Farming honors for Paul Martin

Paul Martin has trouble retiring. Every time he thinks he’s out, either the county or the state ask him to work for them on behalf of the dairymen and farmers of Petaluma.

“These days I’m working with my grandkid’s cows,” he said. “They’re prepping the cows for the fair. I like helping the kids, it keeps me busy.”

Martin, a former dairyman, Vietnam veteran, beef rancher, spokesman for Western United Dairymen and deputy director for the state’s business and economic development agency is being inducted in the Sonoma County Farm Bureau Hall of Fame for a lifetime of dedicated service to the farm and agriculture industry July 16.

Farmer’s blood runs through his whole family line, including his grandchildren and his grandfather, who bought their 80-acre ranch from a defunct dairyman in 1919.

At the ranch, Martin and his family raise cows for meat and keep horses for competitions.

Even going to Vietnam wasn’t enough to keep Martin away from farming.

“I went over after college, because at the time it was either get suspected to the draft or voluntarily join,” he said. “They rounded up all the soldiers with agriculture degrees and sent them to Saigon to help the locals farm. Even the American government wanted me to farm.”

Returning to the dairy farm, Martin became a spokesman for Western United Dairymen.

“My job there was to mediate between the dairymen and the state, and make sure the dairymen were treated fairly and understand their options,” he said.

During his 12 years at Western United Dairymen, Martin said regulations on air and water quality changed drastically, mostly for the better, and the dairy industry made leaps and bounds in quality and regulation.

“One of the most important projects I was a part of was looking at the air quality in the San Joaquin Valley,” Martin said. “The valley is surrounded by mountains on every side, and the only entrance is through a tributary from San Francisco. As a result, a lot of hot air gets trapped in the valley with cooler mountaintop air holding it down like a lid. As a result, the air quality in the valley is much worse.”

With greenhouse emissions replacing ambient air quality as the top concern for the San Joaquin Valley, the focus on solutions changed, but Martin remembers one of the most ambitious ideas to let the air flow through. “There was an idea to have the city drill holes through the mountains and install fans that regulate the air flow out,” he said. “A council official said, ‘comment noted’ and that’s where it ended. But it would’ve been a sight to see them try it.”

In 2012, California governor Jerry Brown made Martin the deputy director for the business and economic development agency. “That job lasted 127 days,” he said. “I helped people with permit problems and questions. I was basically wearing a suit but staying a farmer.”

During that time, Martin introduced a program called Lean Six Sigma, a method where agencies and businesses look over their processes critically and eliminate redundancies or inefficiencies in their bureaucratic structure. “Last year we had 14 projects in the agency. This year we’ve got 24. The method helps us get through projects faster and more efficiently,” Martin said.

One of the projects involves installing hydrogen fueling stations in Southern California, and another potential station in Rohnert Park. “Using hydrogen cars with fuel cells is a great alternative to standard emission-making gas cars,” he said. “And whenever there’s a business trying to get permits and permissions from three separate government agencies, my job is to help consolidate the applications and get the process done as cleanly as possible.”

In the end, Martin identifies as a farmer, even if he’s wearing a suit. “The regulatory world is not a place where farmers are comfortable,” he said. “And I can’t begin to count the other people who are qualified to receive this hall of fame induction. But the farmers around here see me in a suit and still identify me as a fellow farmer, and that’s what I’m most proud of. No one gets to this position alone, and there are so many people who helped pave the way to make the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and Western United Dairymen honest brokers between the farmer and the agency that governs them.”

July 5, 2015 Argus-Courier