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June 23, 2013

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION SHOWING YOUR SUPPORT FOR SUNSMILE FARMS

Following is an email sent out encouraging people to sign a petition in support of SunSmile Farms to be presented to the NID Board of Directors.  Thank you to everyone for the support and consideration you have shown.

Hello Everyone,

Will you take 30 seconds to sign it right now? Here's the web address:

http://www.change.org/petitions/nevada-irrigation-district-save-sunsmile-farms

Here's why it's important:

SunSmile Farms is the biggest, most diverse certified organic farm in the Grass
Valley area, sitting on 70 acres only 2 miles from downtown Grass Valley. The farm
actively participates in the community, supporting the local food bank, providing
flowers to Hospice, hosting the Twin Cities Run for the Community, inviting the
public to their farm for U-pick opportunities, and more. And, most importantly, the
owners have produced massive quantities of vegetables and fruit for our community
for 100 years. But two years ago, they had a leak in their water line. After a
costly delay of nearly one year - due to contention over whose responsibility it was
to fix the line - NID acknowledged that the line was theirs and repaired the line.
In the meantime, the farm lost all their mature cherry trees and blueberry and
raspberry plants. Please ask NID to help save the farm - including compensating the
farm for damage to their crops - by signing this online petition
 and passing it along to anyone else who might want to sign it, too. Without fair
compensation, the farm is likely to go out of business. This farm, so integral to
our community, to our independence, our health, and our sense of identity, is worth
saving.

Following are a some of the many letters sent by the public showing support for the farm.

June 4, 2013

To whom it may concern,

I am a lifelong friend of George Loftus, having grown up with George in the Bay
Area. Over the last 35 years I've seen the evolution of SunSmile Farms from his
grandmothers era to a remarkable transformation over the last 20+ years of what
SunSmile is (or was) today. 

My family and I have had the privilege of working on the farm over the years,
particularly during cherry & peach season and acting as the orchard docents for
U-Pickers. If there's a way to measure the impact the farm has on the local
community, it's listening to the folks who shop at the farm stand during the week
and the people who come out religiously on weekends to pick fresh fruit right off
the trees. Time after time, individuals, families or groups of friends would comment
on what a community treasure SunSmile Farms is, and how this resource is so
important in either rekindling memories of their youth or teaching their kids the
importance and value of knowing where food comes from, what a farm looks like and
how hard work pays off in supplying delicious fruits and veggies to the region. 

It's devastating to see the farm in it's current condition, all because of the NID
water issue. Years of hard work have dissolved into a wasteland of dead trees and
plants. What's equally frustrating is the enormous amount of time, effort and
expense that George has invested in trying to resolve this, only to have NID resist
bringing this to a beneficial and positive outcome. Why? As a customer of NID for
over 75 years, you'd like to think that the agency would do whatever it could to
continue a partnership that's important to the community at large and to its own
economic interest of keeping a long term paying customer. 

I'm asking the NID board of directors to act fairly and swiftly to resolve this
matter, before the continuing damage to this farm and its legions of community
supporters is irreparably harmed for all time.  

Respectfully,
Mark Laber & Family

June 21, 2013

Dear Division Directors,

When was the last time you ate a tree ripened peach? When was the first time? 

What could be more important than helping to keep SunSmile Farms in business… a farm
that has existed in this county for over 75 years?

Is this who we are as a community? Is this the kind of thing you, as NID district
directors, want to happen on your watch?

We should all ask ourselves; Do we want to be a rural community that has our food
trucked in for us, or do we want to be a community who grows our own food? 

The NID mission statement reads: 

The Nevada Irrigation District will provide a dependable, quality water supply,
strive to be good stewards of the watersheds and conserve the available resources.

I consider SunSmile Farms a valuable resource in our community, and I call on you
today to help conserve that resource in any way you can.

In 1917, when the idea for an irrigation district came to Mr. Church, he hoped to
accomplish 2 main goals; 
1) To bring DEPENDABLE irrigation water to the dry lands of Western Nevada County. 
2) To build a better community, to form a partnership between the people, the land
and the water. 

Ladies and Gentleman, communities and civilizations are built, judged and even
ruined by how they treat one another. The growth and sustainability of a community
is dependent on how well it's citizens take care of each other, how they react when
tragedy strikes, and how they help one another through hard times. These are hard
times for even the greatest of farmers, on the richest soil, in the most hospitable
climates. There are climate change issues, there is more foreign competition than
ever, there are difficult balances to strike between stewarding the land and
producing a higher yield. And then there is water, always water… a farm can't
survive long if it lacks a dependable source of water. Communities can't thrive long
with out farmers to grow their food.

