I had the pleasure of visiting several farmers and growers during my recent travels to the Santa Rita Hills. The Santa Rita Hills is famous for its pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, and it is a lovely spot for doing a little wine tasting, checking out three California Missions and sampling the local cuisine. However, this journey took me to local farmers who are growing, raising and providing amazing products to our community.
My first tour began through three walnut growers in the Santa Rita Hills – Hibbits Ranch, Rancho La Vina and the walnut farm of my guide, Mary Jane. Hibbits Ranch, a fourth generation 395 acre parcel in Lompoc, California has been growing and harvesting walnuts for decades. Art Hibbits is at the forefront of walnut growing in the valley, and his expertise and equipment are often shared with the other growers.
The shaker machine, which grips the walnut tree fifteen feet in the air and rattles the ground like a mild earthquake is how walnuts are extracted from trees. When the walnuts hit the ground, the brushes push the nuts to the side, so they are not crushed when traveling tree to tree. The walnuts are gathered and dried at 104 degrees, then sorted by hand to weed out the “bad nuts.” Trailer bins are filled with fresh walnuts, and transported up the coast for shelling and packaging.
My next stop was Valley Piggery with chef and farmer Jake O. Francis. Jake has been a chef for over 10 years working in New York City and more recently Georgia, where he learned the art of raising heritage breed pigs. His true passion of raising happy healthy animals, and butchery has created a pork business that is quite unique. Local customers belong to his CSA – Consumer Supported Agriculture, for a full or half pork share, offering a variety of cuts.
Jake sells his pork to a few local restaurants in the valley, however he is only able to sell to a handful of places due to the availability of adequate FDA regulated slaughtering facilities, it makes it difficult to expand his business. You can purchase some of Jake’s pork at Industrial Eats in Buellton, or if you live in Santa Barbara try and inquire about joining his CSA.
There are many wine makers in the Santa Rita Hills, but none as unique as Deborah Hall. She purchased her vineyard 20 years ago and discovered “old mission vines”, on her property. Deborah sent samples of these leafy vines to UC Davis who identified the DNA as being 150 years old, coming from the Mission era.
These mission vines create a spectacular wine, reminiscent of a time before California existed as a state. Today, Deborah Hall (Gypsy Canyon) continues to produce Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Ancient Vine Angelica. Also, she has started making brandy, which will be released soon.
Kandarian Organic Farms is located in Los Osos, California – just below San Luis Obispo. Larry Kandarian has been farming wheat and other grains for over 25 years and specializes in Einkorn Wheat, and other ancient grains, beans and herbs in support of biodiversity.
Larry, a trained mechanical engineer, is always working on cultivating products that are responsibly healthful and representative of consumer demands. He is currently working on creating beer from Emmer Farrow, a project he is quite passionate about and hopes to have complete within the year. Kardarian Organic Farms sells at local farmer’s market up and down the coast of California and is at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays. Definitely worth a visit!