Monday, April 21, 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

Rodriguez musicians win big in Reno

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A1

 
 
Hundreds turn out for Kroc Easter Egg hunt

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A1

Jelly Belly artist finds her work sweet

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Heroes for Hire event goes haywire

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2

Center offers baby mammal care class

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Fairfield police arrest 6 in alcohol sting

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A3

4-H Paper Clover Campaign starts

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
9th Annual Peace Summit on calendar

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

Tour past, present, future in Mountain View

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Best of the best compete at dog show

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A3 | Gallery

Event allows for safe medication disposal

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Kids Fishing Derby to take place Saturday

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Church offers document shredding

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

Suisun City to host 3rd annual MS walk

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Club plans home garden tour in Fairfield

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

Local government meetings

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Il Fiorello to host mushroom class

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

Silent movie night set in Rio Vista

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Fairfield police log: April 19, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

Suisun City police log: April 19, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

 
Fairfield police log: April 18, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

Suisun City police log: April 18, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

 
Street-sweeping dealership comes to Fairfield

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A11, 1 Comment | Gallery

Networking event at Solano College

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A11

 
North Bay Pediatrics marks anniversary

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A11

Firm facilitates building lease in Fairfield

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A11

 
Weather for Monday, April 21, 2014

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B12

.

US / World

Bid, Dick, bid: ‘Dick and Jane’ artworks for sale

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Bee colonies damaged after almond pollination

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Country music singer Kevin Sharp dies at age 43

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Sleeping girl killed after car drives into home

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Recreation areas reopening after Yosemite fire

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Nurse in critical condition after stabbing

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Study: Fuels from corn waste not better than gas

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Transcript reveals confusion over ferry evacuation

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Delay in ferry evacuation puzzles maritime experts

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Transcript of SKorea ship sinking: ‘We can’t move’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

.

Opinion

Why Hillary? The public awaits her answer

By Ann McFeatters | From Page: A8

 
Local voices, important choices

By Rod Keck | From Page: A8

Question of the week: Will Flight 370 be found?

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

 
Editorial Cartoon for April 21, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Legislature critic is selective

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8

 
Knowledge, religion and the hard work of faith

By Cynthia M. Allen | From Page: A8

.

Living

Today in History for April 21, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: April 21, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

My friend’s wife drinks too much, verbally abuses her husband

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B5

 
Horoscopes for April 21, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

 
Horoscopes for April 22, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B7

.

Entertainment

TVGrid April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A10

 
‘Capt. America’ tops box office for third week

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

TVGrid April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

 
.

Sports

 
Sharks take 2-0 series lead with 7-2 win vs. Kings

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Chavez gets 1st win, A’s complete sweep of Astros

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
NBA: Refs missed foul call in Warriors-Clippers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Posey, Lincecum lead Giants to 4-3 win

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Young Clippers try to mature against Warriors

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Wawrinka beats Federer to win Monte Carlo Masters

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Westwood wins Malaysian Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Jimenez closes with 67 to win Greater Gwinnett

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Kuchar rallies from 4 back to win RBC Heritage

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Prep baseball: Pair of 10-run innings powers Vikings to win

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

 
Prizefighter Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter dies at 76

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Red Sox remember Boston Marathon victims

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
After bombs, Boston Marathon under tight security

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Duncan scores 27 points, Spurs beat Mavs 90-85

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

James, Wade lead Heat past Bobcats 99-88 in Game 1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Nene dominates, Wizards rally past Bulls, 102-93

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

Aldridge leads Portland over Houston 122-120 in OT

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
.

Business

 
.

Obituaries

Anne Irene Elizabeth Fulgoni

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

 
.

Comics

Pickles April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Blondie April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sally Forth April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
B.C. April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baby Blues April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Dilbert April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Frank and Ernest April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Get Fuzzy April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baldo April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Rose is Rose April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

For Better or Worse April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Garfield April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Zits April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Wizard Of Id April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Beetle Bailey April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Peanuts April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sudoku April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Bridge April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Word Sleuth April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Cryptoquote April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Crossword April 21

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Beetle Bailey April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Get Fuzzy April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
For Better or Worse April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Rose is Rose April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Pickles April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sally Forth April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Peanuts April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Frank and Ernest April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Garfield April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Zits April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Blondie April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

B.C. April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Dilbert April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Baldo April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Baby Blues April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Wizard Of Id April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Sudoku April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Bridge April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Word Sleuth April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Crossword April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Cryptoquote April 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7