The next generation of farming: AM Ranch, Super Tuber Farm team up
February 16, 2018
Across the nation, the small family farm is in decline.
But in Nevada County, there is a whole new generation that has taken up the mantle of organic farming and finding new and creative ways to make a go at this difficult, but rewarding, way of life.
This is not surprising, given the area's fertile soil, agricultural heritage, and the fact that this was a mecca in the 1960s-70s for the "back to the land" movement.
What the younger generation is finding is that farming can be a costly endeavor. Between fees for permits, water, the high cost of land, and much more, it is nearly impossible for one family to start a new farm or ranch. But with the innovative spirit of America's youth, millennials are finding a way to make their farming dreams come true by working together for the good of all.
That is just what two young families did, and now the collaboration between Super Tuber Farm and AM Ranch has both businesses thriving and growing each year.
Jeremy Mineau, one of the owners of Super Tuber Farm, was wondering how he was going to manage that much space and was interested in renting part of his land to another farmer. He hoped they could share the work of keeping up the land.
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Enter AM Ranch, and the two began their collaboration in 2013. It has worked well for both organizations ever since.
The partnership has been a benefit to both farms in many ways, from sharing of the work of keeping up the property to smarter land management. For example, the AM Ranch pigs and chickens go in the pastures after Super Tuber is done harvesting so that they can get whatever was left after the harvest and fertilize the soil.
They rotate the parcels so each pasture has a year of rest after the animals have been in it before the next crop is planted. And, they all get along wonderfully.
Ciara Fuller is sixth generation Nevada County resident. She grew up in a family with a logging history that raised its own animals and had an apple orchard.
Her fiancée, Michael Shapiro, had quite a different background. Born in Texas, he had a father whose job took the family all over the country. He lived in Los Angeles, Colorado, and Washington while growing up. Obviously, Michael didn't grow up farming, but discovered after graduating from high school it was his passion. He went to work for a biodynamic farm in North Carolina and blossomed from there.
His family loved Nevada County, so Michael went on a quest to find a piece of property to continue his own dream of farming here. He found the family-owned AM ranch and thought it was exactly what he was looking for, and so in 2012 he took a leap of faith and bought it. Shortly after he bought the farm, Michel went to Penn Valley True Value to get some supplies and met Ciara Fuller, and it was love at first sight.
There is a saying that "behind every successful rancher is a woman who works in town," and AM Ranch is no exception. Every day, Ciara wakes up and goes to work at True Value Fence and Ranch supply while Michael goes out and does whatever needs to be done including moving chickens, moving pigs, basic ranch maintenance, fixing fences and anything else necessary.
Once Ciara gets home they tag team; he waters the animals, she feeds and checks the breeding animals, and then they go to bed and do it all over again. Every nine days, the couple has to irrigate. "That is the hardest 36 hours in the life of a rancher" Ciara said. "Every drop of water is precious."
While he had originally set his sights on growing vegetables, Michael found the soil was unsuitable, so he turned his sights to raising animals instead. AM Ranch produces pigs, chickens, and cattle and their beef, pork and eggs sell out weekly at the Nevada City Farmers Market.
They also sell directly off the ranch and provide eggs to Wheyward Girl Creamery in Nevada City. Being big on community (and beer), AM Ranch also has a great partnership with Three Forks.
"We get all of their spent beer grain pre-fermentation and feed that to a specific group of steers and then all of that beef goes to Three Forks," Michael explained. "All of our beef at the farmers market is grass fed; only the beef that goes to Three Forks gets supplemented with that spent grain. And all of the animals are pasture fed and raised."
Not only are the animals raised humanely, they are treated with compassion during their final moments, as well. All animals are taken to Petaluma to an animal welfare approved slaughterhouse and are killed in the most humane way possible. "The day that they go to the slaughterhouse is the day that they are slaughtered," Ciara explained. "That creates a lot more work for us because that means we're driving to Petaluma a lot more, but to us that's what we have to do. There are other slaughterhouses closer, but nothing like the quality that we find there."
Caring for the animals is the biggest passion that Ciara and Michael have, and they work to ensure that each animal on their ranch has the very best life possible. "Animals are our passion, and being able to spend our life with animals is extremely rewarding, as is being able to supply the public with a superior product. We get to see it through and know that these animals are raised the right way and then see the people enjoying what we have done," Ciara said.
Super Tuber Farm
Jeremy had no previous family connection to Nevada County.
Once he came here in 2010 to work as a farm intern at Mountain Bounty Farm, he fell in love with the area and with farming. After the first year as in intern at Mountain Bounty, he was promoted to manager.
"That was my foray into farming, and from day one I realized that I knew that this is what I wanted to do," he said. "Before that I was just a gardener just for fun."
While at Mountain Bounty, Jeremy met Amanda Thibodeau, who was working on another farm at the Nevada City Farmer's Market. They bonded instantly because they were both working similar jobs and had come to the area at a transitional point in their lives.
"We started hanging out and became friends," Jeremy said. "It started out fun and playful and really fell into place for us and became something beautiful."
During his third year at Mountain Bounty, Jeremy worked with Living Lands to secure access to land so that he could start Super Tuber Farm. That first season, he only planted a half acre of potatoes because his work duties demanded most of his time, but the next year, he took the plunge, quit Mountain Bounty, and decided to make Super Tuber his full-time job.
"It was extremely hard and a lot more work than I thought it would be for a lot less financial reward that first year, but I was doing something for myself and growing vegetables for myself, and having my own business was really satisfying," Jeremy said.
Today, Super Tuber sells potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and beets at BriarPatch, Tahoe Food Hub, three restaurants in town, and at the Nevada City Farmer's Market.
"At the Nevada City Farmers Market we're right next to each other and we can talk about the farm colloboratively," Ciara said. "Jeremy and his workers are so nice and supportive, they buy meat and eggs from us and we buy from them. It's a great partnership."
It's not just the two farms that work together; there is a lot of cooperation in the agricultural community in Nevada County. Super Tuber Farm also has a site in Nevada City that neighbors First Rain Farm and the two share equipment. Since they each don't need their own compost spreader or manure spreader, they share the high-priced equipment to keep expenses down.
Other famers have also been cooperative. For instance River Hill, Mountain Bounty, Fog Dog Farm, and other farms run by this next generation of farmers and ranchers all connect and talk to each other and help each other out when they need solutions. They also buy fertilizer and seed together to reduce costs.
Jeremy is quick to point out that he could not do what he does without the support of his wonderful wife and four awesome employees.
He is proud that one of his employees and a couple of other farm employees in the area are working on a lease on a piece of land in Placerville to start a cooperatively owned farm there. "It's neat to share that passion," Jeremy said. "All of my employees are passionate about doing this and really care. Having people who really care about good food and taking care of the land really makes a big difference."
Because their partnership has been so successful, AM Ranch and Super Tuber Farm will both be expanding their operations and moving to their each location to support the increased demand for their products. "The collaboration between AM Ranch and Super Tuber has been so rewarding these past few years.
It has allowed both businesses to grow to the point that they are able to expand and start new ventures. This upcoming season Super Tuber will be relocating to a new location and AM Ranch will continue expanding on their own ranch," said Ciara.
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