Farming and ranching for 40 years has taught Jenny Cavaliere a thing or two about agriculture.
For the past 24 of those years, Cavaliere has spent her time managing 63 acres in the isolated rural community of Oregon House.
Bathed in the warm sun of a chilly December afternoon, young Angus heifers grazed as Cavaliere talked about how a love of locally grown food guides her life.
She remembers when at the age of four she cuddled up to a Holstein dairy cow that had wandered near her home in the New Jersey suburbs. She first learned the art of marketing when in kindergarten she gathered up tomatoes from her father’s backyard garden and sold them to neighbors living in her subdivision.
At age 60, the tough and dignified owner of Oregon House Farms and High Sierra Beef is fiercely committed to putting her small rural foothill farm community on the map.
Her focus is paying off. Her projects Oregon House Farms and High Sierra Beef are both featured as part of the online National Geographic Sierra Nevada Geotourism Map Guide.
Next, she hopes to gain recognition by Sunset Magazine.
Cavaliere first opened her farm store housed inside a century old barn on Fourth of July 2007.
What began as a way to market her beef has evolved into a “community business incubator” where neighbors come every weekend rain or shine to shop for locally produced goods and share in some good old fashioned conversation.
“It’s not just about me. It’s about lots of local products,” Cavaliere said.
This time of year visitors will find certified organic potatoes, Lundberg rice, persimmons, local chestnuts, mandarins, squash, honey, olive oil, six local wines, fresh baked bread, lavender products, books and goat milk soap. In the fridge there are local eggs, fresh broccoli, tender mixed salad greens and fresh stewing hens and a freezer full of grass fed beef and pastured pork and lamb.
With farmers markets concluded in Nevada County, the store offers up local food and crafts sought for holiday gifts and meals.
Cavaliere makes a point to build a fire on winter weekends and offers up warm food for her visitors.
Already the popularity of the store has influenced the opening of farmers markets in nearby Brownsville and Dobbins and a potential new CSA is emerging. The brewing food movement in the area helped to germinate the organization, North Yuba Grown this year – one more tool to help locals tap into a robust population of recreating tourists who flock to nearby beaches during the summer months.
“We’re trying to develop a very vibrant agritourism up here,” Cavaliere said. In 2010, Cavaliere ran for Yuba County supervisor with the platform: Jobs, Agriculture and Water.
With rich soil, access to mountain snow runoff and a Mediterranean climate the region has proved ideal for wine growing and cattle grazing since the Gold Rush. Olives, too, are an important staple of the region’s food economy.
“We’re kind of the lost area but I think we’re not going to be lost too much longer,” she said.
She’d like to see more farmers become politically engaged. At the top of her list of social reforms, Cavaliere wants to see more local food served to children at area schools. She sees joining forces with other foothill agriculture areas like Nevada County as a way to bring the needs of small rural farming communities to the attention of lawmakers.
“We all kind of have a similar message…I think we need to be organized and have one sound voice for what we need,” she said.
Cavaliere first fell in love with Oregon House when she and her late husband discovered the area in the late 1980s.
A former stagecoach stop, cattle have grazed Cavaliere’s property since before she settled the land. Before the roads went in, it was all open range. A cow named, “Sarah” helped start it all.
“Every one I have is related to Sarah. Over the years I built a herd,” Cavaliere said.
High Sierra Beef started in 2002 as a pilot project made up of about 10 ranches from six counties with help from the High Sierra Resource Conservation District and a USDA rural development grant. When grant funding ran dry, Cavaliere took over the project in 2007.
She now proudly raises her Angus cattle with “incredible genetics” on about 50 acres of pasture land in Oregon House and a 2,500 acre ranch owned by her friend and business partner at the base of the Cascade range in the state of Oregon.
“To me local is where it’s best raised and as close to home as possible,” Cavaliere said.
Cavaliere delivers her products within a two to three hour drive and ships to all 48 of the lower contiguous United States.
Her animals are never grain fed. Instead, they are raised exclusively on cow’s milk, wild grasses and certified organic hay.
“I know my animals. I know ‘em from birth,” she said.
Cavaliere rises early. She knows long days and rarely can afford outside help. She struggles but she’s paying the bills.
She grows certified organic vegetables as part of Oregon House Farms. Since 2004, the farm and ranch has provided all of her income.
“It all begins with the letter ‘w’ and ends with ‘k.’ It’s work,” she said.
The Oregon House Farm Store is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For more information call (530) 692-2564.
Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at 401-4877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.