San Benito County has long been known for its rich soils, access to water, and favorable climate. Home to the nation’s largest organic salad company, world-renowned Blenheim apricot orchards, organic walnuts, grassfed beef and international award-winning Pinot Noirs the county’s reputation as a foodie’s paradise is growing. Add to that additional opportunities provided by eco-tourism via seasonal corn mazes, farm & wine tours, new boutique hotels and there’s a growing sentiment that the county’s economic future looks bright. On working farms and ranches, the ability to turn endless solar energy into dollars is a tangible reality.
"Generally, as we increase (soil health) in the county, we are increasing the overall wealth of the county and the region in a way that is sustainable and scalable. It is not just profit for land stewards but wealth for the whole community, which is reflected in profits, beauty, and health. Solar power can create wealth," Paicines Ranch owner Sallie Calhoun said.
The Paicines Ranch, located about 15 miles south of Hollister on Highway 25, is one the county’s gems and a working landscape bringing attention – and business – to San Benito County. Owned and operated by Calhoun and her husband Matt Christiano, the ranch produces its own Paicines Ranch brand grassfed beef, hosts the annual Kinship Fundraiser, weddings and other events. More recently the ranch has become an educational hub for workshops on soil health, holistic land management and planned grazing. This March, the ranch will host Australian soil ecology Christine Jones, Ph.D for a three-day workshop titled “Restoring Health to Agricultural Ecosystems: Principles and Practices from Soil to Communities.” Jones is an internationally-recognized authority on soil health and its role in addressing climate change. Having Jones come to San Benito County is, to be blunt, a big deal in the soil health community. The workshop is open to the public and expected to draw hundreds of soil enthusiasts: farmers, rancher, biologists, policymakers and land managers from around the state and beyond. The workshop will be held March 4-6 and is open to the public. For details, click here.
“Dr. Christine Jones has agreed to teach the first two days of the workshop, we are very excited to have her with us,” Calhoun said. “We will explore principles and practices for creating healthy agricultural ecosystems through our farming and grazing practices. Emphasis will be placed on the importance of soil carbon and the interconnectedness of soil health to the health of all life.”
Calhoun has been instrumental in bringing together groups on the Paicines Ranch to learn about land management practices that are profitable, ecologically beneficial, and community supporting. She recently hired a new Director of Farming, Kelly Mulville, who will oversee the ranch’s farming and ranching practices and help develop tools to share the ranch’s work.
Dr. Christine Jones is an internationally renowned and highly respected groundcover and soils ecologist. She has a wealth of experience working with innovative landholders to implement regenerative land management techniques that produce a list of benefits:
• enhance biodiversity
• increase biological activity
• sequester carbon
• activate soil nutrient cycles
• restore water balance
• improve productivity and
• create new topsoil.
Jones has also organized and participated in workshops, field days, seminars and conferences throughout Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the United States.
“The financial viability of the agricultural sector, as well as the health and social wellbeing of individuals, families and businesses in both rural and urban communities, are inexorably linked to the functioning of the land,” said Jones in a paper posted on her website, www.amazingcarbon.com. “In addition to enabling the farming community to more effectively deal with warmer, drier conditions, the restoration of landscape function will result in the active drawdown of excess CO2 from the atmosphere via stable biosequestration in soils,” Jones said.
BenitoLink Contributor Julie Morris sat down with the Paicines Ranch’s director of farming, Kelly Mulville, recently to discuss the ranch’s upcoming workshop with Jones on soil health and its expanding role as an educational laboratory for sustainable farming practices. The workshop is open to the public. See sidebar for details and registration information.
BenitoLink (BL): What is the Paicines Ranch's goal for the workshop?
Kelly Mulville (KM): Our goal for this workshop is to highlight the latest understanding, practices and opportunities towards creating health and resilience in our soils, which ultimately is directly related to health and resilience in our communities. We will be looking at this from a local, regional and international perspective as exemplified by each of the areas that our speakers come from. 2015 has been named the Year of the Soil, so we think this is a timely and relevant topic. While many of our previous workshops focused on ranching practices, this workshop is geared towards a broader audience to include farmers, land managers, vintners, gardeners, researchers, and students, as well as ranchers.
BL: How can effective soil management increase a farm or ranch's bottom line?
KM: That soil is the basis for productivity and profitability is a foundational understanding for most land managers. One of the remarkable things coming out of our increasing understanding of the soil ecosystem is that fertility can be created on-site with minimal outside inputs, thus reducing costs and increasing profits while building the basis for subsequent profitability. Practices that improve the health of our soils rather than depleting them often offer an additional source of income, as in the case of crop producers utilizing livestock in crop rotations.
BL: The Paicines Ranch has emerged as a leader & educational center in California's sustainable agriculture community. Do you see this role expanding in the future?
KM: We plan to continue to expand the educational offerings at Paicines Ranch, both to increase our own learning and encourage interest in the community. In particular we will focus our programs towards management principles and practices that improve the economic, social and ecological viability of agriculture. Additionally, we plan to focus on related issues such as human nutrition, plant health and nutrient density of crops, and food preparation.
BL: How does this help San Benito County's local economy and identity?
KM: Agriculture is the economic backbone of this region and healthy soils are the basis of sound agriculture. Collectively building soil health in this region will lead to ripple effects like improved water quality, healthier and more productive crops, higher profits and better resilience in the face of climate fluctuations. To learn more about the Paicines Ranch and its educational events, visit http://paicinesranch.com/index.php To register for the workshop, click here.