All posts by Sweet Savory Sustainable

A Lifestyle Project

Welcome to Bell Hill Farm & Hen Scratch Quilting, Hollister CA

Welcome to Bell Hill Farm & Hen Scratch Quilting, Hollister, CA

It was a late winter afternoon as I drove through the hills along Cienega Road in Hollister, CA. Blossoms are falling from trees and tiny green leaves are budding, letting us know spring is on the horizon. Also known as the “Wine Trail”, Cienega road is home to gorgeous views and a handful of the town’s best wineries scattered along the hillside. DeRose Winery, a “green winery”, is one of the wineries along Cienega Road and just a short distance from the gravel road leading the way to Bell Hill Farm. The steep road is lined with oak trees and the chiming sounds of bells are heard from a distance above. I’m on my way to spend the afternoon with John and Janet Locey and their brood of animals of Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting.

Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting
Beautiful views that surround Bell Hill Farm

The hillsides along the road to their home are lined with mossy oak trees, picturesque of a woodland fairytale. The road, although gravel lined, is still rough and you must take care when climbing the hill. I carefully navigated my way around the backside of the house, found a parking spot and setoff to find Janet. I was greeted by a couple of four-legged furry family members, wagging tails, wet noses and all. I located Janet sitting in front of the house workshop. In her arms was a tiny 1/2 French Alpine 1/2 American Alpine goat, Chico, only 2 days old. The goat is one of three babies and was not faring along as well as the others despite being bigger than her siblings. Janet was feeding the baby goat because she had not gotten up to feed off her mother. I was fortunate to hold the baby goat for a moment after Janet fed her. Soon after placing the goat back with her mother, she was up and moving around. What a special moment it was for me to experience, witnessing the little goat fight to stand on its own. For Janet, this is nothing new; these are experiences she meets daily.
Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting

Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting
Chico exploring the daffodils after braving her first few steps

After tending to the baby goat, we jumped into our chat taking stock of every animal, project, and task in process at the Locey homestead. While Janet escorted me through her life I couldn’t help but notice how many projects she was immersed in and how she was keeping up with them all. I could barely keep up pace with her as she climbed the hills checking on her animals.

Janet and her husband John manage a family of goats, sheep, chickens, and ducks for their personal homestead, as well as operating Bell Hill Farm (Goat Milk Soaps & Lotions) and Hen Scratch Quilting (sewing machine repair, quilting retreats, patterns, quilts, supplies and more!). The ducks and chickens provide eggs & meat, the goats provide milk, the sheep provide meat, and Janet & John harvest it all for their family. Their home rests on the middle of the property. The surrounding hills are covered with wild flowers and moss-covered oaks. The goats live on the bottom half of the hill and the sheep on the upper half, all grazing on beautiful wild forage. The chickens and ducks keep watch near the goats and the dogs & cats follow John or Janet around the homestead keeping watch of them all.

Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting
Janet trying desperately to get out of the picture and her beloved Alpine Annamae

Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting
Moses the guardian of the pack
Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting
Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting
Janet’s view from her milking stand

Janet was born and raised in Northern California on her family’s pre-gold rush era ranch where they farmed row crops. Her mother and grandparents kept chickens, which is how she developed a great love for the bird. Despite her deep roots of country living Janet had no prior experience raising small livestock such as sheep and goats. She and John raised their family on what you would call an urban homestead in the South Bay of California, almost 40 years ago. This urban homestead consisted only of chickens but her deep country roots were calling. Janet needed to move her family and her chickens elsewhere. It was then decided Janet and John would move their family to the Central Coast and the hills of Hollister California, over 25 years ago. Janet’s love for chickens helped them settle in the place they call home today. Janet advised it wasn’t the beautiful house or the picturesque landscape that sold her… it was the existing chicken coop on the property. An instant home for her chickens… she was sold and they moved in! When Janet and her husband John purchased the property it was covered in thick brush. To manage the terrain, they bought a couple of Alpine goats. Janet explained, “For a family on a shoe string budget you learn to be creative in how you tackle the challenges ahead.” While the goats were managing the brush they also managed to have… babies!

“A couple of goats, led to babies that led to milk, which lead to soaps & lotions” Janet explained as we walked along the fence line to the goat’s home. “It was a natural progression to go from having too much goat’s milk, not knowing what to do with it, to making soaps and lotions” Janet explained. “There is always enough milk for our soaps, lotions, for our family to drink, and even enough at times to make cheese for our family.” She took me along the goat’s path and I got to see spring in action, each area holding several babies and their mothers. All of Janet’s goats are registered with the American Dairy Goat Association. This allows Janet to track each goat’s heritage and milk line.

Through a course taken at UC Davis sponsored by the DHIA (Dairy Goat Improvement Association) Janet is a certified Goat milk tester. One day a month the amount of milk from each goat is weighed and recorded and a sample is taken and sent into a lab for testing. Reports are generated for milk production, percent protein, percent fat and somatic cell count (health of udder) along with various other information. Decisions on breeding and culling are based on these production records. The information gathered through this program goes into a data bank providing valuable information to the individual dairy goat owner and gathers statistics for the entire goat industry to use in research and educational programs.

The production data gathered though the milk test program may be submitted to the American Dairy Goat Association and the individual goat may earn a star if she meets the production requirement for her particular breed. The star may be passed down to her daughter if she meets the requirements then her registration papers carry the designation of a two star milker. That daughter may have a daughter that meets the requirement and then she would be a 3 star milker and so on. The goats must be on official test to earn the star and you can’t skip any generations. This information gives Janet direct insight into how she can better care for her animals.

I was already dizzy from all the information and how Janet kept up with it all; we had only just begun the tour. Between the goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, dogs and cats… who would have time to make goat’s milk body soap, lotion, and recently added to the lineup of products, laundry soap? I had to know how she was motivated to do this. What led Janet Locey and her family down the path of self-sufficiency, handcraftsmanship, livestock, and eventually Bell Hill Farm & Hen Scratch Quilting?

For over 30 years Janet worked as an accountant for local city governments and school districts; John was a maintenance manager for a local food processing plant. Although their careers provided a stable living for their family, they were frustrated with the outcome of industrial systems and their dependency on so many unnatural things. Janet and John believed there had to be more; more to offer their family and their community. Soon after moving into their country home, they began to experience the satisfaction of getting back to the basics.

Janet finished up outside and we made our way into the house. I was greeted by the sweet aroma of soap & lotion scents mixed with the savory aroma of a roasted chicken she was cooking for dinner. We worked our way down the hall and stopped at the first room; Janet’s office and soap room. The walls were lined with scents, packaging, bottles of lotion, and trays of curing soaps. Her desk was covered with soap wrappers and hemp ties, getting ready to package the next order for Sunday’s farmers market. I was in heaven. Something about the smell of plumeria and ginger (two yummy scents Janet provides through her soaps and lotions) that settles me. I took a moment before having to leave the room. I held each bar of soap to my nose inhaling deeper and deeper, trying to keep the scent with me. Before we left the soap room I noticed a stack of framed pictures. Janet pulled a handful of the frames out from behind some boxes. These pictures were much too beautiful to be hiding away. Looking closer I saw Janet’s signature donned the bottom corners of each piece. This was nothing more than a labor of love for Janet. A mixture of water colors and detailed lines – I got lost in her pictures, wanting to visit the places she was able to create on paper. Her prints are recreated on thick card stock note cards that follow her to farmers markets. Her art also hangs in a local bakery downtown.

Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting
Handmade, handcrafted goat’s milk body soap… Janet hand bevels each edge and personally wraps each bar of soap before packaging
Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting
Janet’s prints can be purchased at Heavenly Bakery in historic downtown Hollister, CA

We finished up in the soap room and moved on to the next room… the quilt room. You are greeted by a 3 foot pile of completed quilts and the walls are covered in quilts – all made by Janet. These quilts have intricate details and creative patterns. Janet’s quilts are truly a work of art. This beautiful quilt was published in two magazines “American Patchwork and Quilting” and “Quilter’s Newsletter.” Turns out the original quilt was a historic item and had been burned in a museum fire. Janet’s recreation was inspired by an AQSG (American Quilt Study Group) project and the quilt traveled for two years, displayed in museum exhibits and quilt shows across the nation.

Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting

Its mind-boggling when you focus on the detail of her work – it slowly starts to sink in and you begin to understand the tedious detail and patience it takes to put something like this together. I asked how long it took to sew one of the detailed quilts and without missing a beat, Janet quickly replied, “a year”. There in this room was a stack; a thick, time-consuming stack of quilts that were all carefully handcrafted and designed by Janet. She designs quilts and creates patterns for Maywood Studios Fabric for both Fall and Spring Quilt Markets each year. Three times a year Janet hosts a quilting retreat at the Saint Francis Retreat Center in San Juan Bautista. Her first session is SOLD OUT but there are still spaces available for the remaining two sessions. We left the quilting room, with my hands still in the pile of quilts… I had my eye on one. It was a turtle theme with varying shades of green and paisley patterns. I really want that quilt.

We briefly stopped in John’s workshop before heading off to Janet’s sewing room. A workshop filled with sewing machines and all of their little bits and pieces. John cleans and repairs old Featherweight sewing machines… in his spare time. He helps keep Janet up and running so her quilting deadlines can always be met. He also helps maintain many of the machines from guests who attend Janet’s “sewing sessions”. Each week Janet hosts a handful of women at her home in her sewing room. They work on quilts, learn new techniques, and share information. The room is long and the walls are covered with books and quilts. There are tables in the center of the room covered with sewing machines and pieces of brightly covered fabric and patterns. Janet thumbs through the shelves and quickly finds a stack of patterns. She spread the colorful fabric out in front of me and with a pre-made square she briefly showed me how she gets beginning quilters started.

I could see how passionate Janet was about teaching. Janet noted that through teaching others she gains so much more knowledge. “If you don’t learn something from those you are teaching, you’ve not done your job correctly”, Janet explained. We left the sewing room and worked our way through the house to the kitchen, our final destination and of course one of my favorite places to be! I was in heaven as Janet showed me all of her homesteading gadgets. From ice cream makers, to grain grinders, milking buckets, cheese presses, and even a fizzy water maker… Janet had everything a homesteader would need to make life easier and enable one to be more self-sufficient. One of the best parts of my visit was the taste of fresh goats milk cheese. Janet utilizes the extra milk from her goats to make several different types of cheese for her family’s consumption. There is a tiny “college” refrigerator sitting in the corner of her kitchen. This is the cheese fridge housing months of delicious aged goodness. Janet explained that it doesn’t make sense for her to take Bell Hill Farm goat milk tasks beyond soaps and lotions. Janet and her goats may make fantastic cheese but a certified dairy is a costly venture that she & John are not able to take on at this point in their lives.

Our visit was coming to an end. Janet shared with me a taste of their dinner; one of their own chickens, roasted, along with steamed rice made with homemade broth and local wheat berries. She had just finished washing the fresh collected chicken and duck eggs from her flock. She had several buckets lined up on the sink ready to go for the next milking of the goats. There was a giant container of soap shavings that she was getting ready to process for laundry soap. Across the kitchen sat a loom with a half transformed “rag rug”. It was clear that no matter the time of day, or day of week… Janet had something going, something in process. She was busy and she was happy. Janet explained that she’s coming to a point in life where most people would find themselves retiring and settling down – but she is not. She’s finally found her calling… she knows now what she wants to be when she grows up. “If only I started sooner; if only I was doing the things I am now with the energy I had in my 30s and 40s”, Janet explained with sincerity. With the very best advice she could provide, Janet expressed to me, “don’t stop what you’re doing. This is the best thing for your son, for your family, and for your health. You are making a difference and can make a difference in educating and motivating others”… on getting back to the basics of life.

