Farming with Mother Nature

Dede Boies, of Root Down Farm near Pescadero, Calif., with her livestock guardian dog, Bunny. The dog guards the farm's heritage turkeys, chickens, pigs and ducks from predators.

Dede Boies raises heritage breeds organically


For the Capital Press

PESCADERO, Calif. — Dede Boies says the road from growing up on the East Coast to operating an organic farm on the Northern California coast was long and winding.

“After college I wanted to learn more about growing food so I signed up for a world-wide work exchange program,” she said. “Host farms offered room and board in exchange for working on the farm. I learned about vegetable farming on the big island of Hawaii and in New Zealand I learned about raising animals.”

Boies began searching the Bay Area for a farm, preferably one owned by a nonprofit educational organization.

Her quest came to fruition in 2013 with Root Down Farm.

“The 62-acre farm is owned by the Peninsula Open Space Trust,” she said. POST protects and cares for open space in and around the Silicon Valley south of the Bay Area. Since it was founded in 1977, the nonprofit has protected more than 75,000 acres in three counties.

POST sent out a request for proposals for new tenants, and Boies’ proposal was accepted.

“I raise chickens, ducks, turkeys and pigs,” she said.

The ranch is certified through Animal Welfare Approved, a program with rigorous animal welfare and environmental sustainability standards designed to ensure animals live in “a state of physical and psychological well-being” from the pasture to the slaughterhouse.

“All the animals have their unique challenges, but I would say the Standard Bronze turkeys are the hardest to raise,” she said. “They grow slower and are incredibly curious animals that really push the boundaries.” They reach maturity in seven months.

Customers order their birds online and pick them up at the farm the weekend before Thanksgiving, she said.

She also raises New Hampshire, Delaware, Barred Plymouth Rock and Red Ranger chickens — all heritage breeds. They eat bugs, grubs, and grass on the pastures, and Boies supplements their diet with organic grain.

“My mission is to humanely raise the healthiest animals possible while working within the ecosystem to responsibly steward the land,” Boies said. “The farm focuses on the strong genetics of heritage breed livestock to ensure the animals grow at a normal rate while thriving outside on pasture.”

Marcy Coburn is executive director of the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, a nonprofit that is dedicated to cultivating a sustainable food system through the operation of farmers markets and educational programs. She recognized Boies’ contributions to the organization’s farmers’ markets, which are three days a week at the Ferry Plaza on the Embarcadero in San Francisco and once a week at Jack London Square in Oakland.

“Dede Boies and the ranching she is doing are incredibly important to the future of agriculture in California,” she said. “Boies is a part of the next generation of young farmers who carry the legacy of our pioneering organic farmers to care for the land, conserve natural resources and bring healthy food to our tables week after week.”

Boies sells at the CUESA farmers’ market, Coburn said, and educates customers “about her hands-on, and humane, animal livestock operation.”

She also hosts tours and educational events at her farm.

Boies said business is bustling but there are challenges to working in California agriculture.

“Weather — the intense dryness last year and a huge amount of rain earlier this year,” were difficult to deal with, she said. Also, “farmland is becoming cost-prohibitive. Farms have been lost to developers and parties that can afford the high prices.

“Predators are a problem because we live in their backyard,” she said. “We have to find a balance with Mother Nature and the most humane way to work in the ecosystem.”

Dede Boies

Hometown: Pescadero Calif.

Age: 39

Occupation: Owner-farmer, Root Down Farm

Education: Ursinus University, Collegeville, Pa.

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