Winegrowers Group Helping Farmers Battle Wildfires

The Sonoma County Winegrowers is doing its part to fight the wildfires that rage in the region. The group has championed sustainable practices to reduce wildfire spread and advocated for its farmers during the Kincade Fire.

As the Kincade Fire swept through Northern California’s wine country last week, the Sonoma County Winegrowers has been out front helping its 1,800 growers.

“We can’t control mother nature; we can control how prepared we are for it,” said Karissa Kruse, president of SCW. “There are two pieces to this: What do you do to try to not have this happen? And then the other is how do you navigate the last week [of fires and evacuations]?”

To tackle that first piece, SCW has championed sustainable farming practices, which are both environmentally friendly and can hamper a fire’s spread. As of this year, 99 percent of SCW’s farmers are certified as sustainable.

“We’re seeing that agriculture is part of the solution when it comes to these unfortunate fire events,” Kruse said. “When you are managing your landscape so you don’t have dry brush in the middle of your roads and livestock are grazing pastures, you’re removing that fuel. We’re seeing that fires are getting to the edge of a vineyard and then they stop. Or they’re getting to grazed land, and then they stop.”

To deal with last week’s fire crisis, SCW applied lessons it learned two years ago during the Tubbs Fire, which destroyed thousands of structures in the region—including Kruse’s home.

“We learned a lot about communication, about having one or two point people really be the source of information,” Kruse said. “It was way easier for organizations like ours to be that point.”

Kruse said many of SCW’s farmers did not have email access due to the fires, but were able to receive calls and text messages. Using the SCW contact list, Kruse was able to disseminate a lot of information and encourage growers to listen in on a daily update call hosted by the county’s agriculture commission. SCW also helped its farmers gain access to areas that were generally closed.

“[We] were able to work with the Sheriff’s office to see when it was safe and where it was safe to get folks in to check their properties, take care of livestock, feed livestock,” Kruse said. “Growers were helping growers. There were lots of folks who would go up together and feed all the animals at once or take hay up there. We saw a lot of collaboration.”

Fortunately, most farmers didn’t face crops losses since about 90 percent of the grapes had been harvested already. And although the Kincade Fire is close to complete containment, Kruse knows that wildfires will likely affect the region again. In those future emergencies, SCW would like to see its growers be able to share their knowledge and expertise.

“We have a lot of equipment and knowledge of our county and the backroads, so we can help be part of the solution,” Kruse said. “We’re trying to figure out how to create a volunteer corps of our farmers who can help support where needed—whether its lending equipment or expertise on terrain or the back roads.”

Soda Rock Winery, shown in the wake of the Kincade Fire. Despite massive damages, the facility held wine tastings over the weekend. (Mark Gunn/Flickr)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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