Sunday, April 20, 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 | Leave Comment

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

Bay Area makes growth plans

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1, 1 Comment

 
Supervisor candidates vary on Plan Bay Area

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1, 14 Comments | Gallery

Earth Day means cleanup Day for Suisun City

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A1, 5 Comments | Gallery

 
Hop to it: Couple lights up home, yard for Easter

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: C1

Ranking the best Bay Area athletes

By Brad Stanhope | From Page: A2

 
The Edge hosts Easter egg hunt

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A3

Alooma Temple keeps children in mind

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Fairfield author to speak at women’s expo

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

The resurrection has changed the lives of Christians

By Perry W. Polk | From Page: C3

 
Piano scholarship competition set in Vallejo

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Understanding your health insurance

By Morgan Westfall | From Page: D4, 1 Comment

 
Armijo graduate completes basic training

By Nick DeCicco | From Page: C4

 
Record Store Day a commercial hit

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Easter egg hunt brings out the smiles

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A5, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Dutch Bros. joins Fairfield coffee corridor

By Barry Eberling | From Page: B7, 5 Comments | Gallery

City sets plan to dispose of property assets

By Brian Miller and Karl Dumas | From Page: B7, 1 Comment

 
Fairfield police log: April 17, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: April 17, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

Counties tell Brown they need money for his law

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 1 Comment

 
San Francisco probe leading to entrapment claims

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Exhibit recreates Warhol’s 1964 World’s Fair mural

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
NASA’s space station Robonaut finally getting legs

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Ohio couple married 70 years die 15 hours apart

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11 | Gallery

 
Documents detail another delayed GM recall

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11, 1 Comment

At barricades, Ukraine insurgents await Easter

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
Official: 3 bodies retrieved from inside ferry

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13 | Gallery

13th body pulled from snow in Everest avalanche

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
Costa Rican a celebrity after certified miracle

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14 | Gallery

.

Opinion

Government … for the government?

By Bill James | From Page: A8, 9 Comments

 
Editorial Cartoons for April 20, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Question of the week: Will Flight 370 be found?

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

 
Neighborhood speeders don’t get it

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 5 Comments

Why would a person do this?

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 3 Comments

 
Sound off for April 20, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8, 1 Comment

 
Jeb Bush, love, and today’s GOP

By Ruben Navarrette | From Page: A9, 1 Comment

 
 
.

Living

Today in History for April 20, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: April 20, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Bill Nye says he underestimated debate’s impact

By The Associated Press | From Page: C3, 10 Comments

 
Book details lives of cloistered nuns

By The Associated Press | From Page: C3

Horoscopes for April 20, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: D4

 
Pete spends weekends at my house but he never invites me to his

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: D4

.

Entertainment

Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers has book deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

 
Tartt, Goodwin finalists for Carnegie medals

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

New book on fracking illuminates pros, cons

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

 
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST-SELLERS

By The Associated Press | From Page: C2

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B11

 
.

Sports

A’s score 3 in 9th, rally past Astros 4-3

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Warriors beat Clippers 109-105 in playoff opener

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Kings, Sharks look to put Game 1 in past

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Stults, Padres hand Giants third straight loss

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Hawks take 1-0 lead by rolling past Pacers 101-93

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Calathes suspension a reminder of supplement risk

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Raptors GM Ujiri uses profanity about Brooklyn

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Williams scores 24 as Nets beat Raptors 94-87

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Durant leads Thunder past Grizzlies 100-86

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Federer beats injured Djokovic to reach final

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
Big names among prospective Buffalo Bills buyers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Indians set two new school records for track

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B4

 
Wie shoots 67, wins LPGA LOTTE Championship

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Travis Bowl Highlights

By Daily Republic | From Page: B4

 
Rapids, Earthquakes play to scoreless tie

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Stars Recreation bowling results

By Daily Republic | From Page: B4

 
Jimenez leads Langer by 1 shot in Greater Gwinnett

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Donald shoots 66, takes lead at RBC Heritage

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Award-winning archery champ shoots with his teeth

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6 | Gallery

Survivors keep busy as Boston Marathon approaches

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
.

Business

Why high oil prices are actually good for airlines

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
US delays review of contentious Keystone pipeline

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Subscription sample boxes shake up beauty routines

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Girls from modest families get lift in technology

By The Associated Press | From Page: B12

Haunted house part of San Antonio apartment lofts

By The Associated Press | From Page: B13

 
Recalls this week: lanterns, exercise devices

By The Associated Press | From Page: B13

Review: Siri-like Cortana fills Windows phone gap

By The Associated Press | From Page: B14

 
.

Obituaries

Sealwyn Shirley Brucefield Shepherd Malkiewicz

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Anne Irene Elizabeth Fulgoni

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

Margaret Elizabeth Silva

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Lloyd G. Hoffmeister

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Ramon Isidro

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A4

 
Rogelio Tinoco-Zamudio

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

James Leroy Barbour

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
William Paul Wehrly

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics