Trying to repair errors
OK, call me guilty for being slow to publicly speak my horror over how a wonderful business like Cypress Grove was treated at a community meeting in our City. I care deeply, and have been contemplating the concern. I admire Cypress Grove Chevre, both the company and the product.
I wholly support local agriculture, and Mary Keehn has only been more than gracious over the years with donations of cheese for agriculture education promotion.
After the community meeting, I wondered if maybe there was a site out there, farther from houses, where this new model for a dairy could be built with out too much neighbor influence. I have been working with Cypress Grove employees to try and identify sites – but the awakening thing is – they just aren’t out there. I have kept my focus on northern Humboldt, but the company has also been looking south to Loteta.
On Wednesday, July 20, the Arcata City Council has as an agenda item to discuss the 23-acre Gilardoni parcel. Basically, while some citizens want the City to purchase the land, currently the City does not have the funds, or know of a funder for the property. If citizens want to see an educational project on that site – there needs to be a small group of committed citizens, as Margaret Mead said, working to promote the project, find the funding, etc. Maybe the City could help, but it can’t take the lead.
The dairy system Cypress Grove was suggesting would have been an educational project, that was one of their goals. Cypress Grove employees have been researching goat dairies around the world for years; and they want to build a modern goat dairy in Humboldt County that other dairymen would admire. I support that goal.
I know there were legitimate concerns of neighbors. If we had acted with civility, we might be discussing how these concerns would be addressed. Instead we are trying to repair a bungled attempt at community development. There were errors on all sides.
It is not up to the City, the neighbors or the Community as to what Cypress Grove’s next step should be. I just hope we can let them know how much they mean to us, how much local jobs mean to us, and how we respect them as neighbors.
Include us Iversonians
July 8, 2011
Mark Lovelace, Chair
Humboldt County Board of Supervisors
825 Fifth St.
Eureka, CA 95521
RE: Emmi/Cypress Grove proposed dairy: need for conditional use permit
Dear Supervisor Lovelace:
My husband and I live in the Bloomfield subdivision of Arcata. Our backyard abuts the “Gilardoni” pasture into which Cypress Grove Chevre hoped to expand. There are, in fact, 39 houses along Iverson Street, which borders the pasture. [Note: It's Iverson Avenue. – Ed.]
On June 14 of this year I appeared before your board and objected to County Planner Steven Werner’s pre-determination, before a project proposal had even been submitted, that the Emmi/Cypress Grove goat dairy would be approved as a principally permitted use. Since then, Cypress Grove has announced cancellation of its plan and the neighbors with whom I have lived peaceably for 35 years have been much maligned in the press.
In the July 6, 2011 edition of the Arcata Eye, you commented that you would support a “do-over” plan. There are rumors afloat that Cypress Grove/Emmi is again considering the “Gilardoni pasture” and, in meetings with public officials like yourself, is trying to negotiate a “creative,” collaborative process that would exclude most of the public and avoid a use permit.
Therefore I renew my message to you and other public officials that the Emmi goat plan should be considered in an open, transparent process involving public hearings and environmental review. A conditional use permit should be required. The next time around, if there is one, Emmi should present a permit application with a full project description, not simply the vague assurances and unanswered questions that the neighbors were given by Mary Keehn and Bob McCall at the Emmi-sponsored June 13 neighborhood meeting.
Although we have been ridiculed by Kevin Hoover and others in the Arcata Eye, my neighbors and I are not rude and simplistic nimby-ites. We like goats and have long enjoyed the cows in the “Gilardoni” pasture. We would welcome productive, profitable and sustainable agriculture there.
However, with its multiple buildings and high density of goats (up to 1,400 on less than 23 acres) the Emmi “factory farm” plan raised red flags. We were legitimately concerned about drainage, traffic, smells, chemicals, bacteria-laden dust and other issues. Emmi’s efforts to clinch the land sale before the neighbors discovered it and its determination to slip by without a use permit understandably left us feeling angry and at risk.
We could only conclude that Emmi/Cypress Grove had something to hide and knew its plan would not survive public scrutiny. Surely an international conglomerate can afford the cost of the democratic process involved in obtaining a use permit.