It gives me great pride to share with people a story of a loving married couple of 40 years who do more in their 60+ young years of age than most 20 something’s’ I know. Thank you Janet and John for allowing me in your home and sharing with me your lives… Welcome to Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting!

Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting

Bell Hill Farm Products are:
– Goats Milk Body Soap
– Goats Milk Body Lotion
– Goats Milk Laundry Soap

All products are available in unscented. Other scents available are Almond, Lavender, Lilac, Plumeria, Sandalwood, Spice Mahogany, Vanilla, Yuzu, and Wild Oats & Honey. Janet can also put together special requests.

Benefits of Goats Milk Soap & Lotion:
– Does not contain harsh detergents or additives
– High levels of cream in goat’s milk provide moisturizing qualities
– Goats milk is high in protein, fat, iron, vitamins B, C, D, E providing bacteria killing properties (acne) and helps retain skins moisture
– Goats milk naturally contains glycerin for high moisturizing properties
– Low pH to that of human skin allowing for better absorption
– Goats milk naturally contains lactic acid which is an alpha hydroxy acid found in skin rejuvenation products

Bell Hill Farm Products can be purchased at:
– Directly from their website
– Local farmers markets (schedule on the Bell Hill website updated monthly)
– A monthly, 6 week, or bi-monthly CSA program with auto ship, details at the website
– At San Benito Bene in historic downtown Hollister, CA

Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting

Hen Scratch Quilting Patterns, Retreats, and more…
– Visit Hen Scratch Quilting for patterns that you can order directly from the website
– Janet also makes and provides supplies for Rag Rugs, perfect throws for every area of the house
– Contact John Locey via email for more information on Featherweight sewing machine cleaning, repair, and supplies

Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting

Janet’s prints can be purchased at:
Heavenly Bakery in historic downtown Hollister, CA
– Local farmers markets (schedule on the Bell Hill website updated monthly)

Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting

Original post written on March 17th, 2012 by The Sustainable Sweet & Savory Gourmet at site: welcome-to-bell-hill-farm-and-hen-scratch-quilting-hollister-ca

Chewy Granola Bars – Oats Nuts & Dried Fruit

Chewy Granola Bars – Oats Nuts & Dried Fruit

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.” ~ La Rochefoucauld

Like any busy family, I look for quick healthy nutrient dense snacks that we can grab on the go. Right now, as hard as we work to slow things down, life is fast-moving and there are times you just need that quick easy snack. Unfortunately those quick easy snacks I see in the grocery stores are laden with unpronounceable, synthetic, bad for the environment, and bad for you & me ingredients. Trying to make a conscious effort to better what my family eats, how my family eats, and where our ingredients come from I look to the back of boxes such as chewy granola bars and other snack like treats and say… “I can make that…!”

The challenge is over the past few months my toddler has gone from eating everything he could get his hands on to a very limited selection of… not much. We’re in the visual stages now… if it looks funny, it’s not going in his mouth. My other challenge is I have an electrician husband. He performs strenuous physical labor daily and the ability to sit down and have a solid meal on the job site is not an easy option. The healthy, nutrient dense snacks I choose for my boys must look appealing, be easy to eat on the go, and of course… TASTE GOOD!

Chewy granola bars are typically a great snack to throw in your backpack, purse, or other carryall on the go. So the first snack I attempted to recreate was the chewy granola bar. In my first test, I used whole wheat flour and stone ground oats. The bars turned out cake like vs. a chewy bar consistency. My toddler gobbled the first test batch up but the bars were a crumbly mess and slightly dry. The second test I used only whole grain oats. Apparently test #2 for the chewy granola bars was a success because my husband woke me up from a deep sleep on the couch to give me a high-five and tell me “those are damn good!”

And the little man seems to agree too…
chewy granola bars

My version of the chewy granola bars are a combination of several recipes I researched on the interwebs. They all held a common theme; dried fruits, nuts, oats, and honey. It is such a versatile recipe. You can use any dried fruit. In this recipe I use cranberries, apples, & plums but you could use anything. Raisins, mangos, cherries, apricots, any dried fruit you could think of. And the same with the nut… almond, walnut, cashew, peanut… any variety. You can grind the ingredients as I did, or leave them chunkier for a bit more texture to the chewy granola bar. It’s up to you. I’m excited because the family loves the bars, they are quick and easy to make, they taste great, and they are good for you. Winner winner!

Chewy Granola Bars – Oats Nuts & Dried Fruit
350 F degrees / 25-30 mins / yield: 2 dozen bars cut 2 in x .5 in
* = organic
*^ = organic/local

■ 2 1/4 cups whole grain rolled oats (quick oats)
■ 2 tablespoons raw wheat germ * (Bob’s RedMill)
■ 2 tablespoons whole ground flaxseed meal * (Bob’s RedMill)
■ 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
■ 1 teaspoon cinnamon
■ 1 cup dried fruit (1/3 c prunes, 1/3 cup apples, 1/3 cup cranberries) *^ chopped
■ 1 cup whole almonds ^ chopped
■ 1/3 cup brown sugar * packed
■ 1/3 cup honey ^
■ 1/4 cup peanut butter *^ (room temperature – I make my own nut butters so the peanut butter used in this recipe is homemade)
■ 4 – 5 tablespoons butter *^ (room temperature)
■ 1 cookie sheet + 1/2 teaspoon olive oil or butter for coating the pan (or a sheet of parchment paper… your choice)

chewy granola bars

Step 1: Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees (f) and prep a cookie sheet with a light coating of olive oil, butter, or a piece of parchment paper. Set aside.
chewy granola bars

Step 2: In a large mixing bowl, combine your dry ingredients (oats, flaxseed, wheat germ, cinnamon, kosher salt) and the brown sugar; set aside.
chewy granola bars

Step 3: In a food processor, combine all dried fruit and chop till you have medium size pieces. At this point add in your almonds and chop the entire mixture till you have a small crumble. {Note: you can hand chop all ingredients, giving more texture to your bars. You can leave some bits larger than others but not too large to make sure your bars will combine with the wet ingredients. End Note}
chewy granola bars

Step 4: Combine the nut fruit mixture to the bowl of dry ingredients, making sure all ingredients are well incorporated with each other.
chewy granola bars

Step 5: Using your favorite mixing utensil (I’ll use my hands) add in, one ingredient at a time, the room temperature butter, peanut butter, and honey. By the end you’ll have a sticky mixture that can easily be pressed together.
chewy granola bars

Step 6: Press the mixture on the prepped cookie sheet. After the mixture has been pressed into the cookie sheet, the layer should be roughly 1/2 of an inch thick and a square 10in x 10in. Place in a pre-heated 350 degree (f) oven for 25-30 minutes. The longer the bake the crisp the texture.
chewy granola bars

Step 7: After the baking time, remove the chewy granola bars from the oven and let cool on the counter for a few minutes before removing the sheet from the pan. Place on a cutting board and with a pizza cutter or sharp knife cut the bars into your desired size. The batch I made turned out 2 dozen, 1/2 in x 2 in bars.
chewy granola bars

Storage: Keep in an air tight container in a cool dry place for up to 2 weeks, but freshest within the first week of baking… if they last that long! ENJOY!
chewy granola bars

Original post written on August 6th, 2012 by The Sustainable Sweet & Savory Gourmet at site:

Making Time for Exercise – Lycra Pants & Running Shoes

Making Time for Exercise – Lycra Pants & Running Shoes

Original post written on April 4th, 2011 by The Sustainable Sweet & Savory Gourmet at site:

I’ve lost 60+ pounds since I my son was born, a year ago this past February 2011.

It has been a challenging road and at times I wondered if I was getting anywhere with my nutrition and exercise efforts – but here I am a year later and 60+ pounds lighter. All of the pregnancy weight is gone and now I’m readjusting my exercise and nutrition to target the “overworked” and “overstressed” weight that was added a year before I got pregnant.

The other night, while scanning the web for activities to do with my toddler, I read an article by a busy mom trying to find time to fit exercise into her hectic schedule. I connected with her, understanding her struggles in trying to find at least 30 minutes of the day to dedicate to herself. After all, I faced that challenge before I had my son, so now more than ever I could identify. But then the article seemed to change. The tone went from genuine need for good health to exercise is a chore. The writer had lumped exercise in with cleaning the fish bowl and dropping items off at the Goodwill. “…I know other moms who successfully fit a run, a yoga class or a trip to the gym into their busy schedules. They’re the ones who pick up their kids after school in Lycra pants and running shoes…”

I found myself taking offense to the concluding statement of the article – maybe because I have found myself identifying with and have turned into that mom in Lycra pants and running shoes (a cotton spandex blend to be exact). I live in my gym clothes as much as I possibly can. I realize there is a time and a place for everything. At times my husband teases me, “…you never know when a random workout will happen…” From what I gathered, her complaint in the article was about finding the “time”. My advice to that statement is you have to MAKE the time. Exercise and living an active lifestyle shouldn’t be considered a chore. It’s your health after all that we’re talking about here; not cleaning the toilet or doing the laundry or in the instance of the article, cleaning the fish bowl and going to Goodwill. Your health, I would like think, would be pretty high up on the priority vs. the chore list.

Similar to the writer I speak of; I too have found myself wishing I was “that mom”. For example, wishing I could find the time to do my hair and makeup and dress more adult like instead of always being in my sweats and a ponytail. Then I remind myself I am “that mom” and it’s up to me to MAKE THE TIME.

One of the readers to the article commented best, “…life happens; you just have to learn to work around it…” So – You didn’t get to wake up at 5am like you planned because you were up till 2am working, then make the effort to switch things up for the day. Look ahead and see where you can fit in any type of exercise here or there. It could be taking the stairs, parking further from your destination, doing squats while brushing your teeth, stretching at your desk, keeping a gym bag packed at work or your car. Making a conscious effort to not let the 2am work nights rule your life, creating a routine can and will eventually happen.

I still have a big chunk of weight to lose. I try and do double days (exercise twice a day) and fit in as much activity as possible in my day. My alarm is set for 400am so I can get my first exercise session in and prep for the day before my son is awake, by 7am. I make an effort to go for a walk every day with my son (rain or shine). The fresh air and activity will do us both good and it’s a great way for us to spend time together. I hope to influence him that being active is fun. I get my second exercise session in at lunch time or at night when my son is asleep and my husband is off at the gym. This schedule doesn’t always happen, so I do what I can to fit in any activity – even if it’s only 15 minutes.

Habits take time to develop and exercise is a habit. It’s taken me a year to lose 60+ pounds but I am making a conscious effort to work on it. The slow and steady process will allow the exercise and nutrition adjustments I’ve made become a way of life that I can carry on for years.

Homemade Yogurt

Homemade Yogurt Recipe

As a child I experienced many upper respiratory problems, which resulted in my frequent consumption of antibiotics. I remember my grandmother telling me to eat yogurt when taking the antibiotics. It didn’t make sense to me at the time. As I come to learn more about my food, what is real, and what is not, I understand… antibiotics kill the bad bacteria in your body but it kills the good bacteria too! When your body is lacking in the “good bacteria”, you are unable to properly absorb nutrients from real, whole foods. A decreased “good bacteria” count also forces your body to work much harder at fighting off infections and diseases. Looks like grandma knew what she was talking about. It’s time to learn about homemade yogurt.

Over the years, because of the internet/social networking/free press, we are able to get access to a great deal more information about our food. Information many of us now know is that a majority of the meat and dairy products found on your favorite grocery store shelves are riddled with antibiotics. Unless the product’s label specifies it is antibiotic free or organic, you are most likely consuming an unnecessary amount of antibiotics. It doesn’t stop there… non meat and dairy eaters are at risk too. Vegetables such as corn, potatoes and lettuce absorb antibiotics when grown in soil fertilized with livestock manure, according to tests conducted at the University of Minnesota.

Since the spike in antibiotic resistant bugs & diseases there has been a push to consume more probiotics (microorganisms or bacteria that are beneficial to the host organism) to regain the microbes needed to keep us healthy. This is nothing new… probiotics have been in existence for a very long time. Eli Metchnikoff, a Russian scientist was the first to observe the positive role of certain bacteria in the early 1900’s. The studies of beneficial bacteria lead Metchnikoff to start drinking fermented milk (kefir) and homemade yogurt. Metchnikoff experienced improved health and well-being.

There are vitamin companies taking stock in this and pushing their better version of whatever probiotic they can get their hands on. There are certain yogurt companies out there too (I’m sure you know the catchy jingle) that have also jumped the bandwagon. The problem is, if the milk used to create the yogurt is provided by a “conventional dairy farm” you are still getting the antibiotics; unless the label specifies different – which is why I encourage the consumption of organic yogurt and kefir; even better, homemade yogurt and kefir.

To feed a family of 3 a serving of yogurt every day you’d need to buy 2 quarts a week. I’m basing these numbers on my family and our consumption habits. Some may consume more or less, but more is recommended to support the healthy bacteria levels in your body. A typical quart of plain organic yogurt runs at least $4. This price also happens to be the cost of our whole organic ½ gallon of milk. In a homemade yogurt recipe you are getting drop for drop. A ½ gallon of milk = ½ gallon of yogurt, which means we’re saving $4 every purchase; resulting in a monthly savings of $16 or almost $200 a year, on yogurt! It may not sound like much but it adds up for our single income family. Of course my time is also valuable but I believe spending the time to make homemade yogurt is a great trade-off to know where every ingredient in my food came from.

I have a lovely friend, who has a lovely dairy cow, and this lovely cow grazes on organic pastures & alfalfa, and eats the very best “over ripe” organic produce I’ve ever seen. I know this because I’ve fed her myself. She produces a creamy whole milk that is delightful and tastes great in everything and can easily stand alone. Her milk provides a great deal of vitamins (omegas, E, A, beta carotene, etc.) through her organic herbivore diet. We decided to take a go at making homemade yogurt with our lovely friend’s cows milk. There are several ways to make homemade yogurt – one of which is purchasing the probiotics separately. I took the simpler route in this recipe using a starter… yogurt! With some milk, a small amount of “store bought” (preferably organic) yogurt, some heat, and time… and you’ll have the creamiest freshest tasting homemade yogurt ever.

I found the following recipe, which called for a double boiler, a heating pad, and then transferring to storage containers. It is important to have a sterile working area when making yogurt to avoid harming the good bacteria that you’re going to feed and create. I prefer to immediately place my yogurt in its storage vessels before the incubation process. On hot sunny days, I can place my jars of yogurt in a typical igloo cooler, filled with warm water, and placed in the sun. I can also use my old water canner, filled 1/4 a way with water and placed on a heating pad at high. This keeps the surrounding water temperature at a consistent 110 degrees. I do not have a double boiler so I kept to stirring my milk base until it came to temperature… but it is key to KEEP STIRRING if you are NOT using a double boiler… your milk will burn otherwise.

Once you’ve made your first batch of yogurt – you should be able to use this base as your next starter going forward. Reserve 2-3 tablespoons of your finished product per every ½ gallon of milk you anticipate using; store in a sanitized jar in the refrigerator till you are ready to make your next batch of yogurt. The recipe I followed suggested you can freeze your starter – just make sure that you bring the starter to room temperature before placing it in your prepped milk. Also, try to use your starter within 8-10 days otherwise the bacteria will begin to die.

I use homemade yogurt in everything. We eat yogurt & fresh fruit with our daily breakfast; I make smoothies at lunch; and any baking item that calls for buttermilk, I substitute with a yogurt / milk mixture. Now that I’ve got the basics down I’d like to try adding the probiotics myself versus using a starter. I’d also like to see if it’s possible to have raw yogurt with live active cultures. You can add a small amount of sugar or vanilla to the cooking process to give your yogurt some flavor. I recommend doing what my husband does and serving up a big bowl of plain yogurt topped with some of our homemade strawberry or plum jam. It’s time to take back our healthy bacteria… enjoy!!

* = organic
*^ = organic / local

Homemade Yogurt (from starter)

½ gallon milk *^
2-3 tablespoons yogurt *^
A large stock pot
A plastic or metal spoon that can be sterilized
A thermometer
2 quart glass mason storage jars & lids
A cooler or canning pot (depending on your incubation method)
A heating pad (depending on your incubation method)

STEP 1: prep your working area. Sterilize your jars, lids, and utensils before starting – hot soapy water or a quick run on the top rack of the dishwasher.
homemade yogurt

homemade yogurt

STEP 2: Take your starter yogurt out of the refrigerator or freezer and bring to room temperature.

Place your stock pot on the stove and fill with a ½ gallon of milk. Attach the thermometer so it’s submerged in the milk but allowing you a visual on the desired temp range, which is 185 degrees. Keeping your stove top range at medium high heat, continue to stir your milk until it reaches 185 degrees. I’ve read the longer you keep your milk at 185 degrees the thicker the finished yogurt product will be. I’ve only kept it at temp for 10 minutes before moving it to an ice water bath which has resulted in a semi thick yogurt.
homemade yogurt

homemade yogurt

STEP 3: Once the milk has reached the desired temperature of 185 degrees, remove the pot from the heat and immediately place it in an ice water bath. The water on the sides of the pot should come up as high as the milk in the pot. I filled my sink with cold water and then ice cubes from the freezer. Keep the thermometer submerged and continue to stir your milk while it rests in the ice water. You are looking to bring the milk to 110 degrees which is where the bacteria becomes live and can grow.
homemade yogurt

homemade yogurt

STEP 4: Once the milk has come to 110 degrees, stir in the 2-3 tablespoons of yogurt starter, making sure it dissolves in the milk well. Once dissolved immediately transfer into your storage jars and seal.

Using the Sun as Your Incubator: In a typical igloo cooler, fill 1/4 with hot water. Place your sealed jars into the water bath inside the cooler. Keep your cooler covered, outside in direct sunlight. This allows the water bath inside the cooler to stay at a constant 110 degrees. You’ll want your yogurt to sit in the water bath at minimum for 7 hours…the longer it sets the thicker it will get. If you notice the temperature dropping add more hot water to the cooler – slowly to not shock the jars or…

Using a Heating Pad as Your Incubator: Bring your cooler inside and place it on top of a heating pad. Check the temperature every couple of hours to make sure the water is not above 110 degrees. You can also place your jars in a water canner, filled 1/4 way with water and placed on a heating pad. You’ll want your yogurt to sit in the water bath at minimum for 7 hours…the longer it sets the thicker it will get.
homemade yogrut

homemade yogurt

After 7 hours you can remove the jars from the cooler or canning pot and place in the refrigerator. The next day I give each jar a light shake to incorporate any solids that may have separated. You are now ready to enjoy some creamy homemade yogurt and replenish your very much-needed good bacteria… enjoy!

Original post written on March 5th, 2012 by The Sustainable Sweet & Savory Gourmet at site:

Welcome to Paicines Ranch, Paicines CA

Welcome to Paicines Ranch (Rancho Cienega de los Paicines), Paicines CA

It is mid spring on a late Sunday morning. I am driving down State Route 25. Also know as Airline Highway, the single lane highway stretches over 75 miles starting in Priest Valley CA and ending in Gilroy CA – I’m on my way to visit Paicines Ranch.

Paicines Ranch

Row crops, orchards, and grassy rolling hills are a blur passing my window as I make my way out of the City of Hollister. I am given a brief warning to slow my speed from 55 to 35 before driving through the town of Tres Pinos. The small town is out of an old western, donning historic wooden buildings and horse stables along the roadway. Less than a minute has passed and I’m out of Tres Pinos, kicking the speed back up to 55. I drive through Bolado Park, home of the San Benito County Fair. Despite our recent rains, the green is already fading. There are mixed yellow and amber waves of tall grass and flowers that stretch as far as the eye can see. I’ve now entered the town of Paicines. A road sign and a small general store and post office are the only major markings to the town. This will be the last major stop you see for several miles. Route 25 will lead the way to wild grasslands, rocky hillsides covered with cattle & horses, vineyards, sandy shale covered mountain ranges, and various small bodies of water.

To my right is the Paicines Reservoir where I’ll soon be arriving at my destination. I turn right off of Highway 25 onto Cienega Road. I pass a slightly crooked, faded stop and arrive at a large green metal gate. The sign on the gate reads Paicines Ranch Grass Fed Beef. I am here today to meet with one of San Benito County’s few female cattle ranchers. Sallie Calhoun; former electrical engineer turned California grass fed beef rancher and Holistic Management student.

Paicines Ranch

My family and I are passionate about where our food comes from and how it was raised. I have been a customer of Paicines Ranch grass fed beef for a little over a year now. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the ranch on occasion but I wanted to learn more about the beautiful ranch that provided my family a healthy protein option. There has been much talk in the media recently on the ethics of eating meat, grass fed vs. conventional beef, and the validity of sustainable ranching, specifically with cattle. I wanted to know more and wanted to see how one of the few female cattle ranchers in my community was making a difference in the environment and her surrounding communities.

I drive past the gate of Paicines Ranch. To the right are golden rolling hills and to the left, fields of certified organic row crops. There are a couple of buildings scattered among the property’s backdrop, hidden by oak trees and wild flowers. I follow the dirt road past several horse corrals. It’s a warm spring day and the horses are taking cover under the pepper trees that surrounds the fence line. I’ve arrived at Paicines Ranch headquarters where a giant steel structure houses towering rows of hay. Ahead of me are several old buildings, stables, and barns. I find a parking space closest to the beautifully landscaped courtyard next to the Paicines Ranch Grogan House. There were crowds of people bustling about, breaking down tents, chairs, and other event related items. The day before, on Saturday April 28th 2012, the E-Cubed Foundation hosted their annual Spring Trail ride here at the Paicines Ranch. The foundation is a non-profit organization who provides sustainable financial support for programs within the small schools of rural San Benito County. I spot Sallie at the end of the Grogan House walkway, who is quietly overseeing the breakdown of the event. After brief hellos we made our way up to the patio of the Grogan House where we would spend the duration of our conversation.

In 1867 Paicines Ranch was owed by Alexander Grogan, a transplant from Ireland. Mr. Grogan built many of the structures that are still standing on the property today. One of which is the Grogan House built in the 1860’s. A few steps lead the way to a covered porch, offering a cool breeze and inviting wicker seating. We settled in and jumped right into the conversation.

Paicines Ranch
The Grogan House
Paicines Ranch
The Grogan House porch

The Beginning…
Born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee; Sallie knew from an early age that she enjoyed the outdoors and gardening. She spent a lot of her free time hiking The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the largest protected areas in the Eastern United States. After college she found herself learning more about organic gardening. During the accounts of her past, she talked about her subscription in the late 70’s to Rodale Organic Farming and Gardening magazine. Sallie also talks about Earth Day, “I remember the first Earth Day very well, and it seemed important to me.” Once becoming a resident of California, she began reading into the problems of the disappearing native perennial grasses and the dying oak trees. In the late 80’s she chose to landscape her yard with the native perennial bunch grasses. Sallie wanted to be part of the solution in bringing the native grasses back. Since then Sallie has been passionate, considering herself an environmentalist, focusing on the issues of organics, sustainability, recycling, and the environment as a whole.

A graduate of Rice University, with an electrical engineering background, Sallie is no stranger to hard work and challenges. After meeting her husband, they settled in the town of Saratoga, California where they owned and operated a software company. In 2000 they sold their company and went on a journey to find a place of rest and relaxation. Through their journey they discovered the historic Paicines Ranch located in Paicines, California. The ranch was scheduled to be turned into a resort hotel with golf courses, and residential homes. The project never came to fruition and Paicines Ranch was eventually purchased by Sallie and her husband.

The biggest question on my mind at this point in the conversation was how do you go from owning and operating a software company to owning and operating 7000 certified organic grazing acres and 2000 head of pastured cattle? Sallie smiled and jokingly explained “I had no intention of getting into ranching. It sounds crazy now, but we kind of bought it as a place to wander around and hang out.”

After a long pause, she smiled, and continued “it’s an awfully big place to wander around and… hang out. But we’re also really fascinated by old buildings. The very first time we walked down the path from our current house to what is known as the Grogan House… we were sold. We were quite fascinated by the history of the land and the old buildings and that is how we came about buying the ranch.”

Paicines Ranch
The Barn of Paicines Ranch, circa 1880

There are several old buildings, many historic, that needed maintenance. Then there is the 7000 grazing acres, which is no tiny patch of lawn. There is serious land management needed when dealing with this size of property. Sallie agreed and remembers back to the first moments moving into Paicines Ranch. “It was the craziest thing two analytical engineers ever did, was buy this ranch. The first day I moved in some items, my sister was with me – we entered one of the buildings where half of the roof was collapsed in. We had setup old yellow couches to sleep on and my sister says… ’my god, what have you done!’ Yes, it was a huge venture but at that time I really had no intentions of owning cattle.”

The early years on the ranch were spent bringing many of the old buildings back to life. Sallie and her husband believed in restoring what existed before creating new structures. I noticed throughout our discussion that the common theme was use- less and use what you already have. She didn’t want to create more waste by breaking down these buildings. Given their love of historic architecture they chose to restore everything that existed on the property and what they now call Paicines Ranch headquarters. As they made their way through restorations, Sallie was also looking into how they could best utilize the land.

Paicines Ranch

When Sallie arrived at the ranch in 2001, she was she was introduced to the concepts of Holistic Management™ by one of the ranch’s previous owners, Joy Law. Joy and her family used to own the ranch from the early 40’s till 1989 when it was purchased by Ridgemark Corporation. Joy advised Sallie to read Alan Savory’s book on Holistic Management. Sallie admits that her original intention for the land was to lease it out to local San Benito county cattle ranchers. She expressed that the biggest challenge for ranchers today is to obtain land. It took some time but after many discussions with local ranchers and reading Alan’s book on Holistic Management; Sallie realized there was a possibility of dramatically improving the health & quality of the land as well as restore the California Native Perennial Grasses by the way they managed cattle. Given the “environmentalist” attitude of her past, this information ‘hooked’ Sallie on the idea of raising cattle on the 7000+ acres of beautiful grassland.

During her discussions with local ranchers, she met Joe Morris of Morris Grass Fed Beef. Joe and his family have practiced Holistic Management™ on their ranch since the early 1990s. Sallie had initially discussed the possibility of Morris Grass Fed leasing the land. She even states in our discussion that “the ranch may have been better off in the hands of the Morris family, but… my life would be VERY different.” Sallie knew she would learn some things but, “doing it yourself is always different” she explained. Soon after her discussions with Joe and other ranching experts, Sallie dove head first into the life of sustainable agriculture, ranching, organics, and the practice of Holistic Management™.

It Takes a Village…

Under USDA regulations, Sallie is just under the guideline for being considered a beginning woman rancher or farmer. Her husband is involved at Paicines Ranch headquarters. He is passionate about the historic architecture but he has chosen to take a step back in the aspects of managing the cattle operation. Sallie jokes that he greatly enjoys the grass fed beef and the serenity of the land but he has no desire to get into the logistics of managing a herd. Sallie’s deepest passion is the management of the land and the impact the cattle has on the landscape. So how does one take on the huge task of managing 7000+ grazing acres? You have a strong able bodied team to back you up. Sallie gave a brief account of her team, every time acknowledging the hard work each person puts forth in their daily jobs. She is grateful for her team and understands the challenges they face every day. Meet the good folks of Paicines Ranch!

Chris – is the ranch manager and Sallie’s right hand, jack-of-all-trades kind of guy. Chris manages the day-to-day operations of the cattle, while working closely with Sallie on the strategic plans for the management of the herd and land. Chris also handles the major tasks around the ranch as well as the rental properties surrounding the land. For example, if Sallie informs Chris they need to restore a barn… Chris will find a way to restore the barn… he will make it happen. “Chris is really important to the ranch”, Sallie explained.

Leti – manages the event center and is the face of customer service and hospitality for the ranch. Sallie boasts that there is nobody who stays at the ranch, who doesn’t rave about Leti in the end. She makes your event and visits to the ranch a pleasant adventure.

Jeb – manages construction projects and is instrumental in assisting Chris as needed on other major building projects around the ranch.

Bobby – Worked at the ranch for over 8 years bringing with him a great passion for old buildings. He’s no longer at the ranch but in his previous years he played a key role assisting Sallie and team with much of the hard restoration projects. One project specifically was the Grogan House that rests at the end of the long driveway at Paicines Ranch headquarters. The house is gorgeous, boasting large pillars at the front porch, surrounded by flowers. The porch itself offers inviting wicker chairs for resting in the cool shade while enjoying a passing breeze. The main entrance has large doors that welcome you to a high ceiling banquet room. The windows fill the room providing a panoramic view of the rolling grasslands surrounding the ranch.

Betsy – manages the grass-fed beef inventory and sales. Betsy also manages the horse facilities at the ranch, which include long and short term horse boarding. Betsy’s love of the animals and her attention to detail allow a wide array of horses to board at the ranch. They also specialize in boarding young horses that need time to develop in small, age appropriate groups.

Sherry – is the Controller for the ranch and manages the overall administrative duties. Sallie jokes that Sherry is “ranch supervision” making sure everyone stays in line… kindly of course.

Jen – manages the housekeeping for all of the ranch properties, keeping the ranch clean and beautiful for its guests.

Gabe and Ricardo – are key ranch hands who are instrumental in helping around the ranch. They are in the fields on the daily making the water work, putting up electric fencing, and helping Chris move the cattle.

Paicines Ranch
The great staff of Paicines Ranch partaking in the annual ‘beef tasting’

The Good The Bad The Holistic

There are many challenges that come with owning land. There are even more challenges owning land with a large herd of grazing cattle who depend on the wild forage of the land for survival. Year after year the seasons change and the weather extremes are more and more severe. San Benito County’s landscape is not a forgiving one. Most places the climate is very different than here. Most places expect a summer rain. More often than not, there is little to no rain from May until early November. This year has been one of the worst years for rain. There was a heavy rain early in November and then it remained dry until March. Even then it only rained a couple times. It has been dry since and it’s only April. This is where Sallie’s exposure and education in Holistic Management come into play.

Paicines Ranch

Sallie learned about Holistic Management roughly three months into her residence at Paicines Ranch when she was advised to read Alan Savory’s book. Soon after, she met with Joe Morris and got a firsthand account of how the Holistic Management practices worked. When Sallie & her husband first arrived at Paicines Ranch, it seemed everything they touched fell apart. They had a lot of things to sort out and it took some time to implement the practices of Holistic Management on their landscape. Chris and Sallie took a two year course through The Holistic Management Institute on Ranch & Range Management. The program allowed them to travel to different ranches throughout the U.S. learning about Holistic Management in depth. It’s been within the last three years that Sallie and team have been able to implement the Holistic Management practices they’ve learned. It’s been within the last year they’ve gotten closer to what they want to happen from a landscape perspective. Sallie explains, “first it’s a matter of setting up a cattle operation and then you’ve got to change the way traditional cattle ranchers think, which all takes time.”

Paicines Ranch

Water… We Need Water!

The goal of Holistic Management™ is to teach people about the relationship between large herds of wild herbivores and the grasslands. These principles are then highlighted helping people develop strategies for managing herds of domestic livestock to mimic those wild herds to heal the land. The goal for Sallie and team is to actively try and capture every drop of water, building soil carbon. The more carbon you have in the soil the better the soil can retain the water and the more fertile the soil will be. Sallie explains, “we have perennial springs and a river and we do everything we can to slow the water down and let it soak in… we want to grow grass! We make sure we have the ground covered so none of the water ‘runs off’.” Historically the goal for the ranch has been to get the water off. Since the ranch has been owned and run by Sallie, the goal is now to keep the water on the land.

If they keep enough grass around during the summer months and the river maintains a green environment, the cattle won’t loose weight; the cattle will be fine. There is no supplement to their diet, only wild forage. Sallie explained that there is this misconception that cows only eat grass. Cattle will eat many things besides grass. “We try to encourage biodiversity which allows for a wide range of plants for the cattle to choose from. Russian nap weed, not a native plant, is viewed as a nasty invasive weed. It has a root system of over 12 feet and you can’t kill it. It’s green during the summer and has more protein than alfalfa.” I joke that this weed must be abundant in my backyard because I can’t get rid of the ones I have. Sallie laughs because she knows the challenges of battling non-native plants but at the same time understands the benefits of varied forage. “You have to view the amount of the food and variety of food being very important. Our animals are between 3 and 4 years old before we harvest them. We keep our animal twice as long as most people because we are not supplementing and farming to add to their diets.”

Paicines Ranch
Cattle grazing the beautiful pastures of Paicines Ranch

Sallie’s biggest passion in this venture has been the restoration of the land. Many peoples’ response to her end goals are to plant seeds. “We don’t plant seeds and there will not be any seed planting here at Paicines Ranch for at least ten years. The seed is really expensive. If we can bring back the grasses by changing the way we manage our cattle – the seed bank is there and as we rotate the animals the grasses will return. We’re already seeing results of it.”

In addition to learning how to find the perennial grasses that are available (another California rancher taught Chris and Sallie to look on the north and east facing slopes), Sallie chose to join the Soil Carbon Challenge. The Soil Carbon Challenge is presented by the Soil Carbon Coalition (SCC) and is comprised of over 60 participants across the country. The goal of the SCC is to advance the practice, and engage people in the opportunity, of turning atmospheric carbon into soil organic matter (oxidize less, photosynthesize more). The SCC will monitor the soil carbon of ranchers to see whose practices are increasing the carbon in the soil. As Sallie put it, “this is a human nature projet. We are competing and sharing the results. We want people to know of our challenges and successes. We will take 3, 6, and 10 year measurements. If we can suck the carbon out of the air and put it into the soil we could make a dent in the climate change. The more resilient your landscape is as climate changes the more likely you are to survive – the more diversity you have the more seeds you have… “

Stayin’ Alive

Currently, Sallie and team are passionate about harvesting animals that taste great. The animals are aged on the hoof as well as dry aged. The grass fed herd consists of various ages, allowing for annual harvests. By Holistic Management practices, the herd is rotated every few days across 200 acre paddocks divided by single wire electric fencing. A product of Sallie’s passion for land restoration is raising high quality tasting beef that takes minimal to no inputs or use of fossil fuels. It’s taken years of learning and experimenting to find what Sallie and her team consider the right formula for the high quality beef they produce today at Paicines Ranch. The challenge is they are still considered a small operation. So how can they be small and economically viable?

