June 14, 2017
You were a Media and Communications Studies major with an art minor at Ursinus. Now you are a farmer?
I know! At first, I thought I wanted to work in television. But after I graduated, I realized I didn’t want to be at a desk job—that was not going to work for my body or mind. I moved out West on a whim. I visited a friend in San Francisco, fell in love with the area, and decided to stay. At first I was a bike messenger around the city, but then I started working for a gardener. In between, I also traveled through the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) organization. I lived and worked on the big island of Hawaii and on the South Island of New Zealand. Excuse the pun, but that is really where the seed was planted for me. I fell in love with every part of farming. When I moved back to California, I was ready to make it my life. In 2014, I started Root Down Farm.
Tell us about your farm.
Root Down Farm is a certified animal welfare-approved farm on 62 acres of pasture leased from the Peninsula Open Space Trust.
I raise heritage breed livestock and have about 1,700 chickens, 150 ducks, 200 turkeys and 50 pigs. Heritage breed animals can naturally reproduce, so they are essentially sustainable. All my animals have plenty of room to roam and they eat a natural diet of bugs, grass, and seeds—no hormones or antibiotics. The animals live as best as they should—and then as we say—they just have one bad day.
Why is it important for the animals to move around a lot?
We move the animals every day onto new pasture to help fertilize more ground and to keep the animals healthy. If they stayed in one place, this would really degrade the soil and the animals would continue to live in their waste. By rotating them onto new pastures each day, the animals and the land work together.
Do you grow fruits and vegetables too?
The land we have really limits what we can grow. When we started leasing the land, California was in one of the worst droughts in history and the soil quality was not great. But the animals are really increasing the organic matter of the soil. We have a young 130-tree apple orchard that will start fruiting in another two or three years.
Is there a typical day on the farm?
Seasonally, and even weekly, my jobs change. I always try to get up by 5 a.m. and do as much office work as I can until the sun comes up. We sell our meat at local farmer’s markets, to restaurants, as well as straight from the farm. Just like in any small business, there is always tons of paperwork that goes along with this. Once daylight hits, I go feed and take care of the animals. Right now I am also doing a bunch of other projects too—building fences, planting apple trees, training our new workers, and working with our two guard dogs. The dogs keep predators, like bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions away from the animals.
You also coach basketball, right?
Yes. I have been the girls’ coach at Pescadero High School for the past six seasons. There are only about 100 kids in the entire school, so if we get enough girls to field a team, that is a feat in itself. Some seasons, winning isn’t an option. When that is the case, you have to figure out what other positive things you can take from playing. That is an amazing lesson in itself.
Is there community outreach through the farm?
I’ve come to realize people are so disconnected from the food they eat and where it was grown or raised. I think this is especially true when it comes to the way the factory food industry raises and treats the animals that we eat. I try to make people more aware of where their meat is coming from. There is no hiding anything on my farm, everything is transparent.
Do you have any tips for buying meat?
Try to buy as much as you can from a farmer’s market. You can meet the farmer and find out exactly where your meat comes from and what their labor practices are like. If you go to a supermarket, you can assume everything is great, but you don’t know. There are so many food labels out there—terms like natural, fresh—that are not regulated. Even things labeled free range or organic can be misleading. As a shopper and an eater, it’s just important to educate yourself as much as possible about what each label actually means.
By Ellen Cosgrove Labrecque ’95