Monday, July 29, 2013

A Note from Shepherd Bliss...

                             Apples to Alcohol

By Shepherd Bliss

I’m eating Gravenstein apples as I write. Yum! Yum! I also ate them at the picket at the Paul Hobbs Winery this Monday and as I testified before the Board of Supervisors against Hobbs’ toxic practices on Tuesday. Each of my 20 years here I’ve eaten Gravs at this time of year.

“An apple a day keeps the doctors away,” is a saying that grows more important as I reach nearly 70-years-old.

But for how long will we have many Gravs here? According to the 2011 Crop Report, there were only 600 acres of Gravs left, probably less than 400 acres now. In l957 there were 5,500 acres.

Among the fallen Gravs were those on the 47-acre apple orchard adjacent to Apple Blossom School on Watertrough that Hobbs clearcut in June. Over 700 students attend five schools right there.

Sonoma County has good grape growers. Hobbs is a bad apple and a bad neighbor. He is a repeat offender who often breaks the rules and then pays small fines, considered to be among the costs of business.

Last week CBS evening news showed the orchard he cut and interviewed one of the many mothers complaining about how this bully’s toxic practices hurt her child.

After Hobbs illegally cut the creek-side vegetation there, we got a stop work order. The Ag. Commissioner shut him down for a month, for which neighbors, parents, and others are thankful.

I was there when Hobbs cut the trees. Consider visiting that apple graveyard, before they dispose of the dead bodies. See for yourself.

Hobbs' Watertrough Road conversion.

Neighbors and the Watertrough Children’s Alliance, mainly mothers, have written separate letters to the District Attorney suggesting she shut it down permanently because of Hobbs ongoing environmental abuse. “This is the wrong place for a vineyard,” observed Thomas Cooper, father of a six-year-old in one of the schools and founder of the activist Apple Roots Group.

Yet Hobbs has already built a tall fence to keep everything out. The apple orchard was a place where children, families, wildlife, and myself used to walk. It is being converted into industrial alcohol production.

There is a big difference between the food farming that used to happen there and the alcohol that will now be produced there. Sonoma County is loosing its agriculture diversity, which is being replaced by wine production, much of the wealth it extracts leaving the county. Hobbs, for example, sells his wine mainly online.

Fortunately, there are organic grape growers and other sustainable farmers here. I praise organic wineries, such as Porter Creek, Benzinger, Cline, Quivira, and Topolos.

Among the especially bad killers that Hobbs uses are the fungicide mettle, the herbicide trigger, and Monsanto’s notorious RoundUp.

They cause cancer and other diseases, groundwater contamination, developmental/reproductive damage, endocrine disruption, and other problems.

Let me clear up some PR fabrications. To be a “local farmer,” as Hobbs claims, you have to live here, not just come and go through your wine empire. And you need to get your hands in the dirt or on animals. Otherwise you are an industrial alcohol producer, which is what Hobbs is.

Composite of Paul Hobbs in front of the Jenkel conversion.

Lets stop wine barons from poisoning our children, workers, water, air and the land itself. The mothers, neighbors, and others make moral arguments against the financial power of Sonoma County’s bloated wine industry. It is a classic David vs. Goliath struggle.

Once known by the natural designation Redwood Empire, we are now becoming known as the commercial Wine Country.

(Shepherd Bliss runs the Kokopelli Farm, works with the Apple Roots Group, has contributed to two dozen books, teaches college, and can be reached at

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