Note: Meet Your Farmers is a weekly series where we profile the farmers that mean so much to serious eaters everywhere. This week we catch up with Nancy Prebilich, a California farmer who's also earned her MFA in International Theater and Performance Studies.
Name: Nancy Prebilich
Farm: Gleason Ranch in Sonoma County, California.
How many acres? 98 acres
Your crew: Mother, father, sister, eleven year-old nephews, and five year-old niece.
Hours: 24/7. I wish this was an overstatement, but it truly isn't. Every day we live and breath the ranch. We sleep in the barns at night if a sow is having trouble birthing, we leave a holiday dinner early to make sure everyone is watered and fed, and the minute the work ends in the field, it begins at the desktop.
What you grow: Pastured heritage chicken, turkey, pork, beef, and lamb.
Your customers: Local farmers' markets, Sonoma County Meat Buying Club (a CSA), Bay Area chefs and restaurants (including John Ash & Co., Fairmont at Sonoma Mission Inn, The Duck Club at Bodega Bay Lodge & Spa), and more in the local community via local grocers and community kitchens.
How you got into farming: A desperate attempt to save our 150 year-old family ranch. Growing up, the ranch (an old dilapidated dairy) was a beautiful oasis where I spent my youth, tugging at my grandmother's apron as she made blackberry pies and zucchini relish. While she knew how much all of us treasured our time at the ranch, she always remained adamant that neither her children nor her grandchildren were ever to go into the hard life of ranching. So, none of us did. She lived alone on the ranch while we pursued other careers. In 2005, my beloved grandmother passed away.
My family and I had a choice—to either sell the ranch and end a 150 year-old tradition, or wager everything we had, pull up our boot straps, and fight tooth and nail to preserve what was unanimously so precious to us.
Where did you learn to farm? From my ancestors, namely my grandmother Grace and great uncle Freddy, other local old-timers and young ranchers, books, internet forums, and (like anyone will tell you) the ol' doctrine of "trial and error."
Your farming philosophy: K.I.S.S. Kindness (to our animals), Integrity (to our customers), Simple (just enough to preserve our livelihood), Sustainability (produce nutritious food for our children and community). The land is our identity, the animals we raise are our livelihood. We raise meats and care for the land the same way our ancestors did. This is our home, and these are our children, our neighbors, our community we provide for.
Why do you farm? It's a calling to preserve a legacy, both personally and nationally. I almost don't know who I'd be if I existed but Gleason Ranch did not. When I see memories of my youth reflected in my niece and nephews, running through the fields of tall grass, doing their fair share of daily chores, or assisting with a litter of newborn piglets, I'm reminded why we became ranchers—because this connection with life and nature is priceless and irreplaceable. And nationally, we are among a chosen few who have been faced with the opportunity to turn back the clock and reclaim the landscape of our food-shed.
The best thing about farming? The cycle of life, in all its wonder and beauty, presented to you day-in and day-out.
The worst thing? The unyielding demand.
Most important lesson you've ever learned? Take time to stop and recharge. It can be tough when the work seems endless, but do it. Work becomes a bit smarter, faster, or at the very least, more pleasurable.
What's the most important piece of advice you'd bestow on a young would-be farmer? Listen. Especially to the old-timers. Listen to the weather, the animals, the customers, the "competitors"—always listen. And be grateful, especially when it gets tough.
The future for good food? I am constantly telling people, if my family had found themselves in this position even 10 years ago, it would have been a doom and gloom outlook. Our beautiful ranch would probably have been sold, old oak trees slaughtered, and vineyards put in their place. But these are exciting times. Not only is consumer awareness changing, but consequently, so is consumer consciousness.
People are starting to understand that they have a very active role to play in preserving agriculture, health, the economy, and ecology in America. It is no longer acceptable to play victim to corporate dictatorship when it comes to our food. We make a powerful vote every time we pay the "real price" for "real food" brought to us by "real people." I am nothing but excited for the future of good food.
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