Reflections: Ten Years and Going Strong!
As we approach our ten year business anniversary as "Stemple Creek Ranch," it's been amazing to reflect on our journey over the past decade. So much has changed as our vision for raising quality grass fed & finished meats has evolved. What we have learned has humbled us, and we are incredibly grateful for all the people who have been a part of this process. It has taken a village of support as we have broken new ground and reinvented ourselves. The rewards for us, our land, and the animals entrusted to our care have been profound.
We started leasing pastureland from Loren's parents in 2005. Over the next several years we slowly made changes to the ranch infrastructure, purchased beef cattle, and started finishing those cows on grass instead of selling them to a feedlot. We also transitioned the entire business model to direct-to-consumer. In 2009 we settled on the name "Stemple Creek Ranch" in tribute to Stemple Creek which runs through the basin of our property to the nearby Pacific. We launched our initial website that year as well, which marked the official start of our business.
The last decade has been filled with hard work and many ups and downs. We have not shied away from doing things differently. It is this willingness to innovate that has led us to embrace a new agriculture paradigm; one that addresses the realities of climate change, creates better soil health and biodiversity, and provides a better life for our livestock.
Our goal has been to create a model that will be better for the environment, better for the animals, better for the land, and better for the people eating the food that we produce. For this model to work, we knew it had to be sustainable for the planet, and sustainable for our family. Our deepest hope is that our business will be something the fifth generation of our family wants to carry forward into the future. This land is our legacy, and we know how we steward this precious commodity today will have ripple effects that continue long after we're gone.
Looking back, reading the book The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollen was a pivotal moment in changing the course of our ranch business. We were particularly struck by the discussion about the effects of feeding corn to cattle, both on the health of the animals, and the health of the environment. The move to grass finishing our animals was a huge leap of faith, as it takes longer and has high inputs. Doing so meant holding all of our calves over for an additional year, and hoping that we would have a market for them the following year.
Yet despite the challenges, we knew the grass finished model was the key to a more sustainable future. So we dove in. We studied genetics and bought cattle that we thought would finish well on grass. We added miles of moveable fencing to implement rotational grazing. We got our pastures and animals certified organic. We purchased the Burbank Ranch, which is contiguous to the Poncia Family home ranch, and we leased other pastures around Northern California for our growing herd. We also began to learn about cutting edge research that would help us grow more grass year round.
Our ground-breaking partnership with the Marin Carbon Project in 2014 has fundamentally changed what we know about farming the soil. In addition, we have utilized the expertise of soil scientists from around the globe to help us continually challenge ourselves to be better, do better, and keep raising the bar.
We have made many mistakes and learned countless lessons along the way. Today we are proudly seeing the benefits of this work. We are able to comfortably raise more animals on our pastureland, requiring much less off-site feed per animal, than ever before. Our forage grasses stay green longer into the drought season, and the work we have done to enhance and protect native ecosystems has attracted over 35 species of migratory birds which call our property home. It has been immensely gratifying to see the vast changes that have been made in a relatively short span of time, and we cannot wait to see what else we can accomplish in the future.
We want to take a moment to thank everyone who has supported our family business on this journey to date. We owe a debt of gratitude to our partnerships with farmers markets, specialty butcher shops, restaurants, and grocers who sell our meats, and to the individuals who put our food on the table and honor the care and dedication with which it is raised. Because of you we continue to thrive.
Here's to the next ten years . . . and beyond!
Loren & Lisa Poncia