Saturday, October 25, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

EPA praises Winters farmer’s sustainable agriculture efforts

lester walnuts, 8/20/12

Russ Lester, owner of Dixon Ridge Farms, stands in one of his walnut orchards located outside of Winters. Lester produces organic walnuts using sustainable methods. (Brad Zweerink/Daily Republic)

By
From page A1 | September 01, 2012 |

WINTERS — Russ Lester takes the long view with his Dixon Ridge Farms walnut orchards, a view that extends well beyond his lifetime.

He wants to work the land in such a way that fertilizers don’t — over time — diminish the fertile soils. He wants water to still be available for farmers generations from now.

“Sustainable agriculture” is a phrase that has grown in popularity and Lester has his own definition.

“It’s a simple definition, to say we can continue doing what we’re doing for 1,000 years,” Lester said.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency Pacific Southwest Region thinks Lester is on the right track. It recently honored what it called 12 environmental heroes and named Lester its 2012 Sustainable Agriculture Champion.

“The winners, green heroes all, prove there are many ways to protect our air, water and land,” Jared Blumenfeld, the agency’s regional administrator, said in a press release.

Lester finds himself in the company of Zero Waste Advocate winner Adobe Systems of San Jose, Green Business of the Year winner Frito-Lay in Casa Grande, Ariz., and Educational Leadership winner Guam Environmental Education Committee in Guam. The Environmental Protection Agency region covers California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and the Pacific Territories.

The Lester family has farmed in California since 1863, starting in the Napa area. When Lester was growing up, his father had a farm in the Santa Clara area, back when agriculture and not the computer industry was king there.

Lester went to UC Davis with no idea of becoming a farmer. But after looking at teaching and research, he decided he really wanted to farm after all. His parents had left the burgeoning Silicon Valley for the Winters area near Putah Creek in northern Solano County and in 1979 Lester and his wife Kathy bought the farm.

He started out as being more of a conventional farmer who used synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. But he also had a degree in plant ecology, with emphases in engineering and chemistry, and he decided to weld the disciplines together on the farm.

The transition to embrace sustainable farming practices took place over more than a decade, with the help of other people’s ideas.

Farmers at the time usually sprayed crops on a fixed scheduled. Lester around 1980 went to the integrated pest management approach of spraying only when needed, if at all.

He also began using a centuries-old idea, one that his father had tried to a degree. He planted legumes such as vetch and clovers in the walnut groves, given that they attract beneficial insects and also have a bacteria that puts nitrogen into the soils, acting as a natural fertilizer.

Lester describes his movement to sustainable agriculture practices as a progression. On some occasions, as neighbors sprayed, Lester worried.

“I’d wake up and think, ‘I’m not doing what I should be doing. I’m not spraying. Is it going to work?’ ” Lester said.

It worked, in Lester’s estimation. By the 1990s, Dixon Ridge Farms had gone organic.

Some walnut growers use chemicals extensively to get a higher yield of walnuts, perhaps three or four tons per acre to the two tons per acre at Dixon Ridge Farms, Lester said.

“The difference is, their walnuts are what I call trees on steroids,” Lester said.

He believes trees treated in such a manner will be spent in a few decades and have to be replaced at much cost. Dixon Ridge Farms has some trees more than 100 years old that are still producing quite well, he said.

Lester has approached sustainable farming from other angles, too. In 2007, he installed a biogas generator that creates energy for the walnut processing operation out of walnut shells, all without any visible smoke to pollute the air.

Dixon Ridge Farms has containers piled 24 feet high with some 720,000 pounds of walnut shells, enough to keep the generator going for a year. A company owns the generator and Lester pays a fixed price for power.

He soon expects to add an even bigger biogas generator to help power the walnut processing operation.

Lester has put 3,500 square feet of solar panels on roofs of buildings and expect to add more — by putting them on roofs instead of the ground, he avoids taking farmland out of production.

In addition, Lester put in energy-saving lights and added special insulation to a 12,000-square-foot freezer building.

