Jane Kuhn - Aug 13, 2017

How Root Down Farm Gets Down

Located less than four gently winding miles East of the Pacific Ocean in Pescadero, CA, Root Down Farm (RDF) raises chickens, turkeys, ducks, and pigs in rotational pastures. Dede Boies, the farmer extraordinaire at RDF has taken the business into its third year of production and spoke with me to discuss why farming livestock is so enticing and the challenges that accompany it.

Why Livestock?
The idea to farm livestock at Root Down was a truly place-based decision. “It all started with the opportunity to farm on this particular piece of land” recalls Dede. “The soil wasn’t that great and needed work, so it was a natural fit to bring my interest and skills with livestock management to the business. I’ve always been more drawn to animals and find them so much more fulfilling. It’s a lot of responsibility, but also incredibly rewarding to be 100% responsible for another creature’s life.”

At Root Down, they strive to give animals the best life they can to provide consumers another choice when buying meat. Dede is passionate about the meat people choose to eat, “as the choices we have in this country are pretty awful.”

How Heritage Breeds can Improve Your Soil
RDF rotationally grazes livestock through pastures with the driving goal of improving the soil and its biodiversity. They achieve this via the behaviors of the animals they raise by intentionally selecting heritage breeds. “It’s important to have genetics of heritage breed livestock because they are ultimately more sustainable in the long run” notes Dede. Heritage breeds haven’t lost natural characteristics in favor of industrial-quality characteristics, so, “their behaviors thrive in this setting; they thrive being outside and rotated.” Many mainstream breeds are hybridized to grow inside, but when people take them outside to graze it doesn’t work so well. “We are raising breeds that have been living and surviving outside for thousands of years.”

Educating the Consumer
Second to creating a sustainable farming business, Dede’s efforts of educating consumers, are some of her greatest challenges. Convincing folks why they should spend more money on a product that they aren’t used to eating, cooking, or serving, isn’t easy. But Dede empathizes with consumers, “being a consumer is so hard on so many terms.” She considers the farm itself a platform for the necessary educational exchange between consumer and farmer. “People want to see cute things, and we have a lot of them. It gets them here and then we can have the conversation that we are in fact raising these animals to eat. People are drawn here for different reasons, but we use that traffic as an avenue for conversations around how most animals are raised in this country and why we’re doing it differently.” Root Down wants to serve as a place to get folks talking about food- questioning it, and understanding that their meat was in fact a life before making it to their dinner plate.

Does Organic Certification Matter?
Despite the Farm’s best efforts, Dede knows consumers aren’t always educated in meat. “They think ‘organic’ is a good thing, but they don’t typically know what that means for meat, eggs, dairy, etc.” Despite raising all livestock according to organic standards, Root Down isn’t able to be certified because they don’t have a certified organic processing facility within 7 hours of the farm. Fortunately, for RDF, they sell directly to consumers and can have that conversation with their customers on site or at the farmer’s market. In fact, in Dede’s experience, “most consumers don’t care. They care more about how the animal was raised, if it had pasture outside and was treated well, rather than an organic label.” Root Down Farm is Animal Welfare Approved, but one doesn’t necessarily mean the other.

Dede Boies and other folks at Root Down Farm are raising animals in the best way they can, on the land they have, to provide consumers an alternative choice to industrialized meat. They work hard, do good work, and provide an opportunity for us all to look more closely at what we think we know about livestock production, the benefits and restraints of organic certification, and the educational gaps in our food system.

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Jane works as a Field Production Specialist at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, where her days are filled with tractor work, irrigation coordination, orchard care, and educating apprentices and interns. Her favorite way to end a long day's work in the sun, is running down the hill to Mitchell's Cove and jumping in the Pacific.


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