Sonoma SASS Summer 2021 Newsletter
Updated: Sep 22
In this Newsletter:
News + Updates:
Soil Rights - 2021 Transhumance Festival
Intersectional Land Stewardship Project Update
GRAPE Study Update
Event: Save the Date
Call to Action:
School Opening Resources
I was fortunate to be able to attend the 2021 Transhumance festival where 100 community members and about 20 goats paraded through downtown Petaluma to City Hall. In traditional government “whereas” speech, Mayor Barrett standing on a straw bale read a resolution proclaiming that the City of Petaluma recognizes “soil and the natural world as a living entity” has basic rights: to exist, persist, maintain, and generate its vital cycles, structures, functions and their processes in evolution.” To me, this proclamation felt revolutionary.
To others, giving soil basic rights seems insane. Some friends looked at me like I had 3 heads when I told them about Petaluma’s resolution. It comes down to what one has eyes to see: soil as an intricate ecosystem full of beauty, life and mystery or just plain dirt. In our languages, we find clues to the real nature of the thing, as the words for “soil” and “body” are often the same. In English this rings true if we think about the words “hummus” and “human”, or the words “soil” and “soul” (and the related “suelo” in Spanish). In Hebrew “adam” is man and “adamah” is ground. Language is a metaphor that aims to mirror reality and so from this we can feel the deep connection between the basic elements of our animate existence and the earth beneath our feet. To give the soil rights feels like re-connecting the soil back with its basic animate existence, putting soil back in relationship with us. Earth’s soil is analogous to an animal’s digestive system. Soil and our guts rely on diverse communities of microbes to break down food/organic matter to provide nutrients for our bodies/plants. Though some of these microbes can cause diseases in our bodies and crops, most are beneficial. We supplement our bodies with “probiotics” to keep our immune systems healthy, the earth relies on microbes like mycorrhizal fungi to perform similar functions. If we take too many antibiotics or spray our soil with too many pesticides, microbe communities suffer and so does our power to withstand illness.
A 2019 study by Agroscope in Zurich effectively compared the microbiome of conventional farmland with that from organic farms. The team found “remarkable differences”, noting that whereas the organic soil had twenty-seven (27) highly connected “keystone species”, the conventional soil had none. Plants in conventional soil were therefore receiving all of their nutrients from fossil-fuel-based chemical fertilizers, and the soil was effectively dead, just dirt. Merlin Sheldrake in his recent book Entangled Life catalogues the societal benefits that we can expect from healthy soil, soil that is free to “exist, persist, maintain, and generate” including:
Increased quality of plant harvest
Increased ability of crops to naturally compete with weeds
Enhanced crop resistance to diseases
Less susceptibility of plants to drought and heat
More resistance of crops to attacks from insect pests
Increased soil integrity, less erosion
Increased carbon sequestration
We know that in Sonoma County with our budding drought this year, our crops are already suffering from lack of water and heat, and that local farmers are already seeing an “increase in disease pressure and anticipating a lighter crop”.We could respond to this by spraying pesticides and adding more fertilizer but we could also look at this as a side effect of our broken relationship with the soil and do something to reconnect and make amends. I am thankful for the Transhumance Festival and the City of Petaluma for playing the more difficult but more rewarding long-game and taking this first step toward healing and wholeness. Megan Kaun Director, Sonoma SASS
Intersectional Land Stewardship Project Update
In 2020/2021 as part of a Rose Foundation grant Sonoma SASS had the honor of participating in an Intersectional Land Stewardship Project with Wild Oat Hollow, the Community Grazing Cooperatives and The Holistic Herder: Ecosystem Regeneration. The project replicated ancient and indigenous land stewarding techniques to build relationships and help rural residential communities develop the tools to build a healthy fire ecosystem within their neighborhoods.
The focus of this article will be how we learned that goats are better than glyphosate. There is a lot of emphasis right now on fire suppression and one of the tools we see being proposed is large applications of herbicides like RoundUp. In August 2020 Governor Newsom signed a MOU with the US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service to scale up vegetation treatment to one million acres of forest and wild lands by 2025 to treat 500,000 acres per year. While many of the treatment activities are nontoxic (prescribed burning, grazing, mechanical removal, etc.) a stated tool was the “ground-level application of herbicides”.
This is not unusual, many well-intentioned agencies and individuals are probably, in justified fear, reaching for the RoundUp to keep the fire away. Sonoma SASS is opposed to pesticide use for vegetation control for a variety of negative health and ecosystem reasons, but we were shocked to learn that synthetic herbicide use actually increases the spread of fire by leaving dry, tall weeds wherever it was used. RoundUP is a patented desiccant, its job is to dry out everything, plants and soil, and so it all just becomes easy fuel for the flames.
This concept was well illustrated as part of this project when a telephone pole fell and started a fire at our project site just outside of Forestville, CA. Witnesses watched the fire ignite a dry area along a fence line where RoundUp had been sprayed. The fire continued down the RoundUp line, making a 90 degree turn to selectively burn the fence/RoundUP-line! A video documenting this can be found here:
It may seem strange at first, but if we think about it holistically it makes sense. In Sonoma County we witnessed fires pass over irrigated farmlands. Elsewhere in fire prone areas, a grass called Vetiver with long, intertwining roots that holds in moisture is often used as an effective fire break. Utilizing grazing ruminants and prescribed grazing management increases plant root depth and encourages the return of our native California perennial grasses. Keeping our grasslands greener longer and more resistant to wildfires.
Our West County project is primarily using goats to help the rural residential communities in the forested region of our County. The goats love to eat the brush and understory of our forest. Bringing back the ‘open forested’ appearance and eliminating the ladder fuel that transforms a healthy, restorative fire into a blazing and devastating wildfire. The goats, properly managed, do the work of restoring our ecosystem into being fire prepared.
GRAPE Study Update - Groundwater Samples Collected!
Sonoma SASS in partnership with the California Breast Cancer Research Program, University of California San Francisco, United States Geological Study (USGS), and the Californians for Pesticide Reform have completed the first round of sample collection for the GRAton PEsticides Research Project (GRAPE). This study aims to learn more about how lingering agricultural pesticides may be impacting drinking water supply in rural residential neighborhoods. In this study, well water from 6 homes were collected and sent to USGS laboratories to test for the presence of legacy pesticides like glyphosate and other pesticides linked with breast cancer. We look forward to sharing the results of this study with the community in early 2022.
Call to Action: Are you a rural resident in Sonoma County and would like to find out whether a Community Grazing Cooperative would work for you? Contact Sarah Keiser!
Here in Sonoma County, we will be assessing the work of the County Ag Commissioner in terms of state regulations and county stated Vision - A thriving agricultural industry, healthy community, environment, and economy and Mission: To promote and protect agriculture, the health and safety of our community, environment and the economy through education and the enforcement of laws and regulations.
Call to Action: If anyone is interested in assisting in this effort, please contact us.
As schools begin to open, understand how to reduce risks of exposure for your children while in school.
Call to Action: If you are a parent, please check out our Toxic Free Schools Tool Kit. This step by step kit is fool proof.