A vision realized | TheUnion.com

A vision realized

Ana Acton and her partner Jeremy Dunlap are taking over the family business, Olala Farms, started 43 years ago on the San Juan Ridge by Back-to-the-Landers and former San Francisco Beatnik artists Arlo Acton and Robyn Martin.
Photo by Laura Petersen |

In 1975, San Francisco Beatnik artists Arlo Acton and Robyn Martin bought 197 acres at the end of Oak Tree Road on the San Juan Ridge.

“When they came, they started planting fruit trees,” said their daughter Ana Acton, driving a quad over hilly terrain as she gave a tour of her family’s property, home of Olala Farms.

She pointed to the un-pruned apple trees with a wild, untraditional shape, the result of practicing natural farming methods taught by Japanese Farmer Masanobu Fukuoka.

Many of the trees her father planted continue to grow and bear fruit — Pears, persimmon, Asian pear, Italian plum and more. It was an old homestead with 22 springs, barns, fruit trees and the perfect South West exposure for growing things. Indian grinding stones are evidence that this place has fed people for a long time.

“People have lived here forever,” said Ana Acton.

Now into their later years — Robyn in her 70s and Arlo his 80s — the couple is tired and ready to hand off the duties of the farm to the next generation.

In 2010, Ana Acton and her partner Jeremy Dunlap moved back to the family farm. Dunlap grew up in South County raising goats. In 2012, their son, Aksel, was born. The name means “father of peace” in Norwegian.

“We’re trying to carry on the family tradition,” said Ana.

Ana manages the farm paperwork and Jeremy works the land. Dunlap worked full time in the construction industry before shifting to be a full-time farmer. In addition to raising produce for the farm, he raises pigs and cows for the family.

“Whatever I do, I have to be outside,” he said.

He finds fulfillment in the long days on the land.

“I like seeing the plants from seed to finish. It’s fun to see them complete their cycles,” he said.

In 2014, Olala Farms started selling to restaurants like Peterson’s Corner, Ridge Stop Café, Three Forks Bakery and Brewing Company and locally-owned grocery stores like BriarPatch Co-op, Natural Selection and SPD. They sell certified organic chestnuts to Veritable Vegetable. This is the first year they are selling direct to consumers at Nevada County Certified Growers’ Market each Saturday at the historic North Star House and at the Penn Valley market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursdays.

On a recent market morning, the couple could be found selling shiso leaf, basil, summer squash, lemon and Armenian cucumbers, peaches, heirloom tomatoes, peppers, melons and flowers. Soon, look for persimmons and strawberries plus special bulk boxes of fruit and grapes for canning, juicing and wine making.

Back in the 1970s, Arlo Acton healed the land damaged by years of overgrazing. He adopted organic practices and the ideas stuck. Intentionally choosing to live off-the-grid, the couple raised four children on the land — Ana, Arrow, Zeno and Orb.

“They have this amazing vision,” said Ana, speaking of her parent’s healthy lifestyle and community involvement.

“They’ve always been an example for me, that life is bigger than you,” she said.

Today, Ana Acton is the Executive Director of FREED Center for Independent Living. Freed is a disability and aging resource center that provides services to residents in Nevada, Sierra, Yuba, Sutter and Colusa Counties. For three years, she worked in Sacramento at the state’s Department of Rehabilitation. She came home every chance she could.

“You can’t take the Nevada County out of me,” she said.

Even before local food became a trend, Ana remembers her family being a fixture at farmers markets. In addition to the colorful produce, her mom specializes in skin products – tinctures and salves made from medicinal herbs. Ana made flower arrangements.

Growing up without white sugar or white flour or packing a school lunch of garden vegetable stew wasn’t her ideal back then. But now she’s thankful for her upbringing and the values she learned.

“They were doing the farmer thing. It’s cool that organic is now mainstream,” Ana said.

Robyn Martin says she and her husband Arlo are delighted the next generation is taking over the farm. They’ve slowed down but still live close to the land and each of its seasons.

“We’re tired. We’ve been here 43 years. We’ve had a lot of fun. We’ve had successes and plenty of failures. We’re grateful,” she said.

They will continue to make their home on the San Juan Ridge, a place they call the “hub of the universe.”

“This is such a great foundry where you come into so many energies. Everything is happening here and it’s a great way to see where things intersect.”

Learn more about Olala Farms at: http://olalafarms.com/

Contact Freelance Writer Laura Petersen at laurapetersen310@gmail.com or 530-913-3067.

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