The Killing of a Vibrant Apple Orchard
By Shepherd Bliss
Do not be deceived by the thin perimeter of a few live apple trees remaining next to Apple Blossom School and the five schools near 622 Watertrough Road in the Sebastopol countryside. A glorious, historic 40-acre orchard that nurtured people, wildlife, and the environment thrived there for many decades. Chain-sawed trees now languish on their sides with dying green apples, which will never ripen to red, cut down on June 14. Witnessing this slaughter is enough to make a grown man weep.
Paul Hobbs Winery plans yet another chemical vineyard by this clear cutting. The orchard attack is only the first in a series of blows. The downed beauties will soon be burned or disposed of in some way. The soil--which tests indicate contains DDT, arsenic, and lead--will be ripped deeply, adding more waves of deadly drift to the schools, its students, teachers, staff, and visitors.
Poisonous pesticides will then prepare the ground for an industrial vineyard with a high fence preventing children, neighbors, and wildlife from visiting where they have gone for decades. Multiple pesticides will be used regularly throughout the life of the vineyard, including the deadly fungicide Mettle, the herbicide Trigger, and the insecticide/fungicide Purespray Green, which Hobbs is documented to use. Most of life in their path will be killed, including bees that pollinate my nearby crops and beneficial insects like ladybugs and dragonflies.
Hobbs promised that such deadly deeds would not happen while children were present. An eye-witness to the devastation reported that more than 20 children were present at school at the time. Hobbs has a history of making and breaking promises and ignoring government regulations, then paying paltry fines from the millions he extracts from his global industrial alcohol empire in at least six countries.
Hobbs paints himself as a “local farmer.” Real farmers get their hands in the dirt, rather than just be the boss who reaps the profits. Many good winegrape growers and wineries in Sonoma County are genuinely local and sustainable. Paul Hobbs is not one of them. He gives the industry a bad name by being a bad apple and a bad neighbor.
Having watched Hobbs plans unfold in recent weeks--concealed for months from the public by school and government officials--I have felt a rising anger. During a walk through the deceased orchard on the day that it happened, I felt grief beneath that anger. This is partly because for the last 20 years I have managed a small number of apple trees on my berry farm and benefited from their many gifts.
Go visit, while you can, before the tall fences go up. If told that you are on private property, remember that it is adjacent to public property, schools paid for by your tax dollars. If Hobbs does not respect our public property, why should we respect his individual private property, from which his chemical assaults will trespass on the most vulnerable—our beloved children?
Drinking Hobb’s wine is alcohol made at the expense of cancer, asthma, developmental/reproductive damage in vulnerable innocent victims, as well as groundwater and air contamination.
The newly-formed Watertrough Children’s Alliance, which is mainly mothers of students at the schools, has been challenging the vineyard conversion. They have already gathered nearly 1000 signatures on an online and paper petition available at:
The comments by some of the signers are worth reading. Their website is:
What could Apple Blossom School now be called? “Vineyard School” does not have a good ring, especially for children. What will Sebastopol’s annual, long-time, popular Apple Blossom be renamed, now that there are so few apple blossoms? And the annual Gravenstein Apple Fair?
The death of yet another apple orchard and conversion to a chemical vineyard should bring grief, anger, and alarm. Change is inevitable, though not always good, especially when land is usurped by a wine baron for his own benefit, rather than for the benefit of a community.
(Shepherd Bliss belongs to the Apple Roots Affinity Group, is a local farmer, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)