I ask your help in assuring that if Emmi revisits the goat plan, our Bloomfield neighborhood receives the respect, information and input into the process that it deserves.
cc: Wesley Chesbro
Arcata City Council
Chevre requires goats, folks
I was so glad to see I was not the only one upset by Cypress Grove’s decision to find a new dairy site. I was planning on attending the neighborhood meeting, but alas one of my children were sick.
Yes, I live two blocks away and have kids and I still do not fear for our families safety living near a goat farm. I too walk out of my house to the smell of manure and the site of reclaimed (yes manure) water being sprayed into the air onto cow fields.
This is just a classic case of “not in my backyard.” Some Arcata folks proudly bring bread and chevre to a dinner party but don’t want to sit down and think about what it takes to get there. I couldn’t believe CG would back down to people hyped up on misinformation, but I wish they would reconsider and if that means getting a petition started I know many who would sign!
What a sad loss of opportunity, jobs and education. Think about the waste of resources to transport milk from off site, and the additional traffic of those trucks transporting it! Plus, now I can’t look forward to daily walks with my kids to see “those cute goats,” ha!
Arcata Bottoms resident
Our community’s land and its resources affects everyone.
This was acutely demonstrated a few weeks ago when the Emmi Roth USA and its Cypress Grove Chevre subsidiary entered escrow for the Gilardoni property just west of the City of Arcata’s boundary.
The community south of and surrounding the 23-acre parcel voiced its strong opposition; and the company halted escrow and plans for expansion onto the site for its intensive goat dairy. For the short term, the property is in limbo; but in the long term we must take action to preserve, in perpetuity, this rich agricultural heritage and its uniquely rich treasure of topsoil.
The Gilardoni property is prime agricultural soil sandwiched between a subdivision to the south – along with four schools and two churches – and to the north some small holdings and vestiges of the old Simpson Mill now occupied by Sun Valley Floral.
This land has resisted change over the years including Janes Creek West in the mid-90s, where it was included in a “smart growth” proposal to build 964 houses and a commercial plaza west of the city limits. In spite of this growth pressure, the parcel has retained its agricultural use as grazing land for an average of 25 to 40 dairy cows for nearly 100 years. And it quietly serves the community as a breath of fresh air every time we take the turn at 17th Street and transcend from our daily grind to venture out and enjoy that precious place we all know as the Bottom.
This parcel’s rich topsoil, the best in Humboldt County and in California, drains well, holds nutrients, and grows fine crops. And yet, to the surprise of many, there is not much left of it on the Bottom. The further west we go, soil quality diminishes becoming less suitable for row crops and other farming.
Beginning in the 1970s, the City of Arcata’s visionary leaders educated themselves about the remaining prime agricultural resources left in and surrounding the community, and took steps to try to preserve it for future generations.
The current General Plan 2020 has furthered this commitment by retaining protective Agricultural Exclusive zoning, and shrinking our urban services away from these vital resources. The current City Council recently approved the following goals:
1) Evaluate and recommend open space funding mechanisms and options to generate revenue, and develop a management plan for the West Arcata greenbelt and open space and agriculture property purchased during the past five years.
2) Explore opportunities to acquire property or secure easements from willing sellers around the community forests and other open space lands.
As a member of the City’s Agriculture and Open Space Committee I have hoped that someday an opportunity like this might come where the community would see this particular property as significant and vulnerable, and endeavor to take action to preserve it for future generations of farmers.
Agricultural incubators that assist start-up farmers are becoming more common in communities that hope to assist young farmers. Sonoma County’s Open Space District Small Farms Program leases land in its greenbelt to farmers who grow vegetables, flowers, herbs, and berries – these are farmers who would not otherwise be able to find property to farm.
In the 1990s, UC Cooperative Extension at the Humboldt County Agriculture Department ran a similar program called the Farm Incubator Project on Dow’s Prairie. This project provided first leases to some of our favorite farmers who now sell wholesome fruits and vegetables at Farmers’ Market. This very successful program was discontinued due to the loss of their lease in 1996.
When asked to evaluate the effectiveness of the program, all participants were positive and thankful for the experience. Earth and Sky Garlic owner, Liz Kinnaman stated, “As of the end of this year I can graduate from the incubator project to my own piece of farmland because the past five years has given me the confidence and experience to buy farmland and increase my efforts.”
When asked if a program like this is currently needed, Deborah Giraud from UCCE, who started and maintained the incubator until its closure, said, “most definitely!”
