Mark Pasternack of Devil's Gulch Ranch

Mark Pasternack at Devil’s Gulch Ranch has been supplying us with pigs and rabbits for over two years now.  He was very supportive of our Meat Box program that we ran before actually opening our doors here in Berkeley.  He and his wife Myriam run the farm in Nacasio (Marin County).    They have a wonderful website with both Mark and Myriam’s bios as well as the histroy of the farmland.  We asked Mark a few personal questions in an effort to share his presence with our customers.  Here is what he had to say:

TLBS: When did you start doing what you are doing now and how is it that you find yourself doing what you are doing?

I grew up in Southern California but always dreamed of escaping the city and becoming a farmer. In 1971, at the age of 19, I bought the 65-acre heart of the
873-acre ranch known then as Devils Gulch Ranch. Subsequently, Congress included the ranch within the boundaries set for the expanded Golden Gate
Recreation Area in 1980 and bought all but my 65 acres. From 1866 until sometime in the 1940’s, the ranch was used as a grade B dairy (producing cream
that was sold and skim milk that was fed to hogs). From then on until my acquisition of the property in 1971, it was vacant, used only for grazing
cattle.  The barn on the property was originally built in 1866 and I have remodeled it twice. Because the ranch was off the grid, I installed a windmill
in 1973 which was my sole source of electricity until 1980, when I planted the vineyard and connected to Pacific Gas & Electric to pump water for
irrigating. In 2004, I replaced the old windmill with a much larger one that feeds into Pacific Gas & Electric using net-metering just as solar panels
do.  I have raised pigs since my arrival at Devils Gulch Ranch, using milk, bread and tortillas as primary finishing feeds. The rabbits began as 3 breeding
does for 4-H projects 12 years ago, and have increased to well over 6000. We sell to: French Laundry, Chez Panisse, Perbacco, Jardiniere, Auberge du Soleil, Bardessono, Zuni, Kuleto’s, Flour and Water, Poggio, Magnolia, La Folie, Poggio, A-16, One Market, Melisse, Bar Agricle, Bar Jules, Quince, Delfina, Fifth Floor, Foreign Cinema, Saison, Spruce, Stellina, Tender Greens, and more.  Dutton-Goldfield and Sean Thackrey both produce Devils Gulch Ranch Marin County Pinot Noirs from the vineyard, which pair extremely well with the meats. I produces my own compost for the vineyards from the rabbits, pigs and sheep that I raise. I was one of the first in California to graze his sheep in the vineyard during the winter, a trend that is more commonplace now. I sit on the Sonoma County (really district 3) Winegrape Commission, the Petaluma Gap Grape and Wine Alliance, the Marin County Winegrowers Association, and was past vice president of the North Coast Grape Growers Association. Many restaurants have offered Devils Gulch nights featuring their meats and wines from their grapes. Several times a year there are events at the ranch in order for people to have the opportunity to meet me and Myriam, visit, taste, and purchase the products from Devils Gulch Ranch. We welcome questions, dialogue, and networking with anyone interested in food, farming and animal husbandry.  In 2004 we started offering agriculture and nature educational programs, and 2008 created a 501c3 non profit to run them. During this time we have served over 1000 youth with the opportunity to learn about agriculture and nature in the context of a real working ranch. Myriam and I are also involved in international sustainable agriculture development, particularly in Haiti.

TLBS: What’s your favorite thing about your job?

Being able to witness the beauty of nature.

TLBS: What’s your least favorite thing about your job?

Trying to achieve financial sustainability.

TLBS:  What about your farm, product or practices that make you unique?

 We are not truly “unique” as I believe that there is a growing number of people trying to re-evaluate current conventional farming practices and reintegrate the traditional practices that are sustainable, humane, productive, and ecologically sound. Myriam has a degree in Veterinary Medicine from UC Davis, and combined we have over 65 years of animal husbandry experience, so we have a rich reservoir of knowledge and experience to draw from. We strive to work within the limitations of mother nature, not at her expense, and are constantly evaluating how to achieve economic viability within those limitations.  Pigs are one of natures original, and best, recyclers, and do an amazing job of it. Our pork is finished on whole milk (market returns) and whole grain breads (organic) as well as tortillas and green produce. This produces and excellent quality pork while utilizing otherwise wasted resources. A female breeding rabbit can produce more meat in her lifetime than a cow, while utilizing high fiber forages that are not in competition as food sources for humans. Rabbit meat is also extremely nutritious, being high in good fats, protein and easily digestible.

TLBS: What piece of wisdom would you like to pass on to our customers?

 Take the time to get to know your farmer.  Visit the farms as much as possible. Inquire of your grocers and butchers if they have visited the farms, and encourage them to do so. Support those with whom you make a good connection. Learn about how your food is produced. Strive to understand the challenges of food production, and then make reasonable choices based upon that understanding.

TLBS: Your stats?

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: Vanilla

Favorite Color: Silver

Favorite Cuisine: California locavore

Dogs or Cats? Lots! 9 dogs (7 livestock guardians, 1 Rott, 1 Border Collie) 6 cats/home; 8? cats/barn

Astrological Sign: Pices