Farming is in the Lesters' roots. Born and raised in the Valley of the Heart’s Delight (now known as Silicon Valley), like many generations before him, Russ Lester grew up working in his family prune orchards. It wasn’t until his college chemistry and botany courses that he realized the potential harmful effects of chemical herbicides, fertilizers, and pesticides.
In 1979, Russ decided to follow in his father’s footsteps – he and his wife bought a 69 acre dilapidated almond orchard in Winters, California and started converting the orchard to walnuts. Unfortunately, it was tragic wake-up call that convinced the Lesters to stop using agrochemicals. Russ's father was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and around this same time they had learned of a study linking this type of lymphoma to herbicides used in conventional farming. The Lesters decided for their young family’s health to transition to organic farming.
They switched to using no-till cover crops, integrated pest management, composted manure, a more efficient sprinkler system, recycled packaging, and to putting solar panels on their buildings. And to reduce their energy use, the Lesters have found a way to turn their leftover walnut shells into electricity and gas which goes back into the process of drying and processing their walnuts. Through these efforts, they have been able to cut costs while reducing their environmental footprint. Each year they learn and improve the whole-systems approach they started over 30 years ago, always working towards becoming more sustainable.
To learn more about their walnuts, visit the Dixon Ridge Farms website.