The Gilardoni land is a prime candidate for such a project. The soil is excellent, the terrain flat, it has ample water, and requires no fencing for deer. It would be an excellent next step for farmers who manage the Bayside Community Farm who want to continue to farm, as well as for others who have difficulties finding land.
My hope is that the city, the neighbors and the community will embrace a project like this.
This Wednesday, July 20 at 6 p.m., the Arcata City Council will consider whether or not to direct staff to seriously explore possibilities for acquisition and/or a conservation easement for this property.
It is my hope that the community will come out and encourage the council to move forward with this exploration and implement its own goals and policies and those of previous councils, so that we may secure a western agricultural greenbelt, which will be preserved for future generations.
Don’t screw this... oops
As a long-distance subscriber (Chico), I get the news a week or so out of date which makes my rare responses a bit anachronistic. Still, this business with Cypress Grove has got my blood boiling.
I just received the July 6 issue so, no doubt, your letters have ebbed toward the defense of the local citizens who didn’t want a goat herd in their backyards.
Let me add my voice to the legions of supporters of Mary Keehn and the whole Cypress Grove operation. I worked at the location in Dows Prairie as a packer and occasional welder while in graduate school.
That was over 10 years ago but I still use Mary as a model for the best business can offer. She cares deeply for every one of her employees and the environment. She is a rare breed who always had a “maximum” revenue and not a goal of “more.”
The employees knew this and we worked hard for the success of Humboldt Fog and the other varieties because we believed in Mary.
My point is, if you want to grow local businesses, you will not find a more conscientious, caring, and compassionate company than Cypress Grove. I simply cannot imagine that she would sign off on any project that would compromise her values. And good on you, Mr. Hoover, for writing an excellent piece on the realities of civic engagement.
Don’t screw this up, Arcata! Work with the true heroines like Mary who go to bed each night thinking about how to make this world a better place.
Russell Shapiro, Ph.D. a.k.a “Tattoo Russ”
Arcata's hostility to investment
Regarding the truncated Cyprus Grove expansion I would like to address the damage done to the City’s expressed strategy of increasing production businesses and jobs in Arcata.
Production, whether agricultural or industrial, brings cash into our local economy by selling value-added goods produced from our know-how, labor, creative entrepreneurship, private capital and personal financial risk. The payroll and other local expenditures of production businesses circulate many times in our local economy, contributing to our local economic health.
While the strategy was correct, in this situation the City failed to walk the talk. This was a unique opportunity for Council and staff to actively promote the conforming use of the agricultural parcel for expanded production of goat milk for local production of award-winning cheese.
However, rather than following expressed strategy by taking any position in favor of this significant private investment of millions of dollars of capital and increasing payroll into our economy, the City’s most visible position was the inappropriate and overtly hostile expressions by an individual employed by the City.
Parameters within which private enterprise needs to operate are established by the General Plan, the zoning and local regulations. Private parties then have the civil right, have the FREEDOM, to invest their sweat, their creativity and their capital in whatever they decide to do within those established parameters. If any element of the Cypress Grove private land purchase and private development was not a principally permitted use or did not conform to regulations, there are established procedures for addressing those issues in the public arena.
Mob-like behavior, disseminating misinformation and verbal hostility is NOT an acceptable civic process regarding conforming private uses. The position of “not THAT kind of agriculture” is untenable in regards to a parcel zoned for agricultural use.
In my opinion, the City has demonstrated not just devaluing of their own economic strategy but also disregard for the fundamental civil right, the FREEDOM, to establish and run a business that conforms with the General Plan, zoning and regulations.
Any entrepreneur considering production business investment in and around the City of Arcata will now think twice and seek other options before investing here.
I hope to see the City Council, City Manager and staff focus efforts on recovering the City’s production business strategy from this debacle.
Use the Arcata Bottom appropriately
I wonder how long it is going to take for people to acknowledge what the old timers knew: The Arcata Bottom is best suited for grazing and dirt farming.
Sixty years ago, Bloomfield’s developers did not foresee the problems inherent in paving over and building on this historic flood plain. They failed to acknowledge its high water table: This land does not perk. That fact makes it unsuitable for development.
Sixty years of efforts to remediate the damage have not convinced Mother Nature that she must not overrun her stream beds or periodically flood her historical plain; but Bloomfield residents still pump their basements and struggle with molds year around.
