View from the Farm
by John Hart on July 01, 2007
Photo (c) Beth Huning.
You reach Fred Dickson’s place by turning south off Highway 37 near Sears Point on Reclamation Road, the very name a reminder of the glory days of diking and draining. “This was nothing but a marsh at the beginning of time,” says Dickson, whose home will soon disappear under encroaching waters. He faces the prospect with mingled pride, resignation, and regret.
Dickson and three relatives, co-owners of property diked in the 1890s and in the family since 1937, were never tempted to develop. “That’s the worst thing we could do as stewards of the land,” Dickson says. In the 1980s, he spent eight years on the board of the Sonoma Land Trust, always urging it “to befriend the farmer.” It was to the trust, in 2004, that the family sold its 648 acres, the heart of the Sears Point tidal restoration project.
Dickson sees poetic justice in this. “It’s like a donation back to nature from the human beings who took it away.” At the same time he knows that the decision represents another loss for the county’s beleaguered agriculture. And it is a loss for him as well. “I’m having a hard time with it. Part of what I’m giving up is my identity. If I’m not a farmer, what am I?”
Dickson’s colleague Craig Jacobsen, also a tenant at Sears Point, is not quite in the same boat. His home ranch lies elsewhere, up the Petaluma River at Cloudy Bend, and his future here on the bayshore seems secure. Much of the acreage he farms will stay dry, and the land trust is glad to have him. “He is not going to tell you how important he is to us,” says the trust’s Wendy Eliot. Among other things, Jacobsen has helped shape hollows for seasonal wetlands in damp corners of the field. “I do what I can for them,” he says. “They’ll ask about pumps, ditches, things like that. I give them the farmer’s perspective.”
Jacobsen is all for keeping farmland undeveloped—he put his home ranch under conservation easement years ago—but he’s not so philosophical as Dickson about seeing soil go underwater. “We hate to see it be anything but farmland. Farmers have been preserving this land for a century. Then it gets scooped out from under our feet.”