Rock Front Ranch!

We are proud to offer Rock Front Ranch's honey and certified organic jujubes here at the Co-op! As our Featured Local Vendor from September 6 – 19, their honey and jujubes are on sale:

Honey (1 lb), regular $13.99, sale $11.99

Honey (2 lb), regular $22.99, sale $19.99

Dried Jujubes (5 oz), regular $8.99, sale $7.69

Fresh Jujubes (1 lb), regular $4.99 lb, sale $3.99

Alisha Taff and Barney Skelton had been running cattle and raising performance horses on their Rock Front Ranch and were looking to diversify. With poor soil and a lack of water in the Cuyama Valley, Alisha knew she didn’t want to grow conventional crops that would need a lot of inputs to get to market. Wary of exploiting the land, she sought out crops that would work within the biome. She collaborated with an expert she met through the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG) to determine what would be suitable.

Alisha learned that jujubes would be perfectly matched to conditions at the ranch. They are native to Asia and the variety that she grows is drought-tolerant, hardy to -30°, and very prolific. Jujubes were already familiar to Alisha; as an Asian-American, she has happy memories of eating jujubes as a child but had no idea they were so nutritious. Fresh jujubes have many more times the amount of Vitamin C that citrus fruits have, and they are loaded with potassium as well.  Jujubes have 18 of the 24 amino acids and contain flavonoids, important for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Flavonoids have sedative and calming effects as well, and have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat anxiety and insomnia.

Organic Jujubes, Alisha Taff and friend Ophelia Rabanal, Sage and Wildflower Honey. Photos courtesy of Rock Front Ranch.

Organic Jujubes, Alisha Taff and friend Ophelia Rabanal, Sage and Wildflower Honey. Photos courtesy of Rock Front Ranch.

Not only that, but jujubes taste wonderful! When selecting fresh jujubes, pick the browner fruits which will be sweeter (though don’t be surprised if they seem a bit dry, as they are not a juicy fruit). They have a pit but other than that, can be eaten skin and all. Dried jujubes are delicious right out of the bag or used as any other dried fruit.

In addition to jujubes, Rock Front Ranch is known for its exceptional honey. It is the only honey in the western United States to be certified free of glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup. This is very rare because the vast majority of honey bees are trucked around the country to pollinate various crops, and so come into contact with farms where Roundup is used. But because Alisha’s bees stay on the ranch, surrounded by Los Padres National Forest, there are no such farms within flying distance of her bees.

In the spring, the bees pollinate wildflowers and purple sage in the chapparal, and these are the two varieties of honey that she sells. In the fall, the bees pollinate buckwheat and toyon, but Alisha doesn’t harvest this honey, instead leaving it for the bees’ winter food source. Keeping bees means year-round management to monitor the hives’ health, both individually and collectively. There are 450 hives, an amount that the ranch and surrounding area is able to support. Their living conditions as well as management practices have allowed the bees to thrive and Alisha has not experienced the hive losses that some beekeepers have.

Alisha, Barney, and their daughter Ky all work on the ranch. They see themselves as caretakers of the land, both because they feel it is the right thing to do and because it will produce the best quality fruit on their CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers)-certified organic farm. They look to the wildlife to see if they’re getting things right, checking in with the wild bees, birds, and mammals to see if they are flourishing. The goal at Rock Front Ranch is to improve, not just to maintain the land.

Be sure to follow Rock Front Ranch on Facebook and on Instagram @justjujubes for their latest news!

Rancho La Familia!

We are proud to offer Rancho La Familia's certified organic produce here at SLO Natural Foods Co-op. From August 2 - August 15, you'll get an additional 10% off our already low prices on Rancho La Familia produce including lettuce, kale, broccoli, strawberries, raspberries, and more!

Rancho La Familia in Santa Maria got its start when Virginia Cortez decided that she wanted to own and farm her own land. As a single mother, it was very difficult for her to secure a loan but she persisted, and in 1999 she was able to buy some land that she had previously leased. Virginia started with 10 acres and kept adding to it. Now, including son Omar's land next door, Rancho La Familia is a 50 acre family farm.

And a family farm it truly is, with Virginia, Luis Sr., and their three adult children all working in different aspects of the business. Luis Sr. does some of the marketing and deliveries, and Omar works in marketing as well as overseeing the many farmers' markets they attend. Luis Jr. works on the tractors and other machinery preparing the ground and planting, and Veronica manages the office. In addition to their own family, they also have employees who work on the farm to plant, grow, and harvest the many crops grown at Rancho La Familia.

Beautiful certified organic produce from Rancho La Familia at our Local Vendor Fair, June 2017.

Beautiful certified organic produce from Rancho La Familia at our Local Vendor Fair, June 2017.

Nearly all their land is in production and all of their produce is certified organic. Achieving and maintaining organic certification requires a large investment of time and attention to all the documentation and record keeping, not to mention the inspections on the farm, but maintaining this is very important to Virginia and her family.

A wide variety of crops are grown at Rancho La Familia throughout the year. Some, such as beans, tomatoes, blackberries, and raspberries, are grown during warmer weather but other crops like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, carrots, fennel root, lettuces (and even strawberries!) are grown year-round. Succession planting -- starting broccoli every 8-10 days, for example -- allows a crop to be grown and harvested throughout the year. The family hopes to utilize some hoop houses on Omar's property for growing blackberries and raspberries year-round, rather than only in the summer.

In addition to getting the hoop houses into production, future plans include adding more equipment such as another tractor and bug vacuum to increase efficiency and allow Rancho La Familia to expand their operation. The family enjoys their small orchard and may add more trees to allow fruit sales as well.

Virginia is very happy that her children have come back to the farm to work together after getting their educations. She most enjoys being outside and feels lucky to live and work on this land with her family among all the organic food crops and the cherry and peach trees in their family orchard. Both Virginia and Omar emphasized that they enjoy having visitors on their farm so that people can see that the food they buy from Rancho La Familia is actually grown there, that it is their own production, and that no herbicides and pesticides are used. The goal at Rancho La Familia is to make sure all of the produce is safe both for their family and for their customers.

Be sure to follow Rancho La Familia on Facebook and on Instagram @rancholafamiliainc for their latest news.

Produce Buyer Tifney got a tour of beautiful Rancho La Familia from Omar Guevara.

Produce Buyer Tifney got a tour of beautiful Rancho La Familia from Omar Guevara.