Peggy Richmond, who operated Creamline Dairy with husband Wally, lives on high ground along 17th Street. Peggy remembers that they and the Gilardonis, always moved their cattle to higher ground across Q Street to the barn during seasonal rains. There were no barns or shelters where cattle grazed; but every inch of that land was dirt-farmed or put into hay during the season.
The Bloomfield neighbors and farming friends heartily support young farmers’ efforts to find ways to keep this land productive and sustainable – just as Olga and Ray, and Wally and Peggy did. We can do it with a preservation easement.
The land has the capacity to give the next generation of farmers a start. It can serve as a model for sustainable agriculture, and it can be used for generations to come with no alterations to its contours or to its natural proclivities to flood, and with no harm to its tilth and continuing productivity – if we can set it aside for the farmers of tomorrow.
Let us begin the process: To preserve and keep this land healthy and productive for the future!
Goatgate and Peter Cottontail
Last week I wrote about the difficulties that can arise when people form an idea and won’t budge from it, even when all the evidence points to them being badly mistaken. The Goatgate controversy in the Arcata Bottoms provides another example of the phenomenon. In case you’ve managed to miss the story, here are the basics.
Cypress Grove Chevre, the locally founded maker of specialty goat cheeses, wants to build a dairy to secure a steady supply of goat’s milk for its operations. Now owned by Swiss dairy cooperative Emmi, Cypress Grove can afford to invest in land, improvements and animals. The company located a parcel of about 23 acres, zoned for agriculture and just a mile or two from its main location on Q Street in Arcata. [Note: It's just around the corner, way less than a mile. – Ed.]
Cypress Grove settled on a price with the owners and entered escrow. Then the deal took an unexpected turn. Neighbors found out about the plans, which some regarded as appalling, and they threw a tizzy fit of considerable proportions.
They demanded hearings, insisted the county should require a conditional use permit and generally made nuisances of themselves. They mobbed an informational meeting held by Cypress Grove and were so rude and unwelcoming that the dairy canceled its plans and is now seeking property in the Loleta area, where there is a presumption that agricultural land can be used for agricultural purposes.
The former Gilardoni dairy may have looked like open space in recent years, when it seems to have mostly been used for growing hay, but some Arcata residents remember the dairy and its products fondly. The parcel is in the county, but surrounded on three sides by the city; Wes Chesbro spoke up to remind Arcata residents the Gilardoni parcel and others had specifically been protected to preserve and promote agriculture in the area. County planners noted no conditional use permit is needed for a principally permitted use.
The anti-goat neighbors who protested were opposing a project consisting of a sale, at market price, between willing sellers and buyers, which was perfectly legal and aboveboard. Cypress Grove intended to use its own money to build a dairy, creating jobs and adding value to the local economy. The protesting neighbors do not own the property, but they convinced themselves they had the right to pass judgment on the project, which they said would be noisy, dirty, smelly and would draw traffic to their bucolic area.
Some people criticized the protesters and said they had discouraged investment in the community--exactly the wrong way to grow the economy. In defense, the protesters have come up with their own proposal; they want someone to buy the property and turn it into an incubator farm. Such plans are helpful to prospective farmers, especially young ones who can’t afford to buy land; they lease small plots for a few years to get started and receive advice from experienced farmers.
Many of the farmers selling at our Farmers' Markets got their start in such an incubator sponsored by the University of California Cooperative Extension program in Dow’s Prairie in the 1990s. The key word is sponsored. Incubator farms are heavily subsidized, in order to help beginners get started.
It seems to me the anti-dairy folks expect a fairy godmother to provide the funding to buy the property, assuming the owners would consider a sale to anyone associated with the protests. Then they expect someone – they had the nerve to suggest the City of Arcata take a lead role--to obtain grant money to make the project happen. I suspect they would expect the farms to be picturesque, a few rows of organic vegetables, some pretty flowers and a little fruit.
The workers would walk or bike to work and use hand tools to cultivate the soil. They’d wear overalls with peasant shirts and straw hats, not jeans and tees and baseball caps. In short, the whole thing would be a theme park.
Maybe they could call it the Peter Cottontail Farm. I don’t know if there’s a market for such a place, but neither do they, because they have done no market research, they just decided what they wanted on land owned by someone else, and now expect someone else to make their vision real.
