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Wind Power, Organic Olives Make the Grade at McEvoy Ranch.

SciTech21-7 February 2008-Wind Power, Organic Olives Make the Grade at McEvoy Ranch(C)2008 JeraOne -

Marin County, Calif. -- Sometime in the next year, a 138-foot-tall wind tower on a grassy slope above the orchards of McEvoy Ranch will be up and generating theelectricity needed by the organic olive oil operation nestled in averdant corner of northeast Marin County.

The decision to harness the wind came during a lunchtime discussion withowner Nan McEvoy. "The sole impulse was to look at our energy footprintand do something about it," says mill operations supervisor Jeff Creque,who oversees the ecology of the 550-acre ranch. The largest organicolive oil producer in California, it supports 18,000 Tuscan-pedigreetrees growing on 82 acres of picture-perfect countryside.

With McEvoy's support, Creque says, research began in earnest on thewind-power idea, first with a wind audit - the average wind speeds of 10to 12 miles per hour on a treeless knoll were enough to sustain theproject - followed by consultation on available turbine technology,today a world away from the 20-year-old machines that sit atop AltamontPass in eastern Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Landscape Says It All

The first project proposal to the Marin County Planning Commission, in2005, was rejected - neighbors were concerned about the height of theturbine, its appearance, and the noise.

But earlier this year, the Marin County Board of Supervisors gave theproject the go-ahead after the McEvoy team returned with modificationsto the original plan - the turbine is shorter by 100 feet and will beinstalled closer to the center of the ranch than to the property line.

Switching from the electrical grid to wind is in keeping with whatCreque describes as the ranch's philosophy of terroir, a French termthat relates to special qualities of geography - a growing region's"sense of place" - which, in Mc-Evoy's case, means that the olivesgrowing on the property grow there naturally, "soaking up the characterof the natural environment they occupy," says Creque.

"Oil quality is paramount, and it's the single most important issue atthe ranch," says Creque, who has a Ph.D. in rangeland ecology and 25years of experience in orchard management. "And we realized that theonly way to ensure quality was to produce our oil organically. The ideaof allowing the landscape to express itself through the final productmeans we work with what's here, allowing the fruit to mature throughnatural processes."

What's there is a rolling landscape lined with olive trees representingthe offspring of the first 1,000 saplings McEvoy imported from Tuscanywhen the ranch was founded in 1991. "For thousands of years, olive oilwas made without synthetic materials, without herbicides or pesticides,"says Creque.

"In reality, it is possible today to produce something truly natural andsafe to eat," he adds, citing among other incentives: Some pesticidesadhere to fats that can "potentially end up in the oil itself."

Taking Responsibility for the Ecosystem

This commitment to working alongside nature as an organic grower - andnow a grower that is switching to renewable energy - has helped McEvoyRanch to become a more sustainable operation.

When the turbine is switched on, the ranch will reduce the amount ofcarbon spewed into the atmosphere. And by being an organic producer,McEvoy Ranch is taking responsibility for what happens beyond itsborders, which falls under the sustainable umbrella of ensuring thatwhat grows there does not degrade the quality of the greater ecosystem.Being organic is not just a matter of eschewing harmful chemicals.Certification covers all aspects of the growth cycle, including watersources. At McEvoy, the ponds are rain-fed, and the runoff water leavesthe ranch as clean as it arrived.

"As an organic grower, we have accepted the responsibility for whathappens both on and beyond our property," says Creque, "on ecologicalissues that range from watershed health and water quality to soildevelopment and waste management.

"We work within the ecosystem," he says.

Article first appeared in TerraMarin magazine,

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Date:Feb 7, 2008
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