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OPINION: Funeral


OPINION: Funeral

By Nancy Heilesen Sandborn 

I held another funeral in my heart this week. I have done this numerous times over the past years when I see the loss of another part of Sonoma County’s history. It grieves me every time I pass another 19th or early 20th century farmhouse demolished, another orchard ripped out, trees tossed in a heap for burning and a pile of lime at the ready. The statement being made to the passing public: another vineyard is going in here.

It has been hard to watch the end of the family farm in Sonoma County. It has been hard to watch factory farming/vineyarding taking over. Yes, crops have come and gone throughout Sonoma County’s history, but always the same family, same house and barn, perhaps an additional building, the change being the newest, more profitable crop and the younger generation.

What is hard to watch is the lack of a sense of preservation for future generations of our past farming heritage. At the beginning of the last century, we were known worldwide for our chicken industry, dairies, boysenberries and Gravenstein apples. Those industries are fading more every year, some completely gone.

We are protecting and creating educational centers of the Laguna. Nature and wildlife are preserved and protected at Pepperwood. We have built a shelter worthy of architectural note for homeless animals on Hwy. 12 near Sebastopol. We have saved and preserved the experimental farm of Luther Burbank whose hybridized plant creations were used by many farmers in early twentieth century Sonoma County, but we have nothing preserved to show the world that one hundred years ago Sonoma County’s economic endeavor was food, not beverage production. 

Yes, we have the slow food movement bringing once again to the world’s attention the quality of our now limited and pricey produce and livestock. Gourmet recipes created by world class chefs using our products are creating demand in higher-end eating establishments for the Gravenstein apple, lamb, pork, specialty mushrooms, etc.

I am encouraged by the return, so to speak, to the family farm as organic farming takes a strong foothold in Sonoma County. The diversified crops and our status as an organic food source feels like “what comes around goes around” as once again young people are forging out to be farmers.

But we need more. We need our past preserved. Every time I see a “For Sale” sign go up in front of an old home surrounded by orchards or fields, I know what is coming, but have fantasies to the contrary.

I fanaticize that one, just one of those old ranches, farms or dairies would be preserved as a living history farm. An operating ranch or farm with vintage buildings intact, being used as they were in the past, staffed by reenactors, attired in period dress busily going about the chores and daily rural life of the era when “agriculture” in Sonoma County did not conjure up only “vineyards” in one’s mind, is my hope.

As more and more old family farms bite the dust, literally, as their buildings are smashed to the ground and their soil churned up, and as I see more energy and dollars go into saving and educating the public about natural environments, (the Laguna, wetlands, watersheds, etc.) I keep hoping and looking for the group, grant, foundation, or donation to preserve just one old farm as a living history museum and a tribute to what made early Sonoma County a wonderful livelihood for farming families for so many generations and now attracts so many to relocate to our beautiful county.

Sorry, folks, that wasn’t vineyards and wineries, breweries or distilleries.