Tom Gradziel Breeding trees takes a long time, says Tom Gradziel, a geneticist at the University of California, Davis. He knows this because he's spent the last twenty years breeding almonds and peaches for California's booming fruit and...
On Monday morning a group of 25 strangers gathered in front of the lambing barn at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center. “If you survive the week, you'll be in a rare group” commented John Harper, Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor to the class. This heralds the beginning of the sheep shearing school, an intensive week long class, which is so eagerly anticipated that space on the class was filled in just 6 minutes from the opening of online registration.
The participants are varied and have traveled from as far afield as Washington, Virginia and Texas. As they introduce themselves they explain their motivations for joining this class and a common theme begins to emerge “there's just no one else to shear my sheep”. Many of the participants work with smaller sheep flocks and it is not economical to employ traveling shearers, used to shearing flocks or hundreds or thousands, for just a few sheep. These small flocks are increasing across Mendocino County and the need for qualified shearers who are sympathetic to the needs of small producers is high. The group mix might surprise some, with over 20 female participants and number of the group using vacation from their “day job” to attend this class including a tax accountant, fashion designer, environmental restoration consultant and an art gallery manager. During the introduction it is made clear to all that shearing is not as easy task “a full day of shearing is equivalent to running a marathon” completed Harper as he led the class into the barn to get started.
“One of my favorite things about this school is the range of people who are brought together for such an intensive experience” commented Hannah Bird, HREC community educator. “At the end of the week you always see such pride in their achievement, and the possibility of a new economic string to their bow, we're proud to see that being expressed in our community through Matt Gilbert and his family, a past shearing school participant who has now opened Mendocino Wool and Fiber, our local wool mill”.
Alongside a renewed interest in keeping small flocks of sheep, there has also been increased practice of fiber arts such as knitting and felting in the last 20 years, particularly amongst millennials. Celebrity knitters such as Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz might be partly responsible, but the many qualities of wool as a fiber are greatly appreciated by local spinners, knitters and artists.
To get a taste of the entire process from sheep to scarf, HREC invites the community to their 3rd annual Barn to Yarn celebration on Saturday, May 13th. There will be displays and demonstrations from herding sheep with a sheepdog, performed by Kevin Owens from the Redwood Empire Sheepdog Association, to shearing, knitting, felting, spinning and weaving.
“Our amazing team of experts and volunteers will help attendees at Barn to Yarn to try their hand at working with wool – this is such a great day for all the family from kids to the committed fiber artist. We'll even be creating a beautiful shawl in the 5 hours of the event which will be offered at silent auction through the day. What could be a better Mother's Day present?” added Bird. Guest of honor, Jean Near (102) will be adding to the event with stories of over 100 years living in Mendocino, ranching merino sheep which are prized for their wool over many of those years.
Admission is $10 for adults, children under 12 $5. HREC asks visitors to leave their pets at home to protect the site and the sheep resident there. Bring your own picnic and all utensils; tea, coffee and water will be available. Visit http://bit.ly/BarnToYarn to find out more and purchase your ticket. Barn to Yarn will be held at the Rod Shippey Hall, 4070 University Road, Hopland, CA 95449 from 9am-2pm on May 13th. For more information contact Hannah Bird, (707) 744-1424, Ext. 105, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a re-post from CWGA.
CWGA Legislative Action Alert – Members located in Marin County and Surrounding Areas:
Marin County is in the process of correcting an omission in the land use code that for the last 15 years has left ranchers in Marin without a pathway to commercial livestock slaughter in the county. On March 14th, the Board of Supervisors will meet to consider changes to the development code that would allow ranchers to conduct small-scale on-farm slaughter of poultry as well as allow a mobile slaughter unit to provide small-scale USDA-licensed slaughter of all species on ranches in the county. Both of these proposed rules would make it possible for ranchers to bring product to market without traveling across the state, submitting animals to stressful travel and costing the farms time and money. Anyone who has an interest in Marin's ranching community and/or locally produced meat should plan to write letters to the Board of Supervisors and speak at the March 14th meeting. Letters can be sent to the Board of Supervisors at BOS@marincounty.org.
The proposed rules would specifically allow:
1. On-farm slaughter by a rancher of his/her own poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese) for commercial sale without a use permit. This would be limited to 20,000 chickens (or equivalent) per year and only in lands zoned A3 - A60 (lands zoned A2 or ARP as well as those located in the Coastal Zone would be excluded). Ranchers would be able to process animals that are raised "on the same site or on other agricultural properties located in Marin County that are owned or leased by the processing facility owner or operator” but rabbits (traditionally included in the definition of “poultry”) would be excluded from this rule. Additionally, these processing activities would be limited to 5000 square feet.
2. Mobile Slaughter Units (MSUs) could provide USDA-licensed slaughter services to ranchers for all species without a use permit on lands zoned A3 - A60 (lands zoned A2 or ARP as well as those located in the Coastal Zone would be excluded). MSU's could not operate on any single property for more than 3 consecutive days and up to 12 total days within a calendar month unless the rancher secures a temporary use permit. Ranchers from other properties could bring their animals to where an MSU is in operation to have their animals processed. The unit would have to be located more than 100 feet away from any property lines.
3. Stationary slaughterhouses providing USDA-licensed slaughter services for all species would NOT be allowed in Marin County.
On March 14th, the Board of Supervisors has the power to approve, deny or even change these recommendations up to and including:
• Re-inserting rabbits into number 1 above.
• Allowing numbers 1 and 2 above in lands zoned A2 or ARP (the Board cannot at this time change the land use rules for farms in the Coastal Zone).
• Reversing or modifying the recommendation in number 3 in order to allow for some form of brick-and-mortar USDA slaughterhouse.
Substantial pushback from those who oppose ranching and livestock slaughter is expected at the March 14th meeting. It is very important for the Board of Supervisors to hear from the agricultural community on this issue, and members of the public who value local meats produced on local lands should also speak. Potential talking points might include:
• Raising pastured livestock is one of the oldest and most appropriate uses of Marin's coastal grasslands
• Without access to local slaughter services, ranches incur great cost in money, time and fuel to truck animals out of the area …just so they can be sold back to Bay Area consumers.
• Slaughter services are an essential part of the ranching business. Raising animals in an ecologically sound fashion is a fruitless endeavor if those animals cannot affordably be brought to market.
• New and small-scale ranchers are particularly paralyzed by the costs and complexity of working with distant slaughter facilities.
Also being recommended by the Planning Commission is a new rule to require use permits for ranchers in lands zoned ARP if they want to conduct educational tours. Until now, these activities have been considered “principally permitted” (i.e. a by-right activity that requires no permit or permission from the county). In the development code, “educational tour” is defined as: "Interactive excursion for groups and organizations for the purpose of informing them of the unique aspects of a property, including agricultural operations and environmental resources.” This has historically included school visits, chef/buyer tours, tours by organizations such as MALT or AIM, as well as open-farm type programming to help connect with new CSA members and other customers. Lands zoned A3-A60 would be unaffected by this change, but for those in ARP lands, the requirement to secure a use permit could mean $5,000-10,000 and extensive review by county Planning before allowing one of these activities to take place on your land. Given the growing interest by the public in visiting farms and ranches as well as the importance of transparency in the food system, this may pose a problem for many ranchers. Making your voice heard on this issue is recommended as well.
Again, on both matters, letters should be sent to: BOS@marincounty.org and please plan to speak on Tuesday, 3/14 (time TBD) in Suite 330 of the Marin Civic Center.
For questions contact Vince Trotter, Agricultural Ombudsman for Marin County at 415-524-7394 or email@example.com.