Mr. Church knew this, as did the district supervisors and an overwhelming majority
of Nevada County citizens when they voted to form the NID in 1921. At that time
George Loftus' ancestors already lived in the area, and 18 years after the formation
of the NID, his great Uncle, Joel Bierwagen, started SunSmile Farms. Mr. Bierwagen,
no doubt, could only be confident in the enterprise he was undertaking back in 1938
because of the DEPENDABLE water provided by NID.

For 73 years, SunSmile farms received that dependable service, until August of 2011
when the water stopped flowing to SunSmile due to a broken underground pipe. On that
day, 70 acres of fruit trees, vegetables and berries starting dying of thirst.
Slowly, but certainly, they began to fade. As NID and SunSmile argued over whose
pipe it was that was broken, and who should fix it and "now we need a permit" and,
"we have to work it into our schedule". Then, in the end, NID acknowledged they were
wrong and requested that SunSmile "file a claim", "calculate your damages", and
"submit them for review". This left Mr. Loftus and his wife in a situation where, in
addition to taking on the challenge of recovering from a season without water and
subsequently having a much lower income due to the lack of water, they now had to
document their losses and file a claim with NID. These individuals are not
accountants, they are not executives, they are not CEOs, they are farmers. That is
not to say they are not intelligent by any means. It is to say that they are not
trained, equipped or experienced at doing forensic accounting and claim filing. But
they did it, they hired a forensic accountant, they did their due diligence and
produced a through claim report which they turned in in January 2013. 

At which point NID rejected his claim, stating that it was "untimely". 

Now, we are not just talking about 70 acres of perennial fruit trees and berries
that have died. We are talking about a family owned local business that is on it's
death bed. This is a business that has been run by generations of Nevada County
farmers and has fed generations of Nevada County residents. This is a business that
has gone the extra mile and become certified organic in order to stewart their land
as best they could. A family who has eked out a living doing what they loved, in a
place that they love, not because it was making them rich, but because it was who
they were, it was what they were put here to do, it was their legacy. As we sit here
today, this family business… these member of our community... may not see the light
of the 2014 growing season. This may be then end of a very long run for SunSmile
Farm. It is of no use for us to point fingers and decide "who was wrong", or "who
was responsible for what", or "why this", or "how that", and "get the lawyers and
the scientists and investigators to look into this, that, and the other thing." 

I challenge you, as NID Division Directors, but also as Nevada County residents, to
consider that it was not Mr. Loftus' claim that was "untimely", it was in-fact, the
stoppage of water to SunSmile Farms, in AUGUST, that was "untimely". Further, the
petty bickering about who's responsibility the pipe was and the bureaucratic claims
process is also "untimely". You see, we have a choice, every day, we can choose to
do only what is required of us by law and contracts, or we can choose to do what our
heart and soul tell us is right. That's what Mr. Church did nearly 100 years ago. He
saw that the NID was possible, he felt that it was a good thing for his community,
and he did it. He was not obligated by law to do so, he did it because it was a good
thing to do. 

I would like to live in a community where a situation like SunSmile's broken pipe
occurs, and an agency like the NID says "Let's figure out who's pipe it is later Mr.
Loftus, what can we do, with all our resources, to make sure that a fine,
longstanding, community farm like yours, get's that dependable, quality water that
we promised you." But that's not what we have here… what we have is a situation
where the local consumers of the irrigation water are a much lower priority than the
consumers of treated water, many of whom are outside of our local area. It seems
anytime a situation arises with irrigation water, we are told "The local irrigation
water aspect of NID is not profitable, it doesn't even pay for it's self… that
aspect of our business is funded by our treated water program."  

Well who's fault is that? Certainly not Mr. Loftus', certainly not the thousands of
other farmers in our community like him. Should all the local farms go belly up
because NID has not managed their enterprise in such a way that those farmers'
business is not profitable to NID? Should we allow our irrigation water, come to
earth in the peaks and valleys of our county to run past our farmlands and support
agriculture and communities south of us who have grown beyond their own
sustainability?

I think not, ladies and gentleman. I think that would be an unthinkable shame on our
community. I think Mr. Church, Aubrey L. Wisker, Herman Graser and Guy N. Robinson
Jr. and the other visionaries who founded the NID would find that idea absurd and
offensive, not to mention a complete betrayal of their hard work and original vision
for the NID. I think they would remind you that the reason they worked so hard to
create this astonishing network of canals was to help farms in their community to
thrive. Not to allow those farms to "wither on the vine" for lack of irrigation
water or lack of "timely" navigation of some bureaucratic, red tape, forms in
triplicate system.

