Guests gathered at a scenic location for an exceptional experience of food, farming and fun!
Before starting my new role as the Communications Coordinator for California Rangeland Trust, I traveled three hours from my home in Visalia to attend the PT Ranch tour in Ione. The tour was part of a larger series of unique on-farm experiences offered through the Rangeland Trust’s Where Your Food Grows and Grazes program. I drove down miles of winding, country roads between open fields and through small towns. Once I reached my destination, I immediately fell in love with the views. I dearly missed the sites of livestock grazing in sprawling pastures and beautiful farmhouses nestled among these scenic open spaces that I regularly experienced before I moved to the city. Emily Taylor, Rangeland Trust Legacy Council Co-Chair, and her daughter Molly Taylor are the dynamic duo leading operations on the PT Ranch. Both welcomed the tour attendees with the utmost kindness and open arms.
The special field-to-table experience, sponsored by Raley’s, began with an introduction by Rangeland Trust’s CEO, Nita Vail. Her words explained just how crucial it is for ranches to exist. “Amador County alone has over 150,000 acres of rangeland, which is important to not only the local economy but to our social and cultural well-being as well,” said Nita. “Today, you’ll experience first-hand how these vibrant working landscapes impact all of us by offering clean air to breathe, freshwater to drink, local food to eat and beautiful viewsheds to cherish.”
According to Molly, PT Ranch follows what is called “regenerative management”; a practice in agriculture that I wasn’t very familiar with prior to the tour. The practice essentially helps to build organic matter back into the soil to store more water and draw out carbon from the atmosphere. The agricultural industry is actively working to decrease its carbon footprint, and maintaining healthy soil is the key. Molly gave us a brief history of the ranch and its management, then led us to the first stop – a set of mobile poultry houses in an empty pasture.
The Taylors currently raise about 2,700 Freedom Ranger chickens per year. They are kept in houses, called “chicken tractors,” made of wooden frames, corrugated plastic panels, chicken wire, and are on wheels, allowing them to be moved around the pasture. Moving the chickens helps keep the houses clean, while fertilizing the pastures.
Next, we followed Molly to the other side of the ranch, walking past their small herd of dairy cows chewing cud under a tree. There, we were greeted by a herd of sheep. The Taylors raise two different breeds of sheep: Dorper and Katahdin. The herd was surrounded by moveable electric fencing that sectioned off pieces of the pasture. The sheep graze each section for approximately one day before being moved to another section of the pasture to graze. This rotational grazing method allows for the grass to grow back healthy and full of nutrients without depleting the soil and damaging the plant. Garrett Long, a colleague of Molly’s, was present for the tour and spoke briefly about the tests he and his team are doing on the soil to identify carbon levels and study aggregate stability and water infiltration.
For the last leg of the tour, we walked past the ranch homestead into an open field overlooking the cattle pastures. As part of a United States Department of Agriculture scholarship Molly was awarded, the field is undergoing research to observe the effects compost has on noxious weeds, like yellow star thistle, and to measure carbon amounts through various treatments of cover crops and compost. Scott Oneto, a UC Cooperative Extension natural resource advisor and the principal researcher in the project, spoke about the different sections of land that are a part of the study.
At the end of the day, guests gathered in a picture-perfect setting on the ranch for a delicious meal that consisted of street-style tacos, veggies, and corn on the cob made by Lucy’s Spice Box. One long farm table was nestled into a small corner of pasture and was surrounded by foothills and trees in the early-evening light. Squash, corn, and burlap centerpieces completed the tables and gave off the right amount of fall vibes. The entire atmosphere felt cozy, like a home-cooked meal on Thanksgiving.
After the dinner festivities concluded, Emily Taylor and Nita Vail extended their appreciation to Raley’s and the volunteers responsible for putting on this spectacular event. Rangeland Trust Director and Legacy Council member, Angelo Genasci, inspired everyone with a sentimental speech about how ranches have the power to bring us all together despite our differences or backgrounds. “The land sustains us, and California Rangeland Trust is committed to conserving these beautiful open rangelands that provide so much value and benefit to our everyday lives,” exclaimed Angelo. “It means ranching families, like the Taylors, who steward their land with such care, can ensure the land will remain a working ranch for generations to com
Dessert consisted of delicious homemade churros prepared by Juan Barajas, which were served as guests stopped to capture the moment and take photos in the gold-hour light. Others continued to socialize while sipping on drinks served from the Rangeland Trust’s teardrop trailer. As the evening ended, guests slowly trickled out just as the sunset created a stunning orange and pink backdrop.
That evening, I drove home from the event filled with excitement for my new journey and an even greater appreciation for the people and organizations, like the Rangeland Trust, who work so diligently to help protect and preserve the land that brings people closer together to create beautiful, long-lasting memories like those made at the PT Ranch tour.