Today, the convenient model for most consumers is to go to the supermarket to buy cuts of beef. Most grass fed beef producers are challenged with how to sell their beef because they have to sell the whole animal verses the basic cuts that are sold in the supermarket. “We had to plan starting our beef 2.5 – 3 years before we harvest it. At harvest we’ll end up with 40 different cuts of beef to sell.” As most of us know, the average American home cook knows how to prepare roughly 3 to 4 different cuts of meat; not 40. The answer most grass fed producers came up with was to sell the animal as either a whole, half, or split half. Paicines Ranch decided their customer base was primarily in the South Bay. A majority of these people do not have giant freezers able to accommodate hundreds of pounds of meat that come in the whole and halved portions. Paicines Ranch decided to sell their meat by the cut in addition to whole, half, or split-half options. They worked out the pricing and distribution models to allow grass-fed beef to get to people who wouldn’t normally eat it.

While attending bay area farmers markets during the beginning of her grass-fed beef career, Sallie could estimate roughly 90% of her potential customers did not understand what grass fed beef was. Not many people were writing about it and not many were managing as Paicines Ranch was.

Sallie believes the communication and understanding of grass-fed beef is not done, but it’s improving. This is proof based on the current request from NY Times and the call out to the communities for their thoughts on ‘Why is it Ethical to Eat Meat?” Here is Sallie’s response: Sallie Calhoun NY Times Essay. Sallie explained, “It’s people like me who show what happens when they practice good land stewardship, working to regenerate their landscapes and the earth. The ranchers must be willing to share their stories. It’s people like you who can share the information they’ve learned.”

There Will Always Be Challenges… It’s All in How You Manage Them

As a female engineer in the 70’s, Sallie is no stranger to being the only woman at a table and facing challenging situations head on. From land management, herd management, meat processing, marketing, and community involvement, there is a lot of responsibility riding on Paicines Ranch.

For example, I’ve heard from several small ranches across the bay area that processing their meat has always been a challenge. Going back to the idea of being small and economically viable, how do you get past the challenges of processing the product that keeps your operation running? Sallie explained they had the typical complaints, but that was “until we ran a meat packing plant in Newman. It is not an easy task to take a giant animal and break it down into a clean visually nice looking retail cut for market. The equipment used in larger scale operations, which allows for faster processing, is very large and very expensive. The small packing plants do not have this thus there are guys with very sharp knives working the meat. Many can’t appreciate the skill and time it takes to break a giant animal down into clean looking retail cuts for market, using only your hands.”

The small operations are also challenged because the grass fed producers are harvesting their animals between the months of April and July. This means there is a waiting list. The small plants can only take five to six animals at a time. More often, ranchers say “processing is the weak link in the grass fed chain” and Sallie explained, “There are more problems after processing… it’s a matter of how you face them and work with them. Processing is only the link that you run into next.”

Sallie believes the future is bright based on the information they are learning and implementing. The biggest challenge in today’s environment for most small operations is much land is owned by people other than private ranchers. “This leaves not a lot of continuity and flexibility in how you, as a small rancher, can manage the land. This could be a great opportunity to change policies and views in how we manage the land – so it’s a challenge but a huge room for growth and opportunity. Public organizations don’t own the land to make money; they own it ‘In public trust of land’. This could mean neighbors and ranchers can collaborate to raise the cattle and maintain the land. As we are learning what is best for a healthy symbiotic relationship between the land and the animals.”

Working with the community also makes the future bright for sustainable ranching. I asked Sallie if she believed Paicines Ranch is setting precedence for helping and operating sustainably in the community. She believes they are just now getting to the point to be considered a role model. They are trying. This is why they host the Holistic Management workshops to build and educate a community of like minded people who are focused on making a difference.

In addition to the workshops and the practice of Holistic Management, Sallie and her team work within the community to raise awareness and support. Some recent and past partnerships include a sponsorship for the San Benito Rodeo, hosting of the annual Kinship Wine Tasting, and this year they will host the Save the Music Program for the San Benito County school district. Paicines Ranch also worked with the Oaxaca Children’s Garden to help them acquire a tractor for their farming. As I mentioned earlier they hosted the E-Cubed Foundation Spring Trail ride and are supporters of the Community Foundation of San Benito County. Sallie explained that, “this is the community our ranch resides in and the community our employees live in and we believe it’s important to help make it thrive.”

Beyond the restoration of land, Sallie is also passionate about food and feeding those less fortunate. She explained, “I am a big believer in if you give a man a fish he can eat for a day but if you teach a man to fish he can eat for a lifetime.” This year Sallie is working with Valley Verde, a non-profit in Santa Clara County. The organization installs organic gardens in low income family backyards. They will teach the families how to organically garden, harvest, and how to use and cook the food they grow in their gardens. The goal of this organization is to put over 20,000 gardens in Santa Clara County over the next 10 years Sallie explained that she is extremely passionate about how we can produce food in urban environments.

The Future Is Bright!

Sallie’s passion is the land, her community, and the results of the hard work her & her team put forth. She will continue to raise excellent grass fed beef through her efforts in responsible land management. Paicines Ranch also offers pasture finished lamb. Sallie explained that due to predator problems they’re only beginning to attempt to grow their lamb from birth. They’ve had some recent success and will attempt to bring them to market soon. Sallie expressed interest in bringing aboard someone who knew pig extremely well and having them manage the process on the land. Sallie is not versed in raising pork and she talked about the challenges in managing your domestic stock away from the wild pigs that currently roam the land. Sallie welcomes the wild pigs; their rooting and wallows provide a natural tilling for the land. Sallie explained that “the land needs some level of disturbance. We keep them out of headquarters but ultimately we don’t try and control their population. They don’t bother the cattle and we don’t bother them. We try to manage for biodiversity. The more different types of conditions you create on your landscape the more different kinds of plants and animals will be happy.”

A small portion of the land is leased out to large certified organic producers. Sallie and team work closely with those producers to manage their ‘run off’; pushing it through the wetlands before it gets to the rivers and streams. “We use the water to grow grass and clean it at the same time.” Sallie expressed the desire to bring on more small family farmers to utilize the land. She explained that the small family farm is more viable and provides more stability for the community and she would like to help this movement grow.

Paicines Ranch

Sallie sees the next step for the ranch to be a ‘giant classroom’. She wants to be public with their successes and failures regarding the land management. Through this she would help teach others in her community. She wants to bring classes to the general public that focus on the ‘urban dwellers connection to sustainable land management’. She would like to teach people how to get the most out of their land without pulling too much from it and keeping it thriving; a Holistic Management for urban sustainable homesteader. Sallie is also currently working on her permaculture design certification. Eventually she sees children visiting Paicines Ranch for further education, fostering the growth of young farmers, ranchers, and future environmentalists!

In Sallie’s closing statements she emphasized she sees herself doing this for another 25 years. Throughout our conversation Sallie brought forth such a deep passion for her environment and what she is learning through Holistic Management. She’s taken the time to understand her land, the biodiversity, the ecosystem and how the pieces fit together.

I will say upfront, Sallie is easy to speak with and has an infectious enthusiasm about what she does. I admire Sallie’s passion and her motivation to tackle the environmental and community challenges that lay ahead. I appreciate Sallie taking the time to speak with me, share her story, her successes and failures, and continue being a strong advocate for our environment, community, and viable healthy protein options.

Paicines Ranch Grass Fed Beef, Events, and More

You can obtain Paicines Ranch grass fed beef and lamb directly from Paicines Ranch by making an appointment. All customers have the option to tour the ranch with advance notice. Visit the web site at for more ordering info.

Inquire on their pre-arranged drop points in San Jose, CA and Saratoga, CA getting their grass fed product to the customer with minimal use of fossil fuels.

Paicines Ranch beef is also available through the CSA – Eating with the Seasons, if you are a CSA customer you can order your meat directly. Stay tuned for new CSAs to be added later this year

Make reservations at Jesse Cool’s Flea Street Café, where Paicines Ranch provides meat for their weekly specials

The ranch will continue to host your best events from weddings, corporate workshops, and parties… “Anything you can think up we’d like to host here!”


Get to know your local farmers & ranchers. Stop by and say hi at your weekly farmers market. Ask questions – they welcome it! If you don’t have a farm within driving distance or want to seek out grocery stores supporting the grass fed movement check these following resources:– promoting the grass-fed industry through education, govt. relations, concept marketing, and research– a resource for safe, healthy, natural and nutritious grass-fed beef, lamb, goats, bison, poultry, pork, dairy and other wild edibles.– an online directory of farms, markets, and other resources offering sustainably-raised meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.– an online directory of farms, markets, and other resources offering sustainably-raised meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.

Original post written on May 15th, 2012 by The Sustainable Sweet & Savory Gourmet at site:

Welcome to Pasture Chick Ranch, Hollister CA

Welcome to Pasture Chick Ranch, Hollister CA

It was the summer of 2010 when we met Lisa Knutson of Pasture Chick Ranch. Our son was five months old and starting to eat solid foods. It was also around the time we focused on changing our eating and consuming habits. It was important for us to get our son off on the right foot so we sought out the local farmer’s market to see what sustainable, organic resources would be available to us.

This is where we met Lisa Knutson of Pasture Chick Ranch. When we first met, she was just getting her feet wet and clientele were rapidly knocking down her doors. Lisa was very busy providing pastured eggs and chicken to CSAs and local Farm Stands that her supply was limited to outside clientele. She stood very firm on only putting forth what she could sustain via her land and her current resources. We kept in touch and soon the farmers market came to an end. Here in Hollister, the farmers market is seasonal and only runs spring through end of summer. We saw Lisa the last week of the market; she handed us a flyer. It was for a Saturday Farm Stand in San Juan Bautista. The farm stand was managed by the same organic produce farm we purchased from weekly at the farmers market; Pinnacle Organics. Lisa advised Pasture Chick Ranch would be providing eggs, chicken, sheep, and goat meat at the Pinnacle farm stand every Saturday from 8am to 1pm. We were so excited! Everything our refrigerator needed in one place and it was all organic, pasture raised, and local!

We arrived early 8am for our first Saturday farm stand. Lisa was there, tucked in the back, setup, and ready to go. She had her truck backed into the stand. Her little dog Tempie sat in the front seat. She had a table arranged with cartons of fresh eggs, chicken, sheep, and goat meat. Every Saturday from that point forward we would visit the farm and every Saturday Lisa and her little dog would be there. We became fast friends. Lisa was super sweet and spunky. She had a wealth of information about the services she provided, her community, and always seemed to know every face that showed up at the farm stand.

Over the past year of getting to know Lisa, she has opened her home and her heart. She has provided us with valuable resources, great information, and a friendly welcoming face in the community. She’s been an inspiration to me, and as I’m learning, to several others within the community too. Up until now, I’ve only seen the surface what she goes through to get us these delicious products. Given my need to know & share attitude… I asked if I could spend a day at the ranch with her. I wanted to learn all about Pasture Chick Ranch and what made Lisa operate?

Lisa grew up in San Juan Bautista. Her family raised and grew almost everything they ate. Her mother milked cows and took care of a garden. Canning was a frequent task in their household. Her father raised veal and took great pride in his work making sure his animals had a clean and comfortable living environment.

Before Lisa was Pasture Chick Ranch she was Lisa Marie of Lisa Marie’s Salon in Hollister, CA. She ran one of the best salons in San Benito County and had a wide array of clientele. Need a blow out, a wax, a quick trim… Lisa was your girl. She provided specialty products and services that were out of this world. Everyone in town knew where to go. She was busy, very busy; so busy that she began to fall ill. It was a time in Lisa’s life when she had to step back and look at the bigger picture. After a lot of soul searching Lisa found her way back to her roots and left the salon business.

