Califonia Bountiful

Stewards of the land

Jan./Feb. 2015 California Bountiful magazine

Farmers' conservation practices earn honors

For nearly 30 years, Judith Redmond, from left, Andrew Brait, Paul Muller and Dru Rivers have maintained their commitment to balance environmental, economic and community goals at their diversified farm.

Sustainability rests on the principle that we meet the needs of the present while providing enduring value to future generations. The following farmers and ranchers exemplify that principle in combining their vision for tomorrow with a passion to get things accomplished today. 

"California has some of the best land in the world and it's our job to make sure it has a level of potential for the future to enjoy too," Paul Muller said.

Muller, along with his wife Dru Rivers and co-owners Andrew Brait and Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm in Yolo County, are the winners of the 2014 Leopold Conservation Award, which recognizes landowner achievements in voluntary conservation and public education. In California, the award is presented by the Sand County Foundation, California Farm Bureau Federation and Sustainable Conservation. The S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation and the Nature Conservancy are major sponsors as well.

Bruce Hafenfeld of Kern County and John and Gail Kautz of San Joaquin County were finalists for the 2014 award. All demonstrate a commitment to stewardship and sustained economic viability, while also being innovative and active in their communities.

Full Belly Farm, Yolo County 

Nestled in the beautiful Capay Valley is one of the oldest certified organic farms in California: Full Belly Farm.

From left, Judith Redmond, Andrew Brait, Dru Rivers and Paul Muller founded Full Belly Farm in 1985.

The farm was founded in 1985 by husband and wife Paul Muller and Dru Rivers, as well as Andrew Brait and Judith Redmond. All four owners remain committed to their reason for starting the farm: to foster sustainability, care for the environment and educate people about farm life.

"One of the biggest joys of farming here is, I believe in what we do," Rivers said. "I literally can't wait to get up and get out to the farm every morning."

The farm produces a year-round abundance of seasonal fruits and vegetables, nuts, herbs, flowers, eggs, meats and grains. There are 50 independently managed fields, ranging from three to 30 acres in size and creating what Brait calls "a patchwork quilt of unique land-management plans."

Crops are sold at farmers markets and stores, and to restaurants and wholesalers. Full Belly Farm also has a community-supported agriculture, or CSA, program, which started in 1992 and now serves 1,200 families per week.

The four owners say they believe in taking care of the land that gives them so much. They've carefully managed Cache Creek, which flows through their farm, and planted gardens to attract native
insects that act as pollinators for many of their crops. The farm has several solar installations, which produce enough electricity to offset the energy use of their coolers and irrigation systems.

"We live and work on the farm, so we feel it's worth it to make the place the best it can be," Redmond said.

Hafenfeld Ranch, Kern County

At Hafenfeld Ranch, each day's activities focus on the balanced management of soil, water, vegetation, wildlife and cattle.

Bruce and Sylvia Hafenfeld, center, lead three generations of conservation-minded ranchers who also include, from left, daughter-in-law Jamie, son Eric and grandchildren Ward, Charlotte and Gus.

The open-range ranch, which encompasses more than 500,000 acres, is run by Bruce and Sylvia Hafenfeld and operated with their son Eric and his wife Jamie. The family manages certified organic cattle on private property, U.S. Forest Service land and an Audubon California preserve. They have found success in voluntarily conserving the natural resources found on the land and in so doing, have helped protect endangered species such as the Southwestern willow flycatcher, a small bird.

"What we do here is indeed conservation, but it's also production," Bruce Hafenfeld said. "We strongly believe that if you take care of the land, it will take care of you."

As agriculturists, the Hafenfelds say they consider it important to sustain resources and be productive going forward: They are constantly adjusting grazing patterns and rotating cattle-grazing areas to manage the land.

The family's land stewardship also includes erosion control, installation of wildlife-friendly water systems and improved irrigation infrastructure to use water more efficiently and manage water quality. And with a conservation easement on the property, Hafenfeld Ranch provides habitat now and into the future for several species of turtles, birds, butterflies and more.

Hafenfeld said he believes these efforts will protect the ranch and his family's heritage: "There has to be the reward of opportunity for the next generation."

Kautz Farms, San Joaquin County

Winegrape growers John and Gail Kautz were one of the first major growers to implement sustainable farming practices in their vineyards. 

As a young farmer in Lodi, John Kautz saw the future in growing winegrapes. Starting with just 12 acres in 1948, he and his family built a reputation as a premium winegrape supplier, amassing more than 5,000 acres of vineyards in Lodi and the Sierra Nevada foothills to become one of the top winegrape growers in California. Kautz and his wife Gail, along with their children, own and operate Ironstone Vineyards in the town of Murphys.

While the winery is the ultimate destination for grapes grown in the family vineyards, Kautz started his conservation practices on his original farm property. Years ahead of others, he pioneered drip irrigation in the vineyards and the use of integrated pest management—using natural enemies to combat destructive insects. He has implemented several other methods of sustainable farming as well, including building stock ponds, farmscaping for pest-predator habitat and beauty, and most recently, recycling water used in the winemaking process by purifying it for irrigating his fields.

As a former president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, Kautz advocates keeping people informed about the work being done on farms and ranches: "If people can see what we do and care about it as much as we do, then they'll really appreciate the farmers of California that much more."

Tracy Sellers 

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