NewsFlash: The conventionals are in on it!
One morning I had the real pleasure of blocking a section of Hicks Valley Road and talking with Doug Dolcini and Bill Barboni. We paired our white trucks in both lanes, with enough room for another driver to squeeze by. Doug was talking about the family business of conventional ranching, at which he is very successful, and Bill was off somewhere having to deal with all that grass and all those organic cattle. So here on one side of the road is an organic, grass-fed, locally marketed product, and on the other side a successful, well-established conventional product. And both are doing well. Bill left. Doug and I carried on talking about feed lots, grass and family.
Doug said, “You know, these conventional cows are just as valuable as organic or any other kind of cow.” He continued, “We’re doing OK I guess, prices are up again this year. Our cows are getting more valuable all the time. I don’t think we need to go looking for buyers.”
Across the road, Bill Barboni’s vast marshmallow collection was spread out on a second coming of rye grass, while Black Angus munched in a far field of bailed forage. Bill is selling local, organic grass-fed product to Oliver’s Markets and is busy running a growing business, as well as being a veterinarian. Bill jumped in the local direct market, and Doug looks like he is waiting it out; what’s up?
Marin is a small county by California standards - population 252,409. The county includes 588 square miles, which is 55th out of 58 counties in size, and 54th out of 58 in population. The Agricultural Commissioners’ 2010 Crop Report lists 6% of gross sales going to vegetables and 80% going to grass-based animal and forage agriculture. Most of the conventional calves and lambs are marketed nationally, through larger vertical marketing networks.
So where do most of our agricultural resources reside? On conventional ranches. For more than a few decades now these ranchers have been quietly going about their business raising premium class grass-based livestock and dairy, managing thousands of acres of pastureland, 31,251 head of cattle and sheep, plus a sprinkling of goats, hogs and rabbits. And 278,833 chickens. The heavy agricultural lifting is in livestock.
These generationally inclined ranchers are sitting on well-deserved gold mines of potentially local food. Increasing demand for food grown close to home and the current levels of economic uncertainties will make a regionally marketed industry much more inviting for these ranchers.
Ten years ago local beef, lamb, and specialty meats like goat were not available. Today, they can be found in Marin and Sonoma County markets. As necessity dictates, our conventionally styled livestock producers are well-placed to shift to a profitable local market.
Essentially, every cow or lamb that leaves Marin is a high quality, grass-based agricultural product. Like an Anonymous Rancher said to me eight years ago at the Tomales Post office, “Remember, beef is beef.”