It took several years but with the support of her husband, they secured an ample plot of land, and took on raising grass fed natural cows. Once securing the space, it took them a year and a half to prepare the land for the animals. The ground needed maintenance, hundreds and hundreds of feet of fencing went up, and security had to be in place. Lisa and her husband were managing over 20 cows and a large pack of dogs, while her husband was working on a secondary career in the fresh cut produce industry. Before they knew it, his career took off and Lisa was managing the animals on her own. The cows and dogs were manageable but it was the bulls that gave her a challenge. This is no easy task especially when you don’t have consistent outside help. A couple years into their life of grass fed beef, Lisa realized that this wasn’t the direction she saw her life moving. With her husband’s career taking on a positive full time status, she needed something she could manage on her own, that would provide her family with a secure future, and most importantly would make her HAPPY!

Again, with her husband’s support they made the decision to sell their cattle to Paicines Ranch, who specializes in pasture raised grass fed beef. In addition to cattle, Lisa was raising Merino Sheep and Cashmere Goats for her own spinning of wool fibers and meat for her family’s personal consumption. After crunching the numbers, it made the most sense both economically and environmentally to raise goats and sheep for her community instead of cattle. The Merino Sheep and Cashmere Goats are dual purpose animals providing both fibers and meat – overall it was the best move sustainably for her environment, space, and resources; Pasture Chick Ranch was born.

Despite their best efforts to manage the cattle, the land still needed additional maintenance to support the grazing and growth of healthy sheep and goats. Lisa was motivated by friends involved in the Slow Food movement and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, which lead her to decide to raise heritage chickens and turkeys. Lisa decided that grazing poultry on the same land as the sheep and goats would help improve the quality of the grass, manage the bugs in the area, and fertilize the land. Throughout my visit with Lisa there was one thing she repeated frequently… the care and maintenance of the land was so important. “The grass is the goose laying the golden egg.” If the land wasn’t properly cared for the animals wouldn’t thrive. It was a cycle… the land took care of the animals, the animals took care of the land, and Lisa of Pasture Chick Ranch took care of it all!

After selling the cattle, they took a sweep of the land, tilling and cutting the grass, moving and updating the fence lines, and building schooners for the chickens and turkeys, and other structures as needed for the animals. The animals would be grazing on over 100+ acres in the middle of the country. In the country there is wildlife. In order for your livestock to survive in a natural setting you need security from the wildlife; here enters the dogs. Besides her beloved poodle Tempie, Lisa manages a pack of Border Collies, a pack of what she refers to as her “guardians”, and also a herd of cats. Of the Border Collie pack there is Jesse, Dee Dee, Katie, Lucy, and Joe. The border collies help Lisa manage the herds, help drive the animals where needed and keep everyone and everything under control. It is amazing to watch Lisa work with her dogs. The relationship of trust and communication between Lisa and her dogs is a sight to be seen. They move around the field with grace as they herd in the animals. The “guardians” are a mix of Akbash and Pyrenees dogs. She has Herbert, Cooper, and Josephina to name a few. There are eleven in all but honestly I couldn’t keep up with all of the names! The guardians are there for just that. They keep a strong watch on everyone and everything – keeping the land and the livestock safe. The cats reside at home base, where they keep the barns and surrounding buildings safe and clear from rodents and vermin. Everyone and everything at the ranch has a purpose and is used to their fullest abilities and are treated with the utmost respect and care.

Pasture Chick Ranch
Ready to get to business!

It was early fall 2010 that Lisa was approached by Live Earth Farms to grow chicken and eggs for their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. She started off with 50 birds and kept a journal watching their growth, habits, and how they adapted to the environment. The birds grazed on natural pastures and were fed an organic feed provided by Modesto Milling, who traces all of their seeds ensuring Non-GMO ingredients are used. Fresh air, bugs, and sunshine were all that’s added. Lisa conducted her first harvest and reached out to family and friends to give her honest feedback. The reviews were in and the chicken was a success. Here we are a year later and Pasture Chick Ranch’s relationship with Live Earth Farms is still going strong!

Lisa’s reputation for great service and even better quality products also brought her to Greenhearts Family Farms CSA and Jesse Cool of Cool Eats restaurants and catering, where Lisa is providing organic, pasture raised meats & eggs. Lisa recently hosted an event for Greenhearts along with the support of several local farmers such as Claravale Farms, Pinnacle Organics, and Garden Variety Cheese. The goal of the event was to promote Greenhearts CSA program and to bring the community together in the fight for sustainably grown good healthy food for all.

It’s because of Lisa’s growing popularity we have not seen her at the Saturday farm stands. She’s had to focus her time on the land and her animals. We still keep in contact and we still purchase her organic pasture raised chicken. It’s the only chicken my son eats and he loves it!

Lisa hopes to make her way back to the Saturday farm stand and possibly other Farmers Markets but until then her hands are full. One thing I’ve learned from Lisa is that she will not sacrifice quality for the sake of profits and this… is honorable. At the Greenhearts’ event, the guests took a tour of Pasture Chick Ranch’s operation. Unfortunately I was kept back at home base, unable to attend the tour. Lisa promised me a personal tour after things calmed down at the ranch and last week I got the opportunity.

It was an early Friday morning. I arrived at Lisa’s house, 8am sharp with coffee & homemade applesauce scones in hand. I was greeted by Cooper and a very excited Tempie. It was clear to me that I’ve become a fixture at Lisa’s since Cooper now welcomed me with a loving nudge of his ginormous head instead of a demanding loud bark. Lisa was already moving quick, ready to get to the day’s chores. She let the border collies out of their pens. They were immediately ready to work, jumping excitedly into the back of the ATV. We headed up to the main barn, passing by her personal home of chickens, turkeys, and French Alpine goats. Lisa starts her day by letting the dogs shake off the morning sleep and feed the brood of animals that live at home base, such as the cats, dogs, chickens, turkeys, and goats.

The main barn houses the baby chicks who will go out to pasture for either eggs or meat. Over 170 little baby birds peeped wildly as Lisa cleaned their nests and gave them fresh organic feed and clean water supplemented with an organic apple cider vinegar. The chicks will reside in the brooder for roughly three weeks, which houses lights that replicates the mother. Once their first feathers develop they will be moved out to pasture to grow on fresh air, grass, bugs, and sunshine!
Pasture Chick Ranch

After the birds, cats, and home base dogs are cared for, we head back down the hill to grab Emmy the registered French Alpine Goat. The other goats are excited and want to come along but it’s only Emmy who will be providing milk today. Emmy gets milked every morning and typically provides a gallon daily. Lisa explained that the French Alpine milk is mild in taste. She utilizes Emmy’s milk to make cheese and kefir for her family’s consumption. Emmy will be with Lisa’s family for years to come and every year will provide fresh whole goat milk.

After Lisa finishes with Emmy, we lead her back down the hill to her pasture. It’s time to load up the Rhino with the feed for the ranch animals and head out. As we drive along the route to the ranch, Lisa stops along the way to feed the dogs watching over each pasture. Once on the ranch, the border collies’ jump out and run alongside the ATV. We enter the main pasture where everyone is there to greet Lisa, turkeys, chickens, and dogs… everyone is so excited to see her. With slow methodical movements, Lisa makes her way through the flocks, feeding birds and collecting eggs. The animals have been fed and lastly we take a trip along each of the fence lines to fix gates and ensure everything is intact.
Pasture Chick Ranch

Pasture Chick Ranch

Pasture Chick Ranch

The chores are complete and now it’s time for projects. On the surface, Lisa makes it look very easy and fun but it’s so much more than putting some animals in a pasture and letting them roam. Lisa has a huge operation that is 100% dependent on her; it takes money, time, and a lot of care. There are hundreds of feet of fencing to build and maintain, moving a fence line, building or rebuilding a schooner for the birds, making deliveries, receiving deliveries, community/partner projects, the dogs need training, care, and maintenance, the land and grass need maintenance that requires large expensive equipment, hundreds of pounds of food is needed monthly to sustain all of animals along with vet bills and preventative care maintenance, the physical demands are endless lifting heavy bags of feed, fence and animals; from sun up to sun down there is always something for Lisa to do.

There are two things that seem constant at Pasture Chick Ranch and with Lisa Knutson… she won’t give in quality to profit and every animal under her watch is shown respect and care. She honors what the land and the animals provide to us. She is grateful for those who have helped show her the way in this world of agriculture and those that continue to stand by her today. Lisa wants Pasture Chick Ranch to grow naturally… organically.

A small creamery, farm dinners, spinning classes, canning classes, and farm education days are just some of the many possibilities, which are endless for Lisa and the team she is building. Lisa will continue to celebrate generations of farmers by sharing her experiences with others and keeping true to the tradition of real organic, sustainable farming.

And then, there is the reality TV show… but that’s another story…

Thank you to Lisa and her family for opening their doors and hearts to my family and to the community; we appreciate all that you do.

For more information on Lisa Knutson and Pasture Chick Ranch, visit her Facebook page – a website coming very soon!

Pasture Chick Ranch offers pasture raised organic chickens, eggs, turkeys, goat, sheep, Cashmere wool, and Merino wool.

Check out her services provided through Live Earth Farms and Greenhearts Family Farms.

Original post written on October 26th, 2011 by The Sustainable Sweet & Savory Gourmet at site:


Spicy Garlic Dill Pickles – Refrigerator or Canned

Spicy Garlic Dill Pickles

My household loves pickles; spicy garlic dill pickles!

I’ve always had a love for the bite that vinegar provides… green olives, salt & vinegar chips, pepperonchinis, and of course pickles. As a kid I would devour the tray of green olives my grandmother placed out with the antipasti platter. Lunchtime at another grandma’s and I’d include a few bread & butter pickles on my sandwich. As I got older my vinegar tastes ventured, trying various types of pickled cucumbers, peppers, cabbage, and carrots. Anything with an extra kick of acid usually did the trick for me (and still does!).

We use to buy the typical pre-made relish and refrigerated pickles from the cooler isle at the grocery store. Since my family has been making sustainable lifestyle adjustments, we’re steering away from pre-made processed items. Unpronounceable ingredients, crazy levels of highly processed sodium, blue #2 and red #6… or something of that nature. The point was that we had farm fresh local ingredients in our very backyard. With those items, a few herbs, spices, and some acid… we’ve got a pickled party! All for a fraction of the cost but more importantly you know where every ingredient came from and you can probably pronounce them too. The cost goes down even more if you’re able to grow and dry your own herbs and spices and make your own vinegar. I am not there yet, so until then, I’ll depend on quality herbs, spices, and vinegar from the market.

Spicy garlic dill pickles (cucumbers) was the first vegetable I attempted to pickle. What is pickling you ask? I’ll let the experts (or so they say) tell you… The following recipe can be used in both a water bath canned application, or my favorite… refrigerator pickles (I’ll have instructions for both applications below). There is nothing like that cold, vinegar crunch of a fresh spicy garlic dill refrigerator pickle. Waiting a few days for the vinegar and spices to penetrate those crunchy green spears is the hardest part of the entire process. I usually have a half-dozen quart jars in my fridge at any given time during the height of the season; because I’m a fanatic over the fresh variety! Since the season is not year round, we can the rest. I use the canned spicy garlic dill pickles with other pickle varieties to make a homemade relish. They go perfect on sandwiches and in my favorite homemade potato salad. I’m looking forward to more pickling and preservation adventures this year as the growing season is in full bloom! Here is my take on spicy garlic dill pickles. A spicy, garlicy, dill spear of delight… enjoy!

