California Heartland Episode 920 Transcript

California heartland is made possible by the James G. Boswell foundation, committed to sharing the stories and successes of California growers.  Bank of America, bank of opportunity.  Funding provided in part by, the California Farm Bureau Federation, proud publishers of “California Country” magazine.  More information is available at  And, by the Almond Board of California; California almonds, loved around the world, grown in California’s heartland. 

Coming up on California heartland...

I’ve seen sturgeon taken over there and I’ve seen guys running up to their car with it.

Poachers target one of state’s biggest farming products, caviar!  Find out if California’s caviar industry will sink or swim.  And why raising sturgeon is only half the battle.


Watch the cow; don’t get to looking at the horse….watch the cow.

It's time to saddle up and do some cuttin' with the Ag Traveler in Tuolumne County.  We've entered a slide mountain ranch and learned the ropes of riding horseback


Fruit trees should be a mainstay in everyone’s backyard.

Lack of water doesn’t mean lack of fruit.  Master Gardener Kristine Hanson has tips on sweetening up your yard.

Chris Burrous: From your backyard, to the back country, in a field, or on your family table, it’s all about what keeps California moving and growing, this is California heartland.

John Lobertini: On the Sutter County line just north of Sacramento farmers are growing something you can’t readily see.

John Lobertini: Inside these non-descript buildings workers are laboring over what can best be described as a fish farm; a white sturgeon fish farm.

John Lobertini: Sturgeon commands top dollar at the fish market; but its caviar that’s putting tiny Elverta, California on the map.

John Lobertini: Did you know this was going to be this big when you started? 

Peter Struffeneger: We had no clue at all.  Basically when we started the idea was: could you raise sturgeon for the caviar.

John Lobertini: Sounds simple enough, but female sturgeons don’t begin producing eggs in the wild until they reach 15-or-20-years old.

Peter Struffeneger: When the Soviet Union broke up there was a tremendous over harvesting of the Caspian Sea.

John Lobertini: But with caviar production nearing extinction on the Caspian; an immigrant professor from Russia started the first research at U.C. Davis in 1979.

Peter Struffeneger: He caught some fish out of the San Francisco bay and tried to use the techniques the Russian’s had developed and low and behold they worked and an industry was started.

John Lobertini: It took another 15 years before caviar farmers like peter Struffenegger refined the technique.

John Lobertini: Sex can’t be determined until a sturgeon is 3-years old.  But Struffenegger waited patiently, made a living off the male fish he sent to market, and now he’s raising female sturgeon in these tanks that are producing eggs by age of eight.

John Lobertini: I would imagine it’s got to take an incredible amount of patience to raise a fish to be 8 or 10 or 15 or 20 years old?

Peter Struffeneger: The short answer is: we have European investors.  I don’t think you would’ve found an American investor that was willing to look 8 or 10 years down the road for the payoff.

John Lobertini: The payoff is critically acclaimed caviar.

John Lobertini: In a blind taste test California grown caviar took top honors against a host of more popular European brands.

John Lobertini: A jar like this is 80-dollars an ounce.

John Lobertini: But success always seems to come with a price.  Sturgeon are being poached; caught illegally at an alarming rate.  In fact, according to one expert the number of sturgeon being poached is almost equal to the number being caught legally.

John Lobertini: On the banks of the Sacramento River fishermen see it all the time.  Poaching has a certain look, just ask Bernard Rizzo.

Bernard Rizzo: I’ve seen sturgeon taken over there and I’ve seen guys running up to their car with it.

Bernard Rizzo: Three guys with as sturgeon over them and running!  Wow.

John Lobertini: The insatiable appetite for sturgeon is taking a heavy toll on the population:

John Lobertini: The department of fish & game cruises the banks of the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta more than ever these days looking for signs of poaching.

John Lobertini: The legal limit is 3-sturgeon a year; and size does matter.  No fish over 66-inches or under 46-inches.

Patrick Foy: We have seen a precipitous drop in the sturgeon population.  We need to do something about the regulations to make sure that fishermen don’t contribute to what could be the extinction of a species.

John Lobertini: The skyrocketing price of caviar on the world market has made rewards on the black market very lucrative and worth the risk in recent years.

Police: Open the door now, we're coming through.

John Lobertini: In 2006, 17-sturgeon and abalone poachers were arrested in raids in Sacramento and the bay area, this videotape belongs to the department of fish and game.

John Lobertini: Steve Pierce isn’t bashful about telling off poachers; but it’s a delicate choice.

Steve Pierce: I think it’s a citizen’s duty to say something to them.

Patrick Foy: If we don’t stay on top of this we will see sturgeon, at least, listed as a threatened or endangered species if not go extinct.

John Lobertini: Back in Elverta raising sturgeon is only half the battle.  Critics love the caviar, but connoisseurs treat the domestic stuff like a cheap knock off.

Joe Melendez: I’m looking for firmness, texture, how it rolls across your tongue.

John Lobertini: Joe Melendez has been a taster for more than a decade.  He’s watched this “Sterling” brand, that’s its commercial name, grow into something special.

John Lobertini: How gratifying is that?

Joe Melendez: It’s gratifying to me.   I think we have the same issues California wine had when it first started.  Everyone was snobby & didn’t think it was going to be as good.

John Lobertini: But Peter Struffenegger; he saw something 30-years ago.  That most couldn’t begin to envision domestic caviar!  A World famous caviar that’s again, making California famous.

John Lobertini: Somebody told me this has been called California’s black gold?

Peter Struffeneger: We’re getting there.  It’s been a long struggle with the non-acceptance of our product at first.

Peter Struffeneger: But now it’s firmly entrenched in people’s & consumer’s minds that this is an acceptable alternative.

Mike Trueblood: The Lincoln School Farm, we’re about eight miles outside of Lincoln on 405 acres.  This used to be a communication annex for the Air Force, and in about 1974 they scaled down on their need for communications or for whatever reason.  This came up as surplus property.

Cody Ficher: I basically run the equipment, if the animals need to be fed I feed them, give them shots, process them…pretty much anything they need done around here.

Mike Trueblood: We want to expose as many kids as we can to agriculture.

Jolene Stone: It’s a great experience actually.  Instead of sitting in class and talking about it you can come out here and experience how it is.

Mike Trueblood: I guess ideally a student that comes through our program would have a chance to work with livestock work with machinery and still take college prep classes.

Cody Ficher: It’s taught me good work ethic.  I can go home and used something that they’ve taught me here at the farm.

Mike Trueblood: I would like to see agriculture be a viable industry for students in the future and shed the stigma of agriculture just being manual labor and draw some good people into agriculture and ag production. 

Lady: What kind of pumpkins to you want?

Mike Trueblood: I think that just having the resource like this for the younger students and the high school students, I think is very important.

Chris Burrous: Tucked behind the hustle and bustle of highway 80, just west of Vacaville lies the bucolic area of Pleasants Valley.  Seeped in a long history of ranching and agriculture, this is where you’ll find Morningsun Herb Farm.

Chris Burrous: Rose Loveall sale and her husband Dan, own this herb farm where everything sold is grown right here on the property.  This land has been in rose’s family for generations and has a rich history in this valley.

Rose Lovall: This land was owned in the 20’s by my grandparents. They sold it to some family friends in the 1950’s when my father first came here with my mom he said I love it here, let’s buy land and they ended up buying back those 3 acres.  And they used it for a small walnut orchard and lived here…and still live here.

Rose Lovall: I think a lot of people chose to live in this valley and to farm it because the land is class A.  It’s actually very reminiscent if you go to the hills of Italy or Spain or Greece. It’s like being in the Mediterranean, so very similar growing conditions.

Chris Burrous: Rose has fond memories of growing up here, but she didn’t always plan on staying.  It was rose’s parents who encouraged her to start her dream job on their land fifteen years ago.

Rose Lovall: We pulled out some of the smaller walnut trees and we built one greenhouse and one little hoop house and that was it for the first year.

Chris Burrous: Because this land is zoned agricultural, nothing can be brought into the nursery—it all must be grown on site. So in the beginning, rose started a cutting garden where she continues to harvest seeds and cuttings for all her plants.

Rose Lovall: I have some Moroccan mint here, its one particular variety of spearmint. It was just rooted 2 weeks ago, so we do these all from tip cuttings. We just are basically taking off the very tips, we put them in a little bit of rooting compound and it’s a very lightweight soil and then we put them in here for up to 4 weeks and they’re ready to go.

Chris Burrous: Once Morningsun Herb Farm was established as a “retail” nursery, business started booming. But it wasn’t until rose decided to sell herbs “wholesale” that the business really took off.

Chris Burrous: Currently they wholesale to nurseries from auburn to Modesto and Healdsburg to Half Moon Bay…and the herb farm has expanded to 8 greenhouses and many, many plants.

Rose Lovall: We have about 500 different species of herbs and perennials. It covers things like 13 different types of basil. We have over 60 different species just of salvia here and we’re constantly adding. We have 30 different lavenders, so we take each genus like salvia or lavender and thyme and we do as many different varieties as we can.

Chris Burrous: With so many different types of plants, the next logical step was starting a mail order business. In addition, Rose holds seminars, appears at farmers markets and is very involved in the Solano Slow Food Movement.

Rose Lovall: I consider myself both a farmer and a gardener.  We may be gardening but we may be planting 200 flats of basil in a week so it feels more like farming by the time we’re done.

Chris Burrous: So next time you’re driving through Vacaville, consider stopping at morning sun herb farm like so many others often do.

Rose Lovall: A lot of people don’t realize there’s country right here.

Peter Norris: Hi, I’m Peter Norris and I am a virtual vintner and this is My California Heartland.  A virtual vintner is literally someone who buys wine over the internet and can make wine and sell it and bottle it without all the costs.  So we came up with The Vino Family Vineyards, kind of a fun label with Momma Vino, Don Vino, Vito Vino and we taste wine off the bulk market which we find through the internet.  We look and find a winemaker that likes the taste that we like.  Sometimes we can buy grapes right off the vine and we’ll custom crush them at a facility or we’ll buy bulk wine that’s already made and together we decide what we want to sell.  The best part about being a virtual vintner is that someone can get into the wine business, create a brand, make some wine that they really like and sell it.  Thanks for watching My California Heartland.

Chris Burrous: Pack your bags and grab your boots.  It’s time to hit the road with the Ag Traveler.

Ike Bunney: If you like horses, this is gonna be the ranch for you.

Gary Gelfand: Here in Tuolumne County, one of the best ways to relax and wind down is to saddle up at the Slide Mountain Ranch.

Sabine Wahl-Berry: There’s nothing, there’s no noise…there’s just the birds and the leaves, it’s so peaceful.

Gary Gelfand: Just off highway 108 not far from Yosemite this family owned and operated working ranch is the perfect place to take your horse on vacation or for you first timers like me take a lesson from owners Ike and Cheri Bunney who say they can teach anyone the ropes of riding.

Cheri Bunney: We’re gonna go slow and we’re gonna take them through the phases that they need that’s necessary.

Gary Gelfand: Although, everyone seemed a bit concerned about my inexperience…unless you think I’m a tenderfoot, check out my very own hat and boots.  Okay I confess—they’ll provide you with those too here at Slide.

Ike Bunney: (laughing) What the heck?

Gary Gelfand: What’s the first thing you do?

Ike Bunney: The first thing you do is get on the horse.

Gary Gelfand: Pretty soon you’re riding high in the saddle and out on the trail.  Slide Mountain offers lessons in riding, cutting horses, arena riding starting at 100 dollars per session, no previous experience necessary, trust me!

Ike Bunney: When they used to drive cattle across country they would stop at every persons property line and the guy who owned the property would bring out his cutting horse and drive out the cattle, out of the herd, that belonged to him…and that was always his best horse. And they got to bragging about who had the best horse and so they started having competitions and it has evolved since then.

Gary Gelfand: And once you’ve master the trails—its time for a true cowboy class in cutting!  Something the bunny family wins awards in.

Ike Bunney: Push on the saddle horn, take your foot away.  And he’ll do the rest.

Gary Gelfand: Alright, I never thought I’d say this but, let’s do some cuttin’!

Ike Bunney: Let’s do it!

Ike Bunney: Watch the cow!

Ike Bunney: You’re pulling with your one hand but you need to push it!  Push your hand!  Watch the cow!  Watch the cow!

Gary Gelfand: I seriously have a cramp, hold on!

Gary Gelfand: I think he’s tired (laughs).

Ike Bunney: Back ‘em up, back ‘em up!

Sabine Wahl-Berry: Cutting is so much fun.

Gary Gelfand: So whether you dream of trail rides or piggy back rides, this is a place the whole family can enjoy.

Cheri Bunney: We love having families and we love having children.

Gary Gelfand: And, after a full day of riding, you’re ready for some relaxing- time to head on over to the bunk house.

Ike Bunney: A lot of people call it yuppie camping out.

Gary Gelfand: These dude ranch digs are pretty plush and include a self-serve kitchen and grill. But after a day on the trail, who wants to cook? Never fear, doc is near!

Gary Gelfand: Ah, time to eat. Doc’s Texas BBQ and burgers- he says they’re the best, let’s find out!  Alright where’s Doc at?

Doc Weldon: Hi, I’m Doc.

Gary Gelfand: Doc, I’m Gary, nice to meet you…I’ve heard all about this place.

Gary Gelfand: Doc’s locally known for cooking up any type of meat you’re hankerin’ for from jalapeno sausage to tri-tip and brisket.  But my real mission here is to find out the secret to Doc’s ribs!

Doc Weldon: Put on some gloves….and what we’re gonna do is rub some ribs.

Gary Gelfand: I’m gonna’ take one of these. 

Doc Weldon: Yeah a little chili and you rub that in real nice.  That’d a boy, there you go.  Oh, you’re a natural.

Gary Gelfand: Is this your special rub?

Doc Weldon: Yes this is our special rub.  Just pad it in one more time, make sure you got everything…there you go.  Wha-la!  You just rubbed your first rib! 

Doc Weldon: Now it’s time to smoke it.  You go ahead and do the honors, now hold the rib with your right arm, take your left hand and hold the rack…there you go!  You’re a pro already!  There you go, and you want to make sure you put it in far enough until it’s over the pan- that’d a boy.  Then we shut the door and we’re good to go.

Gary Gelfand: Awesome!

Doc Weldon: And that rack will be ready in about 6 hours.

Gary Gelfand: Fantastic!

Gary Gelfand: Does everybody around these parts know about Doc?

Customer: Pretty much-

Doc Weldon: Have you tried the burger, because that’s what he’s trying to get me to try the burger, he says it’s unbelievable…

Customer: Oh yeah! 

Gary Gelfand: That’s some good stuff!

Gary Gelfand: It’s good!

Gary Gelfand: A little cutting, a little trail riding, so good ol’ Doc’s- nice meal- I’m done!  Take me a little nap.  That’s nice.

Sofia Najera: I am Sofia Najera.  I am the crew chief here at the California State Fair Livestock Nursery.  And, I am a food animal technician over at U.C. Davis.  What just took place here at the livestock nursery is we just had a cow give birth.  The public got to see how the events happened from stage one of labor all the way to stage three.  This calf that was just born here about 15 minutes ago is a healthy bull calf, meaning a male.  Mom and calf behind me are actually having a little bonding time.  I’ve seen many calfs born and the experience for me never gets old.  It’s something that I love to do it’s part of my job, helping animals and I hope everyone gets to share here at the California State fair that can actually witness the birth of this cow. 

Chris Burrous: Everyone’s a farmer when it comes to their own backyard, try these tips for doin’ it Home Grown.

Kristine Hanson: Fruit trees should be a mainstay in everyone’s backyard.  There are those beautiful spring colors, the vibrant fall colors and in addition, this, the tasty rewards of fruit.

Kristine Hanson: Californians are so lucky there are so many different fruit trees that you can pick and choose from and plant in your own backyard.  So, where do we start?

Kristine Hanson: Well water is very important for healthy looking plants and trees so you might want to consider more drought resistant varieties like figs, pomegranates or even persimmons.  But you don’t want to limit yourself to just these trees; there are new methods that minimize water use for trees like apricots, pears and apples.

Kristine Hanson: Ed Laivo is with me from Dave Wilson Nursery and one of the biggest indicators of how much water your tree will need is your soil.  That’s what you’re doing is digging this out. 

Ed Laivo: Gotta’ figure out how well it’s gonna’ drain to determine whether or not the tree is gonna’ live.  And what we want to do is we want to create a hole that is about a foot across and about a foot deep.  We want to fill it with water one time, and we want to let that drain and then we want to fill it with water again.  If it takes longer than four hours for that second draining, you’ve got a drainage problem and more than likely you should be considering possible mounding the trees. 

Kristine Hanson: Then you have to look at the different types of trees and the root stock that comes with it.  You’ve brought a couple of examples here.

Ed Laivo: Well, if I got poor draining soil I’m going to want to elevate the tree.  I’m also going to want, for the sake of drought tolerance, I like more aggressive roots.  I like roots that get down into the ground fast and get established quickly.  That’s mostly standard rootstock. 

Kristine Hanson: Yeah, it’s a very deep taproot.

Ed Laivo: Very deep taproot- here’s a typical semi-dwarf taproot which is a lot of surface roots, a little weaker grower.  But, that’s typical of semi-dwarf- I want something that’s gonna’ get down deep where the water’s gonna’ be and that’s gonna’ make this plant much much more able to tolerate those harsh conditions.  Or, this may also be good for wet conditions, but not wet during the winter time, just say a lawn situation that drains well but you know it doesn’t have standing water.  Then this would be a good choice.

Kristine Hanson: The root stock that we just talked about, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be able to tell the difference of the size of the tree.  You make the difference by pruning.  And in turn it makes the difference in how much water you use.

Ed Laivo: Absolutely, and in this case we have a tree right here that’s nice, low, and manageable-     

Kristine Hanson: Can pick anything!

Ed Laivo: Right, and if we’re going to do something like this, we’re going to take and have standard root stocks to begin with, we’re going to want management and size control a primary goal right from the time we plant it, right from the beginning.

Kristine Hanson: Alright, and one additional thing that we’ve done here is we’ve planted 3 trees together.  Because we’ve only had to test one soil, location and we’re watering one location.  So we’ve got this figured out in the first season.

Ed Laivo: Yeah, and we’ve got a pollinator here, so if any one needs a pollinator the pollinator is nice and close by.  We don’t need large quantities of fruit so we’re going to have seasonal success of ripening off of this and at the same time, we are going to know our watering needs very very well so we know how much water this tree needs just to stay healthy in the next few years.

Kristine Hanson: And then we’re going to go underneath the tree because it needs one more thing.

Kristine Hanson: Well we’re talking about mulch and it can be a number of different things, it can be straw it can be bark mulch.  The important thing to minimize water use is to make sure it’s deep enough to prevent evaporation from underneath the plant.

Ed Laivo: Absolutely, Kristine so four inches is probably about where you want to be.  So, you want to be generous with the mulch, come out a least three feet from the trunk.  As the tree gets bigger you’re going to also want to increase the parameter of your mulch.

Kristine Hanson: So you look at your canopy and you come down and this is where you want your mulch.  And all around the tree and in this case the three trees. 

Ed Laivo: Absolutely-

Kristine Hanson: And we’re talking about water; you’re going to want to use a really efficient drip system with some really good emitters.

Kristine Hanson: Good idea to test the soil just to know how much water is in the soil.  Moisture meters work really well; I think they’re the best thing out there for it.

Ed Laivo: As a matter of fact, I think before you water you should always check to make sure your ground really needs to be watered. 

Kristine Hanson: They’re pretty accurate?

Ed Laivo: Yeah, they can tell wet or dry very well.  (laughs)

Kristine Hanson: So don’t just sit around, fruit trees can be planted all year long.  What do you like to eat, well find varieties that bear at different times and you’re going to enjoy bounty from your yard all year long.

Mike Tomlinson: Hi I’m Mike Tomlinson, welcome to my California Heartland.  I like to grow persimmon trees in my yard because they are relatively pest and disease free, they have remarkable fall color and they have a very unique flavor.  One of the great things about persimmons is they’re ripe in the fall when all the other fruit is already gone.  This is the Fuyu persimmon as oppose to the Hichiya persimmon.  The best thing about the Fuyu persimmon is that you can eat it when it’s hard unlike the Hichiya persimmon where you have to wait until it’s gooey like jelly.  You can eat the Fuyu when it’s still hard, just like an apple.  Fabulous- thanks for watching My California Heartland.

Chris Burrous: That’s California Heartland, for more information on any of these stories go to I’m Chris Burrous see you next time.

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California Heartland is made possible by The James G. Boswell Foundation, committed to sharing the stories and successes of California growers.  Bank of America, bank of opportunity.  Funding provided in part by, The California Farm Bureau Federation, proud publishers of “California Country” magazine.  More information is available at .  And, by the Almond Board of California; California Almonds, loved around the world, grown in California’s Heartland.