Nestled in the grassy hills of northern California sits a sprawling 2,000 acre ranch. For several years, I’ve purchased their olives, mandarins and their extraordinary olive oil. It’s something I value – knowing our growers and sourcing as close to home as possible (and for olive oil and citrus, California is as close as it gets for us, though I do still have a place in my heart for a special good Greek olive oil, dark chocolate, good wine, obscure and wild-crafted herbs and other occasional, long-traveled treats).
I’d wanted to visit their ranch for a while – and while we make relatively frequent trips to California (and on those long road trips these tips always come in handy), making the trip up there never quite worked out – that is, until recently. I’ve been working on my upcoming cookbook – taking photographs of sustainable farms across the country, we stopped by Chaffin for a few days to stay at the farm with a few other friends, bloggers, chefs within traditional foods community.
My Visit to the Ranch
When we first arrived, we drove down a gravel road into what I later learned to be the largest old growth olive orchard in California. We pulled up, arrived at our tent – a small soft-sided cabin, really, with wood floors, running water, a wood-burning stove on which we boiled water for tea every morning, composting toilet and enough beds and down comforters to sleep six comfortably. They named each tent for a variety of fruit grown in the orchard: Calimyrna for figs, Blenheim for apricots.
We settled in immediately, relieved to be free from the long hours on the road and refreshed by the sweet soft air beneath the Mission olive trees.
Chaffin’s History (and future)
Chaffin is unique in that their sprawling 2,000 acre ranch holds the largest old-growth olive trees in North America and it was further designed in the 1930s to produce fruit year-round like satsumas, pomegranates, grapefruit, persimmons and stone fruit – enabling farm workers to live and work every week of the year so that, unlike migrant workers, they could send their children to school, save money and become part of a community. And, in this way, Chaffin has been a refuge of socially responsible farming from the very beginning.
More recently, however, Chaffin has evolved. That is, following the Joel Salatin model, Chaffin has diversified their ranch to include livestock: beef cattle, chickens for eggs and meat, goats and even sheep for wool. This diversification – the inclusion of animals on the farm as an integral part of farming – has enabled them not only to diversify income streams, but also to help manage the farm as well: hens provide bug control and fertilizer, eat fallen fruit so it doesn’t attract pests, sheep and goats and cattle provide weed control in the orchards. You see, the animals need the land and, more importantly, the land needs the animals. Significantly, this model of agriculture utilizes 85% less fossil fuel inputs according to Chaffin Farms’ Chris Kerston. Its a win-win model of farming.
Because of mindful planting of the orchards – with trees spaced far apart instead of close together, diversification of crops and inclusion of animals – Chaffin produces some of the best olive oil and fruit in the U.S., all of which is sold directly to the consumer instead of to middlemen.
Olive Oil Futures (and bulk discounting)
Even if you didn’t win the recent giveaway (congratulations Claire!), you might consider pre-ordering your olive oil. Using a model similar to the classic CSA, Chaffin offers their olive oil at a steep discount for those purchasing in advance – 2 gallons of olive oil including shipping for $120.
Since their olive oil consistently sells out, it’s wise to preorder as early as you can and have it shipped to you as soon as pressing is complete – usually some time in January. For large purchases or for groups working together, Chaffin will ship 10 gallons of oil to you for $50 per gallon which is a discount of about $22 per gallon over their regular rate. For buying clubs, Weston A Price Foundation chapters and like-minded neighbors and friends, it’s an incredible value.