Taking care of the land: Young ranchers’ passion for animals shows in product | TheUnion.com

Taking care of the land: Young ranchers’ passion for animals shows in product

Michael Shapiro and Ciara Fuller raise cattle, hogs and chickens at AM Ranch in Penn Valley. Here they are pictured with their cow dog, “Tex.”
Laura Petersen |

On 65 acres in the heart of Penn Valley’s agricultural community, Michael Shapiro and Ciara Fuller raise cattle, hogs and chickens at AM Ranch and consider the animals family.

“We connect with every single animal here. We are producing something superior to what you’d find in the store,” said Ciara Fuller, on a recent sunset-lit fall evening at the ranch where she and Michael Shapiro live and work the land.

Nearly every Saturday, the couple sets up shop at Nevada City Farmers Market, selling cuts of their grass-fed and finished beef and lamb and free-range pork supplemented with non-GMO feed. Soon they will have eggs to sell and in coming months, hopefully a small meat CSA.

“With the size of the property, it’s really about people getting quality not quantity. It’s about finding that middle ground,” said Shapiro,111 who first fell in love with the agrarian life in his early 20s.

“I had really gotten drawn to animals more than anything else. For me it’s more satisfying. It just feels so right.”Michael Shapiro

He grew up in Texas, between Dallas and Fort Worth in a rural setting similar to his current Penn Valley home, marked by suburbs and large ranches. Most summers, his family would take a long road trip to Nevada County to visit friends and camp out at the Yuba River.

After finishing high school early, Shapiro moved to Los Angeles to play music in alternative country and rock bands. He grew tired and uninspired by the lifestyle.

“I was desperately seeking to do something outside,” he said.

He moved to North Carolina and landed a job at a newly started farm. There his path shifted, when he met two young farmers with a biodynamic farming background. Over the next few years, he patched together freelance gigs farming and machine work between North Carolina and Nevada County and a landscaping job in Colorado.

“I realized working outside was what I really liked to do,” he said.

Eventually, Michael Shapiro found his way back permanently to Nevada County. That’s when he befriended two young farmers Matthew Shapero and Jeremy Mineau. At the time Matthew Shapero and Mineau were considering starting farming ventures of their own, while Michael Shapiro’s father was ready to invest in Nevada County land. That’s when the 65-acre piece in Penn Valley became available.

“When we got here, the land had very little life in it and the grasses were 10 feet tall. To see that come back is really exciting,” said Michael Shapiro. With time and careful land management, Shapiro has watched the health of his family’s ranch recover. With patience, Shapiro has spent the last three years getting the land back into shape, fixing fences and installing farm infrastructure.

For a time, Matthew Shapero ran sheep on the property.

Jeremy Mineau, owner of Super Tuber Farm, continues to grow vegetables on the property.

Michael Shapiro, Fuller and their little cow dog “Tex” walked past Mineau’s neat rows of potatoes, cabbage, carrots and corn.

“I like to say this is the stew garden,” Michael Shapiro said.

Shapiro and Fuller met two years ago. Fuller works at the nearby True Value Hardware store, has “lived here forever” and grew up in the woods.

A sixth generation Nevada County native, her family has a background in timber and ranching. She says her partnership with Shapiro works well because they both share a passion for animals.

At a fenced off area, sows foraged happily. The couple raises Berkshire, red wattle and large black hogs. When Shapiro started, raising animals for meat was a new venture.

“I had really gotten drawn to animals more than anything else. For me, it’s more satisfying. It just feels so right,” he said.

Shapiro lives adjacent to farming and ranching families that have worked the land for generations. These new neighbors offer support and friendship. Shapiro buys his Angus-Hereford Cross steers from a rancher up the road.

Rather than spend the end of their days in a feedlot, Shapiro’s cattle eat good quality grass, outside and get to move around.

For Shapiro, growing healthy animals goes beyond taste and a chemical-free food product. To him, it is all about the health of the land.

“The more we can take care of the land, the more it can take care of itself,” he said.

Look for AM Ranch from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday at Nevada City Farmers Market where they will have a variety of cuts of pork, beef and lamb.

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

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