I implore you, to do anything in your power, to see that this shameful situation is
remedied as soon as possible. Please do not allow SunSmile Farms to become another
canary in the coal mine of an industrialized agricultural system that has been
hell-bent on eliminating small local producers in an effort to form enormous
conglomerates. Conglomerates who produce cheap, un-nutritious fruits that are
harvested long before they are ripe, so they can sit in a ship or a truck for weeks
as they belch their way across oceans and highways, to arrive on grocery store
shelfs still under ripe and lacking flavor and nutrients.

I challenge you to take your family to SunSmile this weekend and let them eat
peaches that they just picked off his trees. Take 30 minutes out of your day and
find your way over to SunSmile, walk out into the rows, find the biggest, juiciest,
fuzziest, miracle of life and sustenance you can. Pull it down off that tree, don't
bother cleaning it off (he's an organic grower), just sit down in the shade of that
tree, appreciate the beautiful view of our foothills, bite into that peach, a BIG
bite, let the juice run down your cheeks and your hand, and drip off your chin and
elbow… and as you tastebuds light up with joy and you eat your way down to the "free
stone" seed of that peach… ask yourself and your family; "Is this something worth
saving in our community? Should our grandchildren be allowed to experience this?" 

I for one believe it is something worth saving, I think it is something our
grandchildren should get to experience. I hope our grandchildren have such an
appreciation for this kind of thing that they help Mr. Loftus' grandchildren to
overcome some other future challenge should one come up in their time. Because we
all need help from one another now and then, that's why we have huddled together in
tribes and villages and communities and towns and cities since the dawn of time…
because together we are stronger than we are alone.

Please help this community to help SunSmile, please don't leave them all alone in
their time of need. If we were all starving, I'm sure that George Loftus and his
family (as well as the other farmers in this community) would be the first ones to
help us.

I hope that your moral sense of what is right will show you the way. If that fails,
I hope your desire to retain your elected position will motivate you. If that fails,
I hope that this communities many strong voices will convince you. If they all fail,
perhaps we will have to wait for those produce trucks that deliver food to our
community to stop coming before we realize the value of local farms like SunSmile. 

"That will never happen." You say? 

"The produce trucks have always dependably delivered a quality product and they
always will." You say?

I'm sure that's what Mr. Loftus thought about the NID until August of 2011. His
supply stopped, and one day our supply could stop too.

Thank you in advance for your timely attention to this issue, our children and their
children will thank you for it!

I hope to see you at SunSmile Farms this weekend, I'll be there, with peach juice
all over my SunSmiling face.

Sincerely,

Eric Lee Dickerson
Nevada County resident, farmer, volunteer, business owner and homesteader

Letter from Twin Cities Church

HELP SUNSMILE FARMS!

6/20/2013

For years this farm has strived to support the local community by producing quality fruits and vegetables.  We have actively supported the local food bank, provided flowers to hospice, invited the public out to experience the farm with our U Pick, hosted the Twin Cities Run for the Community, and much more.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is George Loftus.  I am a fifth generation farmer in Nevada County.  My family has farmed here for over 100 years.  My great Uncle, Joel Bierwagen, started SunSmile Farms 75 years ago.  SunSmile Farms is a 70 acre Certified Organic farm located at the end of West Drive in Grass Valley, CA.

Today, the farm is about to go out of business.  In August 2011, NID turned the water off to the farm causing irreparable damage.  The farm’s perennial stock, the trees and berries, was severely damaged.  We grew nearly 400 thousand plants in our gardens at the time the water was turned off.  The farm was devastated.  In Spring 2012, I brought in a water truck to water 41,000 onions and 12,500 heads of garlic.  Most of the onions and garlic were unmarketable or rejected for wholesale seed.

Our operation used to consist of a Farmstand that was open 6 days a week, U Pick cherries, peaches, and blackberries, CSA, and Farmers Market.  The Farmstand is now open on occasional weekends just to sell peaches.  We still have U Pick peaches, but the U Pick cherries, blueberries and raspberries are gone.  The trees and plants have died.  In 2012, we had to cancel the CSA subscriptions as we were unable to plant our gardens.

We are unable to plant our gardens because we don’t have a consistent supply of water.  The water was restored in mid June 2012 and we have had continuing problems with our service.  NID sleeved the pipe to repair the leak and installed a new box to turn off the water.  November 2012, they crushed the old service box and reconfigured a new one.  I still contend that I am not receiving the water I historically had.  It is an ongoing issue.

