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James Rickert of Bella Vista, who helps run the well-known Prather Ranch in Siskiyou County, recently picked up a statewide innovation award for practicing agricultural techniques that are hundreds of years old.
The big innovation: Growing plants and livestock on the same patch of soil.
“It’s not that groundbreaking,” Rickert said with a laugh when I asked him about the award. “We looked at what people used to do, and we apply modern technology.”
Prather Ranch may be best known around here as a grower of organic beef. (Kent’s Meats and Groceries, on Airport Road in Redding, carries a selection of Prather Ranch beef.) In 2004, Rickert, the Prather Ranch organic production manager, recognized a market for organic strawberry plant stock.
“Until about five years ago, nobody was trying to grow their plants organically. All of the organic strawberry growers were using plant stock grown on fumigants,” Rickert explained.
Organic growing rules require organic fruit growers to use organic stock if it is available. So Rickert set about raising organic strawberry stock. The first year, he recalled, was a complete failure because of problems with the soil. After doing more soil testing and studying the situation intensely, the Prather Ranch folks figured it out. Within a few years, they were selling 2 million plants a year to commercial growers and retail nurseries.
What Prather Ranch does is choose a piece of pasture that cattle have already grazed, close it off to the cattle, and use that soil to raise the strawberry plants. The following year, that plot becomes pasture once again, and a different patch of pasture is used for strawberry plant cultivation. This arrangement fits well with Prather Ranch’s normal practice of rotational grazing, in which pastures are grazed intensively and then allowed to recover before livestock returns. This “regenerative agriculture” is healthier for the land and more productive for the grower, Rickert said.
Earlier this month, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation named Rickert one of eight IPM (Integrated Pest Management) innovators.
“I’m a fifth generation Shasta County farmer, and it’s been nice to continue to do things the old-fashioned way,” he said.
Learn more about regenerative agriculture from the Pennsylvania-based Rodale Institute, of which Rickert’s uncle Tim LaSalle is a former CEO.
• Count me among the virtual hordes who can’t stop watching the Turtle Bay Eagle Cam now that the three eaglets have hatched. In case you missed it, the eaglets busted out of their shells Thursday and Friday, the third one on Monday. Their names, based on a Caltrans contest, are Peace, Justice and Shasta. Right now, they are fairly inactive gray balls of fluff. But keep the Eagle Cam rolling long enough and you can watch the parents feed the little ones and shelter them from the rough weather. I’m a little worried about the youngest eaglet, though, which doesn’t appear to be getting as much attention as the other two.
• Tickets are on sale for Taste of Dunsmuir, a progressive dinner scheduled for April 12. Sengthong’s Blue Sky Room, Cornerstone Bakery and Café, Dunsmuir Brewery, Café Maddalena and the Brown Trout Café will provide the food and drink for this always-popular event. Tickets cost $65 and the proceeds benefit the Dunsmuir Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. For tickets and more information, contact the chamber at 235-2177.
• My wife and I have the world’s most annoying refrigerator. It runs all the time, it’s noisy as heck and it doesn’t really fit in our kitchen. And it just won’t die. But we may go ahead and euthanize the darn thing on April 22. That’s the day the California Energy Commission’s “Cash for Appliances” program kicks off. Some of the program details are still forthcoming, but the basic idea is this: Swap your energy-guzzling refrigerator, washing machine, air conditioner or other appliance for a new, efficient model, recycle the clunker, and you’ll get a check from the state. You’ll also save money on your monthly utility bill. And, if you’re like me, you won’t have to listen to the wretched rattling every time the ‘fridge starts up. The website: www.cash4appliances.org.
Paul Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a frequent contributor to Planning magazine and co-author of Guide to California Planning, a reference book and college text. He lives in Centerville. Paul Shigley may be reached at email@example.com.