MOUNTAIN HOME RANCH
A SANCTUARY OF SUSTAINABILITY
We are addressing all aspects of our environment: how we interact with it, and how everything we do as a human species impacts everyone and everything around us.
It is time we made a commitment to weaning ourselves off oil and onto sustainable resources and address the challenges we face globally. Since 1997 we have replaced all light bulbs with CFL’s and implemented use of timers that run most of our heavy motors at night when use and rates are lower. Old appliances have been replaced with energy efficient ones and a program to insulate our cabins has been initiated, which also helps to reduce our energy needs. With these changes, while our business has over doubled our electric bill has stayed the same.
SOLAR and WIND ELECTRIC POWER PLANT
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory [NREL], we are in the second-highest category for solar energy – only the southwestern desert areas of California, Arizona and New Mexico have a higher potential. Our model house integrates an over-built system of photovoltaics for our power needs. We chose to tie into the grid for several reasons: availability of rebates to offset costs of the system; in addition, the batteries needed for storage, we felt, were too toxic for the environment; and finally, by making our excess power available, we give back to our community at a time when our use is low but the community needs are high. Our commitment is to our environment and the people around us. We also are using solar energy for heating our water which, in turn heats our house with radiant floor heating. We have also designed the house to maximize passive solar heating during the winter months.
We plan to expand our solar array and are also looking into wind power. To provide all the needs, power wise, for our extended community is a one of our goals.
Another sustainable source of energy is wood. We have installed a wood gasification system from Greenwood to heat our pool as well as the water in our lodge and units around the pool. We have an endless supply of wood available to us in the form of dying trees and brush. 45 years ago, after a devastating forest fire that ripped through the area, the forest service came through and replanted. Unfortunately many of these non-native trees are dying from an invasive beetle that girdles them, cutting off their nutrient supply. On average we loose 5-10 trees per year. By burning them in our wood gasification system we are able to heat the water, reducing our need for propane for that purpose. In addition, the Department of Emergency Services has encouraged all of us that live in the county to clear defensible space around our property, reducing the risk of structure lose during a fire. With this request they also ask that we not burn the slash for air quality concerns so we are chipping all of this small material. We then bag it and use it in our wood gasification system. Our system is made in a revolutionary style that burns at such a high temperature that the emissions are a fraction of other similar type systems. Greenwood just received the Brilliant Innovation Award for this system – the Award celebrates innovative environmental solutions that go beyond “green.”
The clean-burning system leaves few particles to create smoke, creosote or ash and are up to 85-percent efficient. Because it operates at such high efficiency, the furnace also uses 50-percent less wood than other wood-burning furnaces. So our traditional burn piles now turn what used to be wasted energy and pollution into something very useful and clean.
As stewards of this 340+ acre facility our intention is to leave it healthier than we found it for the generations to come.
INNOVATIVE SEPTIC SOLUTION
Perfectly good potable water to flush away our waste products is not necessary, and not a good use of our resources. As water becomes more scarce, it is prudent to find other methods to dispose of, or use, our waste. Composting toilets, like that which are used at several of the national parks including the Grand Canyon, or incinolets, that burn our waste, make so much more sense for the disposal of our human bi-products. Team these with extensive grey-water systems and you have a good alternate solution. If we are pumping water out of the land we should use it to it’s fullest before returning it. Bathing, laundry or washing dishes,…. is one use, but if we can add watering the landscape to this ‘used’ grey water we reduce our need for this precious resource. In our state, California, where keeping it green around your house is not only aesthetically pleasing but extremely helpful for fire protection/prevention, grey water systems seem the logical solution. While these systems are currently not approved in our county we are working to make this happen.
As part of the effort to re-engineer onsite gardens, staff have been trained through Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Occidental, CA. Knowledge gained through this training inspired the process of changing the ways we use the land.. Between our grandmother tree, an old growth redwood that has been on this planet for several thousand years, and the petrified wood some 3.4 million years in the making, that lies abundantly about, we are reminded that if we are to grace this land for even 100 + years, we should be gentle and regenerative in our practices, leaving it in good health if there are to be future generations.
One of our staff recently graduated from a year long permaculture program (permanent agriculture) at the Regenerative Design Institute of Northern California. The information/practices learned help further our efforts which include:
- The swales throughout the land help us to capture and retain, in the soil, as much water as we can. This helps keep our stream running year-round, as well as the plants greener longer into the summer. These swales also catch the eroding soil that we can then put back into the gardens.
- We have expanded our edible and herbal gardening practices; a benefit to not only the humans on the land but the wildlife as well. What we don’t eat they will.
- Our plan is to provide most of what we serve to our guests, from the land, so we have begun planting much of the space surrounding the developed land. Our abundance of fruit trees provide not only fresh fruit but the jams and chutneys we serve throughout the year. We do not use any chemicals to grow our crops. Our animals provide all of our fertilization and with crop rotation and planting many insect attracting plants, all stays in harmony.
- Our work with herbal medicine has also been of great value. Learning how to support not only our health but the health of the animals, naturally, has been exciting. Chamomile works so much better than tranquilizers for calming, with no side effects, when the need arises. A water infusion of lemon balm and mint, is not only a tasty beverage but a great digestive aide, as are many of our infused waters, learned through our studies at the California School of Herbal Medicine.