Dixon Ridge Farms in 2007 set the goal of becoming energy self-sufficient. Lester expects that to happen this year.

Farms such as Lester’s are private enterprise and businesses. Taking steps to help the environment won’t work if the venture goes bankrupt.

“The bottom line is we’re making money,” Lester said. “We wouldn’t be staying in business if we weren’t.”

The question is whether Dixon Ridge Farms ends up being a niche or the future for farming. The Environmental Protection Agency views it as having lessons to teach the larger farming community.

Dixon Ridge Farms is “a model for true farm sustainability and a champion for small, family farms in California,” the agency said in a release.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or beberling@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.
LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

 
 
Cut-a-thon to help fight cancer, abuse

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Fall Harvest Festival brings children back to school

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3 | Gallery

No new murder trial for Calkins, judge rules

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3

 
Optimist Club brings youth together for Halloween golf

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

School board candidates forum set next week

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A4

 
Haunted hikes offered for brave souls at park

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Staying active may prolong your life

By Scott Anderson | From Page: B8

 
Suisun City police log: Oct. 23, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

.

US / World

Suspect arrested in death of 2 California deputies

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
KC-10 from Travis lands in Houston, smoke in cockpit

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

Reagan astrologer, Joan Quigley, dies at 87

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
Jury says castrated sex offender should be freed

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

School gunman was Homecoming prince, students say

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Lava creeps toward road on Hawaii’s Big Island

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Remains belong to missing Virginia student

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Dallas nurse receives thanks, hug from Obama

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

NY, NJ order Ebola quarantine for doctors, others

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Gunman in Canada attack complained about mosque

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Egypt declares emergency in northern Sinai

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Militant group said to be using chlorine bombs

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Putin accuses US of undermining global stability

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
.

Opinion

Return Garamendi to Congress

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

 
Editorial Cartoons: Oct. 25, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

SEIU shouldn’t own Board of Supervisors

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

 
Vote, and make a difference

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8

Yes on Measure A

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8

 
Spering best choice for county supervisor

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

.

Living

Today in History: Oct. 25, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: Oct. 25, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Horoscopes: Oct. 25, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A7

 
My mother-in-law wants me to convert to Catholicism, but I don’t want to

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A7

Hello Kitty turning 40, and the birthday bash will be ‘supercute’

By Mcclatchy-Tribune News Service | From Page: B8

 
.

Entertainment

TLC cancels its ‘Honey Boo Boo’ series

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
P.D. James’ riff on Jane Austen comes to TV

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B9

 
.

Sports

Vintage rolls past Armijo, 55-8

By Mike Corpos | From Page: B1

 
Mustangs fall flat in rout by Wildcats

By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B1

Royals beat Giants 3-2 for 2-1 World Series lead

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Falcons hang with Wolves in 34-8 setback

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Vargas to take on Vogelsong in Game 4 of Series

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Hamilton helps Vanden sink Vallejo, 35-0

By Nick DeCicco | From Page: B1

Unfazed, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh doing it his way

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Lloyd leads US women past Mexico 3-0

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Raiders’ Woodley, Young expected to be placed on IR

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Henley’s putting gets him lead at Sea Island

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Judge halts New Jersey’s sports betting plan

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Joe Maddon exercises opt-out, won’t return to Rays

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Attorney: NFL, Ravens not helping union in Rice probe

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Jamie McMurray bests Chase drivers to win pole

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

SCC women’s soccer team falls to Mendocino 3-1

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

 
This date in sports history for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
.

Business

US official: Auto safety agency under review

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Ford profit falls in third quarter on truck costs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Procter & Gamble taking out its batteries

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
UPS expects double-digit surge in Dec shipments

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

US new-home sales close to flat in September

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
.

Obituaries

Melvin Tate

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Mark Dean Lindsay

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

Dr. Robert M. Takamoto

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
.

Home Seller 10/25/14

Real estate transactions for Oct. 25, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: HSR2