Have you ever met someone and instantly felt like you may be friends?
That was the way I felt when I met Audrey from Red Gate Ranch during my first visit to the Red Bluff Farmer’s Market! Besides having a beautiful stand and novel cuts of meat like Thai sausage and goat, Audrey was putting off positive vibes that I wanted to be a part of. She could sense my uneasiness with cooking goat for the first time and gave me simple instructions for preparing it. Low and behold the recipe was fantastic and now I am a converted goat meat fan!
Living in Northern California I have come to appreciate the vast amounts of agriculture in our region. When I grew up in Southern California I never gave much thought about where my food came from… the grocery store right? Since marrying into a “farm family” I have witnessed the many moving parts of agriculture and have developed a deeper respect for what goes into our food before it reaches our plate. As a way to pay tribute to farmers in our community I will begin highlighting local farmers from our region. Today I want to share with you the story about Red Gate Ranch.
The crew at Red Gate Ranch did not start off as farmers. They lived in the East Bay and participated in the daily grind of city life. As the office manager in a naturopathic doctor’s office Audrey was in awe of the transformations she would witness in patients when they changed their diet and lifestyle. She slowly started transitioning her family’s diet to include more whole foods and incorporated more healing herbs into her regimen. Her son’s allergies began to decrease and she began to feel better. Audrey became a believer in the healing power of food.
As she began to share her knowledge with long-time friends, Kraig and Heather, the power of food quickly turned into a passion for them all. Audrey and Heather took two-years of intensive courses at California School of Herbal Studies and dove deeper into subjects like hand-crafted herbalism, body systems & herbal wellness. The more they knew about food, the deeper they dug. Soon they were no longer just preparing their own food they were growing their own food! They sought out information from agriculture leaders like Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms, and John Jeavons to learn more about permaculture concepts and bio-intensive planting models.
In an unfolding of serendipitous events they began their dream ranch in Red Bluff, California. The land was previously pastured by horses so the land was very compacted and lacked the nutrients for growing crops and grasses. They wanted to approach farming from a permaculture perspective. At first they focused on livestock such as pigs and goats, and used rotational grazing to improve the quality of the soil. Over time they added lamb and grass-fed beef to their repertoire and began to grow beautiful produce and herbs which are now sold at the farmer’s market. Growth was kept small to focus on quality not quantity.
When I visited Red Gate Ranch I was intrigued with their bountiful garden area and couldn’t help but ask “how do you control the pests without pesticides?”
I have a new appreciation for farms that forego chemicals after trying my own hands at organic gardening… Ummmm, it is hard!!! When you read about how to do it in a book it sounds easy but reality is very different. At least it was for me ?Anyone else? No…. just me? Ok. Lol!
Anyhow, let’s get back to Red Gate Ranch ? Audrey attributed their success with organic pest management to two things:
- Soil quality
- Beneficial plants
As I stated earlier when they first began their farming venture the soil lacked nutrients and was compacted. Based on experience they knew soil quality was the key to a happy garden. They first tested the soil and added back nutrients that were lacking. High quality organic compost was mixed with worm tea (the good stuff!) and applied regularly to ensure beneficial biology were built up in the soil to maintain its health.
I could not help but think of our gut flora when she discussed how important the soil was to the health of the plants. The microbes in the soil (or lack of) can either help produce healthy plants or sick ones. The same is true for us! Our gut microbes can either enhance our health or make us sick. For all of you “sciency” people out there I know I am way over simplifying this but you get the jist 😉
Beneficial plants such as flowers also help keep predators at bay in the garden. The flowers attract beneficial insects which eat or keep away predatory insects. Pretty cool, huh? In fact at Red Gate Ranch they let a lot of their veggies go to seed to help attract butterflies and bees.
Fun fact -> Did you know when you let cilantro go to seed it attracts ladybugs? Me neither! Plus they look pretty!
Creating and growing Red Gate Ranch is more than a business venture to Kraig, Heather and Audrey… It is a lifestyle choice. They enjoy living with the seasons, interacting with the local community, becoming stewards of the earth, and living simply. As I walked around the garden, I could not help but feel inspired and in awe of what they have created. But it is not always bees and butterflies… It is also hard work.
If you are interested in starting your own farm, growing food for your community can be very challenging. Heat and physical labor are two of the biggest challenges for Red Gate Ranch during the summer. Tractors, trucks with trailers and garden carts are essential tools to help ease the physical workload.
When I asked Audrey what she recommends to others who are considering farming, she suggested to check out internships first. Participating in an internship for a few years gives you an opportunity to assess if you enjoy the lifestyle before committing financially. Plus at the end of the internship you will have the skills you need to operate your own farm.
As you all know, I love the farmers market. It is a relaxing event where I enjoy the beauty of fresh produce and chattin’ it up with my local community. I always thought it would be fun to sell produce at my local farmer’s market. But Audrey gave me a reality check.
To us patrons, the farmer’s market is fun event, but to farmers like Red Gate Ranch it is a workday! Two days leading up to farmer’s markets Audrey begins harvesting produce to sell. Due to the intense heat this summer she wakes up around 6 am to accomplish her outdoor chores by 11am. For those of you that don’t live in the valley of Northern California it has been sweltering to say the least. I am talking about 105 degrees plus! Painful!
Anyhow, on market days, Audrey or Heather set up their own booths and then face the summer heat on hot concrete all while having a smile on their face. They are amazing but they love it!
Next time you are at the market, be sure to say hi to Audrey or Heather. You can’t miss their signature tulsi infused water (super yummy!) And better yet- purchase some of their fresh pasture raised meats or farm fresh produce. You won’t be disappointed. If it is your first time preparing goat, check out Audrey’s favorite goat taco recipe. You will love it!
If you live in Red Bluff, Red Gate Ranch sells at the farmer’s market on Wednesday and Saturday. They also recently started selling their market goods at the farm on Sunday for those unable to attend market days. The farm is open between 9am-4pm. These summer hours are expected to last through September. And if there is a high demand they may even extend the hours through October and re-open in Spring.
If you live in Chico, you are also in luck! They recently started selling their goods at the Wednesday farmer’s market. What if you don’t live around Red Bluff or Chico?…well then that is a bummer for you 🙂 Just kidding. Instead go and support your local farmer. I would love to hear about it. See you all at the market!