Food Field Trips: Sonoma County - Quivira Vineyards

Biodynamic winery in sonoma county, ca

Around the country, there are hundreds (maybe thousands!) of organizations working to improve our food system. By sharing about non-profits and for-profits that are working in this space, we can find inspiration and learn about successful strategies while building a national food community.

My Food Field Trip series here on my blog does just that. I profile various organizations to highlight their goals, programs, methods, and financial models (as much as possible). So hop on the bus, we’re going on a field trip, and this week, we're talking WINE!

Quivira Vineyards

As a much needed vacation before Christmas, my fiancé and I spent two and a half days wine tasting in and around Sonoma, California. Well known for its excellent wine making, the region is picturesque, charming, a bit rugged, and quite empty in December (see a few pics here). Sonoma valley is one valley over from the more commercialized Napa valley, and has equally good (if not better) wine and food. My favorite restaurant is the Glen Ellen Star, a tiny, warm place with scrumptious pastas, wood roasted veggies, and house-made ice cream.

When I planned this trip, I looked for sustainable wineries in the area. Some time on Google indicated that Sonoma County is instituting a 100% sustainable winery goal by 2019, awesome! It will be the first wine region in the country to do this. As for specific wineries that prioritize sustainability, one in particular caught my attention: Quivira Vineyards (pronounced "key-vera"), in Healdsburg, CA.

Vineyard at Quivira Winery in Healdsburg, CA

In total, we visited 5 wineries during our trip (pro tip: share tastings, wine country is a marathon, not a sprint), but this is a field trip post about only one - Quivira - because it is majorly impressive.

Sustainable wine tasting in Sonoma County, CA

Our Quivira visit started with (what else?) wine, poured by our cheerful tour guide for the day, Robert. Unfortunately, at 10AM, after 2 full days of visiting wineries, that was a bit painful….oof. We had no choice but to rally! Luckily, we started off a with a light white wine.

The tour took us in and out of the tasting room, the gardens, the vineyard, the barn, the creek, and the winery. And it was GREAT! Let me put on my travel agent hat for a moment: take a trip to Healdsburg and visit Quivira, you won’t be disappointed! (Unless you hate wine and beautiful places, then maybe stay home).

Tour of Quivira Winery in Sonoma County, CA

Quivira is a biodynamic winery, meaning it meets specific standards verified by a third party organization, the Demeter Association. The theories behind the standards are based on the ethical, spiritual, and ecological principles of Rudolf Steiner. There are strict regulations about soil, composting, animals, and pesticides/herbicides (they can’t use any) and it takes 10 years to meet the full set of requirements!

Quivira proprietors, Pete and Terry Kite, have taken the biodynamic process to heart, they hired a master gardener out of Colorado a few years ago to come in and create a vegetable and herb garden in front on the winery. It was beautiful!

Quivira gardens in Healdsburg, CA

The garden is primarily used for educational purposes, but why waste anything? Some produce is used for the occasional garden-to-table dinner on the property. Some of the herbs are dried for a skin-care line, available to purchase on site. A few varieties of vegetables (the artichokes, for example) are grown for the seeds which are then dried and submitted to a seed bank. The rest of the fruits and vegetables are donated to a local food bank.

Organic garden at sustainable winery in Healdsburg, CA

I asked about selling the produce, but learned that Quivira doesn’t have the right license for it. Maybe a small CSA-like model could be developed in the future??

Happy pig at Quivira Vineyards

Quivira also has about 20 chickens (for eggs), oh so many bees (for pollination), and 3 happy, frolicking pigs (for eating). In 2016, the winery will bring in a cow for the first time.

Solar panels on the roof generate the power needed for operations and the rest of the power is sold back to the grid.

Don't forget the wine making. The barrels, crush pad, and other equipment all sat behind the tasting room. On the day we visited, it was a “bottling day,” meaning the mobile wine-bottling company brought its truck and all day wine was funneled into bottles slapped with the Quivira label and packed onto pallets.

Winemaking at Quivira Vineyards

So of course I love this type of model. It’s beautiful, it’s varied, it takes advantage of nature. I asked Robert why this isn’t the norm everywhere. The answer, he told me, is in how much labor it takes. Growing grapes for wine this way is significantly more labor intensive. Caring for the animals and the garden is also labor intensive. And more labor doesn’t translate to a higher cost for the customer. These wines (ranging in price from around $25-$60 per bottle) were right on par with the other wineries we visited earlier in the trip.

Delicious Grenache from Quivira

After 2 hours and some GENEROUS tasting pours, I wondered to myself, how does Quivira stay in business? This question is at the crux of all of social enterprise. How can a business be competitive when focusing on a social and environmental mission instead of just on making money. If Quivira has worked it out, kudos to them!

As for me, I knew I wanted to take home some wine...


People often ask me what they can do to support a more sustainable food system. I struggle with an answer because, of course, it’s complicated. Today, here's a small suggestion: plan a visit to Quivira. Give them your business, buy wine from them.

If you aren’t able to do this, research the sustainability of wines you already like and start purchasing the better ones. I guarantee you there are delicious wines produced with fewer chemicals, better soil, and higher environmental standards that still taste great.

Are you wondering about the sustainability of YOUR favorite wine? Tell me about it in the comments below and I'll do some digging for you!
Vineyard row at biodynamic winery

Food Field Trips: Denver - Denver Urban Gardens (Part 3 of 3)

Denver Urban Gardens

You’ve read about Sprout City Farms and The GrowHaus. Today, I’ll wrap up the Food Field Trips post on Denver by telling you about a community-based non-profit that’s been around as long as I have! I am so grateful I was able to visit these three diverse and inspiring organizations in Denver. Props to the Social Enterprise Alliance for setting these tours up at its annual Summit.

Denver Urban Gardens

Not so stealthily taking a picture in the reflective door.

Not so stealthily taking a picture in the reflective door.

Denver Urban Gardens (D.U.G) is a non-profit that supports the creation and maintenance of local community gardens. Its staff started creating community gardens 30 years ago and since then they have built 150 gardens throughout the city of Denver.

These gardens are small, but they are meaningful. They provide healthy food, healthy habits, and gardening education.

To create a garden, Denver Urban Gardens works with community members to identify great locations and then partners with city agencies to set up lease agreements, water pipes, and community leadership. Once created, the gardens are entirely run by the neighborhoods in which they are located.

Visiting the thriving community garden next-door to Denver Urban Garden’s headquarters was a lot of fun. It is a beautiful spot and seeing all the individual garden plots brings to mind (realistic, I was assured) images of community members working here together on the weekends.

The funding structure at this non-profit is completely grant and donation based. Therefore, this organization isn’t really a social enterprise as it has no earned income stream (read more on social enterprises here). D.U.G. take note, I believe there is potential for revenue! A couple of ideas: (1) community garden members could teach local gardening classes, or (2) garden members could partner up to sell their extra produce to local distribution groups---like The GrowHaus!

My big takeaway from this visit: I need to investigate options for community gardening in my area!

A vibrant community garden run by Denver Urban Gardens.

A vibrant community garden run by Denver Urban Gardens.

So what do you think? Are you inspired by this series on urban farming in Denver? The three organizations I profiled are examples of interesting, innovative agriculture projects located within the city limits of Denver. The people working at and leading these organizations are mission-driven folks who choose to put their time and energy toward improving the food system as a way of saving the world. That’s something I seriously respect!

I have a hunch there are great things going on in your city too (I know there are in LA---more on that in a later post). When you come across an inspiring organization fixing our food systems, post its name below and I may just take a field trip there in the future!

Food Field Trips: Denver – The GrowHaus (Part 2 of 3)

Remember last week when I shared the deets about the awesome Sprout City Farms? Well this week, I'm telling you all about ANOTHER social enterprise in Denver I visited recently while in town for the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit '15 conference, The GrowHaus.

And stay tuned for part 3 of this post next week!

Inside the main greenhouse (haus).

Inside the main greenhouse (haus).

The GrowHaus

The GrowHaus, an urban greenhouse in Denver

The GrowHaus is a community based non-profit organization in a low-income area of Denver. It’s located in a neighborhood that otherwise would not have much access to healthy or fresh food and that's where The GrowHaus comes in.

This cool social enterprise is located in a 20,000 square foot greenhouse. The space is used for three things: (1) food production, (2) food education, and (3) food distribution.

Food Production: The GrowHaus has a 5,000 square foot hydroponic farm (plants grown in water, not soil) and a 2,500 square foot aquaponics farm (plants grown in water inhabited by fish) both of which grow greens that are sold to Denver-area restaurants and grocery stores. This production is the main source of income for The GrowHaus.

Food Education: After many conversations and brainstorming sessions with individuals living in the local community, the staff at The GrowHaus created workshops and programs for kids, teens, and adults. These educational events teach about nutrition, gardening, and economic development.

The GrowHaus Hydroponic farm. So many calories of lettuce!

The GrowHaus Hydroponic farm. So many calories of lettuce!

Food Distribution: To distribute food to community members, The GrowHaus created a small pay-what-you-can food market on its property. Shoppers who live in the neighborhood pay for groceries at-cost and shoppers who don't live in the neighborhood (like the many visitors from all over town) pay higher prices for groceries. Community members can also receive food through a weekly produce box program priced based on need.

A small demonstration of aquaponic farming: a closed system with fish and plants.

A small demonstration of aquaponic farming: a closed system with fish and plants.

Combining these three branches into one non-profit organization while trying to bring in revenue is not an easy task. The GrowHaus has successfully merged community development in Denver's Elyria-Swansea neighborhood with the production, distribution, and selling of food. This is an inspiring example of a social enterprise bringing in significant funds from business, which then support the programmatic social mission.

What do you think of The GrowHaus? Let me know in the comments below.

And read about the final organization in this Food Field Trips post next week as I wrap up Denver!