I’ve done my share of working through the system to prevent an adjacent property owner from gaining permission to put 129 homes on a parcel zoned for five, and block public access to the coast, but we were pikers compared to the strike team mobilized against Cypress Grove Chevre. A few of the protesters have admitted getting a little carried away by the moment, but most of them remain proud of themselves for derailing a project which had potential for benefiting the community.
Arcata’s leaders are concerned that once the dairy is located elsewhere, the cheese-making operation will follow, and why wouldn’t it? Cypress Grove Chevre many not be a saintly company, but it was painted as the moustache-twirling villain in a melodrama of the protesters’ invention. It has no reason to think fondly of Arcata.
Dangers or whatever
Iverson and Foster Avenue residents have something anyone would want – a vast expanse of quiet open space just over their back fences. The goatroversy was about keeping that, period.
The neighbors replicated the same tactics congressional leaders in Washington are using re: the debt ceiling – reframing expiration of tax cuts for wealthy people as “job-killing tax hikes on job creators.” Scare and confuse. No shared sacrifice.
The opponents of Cypress Grove Chevre’s goat dairy shotgunned out every vile claim they could imagine – of an invading multinational corporation, environmental destruction, even the tortuous death of children – to see what would stick.
The scare scenarios that didn’t take, like antibiotic runoff ruining the Marsh and big trucks rumbling through residential neighborhoods (not to mention the infamous “lying to the priest” gossip), were dropped to make way for fresh alarmism.
Right up to last week’s council meeting, the opponents continued to dish up dealbreakers. The latest was chronic drainage problems on the Gilardoni property. But that’s exactly the kind of site issue that big projects like the goat dairy correct with grading and contouring. Guess the neighbors didn’t really want the drainage put right.
The lazy hearsay was comically exemplified by one speaker deriding the dairy project for featuring “CAPOs or whatever.”
That, folks, is what passes for reasoned argumentation in our university town these days – regurgitating half-heard distortions, in this case about “concentrated feed lot operations” known as CAFOs (not CAPOs),promoted by the loudest opponents.
These people not only didn’t know what they were objecting to, they didn’t even bother to get their smears straight.
That’s because you can’t remember what the British press charitably calls “mistakes” (lies). The half-baked, shapeshifting objections’ real purpose was to stave off the buildings and associated activity that would have intruded on their present backyard view. But since no one could admit that, we were treated to the sorry parade of apocalyptic visions of destruction, disease and death. Or whatever.
If the objecting Bloomfield/Foster neighbors cared so much about ag policy, they would have participated in the county General Plan update. They didn’t, and won’t.
Nor will they follow through with the arduous process for securing the land in perpetuity and creating an ag incubator. We all know this. They’ll wait for the next crisis – maybe a move by the beleagured land owners to rezone their property so they can use it for something – and start conjuring up bogeymen and doomsday scenarios. Or they’ll demand someone buy the land for them.
Scare tactics killed a massive, almost heaven-sent investment in Arcata business and agriculture. Narrow self-interest triumphed, expedited by the lackadaisical response of our political leaders. Nevermore should they issue proclamations extolling entrepreneurial success, food independence or local manufacturing, because they don’t know what these things are when they’re handed to them on a $3 million platter.
Apart from all that, you know what the worst thing about this is? The total lack of confidence in Arcata demonstrated by the opponents. Didn’t they know that we would have taken the progressive European dairying concept and made it our own?
At the fateful Bloomfield School meeting, CGC openly invited the neighbors to participate in shaping the dairy project. CGC, like other Arcata companies, has a documented history of approaching what they do with an ethic of quality and elevating the form.
It would have done that with this project, partnering with the town that invented the world-leading Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary and Community Forest. Arcata and CGC – now there’s an unstoppable combination.
This facility would have evolved into an appropriate technology model for 21st century dairying. Schools would have been involved, ag promoted, skills learned, jobs created, tours given, cheese served and our town further distinguished and empowered.
Instead we made cute posters depicting mounds of feces. We denounced longtime neighbors as ruthless exploiters. We screamed about what couldn’t be done, and didn’t do it. We thought small and shrank from opportunity. And in a way, we redefined Arcata.
This was a multidimensional debacle of historic proportions, and a loss Arcata will always remember. But there are a few upsides.
For one, the sweet Arcata Bottom view remains intact for the neighbors.
And miraculously, throughout this whole thing, no one called anyone else a Nazi. Yet.
Kevin L. Hoover