of us.

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