Manzanita Manor!

We are proud to offer Manzanita Manor's walnuts, walnut butter, walnut oil, and dessert wine – all of it certified organic! -- here at the Co-op. As our Featured Local Vendor from November 1 – 15, all Manzanita Manor products are on sale:

Sprouted Walnuts (4 oz), regular $6.19, sale $5.29
Walnuts (16 oz), regular $13.99, sale $11.99
Walnuts (8 oz), regular $7.69, sale $6.49
Walnut Butter (8 oz), regular $9.39, sale $7.99
Walnut Oil (250 ml), regular $18.49, sale $15.99
Chocolate Walnuts (4 oz), regular $8.29, sale $6.99
Bulk Walnuts (per lb), regular $12.69, sale $10.29
2 Horse Dessert Wine (375 ml), regular $19.99, sale $17.49

Manzanita Manor (or MMOrganic for short) is known for producing delicious, organic, dry-farmed walnuts in Paso Robles. It all started about 25 years ago when Jutta Thoerner and her partner Cynthia Douglas bought an 80-acre parcel of land in Adelaida, half in walnuts and the other half as woodland. Jutta was working in a lab but as her farming enterprise started to take off, she turned to farming full-time. A few years later she and Cynthia bought two neighbors’ orchards and now they own 200 acres, half with organic walnuts and half with woodland that they leave for wildlife. It is left undisturbed except for a couple of permanent water stations, one for smaller and another for taller animals.

Their land has some historic interest as it was once part of the HMR Winery and neighboring parcels were owned by the famous musician, Ignacy Paderewski. When Jutta and Cynthia purchased it though, the walnut orchards had been neglected for some time as it was no longer profitable to dry farm walnuts. Trees in dry farmed orchards must be planted very far apart – 35’ to 50’ -- so that the roots don’t compete with each other for water and nutrients (no irrigation water is applied). Thus, the yield per acre is less than orchards that are more densely planted and irrigated. Also, most walnut growers sell their crops to a middle man to process, cutting into growers’ profits even more. So, as the orchards became unprofitable, the trees were not maintained and eventually the owners sold their land and retired from farming.

JUTTA THOERNER AND CYNTHIA DOUGLAS IN ONE OF THEIR WALNUT ORCHARDS. Photo courtesy of Manzanita Manor.

JUTTA THOERNER AND CYNTHIA DOUGLAS IN ONE OF THEIR WALNUT ORCHARDS. Photo courtesy of Manzanita Manor.

A lot of work was needed to restore these orchards. Many trees had died, so the first year Jutta and Cynthia planted 250 black walnut rootstock, and then grafted scion wood (cuttings) from the heirloom varieties of English walnut trees in their orchards. Over the years Jutta has had to replace many more trees that were lost to the drought as well. It takes ten years before newly grafted trees will bear walnuts.

The Manzanita Manor orchards are organic and it is difficult to be both organic AND to have a clean crop of nuts. To do this, Jutta buys and hangs traps for the various insect pests. Some traps have pheromones to attract insects, others are baited with a bag of walnut meal. Sanitation is also very important; this means that after the harvest, walnuts cannot be left on the ground so that insects have a place to overwinter. All of the walnuts must be cleaned up. This is when the wild animals step in and help by eating the fallen walnuts that the harvesting crew has missed or that have been run into the ground by tractors.

The walnut orchards require attention year-round. In Jan-Feb, rootstock is planted to replace any trees that were lost the prior year. In the spring there is a narrow window of time after the last rains and before the soil is too dry when the soil is disked to eliminate weeds and to create a fine dust mulch. This mulch helps retain moisture in the soil. In late spring, Jutta grafts her own cuttings to the rootstock planted earlier in the year. She covers the new grafts with chicken wire and shade cloth, to defeat both the deer and the sun from damaging tender new growth. May is grafting time and hanging various paper traps in the orchard. In October and November there is a 3-4 week harvest period. This is more labor intensive for Manzanita Manor because the orchards are on a steep hill, so while the trees can be shaken, the fallen walnuts can’t be swept and vacuumed as they could be on flat terrain. Instead, crews have to pick them up by hand, adding to time and labor cost. After harvest, Jutta is busy until the end of the year with cracking, shelling, and drying the walnuts.

