Carol McFarland: Let’s Turn Goatzilla Ground Zero Into A Protected Farming Incubator – June 24, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

My partner Don has lived on the Arcata Bottom in the same house for over 70 years, learning to farm from his Grandpa Lars, a Swedish immigrant who came to America at the turn of the century.

Several such reminiscences were exchanged last Tuesday when about 40 of us gathered at Coastal Grove Charter School as a follow-up to the Monday night meeting in which the Cypress Grove Chevre/Emmi corporation unveiled its plans for “the old Gilardoni” property.

The night before, more than 125 of us had listened while Mary Keehn, CGC founder, and George Williamson of Planwest, answered questions about the plan.

Many in the audience were stony-faced with anxiety while Ms. Keehn, speaking from the heart, addressed their fears.

The audience nodded in appreciation when she traced her roots and explained what it was like to start out with a few milk goats so that her children would have wholesome nourishment.

Within a few years she had begun to make cheese, and in time she developed the exquisitely-flavored product that has made Cypress Grove Chevre a winner here and all over the world.

In the rambling “Q&A” that followed, many worried that Emmi would build the goat farm without the environmental oversights they sought. Finally, Planwest confirmed that they would seek a Principally Permitted Use (PPU) which does not require California Environmental Quality Act scrutiny.

Concerns about runoff, pasture degradation, truck traffic, lights, stench, the noise, the flies, the potential for a variety of biohazards were left unanswered, homeowners said.

Of the many Bloomfield residents with whom I talked, none expressed personal animosity toward Ms. Keehn, nor did they dispute her accomplishments. In truth, I heard nothing but admiration.

But it was Pat Larson who summed up what most of us had wanted to say. Mrs. Larson declared her fondness for Cypress Grove Chevre and its founder; but “it’s about the location!” she concluded. Few seemed to challenge the goat farm as long as it could find a site in a more appropriate location.

Next day, as the neighbors made their way toward the meeting, we learned that Ms. Keehn had announced she would find another location.

Amongst the 40 or so present, I heard nothing but expressions of relief and praise for Ms. Keehn and her decision. Some wondered what would happen to the Gilardoni parcel.

More than one had a word or two about the heifers that used to chomp on their roses, scamper around the pasture, or lean on their fences; and we hoped they would reappear.

One friend took an idea to the Arcata City Council the next night, calling it something she had been “carrying around for the past nine years.”

Her dream was to see the Gilardoni acres preserved as a gateway to the Arcata Bottom, with paths and trails, weaving among small parcels that young farmers could lease from the landowner.

She called it a “farming incubator,” and I thought immediately about a similar, very successful venture at Aldergrove which had launched many local businesses – Mad River Jam, Tomaso, Lacey’s, Fish Brothers and others. The council agreed to place the farming incubator on its agenda.

A farming incubator could return the land to its historical roots, preserve it for farming “start-ups,” and ensure that our agricultural heritage remains a place to begin the future.

Stay tuned.

Carol McFarland and Don Nielsen grow a year-round organic orchard and garden on Arcata Bottom, when they are not herding 60 or so chickens.


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