PS – this is a combination of recipes I’ve viewed over the past couple years. Check them out and see which ones you like best… or switch them up like I did… you can’t go wrong; and please feel free to share if you’ve got a favorite recipe you’d like to see me try! The Savory Spoonful, David Lebovitz, Serious Eats
spicy garlic dill pickles

* = organic
^ = local

Spicy Garlic Dill Pickles (Canned or Refrigerator)
The water, vinegar, salt, and sugar amounts combined are to fill 2 quart jars. The spice measurments are per jar.
■ 3-5 pickling cucumbers per jar *^ (Cut to preference)
■ 1 1/4 cups water
■ 1 cup vinegar
■ 1 tablespoon sugar *
■ 1 tablespoon kosher salt
Per jar add…
■ 1/4 teaspoon mustard seed
■ 1/4 teaspoon whole allspice
■ 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
■ 1/4 teaspoon dill seed
■ 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
■ 1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
■ 1 Bay leaf
■ 1/4 teaspoon whole black pepper corns
■ 2 crushed fresh garlic cloves *^
■ 1 1/2 teaspoons dill (you can replace the dried with a couple of sprigs of fresh dill if you have access to it)

Step 1: prepare your jars and lids according to your manufacture’s recommendations. You can sterilize the jars in the dishwasher or a good HOT soapy water wash and diluted water/vinegar rinse does the trick too.

Step 2: prepare your cucumbers. Wash and slice the cucumbers. Take off the ends because there may still be a stem or flower leftover from picking. You can half, quarter, or slice your cucumbers. Some can even be left whole, all depending on your consumption likes.
spicy garlic dill pickles

Step 3: measure spices and add to the jar(s). Crush garlic and add to the jar(s).
spicy garlic dill pickles

spicy garlic dill pickles

Step 4: add to jar(s) your sliced cucumbers. Fill in as many as you can but make sure that the cucumber does not go above the 1 inch head of the jar. This is to ensure that your cucumber is covered with liquid. Squeeze them in…it’s ok!
spicy garlic dill pickles

Step 5: in a sauce pan add in water, vinegar, salt, and sugar. Heat on high, stirring until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved. Taste the mixture…too salty…add a little more sugar…too sweet…add a little more salt…not enough vinegar…add more…too much vinegar…add water. It’s easy to adjust according to your taste.

Step 6a FOR REFRIGERATOR PICKLES: After the salt and sugar are dissolved, turn off heat and let rest till cool. Once cooled, add the liquid to the jar(s) till the spaces surrounding the cucumbers are filled, leaving 1 inch head space between the liquid and the lid. Place the jar(s) in the refrigerator and let sit for a minimum 12 hours but I recommend after 5 days for the flavors to blend; each day giving the jar(s) a light shake distributing the spices. It’s really hard to wait for these crisp tangy pickles…but if you can withstand the wait, you’ll be in for a great treat. Pop open that jar and enjoy. These pickles will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month or longer.
spicy garlic dill pickles

Step 6b FOR CANNED PICKLES: After the salt and sugar are dissolved, turn off heat, and slowly pour the liquid into the jar(s) till the spaces surrounding the cucumbers are filled, leaving 1 inch head space between the liquid and the lid. Seal the jars with the manufacturer lid and band, tight but not too tight because you want to allow air to escape in the sealing process. Add the sealed jars to a boiling hot water bath and bring to a full hard boil for 15 minutes for quart jars, 10 minutes for pint jars. Make sure the level of the boiling water is roughly 1 inch above the lid of the jar. After the processing time, remove the jars from the water bath and place on cool dry surface away from obstructions – ensuring 24 hours of quiet rest time for the jars to properly seal. Store in a cool, dark, dry place for up to a year…or enjoy immediately… just note, these pickles will not be as crunchy as the refrigerator pickles because of the heat exposure during the canning process.
spicy garlic dill pickles

Chop and add to your favorite potato or pasta salads, make homemade relish adding in sweet pickles, enjoy on sandwiches, or as a snack all by itself… enjoy!!

Welcome to Douglas Ranch, Panoche Valley CA

Douglas Ranch, Panoche Valley, California
Douglas Ranch Meats, Panoche Valley, California

It is a crisp autumn morning. Thick fog is giving way to the emerging sun as we make our way along the winding Panoche Road. We pass by lush vineyards, dense orchards, and grazing cattle. Their backdrop is steep hills littered with tumbleweeds and wildflowers. “From highway 25 take Panoche Road, roughly 34 miles till you get to a Y in the road; veer left…” My husband and I were taking our son to visit the family operated, Douglas Ranch, whom we purchase our pasture raised pork from. We believe it is important to know and understand where our food comes from so I reached out to see if we could come out for a visit – they welcomed us with open arms. Don and Rani Douglas run Douglas Ranch, nestled in the hills of the Panoche Valley, where they train horses, pasture raise cattle, pork, and lamb, and dabble in high quality wood furniture crafting.
Douglas Ranch and the road to Panoche

Although the journey would only be 34 miles the drive will take roughly an hour. The road is not well kept, windy, and at times narrows to one lane giving way to a steep hillside below. This doesn’t last too long and eventually you are driving a long stretch of road with rising golden hills as far as the eye can see. The only vehicles we passed during the drive were two road construction trucks, filling in significantly deep pot holes along the roadway. Our journey down Panoche Road took us past Claravale Farm, a raw dairy farm who has been producing high quality, natural raw jersey milk since 1927. We also passed Panoche Inn, a simple rest stop where you can grab a sandwich and a beer for a couple bucks; nothing fancy but I believe they wouldn’t have it any other way. After a few winding turns past Little Panoche Road, we approach the Y in the road, and veered left. A few yards ahead and we’ve arrived at the Douglas Ranch.
Douglas Ranch Panoche Valley

Don and Rani settled in the Panoche Valley a little over 16 years ago, where they continued raising their children and now their grandchildren. The ranch spans over 650+ acres of beautiful natural pastures. At first glance, you see miles of fencing, strategically placed wells & pumps, beautiful wooden structures, barns, stables, and corrals; none of which were in place when Don and Rani purchased the land. With a few hands, they transformed the Douglas property into a ranching paradise. Each length of fence, water line, and building were put up by Don and family. No day is “typical” at the Douglas Ranch. From sun up to sun down and in between Don and Rani are constantly on the move tending to horses, cattle, pigs, lamb, building maintenance, land management, fence repair, and the list goes on. As you look a little deeper, you begin to understand the blood, sweat, and tears it took to get Douglas Ranch where it is today.

The Douglas family chose Panoche Valley for its pristine surroundings but also for its prime land conditions. At one point in time the Panoche Hills were once part of an inland sea. When driving in you can see where the receding waterline cut into the hillside creating a staircase effect. The soil consists of marine shale, sandy and heavy with fossil resources. There are acres of level space with very few large rocks allowing prime grazing and roaming land for horses and cattle. The quality of the soil supports Douglas Ranch’s efforts to “grass fatten” their animals with choice native grasses that are plentiful throughout the year. Don explains that he continuously rotates his stock, allowing the animals to fertilize the land and native grasses to replenish, operating sustainably. They do not use chemicals or manufactured fertilizers – the land is managed by the animals, the way nature intended.
Douglas Ranch

Providing natural pasture raised grass fed beef, pork, and lamb to their community was not always “the plan” of Douglas Ranch. Don was born in Minnesota but did most of his cowboy work in Montana where he learned how to train horses; and here is where Douglas Ranch got its start. Don and Rani were already in the environment because of raising and training horses. It was a natural progression when the rest of the livestock became part of their daily lives. They begin raising cattle, pork, and lamb for their family’s consumption. A few dinner party’s later and friends began asking for meat, then friends of friends, and so… here they are. Once the animals are ready for harvest, they work closely with a USDA Certified Organic processing plant to ensure the meat is properly processed and packaged for you and me, the consumer.

They are a small family ranch which means production is also small. Keep in mind they cannot nor do they want to keep up with the demand that the major grocery and restaurant chains require. It’s not natural. It takes Don several months longer to harvest an animal because he is raising them naturally. Keeping production small and allowing the animals to graze on the land as they were intended, Douglas is able to provide the highest quality natural grass-fed meats. The Douglas animals are allowed to roam freely, graze on the land, and breathe the fresh air. They are NOT by any means confined to cramped feed lots, where other animals are overstressed with minimal room to move, standing in their own feces. The Douglas animals are not given hormones or unnecessary antibiotics and they are treated humanely with minimal handling. They believe a happy, healthy animal is a tasty animal…and I too agree!

We met Rani last year at the Hollister Farmers Market. Every Wednesday we looked forward to getting our weekly “pork fix”. The market was seasonal so when it ended we were in a panic…where were we going to get our pork from? I can’t go back. I can’t un-learn what I’ve come to know about high volume food production and its negative impacts to my health, my environment, my community, and my future. Because of this, I am highly dependent on my local small farmer, such as the Douglas family. Thankfully Douglas sells directly from their website and also works with local cooperatives such as Santa Cruz Local Foods and Field to Feast. For those with room in the freezer I recommend purchasing directly from Douglas where you can buy whole, half, or quartered animals. For those with smaller storage options I recommend the local cooperatives where you can purchase individual cuts. Keep in mind that selection will be determined by harvest. It is important to understand that an animal only comes with so many parts and ordering 60 pounds of pork ribs is not an option. Several pigs would have to be slaughtered for this quantity; and that alone is wasteful.

Although they are a small operation the Douglas family still makes time to work with and give back to the community. Since 2005 Douglas Ranch has participated in the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms USA (aka WWOOF), where participating members join a network of organic & sustainable practicing farms. Workers also known as Woofers, travel around the country from farm to farm. The woofers provide a service to the farm and in turn are provided food, shelter, and an education in sustainable and organic farming practices. Don and Rani were expecting two new woofers the day we came to visit. The woofers will be helping them with the landscape of the ranch and planting new trees.
Douglas Ranch horse training

I asked Don and Rani what advice they’d give to someone who was considering a life/career change into ranching. They both echoed the sentiment that they wouldn’t change anything about their lives. The Douglas family loves what they do and wouldn’t have it any other way. That said, they also strongly caution those that want to enter into the industry. On the surface, they make it look so easy but it takes work… a lot of hard work. Weekends and vacation…they don’t happen. Weekdays blend into weekends. Will the Douglas legacy continue on with the next generation? Time will tell. For now Don and Rani love what they do and are fully immersed into the “life” of the ranch. Currently their worries are not of the Douglas clan continuing the legacy; their biggest concern is what is happening in their very backyard; in their community.

Panoche Valley and all of its residents are currently under fire. Many will lose their livelihoods and their homes, both human and animal, to the possible changes that will soon happen to the valley. Solargen Energy is in the planning and approval stages of a giant solar farm. The solar panels will span over 4,700+ acres and will occupy over 1/3 of the valley floor. This land is currently used by endangered species such as the San Joaquin kit fox, the giant kangaroo rat, and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard. The area is also used by ranchers such as Don and Rani Douglas who carefully maintain the land in step with the animals and nature. If these solar panels are put in, it would wipe out the habitats of the species listed. The grasses would be removed, creating a severe dust bowl within the valley. This would impact the farms with existing vineyards, orchards, livestock, and more. We as a planet are in need of greener resources and there is no way we can continue to waste and overuse as we do. Our planet will not survive… but this does not mean we must wipe out entire species along with hard working families who give back to their communities to use a resource in itself that just isn’t enough. There are other ways.

At the end of our visit, Don packed us up in his truck and took us around the property and the various pastures. Outside the front fence resides the pigs. Mom and piglets were resting under their shade canopy. Really mom was trying to rest and the piglets were scrambling about excited for us to visit. In the center of the field stood their 500 pound boar. He threw a few greeting grunts our way as he stood under a giant sprinkler, enjoying the spray. In the pasture next door were their lambs. They were anxious for visitors, following us along the fence line as we crossed the street to see the cattle and the lone buffalo. The backend of the property housed the horses, woofer cabins, and the mess hall. The mess hall is an amazing site, built solely of straw and mud. Only the door, windows, and roof were framed. All of the furniture inside was made by Don himself.
Douglas Ranch pastured pork

It was an amazing day and we are so grateful for Don and Rani opening their home to us. We are truly thankful and appreciative for people like the Douglas family who are fighting the good fight for what is our fundamental right… good, whole, healthy food! If you plan to be in the San Benito area I highly recommend a trip out to Panoche Valley and a visit to the Douglas Ranch. The views, the fresh air, and the welcoming community are well worth the trip. Lastly, I hope this read entices others to take a moment to get to know their local farmer/rancher. Besides having a better understanding of where your food comes from, you’ll be supporting your local communities, and may just make a long time friend in the process.

