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Savory Sonoma by Stephanie Hiller - November 2016


Savory Sonoma by Stephanie Hiller - November 2016

I stumbled on a rich vein of Sonoma Valley history when I wandered over to the White Barn at Oak Hill Farm October 2 to attend the Harvest Celebration for Community Separators and Measure K put on by the Greenbelt Alliance.

Community separators are distinct policies in county lands that complement the cities' Urban Growth Boundaries (UGBs) in Sonoma County. UGBs, were a brainstorm from the environmental movement of the 70s, which many of us participated in. The idea is to constrain growth to city centers and protect the surrounding countryside from being utilized by the Walmarts and the developers of ticky-tacky housing such as line the hillsides over Pacifica, inspiring the song by folksinger Malvina Reynolds that “they’re all made out of ticky-tacky/ And they all look just the same.” UGBs helped to prevent the conversion of desirable real estate to such undesired ends.

The harvest event brought together some of the very same people who have been part of the forty-year effort to protect the rural and agricultural heritage of our beautiful valley and who now support Measure K, which will renew and extend the greenbelt areas around all the towns of Sonoma County by 37,700 acres. Lovely hors d’oeuvres paired with wines donated by Jackson Family Wines, Arrowood and Hafner Family Vineyards, graced the rustic assembly on a beautiful fall afternoon. There was a small “farm market” outside the traditional old barn, and Karla Noyes, dressed in full old fashioned country dress, sat spinning wool on a spinning wheel.

After socializing, we listened to talks from several greenbelt advocates, including Dennis Rosatti, former director of the Sonoma County Conservation Action; Caitlin Cornwall of Sonoma Ecology Center, and Robin Stefani of Urban Community Partnership. Andrea Davis-Cetina, who recently had to give up her Quarter Acre Farm and move to the Suisun Valley to farm, spoke of the importance of protecting farmlands. And of course our hosts, Anne Teller, and Teri Shore, Regional Director of Greenbelt Alliance for the North Bay, spoke of their commitment to open space. Finally Arthur Dawson told a story of when the land was young and wild, home to herds of pronghorn antelope, Tule elk, grizzly bears, and an abundance of birds and fish.

“We don’t live on the land, the Wapoo Indians say, we live with the land,” quoth Dawson.

Passage of Measure K will cost the taxpayers absolutely nothing, by the way.

Despite all this, community separators have been blamed for contributing to inflated real estate prices; and in some places, urban sprawl is not really stopped, only blocked or diverted, so that it encircles the green barrier. But proponents say that we can, with appropriate policy, protect our landscape while providing affordable housing; and in Sonoma County, where investment gambles and the pressure of vacation rentals are much more powerful factors in creating the housing crunch, separators have worked well. Certainly without them we would have lost much of the rich scenery and agricultural flavor that alas brings so many tourists our way.

Oak Hill Farm is itself a testimony to the importance of protecting our agricultural heritage. This 750 acre property, purchased by Otto Teller in 1957 was one of the first in the county to use only organic methods, helping to reverse the great tidal wave of packaged wonder breads we remember from the 50s and helping to launch the food movement that has become a way of life for so many today.

Aware that developers were nibbling at the edges of our beautiful rural landscape, Otto helped found the Sonoma Land Trust, and Oak Hill Farm became its first conservation easement. He died in 1998 at the age of 90, an icon of the era and the community that so loved the land and continues to fight for its preservation. Anne continues to maintain the 25-acre vegetable and flower gardens with the help of her grown children.

Not that it’s a huge money maker. In 2011 and 2012, Oak Hill Farm cleared somewhere in the neighborhood of a beginning teacher's salary, reports the SF Chronicle.
Adjacent to the Farm is Old Hill Ranch where Anne’s son Will Bucklin’s Ravenswood Winery dry farms zinfandel grapes the way the vineyard’s original owner did in 1856.

And that’s a very effective way of growing wine grapes, judging by the glasses we sampled at the party.

Meanwhile, the fight to protect the agricultural quality of our county goes on. After months of pressure from Wine Water Watch and associated organizations, on October 11, 2016 the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors directed Staff to prepare a draft ordinance amending the County Zoning Code to clarify the definition of events and food service at wineries.

We’ll be watching that!