Regenerative Farms & Ranches: Permaculture Food Forests, Weekend Two

By Julia Herring, Permaculture Food Forests Course Participant

On September 28th, the Santa Cruz Permaculture Food Forests class met for our second weekend to celebrate the fall harvest. Our weekend was jam-packed with visits to multiple regenerative ranches, a 50-year-old food forest on the UC Santa Cruz campus, and the bountiful Harvest Festival at the UCSC CASFS Farm.

Bella Vista Olive Ranch

Our first stop took us to the Bella Vista Olive Ranch in Hollister, California, owned and operated by husband and wife duo Pat Stevens and Deborah Muscari. Pat and Deborah purchased their 10 acre hobby farm in 2014 and immediately converted the olive orchard into an organic operation. They grow a mixture of Italian olive varieties specifically for olive oil production and sell their small batch, high quality artisanal olive oil online and at a number of farmer’s markets in the region. 

Pat Stevens explains the history of Bella Vista Ranch in Hollister, CA

Pat and Deborah have incorporated regenerative agricultural practices into their daily operations at Bella Vista ranch in a few exciting ways. First and most obviously, a flock of chickens roams freely among their olive trees. These hens are fertilizing the soil with their manure and providing pest control by eating insects.

Second, Pat only sprays pesticides on his olive trees when absolutely necessary, and even then only sprays a quarter of each tree using GF-120 NF Naturalyte Fruit Fly Bait. This product is made from spinosad, a molasses-like attractant derived from a soil bacterium. It’s very difficult to mass-produce, and therefore, very expensive.

Lastly, vehicle use is minimized throughout the orchard to reduce soil compaction, and rainwater is diverted into the orchard during storms to limit runoff. 

Chickens grazing freely underneath the olive trees at Bella Vista

Hain Ranch Organics

Our next visit took us to Hain Ranch Organics in Tres Pinos, California. Paul Hain is a third generation walnut farmer and has lived in the region since he was a child. Paul converted his walnuts into an organic orchard in the early ‘90s and began incorporating silvopastured broiler chickens underneath his walnut trees in the early 2000’s. 

Like the operation at Bella Vista, silvopasturing (incorporating animals into the understory of an orchard) provides pest control and natural fertilization for Paul’s walnut trees. By Paul’s account, 1000 birds/acre produce 200 pounds of added nitrogen in the soil, which is the recommended amount for synthetic addition! While Paul is currently in the process of winding down his farming operation, he was able to generate additional income during its heyday by selling his silvopastured meat chickens at the local farmer’s market.

Paul Hain explains the logistics of using mobile chicken coops within his walnut orchard

Paicines Ranch

Our last stop on Saturday was Paicines Ranch in Paicines, CA. Paicines Ranch is known for their innovative and experimental large scale regenerative agricultural practices. Their approximately 7,500 acre property includes 500 acres of managed farm lands and roughly 7,000 acres of rangelands, and it will soon include an experimental food forest! Paicines Ranch’s goal is to rehabilitate the land using rotational livestock grazing to encourage the growth of native perennial grasses and discourage the growth of non-native annuals. On the tour, our guide Greg Richardson showed us how planting grapes on a higher-than-average level and wider-than-average spacing within their experimental vineyard allows for the possibility of sheep grazing below the grapes and cash crop planting between rows.

Greg Richardson explains the advantages of planting grapes at a high level in the experimental vineyard at Paicines Ranch

Alan Chadwick Garden

We began our Sunday morning at the world famous Alan Chadwick Garden on the UC Santa Cruz campus. We had the pleasure of listening to a talk from Orin Martin, who has been managing the Chadwick Garden since the ‘70s. He described the various pruning techniques used to manage the garden’s extensive collection of fruit trees, and showed us how five decades of regenerative soil practices has turned their native heavy clay soil into rich, moist, and healthy planting soil. 

To build healthy soil and suppress weeds, Orin and his apprentices seed mustard as a cover crop in the garden each fall, then “chop and drop” the mustard stalks in early Winter and leave it in place to act as a mulch. The Chadwick garden team then sows bell beans within this mustard mulch, and later till the bell bean plants into the soil in early Spring before they begin to fruit. This discourages unwanted weeds, keeps soil covered and moist, and adds desirable nitrogen to the soil.

Orin Martin demonstrates pruning techniques at the Alan Chadwick Garden
Native soil [left] versus the soil currently in the Chadwick garden after 50 years of regenerative soil management techniques [right]


To wrap up our weekend, we attended the UC Santa Cruz Harvest Festival at the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) Farm. This 30 acre student, staff, and apprentice-operated farm founded in 1971 includes hand-dug garden beds, tractor-tilled row crop fields, research fields, orchards, greenhouses, a laboratory, a classroom, and offices. Our class got to attend a lecture from lead Permaculture Food Forests instructor John Valenzuela about preserving the harvest, including dehydrating, fermenting, canning, and pickling techniques for getting the most out of the fall harvest. 

To learn more about the farming and gardening practices at the Alan Chadwick Garden and UCSC Farm, please visit the CASFS website.

Regeneratively managed row crops at the UC Santa Cruz CASFS Farm

Overall, our weekend was filled with examples of farms and ranches practicing regenerative, soil building techniques. While the examples we witnessed all operate on a relatively small scale, the learnings from these farms and ranches help us to imagine what it would be like to expand these practices to a large commercial scale.


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Permaculture Food Forest Course Reflections

This article is the second in a series about the Permaculture Food Forests Course. Click here to read the previous article,

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