Jutta was able to buy her own small walnut cracker from a grower who retired and this and the dryer and husk remover have been a great benefit because they allow her to process her own nuts, and not have to truck them elsewhere and pay for processing. Because her equipment is small and she doesn’t have people working for her other than at harvest time, she is only able to process her own walnuts and not other growers’.

To keep the shelled walnuts fresh, Jutta does two things: she dries the walnuts at a low heat, which means that it takes longer to dry than conventional processors, and she also keeps her walnuts in cold storage. Before she had her own dryer, she used to dry them in the sun, which takes even longer but works perfectly well – as long as the weather is dry! If refrigerated, shelled walnuts will keep a year and in the freezer they will keep for two years.

For some years, Jutta also grew wine grapes and produced a port-style wine. It was the only certified organic port-style wine in the USA that she knew of but as the walnuts became more profitable, Jutta had to focus on the orchards and isn’t able to produce the wine anymore. However, we do have some of Jutta’s limited supply here at the Co-op!

Except at harvest time, Manzanita Manor is a staff of just two people: Cynthia does the bookkeeping, bills, handles the finances, bagging and shipping. Jutta does the hands-on orchard care, packing, labeling, delivering, and correspondence.

When asked if there is anything else she would like readers to know, Jutta said that she and Cynthia are grateful for the people who buy organic; it is more money than conventional crops but these customers make it possible for small farmers and orchards like Manzanita Manor’s to exist. These customers are the lifeblood of a small farmer. Thank you to everyone who buys local and organic!

For more information, please visit Manzanita Manor’s website and follow them on Facebook for their latest news!

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.

Templeton Hills Beef

We are proud to offer local, sustainable, and naturally raised beef from Templeton Hills Beef. Here at SLO Natural Foods Co-op you can find their ground beef, sirloin steaks and tip roasts, brisket roasts, and beef riblets. From April 5 – April 18, Grass Fed and Grass Finished Ground Beef from Templeton Hills Beef is on sale for $8.99 lb., (reg. $9.99 lb.).

Templeton Hills Beef partners Will Woolley and Alton Emery are fourth and fifth generation California ranchers (Alton from Paso Robles), but it wasn’t until 2010 that they saw an opportunity and decided to go into business together raising grass fed and grass finished beef.

Will Woolley, Darian Buckles, Katie Emery, and Alton Emery.       Photo courtesy of Templeton Hills Beef.

Will Woolley, Darian Buckles, Katie Emery, and Alton Emery. Photo courtesy of Templeton Hills Beef.

Grass fed and grass finished means that their Angus cattle graze the hills of Templeton and Paso Robles for their whole lives and are not ‘finished’ before market on grain in a feedlot. Alton and Will manage their pastures by utilizing rotational grazing. The cattle are periodically moved to fresh pasture, which mimics natural behavior and is better both for the cattle and the land. Their grass fed and grass finished cattle are not given any hormones or antibiotics.

The North County butchers who harvest the steers are strictly small-batch, and only process one or two animals per day. This procedure is not rushed in any way, and when the meat is ground it comes from a single animal; it is not a mixture of many animals, like commercial ground beef. The butchers are USDA inspected and certified and the meat carries the USDA label as well.

The benefits of grass fed, grass finished beef are many. It is much more humane for cattle to live and finish on pasture than to be finished on grain (not a natural food for cattle) and in overcrowded feedlots, conditions that lead to widespread use of antibiotics. The land also benefits because rotational grazing allows the pastures to rest and recover, and not become overgrazed. For people, grass fed and grass finished beef is lower in saturated fat and calories and higher in many nutrients including good fats like Omega-3 fatty acid, Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), and Vitamins A and E.  

If you are new to cooking with this leaner beef, know that it requires less cooking time. When converting recipes from conventional to grass fed beef, Alton and Will recommend cutting the cooking time by about 40%; you can always cook longer if needed.  For tips on proper thawing, seasoning, and cooking, as well as many tasty recipes, be sure and visit the Templeton Hills Beef website.

In the News

Did you see the article in SLO City News and other Tolosa Press publications recently? Gwen, Eric, and Aimee explain how membership in the National Co+op Grocers (NCG) will allow for bigger discounts and better product selection here at the Co-op!

Read their interview here at SLO City News.

Board President Eric Michielssen, General Manager Gwen Schmidt, and former Board President Aimee Wyatt.

Board President Eric Michielssen, General Manager Gwen Schmidt, and former Board President Aimee Wyatt.