NID acknowledged they were wrong and told me to file a claim.  My wife and I spent countless hours going through my records to calculate the damages.  I then hired a forensic accountant to verify the calculations according to my harvest and sale records.  This took considerable time.  In January 2013, I sent the damage estimates for the perennial stock (trees and berries) to the NID Board of Directors.  They rejected my claim saying that it was untimely.  I was hoping for an early settlement.

My attorney contacted the NID insurance adjuster and let them know of the rejected claim and made arrangements for them to tour the farm.  I was contacted by a forensic pathologist who visited the farm 3 weeks ago.  We met for 5 hours.  No word so far.

If I am unable to reach an early settlement by July 23, I will be forced into filing a lawsuit.  To date, I am requesting damages for the loss of the trees and berries.  If I am forced into litigation, I will include the damages for the annuals, the gardens, the flowers, and the year of being closed.

Now we are at a crossroads.  Due to the damage caused by the situation with NID and our water supply, we may soon be forced to go out of business.  As the owner and farmer of SunSmile Farms, I am asking for the support of the community to voice their concern and request NID to take responsibility for their actions.

Please contact the NID Board of Directors.  Send letters, emails, and phone calls.  Or fill out the postcard and send in.  These postcards are available at the farm, in the “Take One” box mounted on the sign out front.  You can also pick up postcards at A to Z Supply, Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply, and Briarpatch.

Thank you,

George Loftus

Sunsmile Farms

10113 West Drive

Grass Valley, CA

530-273-6507

info@sunsmilefarms.com

 

Constituents wishing to contact members of the board are invited to e-mail the directors at the addresses listed below or contact Board Secretary Lisa Francis Tassone (273-6185, ext. 222), who will be happy to put you in contact with your elected representative.

Nancy Weber
Director, Division I (Term of Office Expires in 2014)
division1@nidwater.com

John H. Drew
Director, Division II (Term of Office Expires in 2014)
division2@nidwater.com

W. Scott Miller, MD
Director, Division III (Term of Office Expires in 2016)
division3@nidwater.com

Jim Bachman
Director, Division IV (Term of Office Expires in 2014)
division4@nidwater.com

Nick Wilcox
Director, Division V (Term of Office Expires in 2016)
division5@nidwater.com

June 2012

SunSmile Farms has been experiencing a “water crisis” since August 2011. I know the faithful farm customers are wondering why we haven’t opened…why the truck is not up on the corner. The following is a synopsis of the events of the past year.

Our irrigation water has been provided by NID since 1941. The irrigation water for SunSmile Farms flows through an irrigation ditch in the vicinity of Twin Cities Church; from there it is piped under the parking lot and across to a point above the Rough and Ready Highway; then crosses under the highway and down Mills Rd.; and then to the Farm.
In August 2011, a leak developed under Rough and Ready Highway. Nevada County requested NID to repair the leak. NID responded that the pipe belonged to SunSmile Farms and was my responsibility and the county then notified me. I have never been of the opinion that I owned the pipeline until it comes onto the Farm, and I requested NID to provide documentation showing my ownership. NID then took the stance that I owned the pipeline from the “box” (where the pipeline begins at the ditch), but did not provide documentation. I repeatedly requested documentation and nothing was received. This was NID’s response to the desperate situation of a customer whose account has been in existence for 71 years! In May, I contacted my district board representative, Nick Wilcox, explained the situation and was granted a meeting with the WHO committee. I also retained legal counsel to aid in rectifying this devastating situation. I had to wait 3 weeks for the WHO meeting. In the meantime, the orchards could not be watered and the gardens could not be planted.

After my attorney made a formal request for documents, on June 11, the day before the WHO meeting, NID produced an easement deed from their files clearly showing that they own the pipe to the end of Mills Rd.!

NID has now agreed to repair the leak at Rough and Ready Highway (to take place 2 weeks from the June 12 WHO meeting). There remain other outstanding issues. NID requested that I take ownership of the pipeline from the highway to the Farm. If I refuse, they are threatening to raise my water rates and assess a maintenance fee! This has yet to be resolved.

On June 15, the water was turned on. It will be shut off again to repair the leak. I am presently in the process of getting things up and running. At this point, there has already been extensive damage and loss. I have returned the vegetable starts to the nursery and have been watering the onions and garlic with a water truck. The fruit trees are defoliating due to lack of water (I can’t water them with the water truck).

I can’t begin to tell you how this saddens me. Any of you who know me, understand how much this farm means to me. This has been a nightmare! I have always taken pride in producing quality fruit and produce for my customers and very much appreciate the support you have shown.

 

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