BACKGROUND: Statistics say that our food travels and average of 2,000 miles to get to our plate. The resources this takes, not to mention the pollution, is something we are committed to reducing. This food is also being highly managed with chemicals and is losing its nutritional value. The latest study says “Fruits and vegetables not as nutritious as 50 years ago.” Data collected by the U.S. government show that the nutritional content of America’s vegetables and fruits has declined during the past 50 years — in some cases dramatically.
Donald Davis, a biochemist at the University of Texas, suspects the trend in agriculture toward encouraging crops that grow the fastest and biggest is a reason for the decline. The tradeoff is that the faster-growing plants aren’t able to acquire the nutrients that their slower-growing cousins can, either by synthesis or from the soil.
With these findings this leads us to expand our gardens providing the healthiest of produce for our guests. Many years ago, people grew their own food in their yards. The permaculture movement is leading us back to these healthier ways of living.
We are blessed to have an 11 acre foot lake (3.6 million gallons) for most of our watering needs, but in keeping with being good stewards of the land have put in extensive drip systems throughout the developed property. By setting the timers for an evening watering schedule, we reduce evaporation, and the use of drip systems reduces the amount of water needed to keep our gardens healthy and lush. Using lake water, which is rain water catchment, rather than ground water for irrigation, not only protects the ground water supplies, but studies have shown that irrigating with ground water releases the stored carbon back into the atmosphere, which leads to global warming.
On-site domestic animals are a big learning tool for us and our guests. We encourage guest interaction with our animals by providing carrots to feed them and by helping us collect eggs. Many of our guests’ children have opted for a vegetarian diet once they got the food-source connection by associating these living breathing creatures with what they buy wrapped at the grocery store. The education value, to get people reconnected to the cycles of life, is an interesting process. We find it troubling when people ask us if we milk our cow and are surprised to find out that she doesn’t just naturally give milk; being a mammal she needs to get pregnant for milk to come in, and the by-product of this practice on the dairy farms is veal. Another common question is people asking how the rooster fertilizes the egg, not understanding that it happens way before it comes out of the hen. These examples are only a few of the major disconnects in our culture that an experience at the Ranch can start to remedy.
We have extensive practice in Equine Acupressure and have found it, along with the use of herbal medicine, most helpful in maintaining happy, healthy animals. Our efforts have led to extended longevity in our domestic animals. Our black lab lived until she was 18, cats 18, 19, 20 and 24, chickens 14+, goats the same age range. Our vets used to be amazed at their long lives but now are used to it. This practice of acupuncture and herbs, while originally studied for our horses, has translated beautifully to the well being of all our animals. Many of these techniques are shared with the guests who bring their animals during their visits.
Our animals also earn their keep. They are active parts of the ranch, containing the vegetation: from mowing the grasses (they do great edge work) to pruning the trees as high as they can reach, a great thing for reducing the likelihood of wild land fire spread. They also provide all of our fertilization needs for the grounds; we have a great mix of horses, cows, sheep, goats, chickens and bunnies. They also provide the local nesting birds with a variety of nesting material as they shed out every year. It is not uncommon to see their fur in nests that have fallen after a big wind.
It is not just domestic animals that are our concern. We actively work with the Sonoma Land Trust and the Sonoma County Open Space District to provide a protected wildlife corridor over our property. As we plan new gardens, we are using “fedges” rather than fences. These “fedges” are constructed of edible plants that are impassable to the deer while providing them with some edible treats on their side of the “fedge”. They also provide great habitat for the smaller animals and feathers friends. As civilization and its fences moves in, we want to assure that this is a place where the deer and antelope will continue to play.
We have also been working with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue. We are certified through Fish and Game to do rehab for the babies that come in every spring. We also release some of the rehabbed animals on our land. All are welcome here.
EXTENSIVE REUSE/RECYCLE PROGRAM
This land has been in the family for almost 100 years. Some of the residual ‘great depression’ mentality of holding onto everything, broken or not, has stockpiled a lot of what appeared to be useless stuff. We have slowly but surely either found ways to re-use this clutter, always our first choice, or have sent it off to the appropriate recycling facility, not the land fill. We are in the process of remodeling several units with wood that we have saved from neighbor’s homes and barns that were on their way to the dump. Running the boards through a planer, 100 year old redwood barn planks are quite attractive! We are firmly against adding to the landfill problems if at all possible. We provide two cans in every unit; one for garbage and one for recycling, encouraging our guests to join us in this effort.
Subscribing to maintain minimum impact, we utilize only environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, by Vaska and EO. All of our laundry and housekeeping supplies are good for the environment, better for the health of the staff, smell good, and clean better than traditional, harsh, chemicals. It is a company that, in our opinion, has some of the best customer service we have ever experienced. They come out monthly to make sure everything is working properly and training the staff on best use practices – a refreshing change. By providing this kind of care to our environment we hope to encourage our guests to think about what they use when they go home. Every one of use makes a difference.
In addition, we shop local whenever possible and buy from the local farmers market, while our gardens develop.
We hope you will join us in taking better care of our mother earth.