Farming has been in our blood for Generations. We’ve been farming the Family Vineyards for over a hundred years but it’s been a few generations since we did anything more than grow grape. But when we purchased Farmhouse in 2001, we committed to sourcing only the best locally grown produce and locally raised meats that we could find. Year by year, my family has taken on more projects.
10 years ago we built a large chicken coop and started a flock of egg-laying hens for our breakfast program. Now our flock is 80 strong, they eat all of the scraps from the restaurant, and provide healthy delicious farm raised eggs! My wife Sharon, who is an avid gardener, has for years been growing all kinds of produce for the restaurant, including garnish flowers, lots and lots of flats of microgreens, cucamelons, and all kinds of other exotic items the chefs can’t source anywhere else.
My children were eager to do more than just grow things in the ground. They wanted to raise meat animals for the restaurant and for friends.
So, three years ago, we started our 4H Journey joining the Lytton Springs 4H club. Here we met amazing people who were eager to help us find our way. We started first with two goats, and then two pigs, and then more pigs and goats and Thanksgiving turkeys, and this year we added lambs to the mix. Our little town of Healdsburg has one of the best small fairs in Northern California, the Healdsburg Future Farmers Country Fair. Every Memorial Day weekend we start off with a massive parade that the entire town participates in (old school with fire engines and tractors!) followed by a two day fair dominated by hundreds of 4H and FFA animals large and small.
Each child is allowed to bring two market animals – this year Ella, 9, brought two lambs, Nico, 12, brought two goats, and Alex, 13, brought two pigs. These animals have been living in our barn since January. Every morning at 6 am, the kids woke early to feed and care for them. Every afternoon spent walking them, cleaning their stalls, and practicing showmanship. This is not for the faint of heart! The children are judged on Showmanship, how well they’re able to handle their animal and how knowledgeable they are about the species and Market, which basically amounts to an animal beauty contest! This year my middle guy, Nico, got first in Showmanship and Market for his goat, Joel, and was invited to participate in the large animal round-robin where he showed the top pig, steer, lamb, goat, and horse, against all of the other top Showmanship winners. He did awesomely!
Saturday night, the fair concludes with a massive animal auction where all of the market animals are sold to families and businesses from all over the county. Of course, a few tears are shed when it’s time to say goodbye but every year my children are so exhausted and relieved to be done (and happy to have the big checks from the auction)! We always take pride in what great lives our animals lived!
Raising an animal and knowing that animal so very well, it makes you think about every bite of meat that you put into your mouth – how was that animal cared for and what kind of life did it live? Unfortunately, most of the meat we eat in this country comes from horrific conditions that would be shocking to see. Our lesson learned, be your own advocate, know where your food comes from. 4H complete, we now focus on our 26 Thanksgiving heritage turkey chicks just hatched in May. And maybe a few summer hogs for our family and friends and, of course, Chef Stevo! It’s a lot of work but it’s in our blood and we love it!