Humans have attempted to control the lands we inhabit, but often forget that nature will always find its balance. Stewards of the land, like farmers and ranchers, know this intimately as they regularly adapt to the conditions of the working lands they manage. Many land management methods over the last century have frowned upon anything wild or natural interfering with commercial production. But what if we went back to working with nature instead of against it? You may have heard in recent news about the plight of the pollinator, those small but mighty creatures whose services are responsible for 30% of all the food we consume. Increased use of pesticides, effects of climate change, and loss of habitat has led to the decline of beneficial insects, birds, and predators that help to maintain a healthy and balanced ecosystem on working lands. 

Tour group at Ramona Ranch Vineyard & Winery during Beneficial Habitat on Working Lands workshop. Image: Courtesy of RCD of Greater San Diego County.

There is so much value to hosting wildlife on farms and ranches, and that guiding principle is what led to a gathering of local farmers and ranchers at Ramona Ranch Vineyard & Winery for a Beneficial Habitat on Working Lands workshop. Organized by the San Diego Pollinator Alliance as part of their inaugural San Diego Pollinator Week, this half-day event was an interactive learning experience that showcased the many ways in which Teri Kerns and Micole Moore, husband and wife owners since 2004, have worked with nature to strengthen their vineyards. They are the only certified sustainable winery in San Diego and are deeply invested in supporting diverse habitats around and within their vines while simultaneously improving soil health. They've planted an insectary that offers year-round blooms that feed pollinators, and no longer use neonicotinoids on the vines, a common class of pesticides used amongst growers, because they are lethal for pollinators. They promote integrated pest management and welcome select predators by providing water for coyotes so they don’t chew on the drip lines and maintaining raptor perches and owl boxes to help control rodent populations.   

The workshop was co-hosted with Wild Farm Alliance, an organization focused on bringing nature back to the farm. Executive director, JoAnn Baumgartner, shared about how creating perches and protected spaces for birds can reduce pest pressure in a vineyard and her partner, Sam Earnshaw, lead a native plant walk around the site. They have created a comprehensive Beneficial Bird Habitat Tool so that land managers can incorporate native plants and trees that support the birds in their area. Tracey Rice of Point Blue Conservation Science and Jonathan Snapp-Cook of US Fish & Wildlife Service shared about their programs that provide technical assistance and funding for the implementation of habitat on both private and working lands. Locally, the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County (RCDSD) manages the Working Lands for Pollinators program for commercial farmers and ranchers interested in restoring or developing native habitats in their operation to support pollinators. Attendees were also joined by Andrea Burgan of Critter Encounters who brought live raptors, owls, and snakes to show the kinds of beneficial predators that farmers and ranchers can support on their landscapes.

US Fish & Wildlife Service shared about programs that provide funding and assistance for habitat implementation. Image: Courtesy of RCD of Greater San Diego County.

As we walked through the vineyard, Teri noted that what many wine enthusiasts envision as a picturesque winery, perfectly manicured, and clean, in reality, may reflect the use of chemicals and practices that are not supportive of the soil and ecosystem. Nature is neither sterile nor pristine, and its balance is dependent on a diversity of plants and animals. As consumers, we must consider the practices used on the farms, ranches, and wineries where our products come from. Of course, productivity is at the heart of any farming enterprise, but there is room for balancing production while nurturing the land and the beneficial wildlife found there. There is space for both thriving businesses and wild beauty. 

When was the last time you talked to a farmer? 

One of the first steps to becoming a conscious consumer is to develop closer relationships with the people who grow our food and learn how we can better support operations that steward the land with intention. Check out your local farmers’ market or do a quick search in your area for farms open to the public. 

For people growing food at home that want to support native pollinators, we suggest offering a year-round availability of blooms to provide nectar, incorporating a water source, reducing or eliminating pesticide use, and selecting as many native plants as possible. 

Check out the RCDSD Pollinator Toolkit to help you get started or if you are a commercial farmer or rancher, learn more in the Pollinator Habitat Restoration on Working Lands guide.

Examining beneficial habitats in the Ramona Ranch Winery vineyard. Image: Courtesy of RCD of Greater San Diego County.

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About the Contributor
Codi Hale
Codi Hale is the outreach coordinator at Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County. The Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County is a non-regulatory local government agency that manages programming focused on preserving natural resources. They work directly with commercial farmers and ranchers, schools, and members of the public, and collaborate with a range of agencies and organizations, to educate and empower us to be better stewards of the land.