“Seeing the circle of life from the first rains of the season when the grass greens up and the babies are born, all the way through life.” That’s Loren Poncia’s favorite part about ranching.
Nestled in the coastal hills of Marin County near the town of Tomales, California, Stemple Creek Ranch is a family-owned cattle ranch with a commitment to doing things in a way that cares for the land. Loren, a fourth-generation farmer, runs the ranch with his wife Lisa. They’ve carefully honed their herd over the past fifteen years to produce some of the finest premium finished meat available.
“It’s all about managing the complexities of how Mother Nature deals us a different hand every day,” he tells me over the phone one morning. “We have to figure out how to dance together to make it beneficial to both of us.”
I gave him a call just as I was beginning work here at the farm. The sun was still rising over the orchards, not yet above 90 degrees as it surely would be that afternoon. An easy 9am. Unlike me, who was just starting my day, I was sure Loren had already been up for hours. I get the impression that the Stemple Creek team works around the clock to produce their unparalleled meats.
“I would say the thing that people don’t realize is we do things the hard way,” Loren tells me. “It’s not always the easy way. Or ever really.”
Not only do Loren and Lisa raise really happy, healthy animals, but they also take care to preserve their land for generations to come. That means working hard to enhance the ecosystems and ensure biodiversity where they are. They recognize that healthy soil is the foundation of their success. And considering livestock contribute about 30-40% of global methane emissions* (contributing to the build up of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere), it’s important to consider how to absorb some of that back into the earth by prepping the soil to act as a carbon sink. Through regenerative, organic agricultural practices, Stemple Creek supports the soil’s long-term health and productivity. Without good dirt, what would their grass-fed, grass-finished cattle eat? Without wildlife habitat, lush with grubs and wild forage, what would their free roaming Berkshire pigs eat? And without preserving the natural watershed, how could their daughters Avery and Julianna carry on the family tradition? Stemple Creek thinks now, tomorrow, and decades into the future. They maintain and restore. They use cutting edge solar and gravity flow technology. And they have an intensive schedule of rotational grazing. The intentionality and hard work to go the extra mile (the extra many miles, really) is pretty remarkable.
Stemple Creek Ranch in Marin County, California
“We’ve been doing it this way for a long, long time,” says Loren. “To me, regenerative agriculture means rebirth, regrowing. It means producing amazing, nutrient-dense food and doing it as a dance with Mother Nature so it creates biodiversity at the same time. We’re helping create a lot of life. Mother Nature’s still in charge. We’re just trying to dance with her.”
Stemple Creek is on the forefront of ground-breaking research to show how regenerative agriculture practices can harness atmospheric carbon to improve soil and mitigate the effects of climate change. The Marin Carbon Project even chose them to be one of three 10-year long case studies to measure and improve soil health over time. As I talked about in a recent blog post, good dirt will change the world.
The practices on the ranch have been recognized in other ways, too. The Global Animal Partnership has granted them a Level 4 certification for animal welfare and the majority of their pastureland is certified organic.
“I think that the most important thing that I like to tell consumers is that they control what’s happening,” says Loren. “They get to vote with their money to say, hey do more of this or do less of that.”
Although what we produce differs, Frog Hollow and Stemple Creek have a lot in common as regenerative farmers. We’re involved in an agricultural movement that’s still largely misunderstood or else not given enough wide-spread attention. When we’re able to communicate with consumers about how we do things (the science behind it; the benefit for human, farm, and planet), they’re glad to be supporting the “future of farming”. Every day we’re working against the predominant narrative around our food supply: that food simply appears in the grocery store. With supply chains so vast and not at all transparent, it’s hard to tell where the majority of our food really comes from. For many, the pandemic shed light on what we take for granted about how our food makes it to our table. Connecting directly with farmers demystifies the supply chain and strengthens food systems in the process.
“We’re pretty darn open about everything we do,” Loren replied. “We strive to build our business on honesty, transparency, and quality. Even if it’s something you don’t want to hear, I’m gonna tell you what it is. Authenticity is huge to us. And the result is authentic products that are what we say they are. That’s really important, especially these days.”
But, he admits, it’s hard to convey just what this kind of ranching takes without folks seeing the work that goes in.
“I think if people saw how much money and risk we’ve invested in something we’re not in charge of, they’d be shocked. It makes me nervous because a lot of the stuff we depend on is out of my control: Mother Nature or things like COVID are gonna dictate what happens. We have risk. It can be scary.”
As I suppose anything worth it is, I responded. He agreed.
About his partnership with Frog Hollow, Loren says, “We like to work and align ourselves with other like-minded producers that want to accomplish the same things. It feels really good for us. We’re excited to partner with other ranchers and farmers that really want to do the right thing. It’s pretty simple. We make things way too difficult as people. I say, just find good people that want to accomplish the same goal and work together. Guess what’s gonna happen. Good things are gonna happen.”To order Stemple Creek Ranch meat delivered to your door, visit froghollow.com/collections/stemple-creek-ranch. From hot dogs to steak, ribs, and bacon—we’ve got you covered.