Original post written on October 12th, 2011 by The Sustainable Sweet & Savory Gourmet at site:

Food Waste in the Land of Plenty

What do you consider food waste in a land of plenty? When you make your weekly trip to the grocery store and pick out your produce do you look for only the most visually “perfect” items? When you get those items home, do you use everything or discard peels, pits, stalks, and stems?

At least once a month I’m called upon to go through a series of boxes of local organic produce that unless I utilize, will turn into food waste and go to the compost pile or the dump. In the last produce run I brought home eight boxes of mixed items; apples, several varieties of squash, citrus, kiwis, onions, and much more. After sorting through the boxes and separating each variety I had one full box of unusable scraps (i.e. mold/rotten). I put the scraps in our compost bin, which will turn to usable compost for soil maintenance. The other seven boxes I divided and made a plan of action for the fast ripening produce. The seven boxes so far have provided a weeks worth of fresh, local, organic produce to five different families. This does not include my son who gorged himself on a dozen different apples and citrus while I sorted through the boxes. I’ve also tested a new marmalade recipe utilizing the whole fruit. I still have a couple of boxes left and plan to test a natural pectin recipe, candied citrus and homemade stock recipes with the remaining items. If I had not put these boxes to use, every bit of produce would have become food waste. The waste goes into our landfills and dumps while people across the nation and beyond are going hungry.
Food Waste from CSAs

How do we educate and promote reducing food waste and using everything to its fullest ability? More importantly how do we change the way we view our consumption and waste habits? I see people every day acting as if there is an abundance of resources available – when in all reality there is not… at least not the way we are consuming today. If we managed our habits differently and stopped abusing our land & home (planet earth) then there very well may be resources plenty to take care of us all…but only if we change.

Here is an example of waste the average person may not consider. Today when visiting my mother we took a walk down the street to her small market to pick up a few produce items for her refrigerator. When we got home she unloaded her grocery bag and said, “I should trim the broccoli now before I put it away…” Trim? I asked her what she was trimming off the broccoli and she said it was most of the stem. Now who doesn’t love broccoli. Those tight green fluffy bunches of goodness. When most people think of eating broccoli, they look to the more visually appealing part of the plant, the florets. This behavior is obvious based on my own mother’s want to rid her produce of its fibrous stem and thick dark leaves. If it’s nutritional value that you’re looking for; every part of the plant is equally nutritious. The dark green leaves of the plant can be cooked like kale, collards, or any other leafy green. A good rinse and then sauté in a hot pan with fresh chopped garlic and a finishing drizzle of olive oil and fresh grated parmesan cheese. Clean the outside of the stalks to remove any blemishes and then chop small circles to be added to a stir fry, roasted with other vegetables, or steamed. The possibilities are endless to use the entire vegetable and not just the florets. Do a quick internet search on ‘broccoli stems or leaves” and you’ll have plenty of options.

Many of us were not as fortunate as those who grew up on a farm or within an agricultural community, to see how our food is brought to life. Many of us still do not have a complete grasp of where our food comes from, how it is grown, or even what it looks like while it’s growing. The typical grocery store chain has us “trained” in how we choose our produce. The eight boxes I received last week were from various CSAs (community supported agriculture) to remain unnamed. After sorting through all eight boxes I was left with one unusable box where the produce was beyond recognizable and moldy. The remaining boxes were, in my eyes, perfectly fine. If you were to take a closer look you’ll find a random bruise, a nick, or an odd-shaped discolored fruit. The customers of these programs seem to be complaining because we’ve yet to break away from uniform variety that we’ve become accustomed to. What grows in nature is not uniform. Everything is a different shape, size, and color. From these remaining seven boxes I’ve provided enough produce for five families to enjoy for week or more. The remaining produce has turned into cleaned & stored squash, jams, sauces, candied fruits, and natural pectin.

The food waste I describe is such a small part in the entire ‘wasteful picture’. There is waste from farms, restaurants, grocery stores, and the consumer. When products go unsold at grocery stores or restaurants they are thrown away, instead of donated. I am proud to say that the ranch I buy my grass-fed pasture raised beef from provides donations to our local food bank.

33 million tons of food waste was created in 2010. I’m not sure that we’ve grasped the big picture of this number. Food = $$ and when we throw out food, we’re throwing out money, a lot of money in an economy that is failing and a society that has more poverty-stricken families than ever before. “If we wanted to stimulate the economy all we’d have to do is cut food losses,” said anthropologist at the University of Arizona’s Bureau of Applied Research Anthropology.

One of my readers sent me a very interesting article on how sustainable chefs are taking a new approach to utilizing food that was deemed otherwise not fit to eat. I was going to rewrite the above sentence because ultimately this is not a new practice. Based on what both my great-grandparents did years ago – they were ahead of their time. In all seriousness it makes me happy to see that there are restaurants out there trying to practice less food waste culinary options.
Food Waste

It has been said that if we as people change our consumption habits and views on what is considered food waste we could change the landscape of what is considered a food crisis. We could fix the starvation problem. Here is a staggering statistic for you to think about, provided by Next Generation Food: “It is estimated that food wasted by the US and Europe could feed the world three times over. Food waste contributes to excess consumption of freshwater and fossil fuels which, along with methane and CO2 emissions from decomposing food, impacts global climate change. Every tonne of food waste prevented has the potential to save 4.2 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. If we all stop wasting food that could have been eaten, the CO2 impact would be the equivalent of taking one in four cars off the road.”
Food Waste

Before I change gears, here is one more impact that I didn’t consider when first looking into food waste… water waste. It takes a lot of water to grow food, especially in times like this when we’re experiencing a cold dry winter. If 30% of US food is thrown away, that is equal to 40 trillion liters of water that has gone down the drain never to be used again.

So…how do we fix it? Stop wasting…plain and simple. But is it really? Our lives have become busier than ever before; convenience and pre-made has become the way of life. I found a good blog post by the Sustainable Blog on some simple tips to get you going. It’s not drastic; just small changes to get you started. I am by no means perfect and am still learning how I can better use my ingredients, plan my meals, and simply waste less; and I challenge you to do the same. The future of our planet and our people depend upon it…

The images above and below are all produce that would have been taken to the dump or provided as compost if I had not used it. Please note any boxes shown DO NOT represent farms that provided the produce… they were just boxes I had available to carry and store.

Now tell me… does this produce look like it should have been thrown away???
Food Waste

Original post written on January 17th, 2012 by The Sustainable Sweet & Savory Gourmet at site:

Homemade Applesauce – No Sugar Needed

Homemade Applesauce

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” ~ Martin Luther

There is a medium-sized apple tree in my grandmother’s backyard. As far back as I can remember when the leaves began to turn, the apples would fall and she would make homemade applesauce and other apple goodies to eat. The apples were small with a bright green skin and tart in flavor. The tree itself brings back many memories. Each year, when the tree was ready for pruning her sister & husband would drive down to my grandmother’s house for a day of visiting, eating, and yard work. They arrived with goodies from their backyard; zucchini, end of season tomatoes, lemons, eggs from their chickens, and fresh-baked cookies. The ladies would visit while Tito would prune the apple tree. I also remember when my grandmother would have to “shoo shoo” the squirrels away as they ripped apples from the tree, taking only small bites and leaving the rest to rot into the ground. This made grandma furious; she’d curse the squirrels every time her batch of homemade applesauce was smaller than the previous year.

Local Organic Apples Pinnacle Organic

Since we’ve lived in this community, we have been buying organic apples. We purchase the apples from a local organic produce farmstand in San Juan Bautista, Pinnacle Organics. We believe buying local keeps the money you spent in the community, we know exactly where our food came from, and we’re cutting out the middleman often reducing the cost. I started buying boxes of apples weekly and inquired on my grandmother’s tried & trued homemade applesauce recipe; apples, apple juice, cinnamon, and maybe just maybe a little brown sugar. After a few tries I came up with my version, same but different.

I was joining my grandmother and her sister, who was visiting from Mexico, for an early afternoon lunch. When my grandmother has visitors she pulls out several varieties of food, snacks, and goodies she’s made. Typically her homemade applesauce would have been donned the table, but this year her tree’s production was extremely small. I was aware of grandma’s homemade applesauce challenge, so I brought a couple of jars of my own freshly made homemade applesauce to share with the ladies. “Hmmm, this is better than yours Dolly…” Tita never holds back… needless to say I felt a little bad for my grandma. Her homemade applesauce has been the star for years. Despite feeling bad I know I’ve learned from the best, my grandma, and that’s why my homemade applesauce is so freakin’ good!

Getting ready to peel, core, and slice apples

This year, I’ve already had the opportunity to go through several boxes of apples and the season has only begun. There are so many apple cooking options such as baked apples, chutney, pies, tarts, and salads to name a few. The family seems to be fans of the homemade applesauce, so each year can it like crazy so we have enough for the year. It’s one of the easiest recipes I’ve made. The time-consuming task lies only within the peeling, coring, and chopping. One Thanksgiving holiday my mother-in-law came over early to help in the food preparation and saw I was tediously peeling a sink full of apples, hands hurting while slumped over the kitchen counter. Christmas time arrived and she gifted me the best gift ever… an apple peeler, corer, chopper. The device looks medieval but it’s simple, easy to clean and does the job within minute’s verses hours.

My version has no added sugar; only apples, 100% juice from apples (I purchase the juice directly from the farmstand), and a mix of spices. After a long simmer the sauce remains chunky and is ready to enjoy! I’ve had people compare the applesauce to an apple pie filling… it’s that yummy.

Apple peeling, coring, and slicing in process.

Homemade Applesauce
5 Quart Sauté Pan
22 – 26 apples, depending on size (Pink Lady, Fuji, Braeburn, and Jonagold varieties)
16 – 24oz apple juice, enough juice to cover ½ of the apples in the pan (Pinnacle Organic juice is 100% organic apple juice, no sugar added)
¼ – ½ Teaspoon of each ground spice: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice

Peel, core, and chop apples. Place the sliced apples in your cooking vessel; I use a 5 quart sauté pan because it’s a wide pan with high sides. This allows for the apples to spread out and cook evenly. Sprinkle over your apples the spice mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice.
Local organic apples, apple juice, and spice

Pour enough apple juice over the mixture till the liquid covers the apples half way. Toss the apple slices to make sure the spices are mixed. Cook on medium high till the liquid comes to a boil, stirring often. Once it’s reached a boil, lower the temperature to medium or medium low heat for roughly two hours, stirring occassionally.

The cooking time will vary depending on the ripeness of your apples. I prefer my apple sauce slightly chunky – you can cook it longer for a smoother texture or even use an emulsion mixture to puree. Most the liquid will be reduced or gone by the time your apple sauce is complete.
Homemade Applesauce

The quantities for this recipe allow for 8 – 12 pint jars to be filled, again depending on the size of the apples.

The best thing about this recipe is that the amounts can vary greatly; it all depends on your taste preferences. You can make this recipe with as little as five apples; just follow the basic instructions ensuring the amount of apples you use is covered half way with juice. The spice amounts can vary according to your taste.

Your applesauce will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, canned will last all year, and in the freezer for roughly six months.
Homemade Applesauce cannded

Original post written on November 2nd, 2011 by The Sustainable Sweet & Savory Gourmet at site: