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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Agriculture in Sonoma County

For being only a few dozen miles from the Golden Gate Sonoma County is heavily agricultural. It's been this way since the Gold Rush times when it help feed San Francisco and the Bay Area.

The Land

Sonoma County is big. Over one million acres big. That's about 1,700 square miles! That's substantially bigger than the state of Rhode Island.

Half of the land is forested; one-third is pasture land. Urban areas are 9% of the land and grape vineyards 6% -- almost 60,000 acres.
Grazing near the Pacific
The Dollars

In dollar value wine grapes are the leader by far, but milk, poultry, and livestock are very important. The county's wine industry is valued at $13 billion and is responsible for over 50,000 full time jobs.

Changing Agriculture

In the mid-19th century potatoes because the first big crop. The county's population went from 500 in 1850 to 12,000 in 1860. Hops used in beer production were big business from the last part of the 19th century well into the 20th.

In the first half of the 20th century Sonoma County was all about poultry. Livestock, mostly dairy, along with some fruit crops made inroads from mid-century until the late 1980s when grapes took over.
Hop picking, 1920s  (photo from Sonoma County Library)
Sustainability in the Vineyards

Three years ago the Sonoma County Winegrowers committed to 100% sustainable vineyards by 2019. It will be the first in the nation. This means not only will the land be preserved for future agriculture, but means the people who work the land (mostly migrate workers) are treated well and the business has a positive impact on its neighbors and the county as a whole. We are over 60% of the way there.

The farmers want to be socially responsible and environmentally diligent while making a profit. Yes, it's a balancing act because without the economics it won't work. Bottom line: We want to family farms and the wine business to survive in Sonoma County for coming generations.

The once substantial apple crop is giving way to vineyards
(photo from

Some of the info here is from the Sonoma County Winegrowers' 3rd Annual Sustainability Report