Fellow grain equipment co-op member Tristan and I drove around Sonoma county for the past couple months looking at vacant land. Tristan grew up in this county and knows many farmers, the microclimates, the knooks and crannies. We saw thousands of loamy, flat, equipment-accessible acres of land in Sonoma. Vegetable farmers don’t care for these parcels because they lack of irrigation and infrastructure. I don’t need much, not a shed, a spigot, or a place to live, but it’s been a challenge to get a lease.
We found empty parcels, looked up the owner, and discovered that most lived elsewhere. They let their neighbors graze animals on the land and don’t want to complicate matters by introducing a tenant. Some are old, in their 80s, and are figuring out what to do, and don’t want to mess with the land in the meantime.
A friend of mine is a shepherd for a ranch on the coast. She and I thought we’d make a great duo for a pasture cropping rotation — she with the sheep and me with the grains. We’ve both learned loads about regenerative agriculture, pasture cropping, and rotational grazing — methods to feed animals and humans while benefitting the environment, and we were excited to make it happen on the Sonoma coast where there’s a need to control erosion. This ranch in particular raises horses on its 370+ acre property, and the horses have created a compaction layer that could slough off the topsoil into the sea. Rye and quinoa would do well in that cold, misty zone.
The new owner of the ranch is interested in using regenerative agriculture to revitalize the biome, and the farm manager wants to grow grains for estate-sourced ingredients. They both don’t have farming experience, however. The farm manager, who comes from a culinary background, claimed that the cultivation costs are BS, that he wants to “graze” horses on the grains, and that it should be done in an area I didn’t request to farm on: on the steep, rocky section. They wouldn’t budge on this, even though my friend and I explained that horses would kill the grains and create poor conditions for rejuvenating perennials, and that cultivating in rocks would be disastrous for equipment. They didn’t want to listen to either of us, which is a sure sign of a bad relationship. As much as I need land and even though I should be planting, I ended negotiations. Here I am landless again.
If you know of 5-20 acres parcels of arable land in Sonoma County, please let me know.