Regenerative Ranching – Jalama Canyon Ranch

By Phil McKenna

Jalama Canyon Ranch is a 1,000-acre ranch nestled in an inland valley at the end of a dirt road that heads west from Jalama Road, the scenic drive that runs between Highway 1 and the beach at Jalama County Park. Part of the ranch sits on a northern edge of the Dangermond Preserve and contains an entire watershed in its rounded valley.

The White Buffalo Land Trust is actively working to acquire the Jalama Canyon Ranch and have created a comprehensive plan for restoring ecological health to the ranch. In turn, the current owners are enthusiastic supporters of the Trusts’ efforts to bring innovation and creativity to the ranch’s management by instituting regenerative agricultural practices.

From the Ranch Headquarters to the Ridge – Courtesy of Phil McKenna
From the Ridge to the Ranch headquarters – Courtesy of White Buffalo Land Trust

At its root, regenerative agriculture is about building healthy soil so that natural systems can function productively to produce crops and provide a bountiful living for ranchers and farmers. It is a system that by design, enriches soils, increases biodiversity, improves watersheds and enhances ecosystem benefits such as clean water and air and resilience from flooding. The outcome of regenerative agriculture is a robust ranch with increased productivity that benefits owners, employees and the local economy. It’s a win for the rancher, a win for the land, and a win for the broader community.

Healthy soil and clean water are intertwined at Jalama Canyon Ranch. Our Mediterranean climate historically produces rainy periods from late fall into early spring; but is becoming less dependable due to climate change. The ranch requires irrigation throughout the dry periods and when there is insufficient rainfall. Irrigation, when needed, is almost exclusively from captured spring-water that collects in natural formations.

Soil that is rich in carbon-based humus absorbs rainfall, helping to sustain the natural spring water. Soil that lacks humus will tend to shed rainfall more readily.  Humus, which forms in soil from application of compost, crop residues, or other carbon-rich materials, can absorb and release water over a longer period of time compared to carbon- depleted soil. Sequestering carbon in soil combats climate change, produces soils that increase crop yields, and helps retain water that supports the ecosystem and enhances the ranch’s output. Another win for the environment, the rancher, and the community.

Grazing animals can be good for the land when done appropriately. But poor grazing practices can result in denuded hillsides, soil lacking regenerative materials, erosion, and contamination of creeks. Regenerative practices can be deployed such as rotating grazing animals through pastures to eliminate over-grazing and minimizing cattle intrusions into creeks to avoid manure contamination and destruction of creek banks.  Stimulating native plants and growing “green manure” crops provide conditions for the development of healthy soils. Use of silvopastures that integrates trees in grassland provides ecosystem services such as water retention, biodiversity enhancement, shade, fodder, and erosion control. Restored riparian creek corridors can increase water retention and biodiversity while minimizing the potential for erosion that increases silting.

Olives, Grapes, Goats and Sheep – Courtesy of Phil McKenna

Modern day ranching is a mix of hard-earned pragmatic experience combined with current technologies and the benefits of scientific knowledge. Regenerative agriculture combines that pragmatism with scientific insight into natural processes to generate new solutions to old problems. Add creativity and a deep knowledge of local conditions and you have ranchers with the insight to develop new and productive ranch practices that are in harmony with the natural systems of the landscape. A long-term win for nature and the rancher and for all of us.

In 2018 the Gaviota Coast Conservancy created the Gaviota Agricultural Project to encourage the growth of regenerative agriculture on the Gaviota Coast. Funded by a financial settlement from the County of Santa Barbara in a longstanding dispute over operations at the Tajiguas Landfill located in the middle of the Gaviota Coast, the Conservancy provides grants to county farmers and ranchers to help them develop productive agricultural activities and crops that are financially and environmentally beneficial. So far, the Conservancy has funded projects in worm farming, carbon farming, and shade grown coffee along with grants to the Cachuma Resource Conservation District to help develop and implement the Gaviota Carbon Management Plan.

Just recently, the Conservancy provided a grant to White Buffalo Land Trust to assist their campaign to acquire Jalama Canyon Ranch and begin instituting their regenerative agriculture plan. We hope you will join us in supporting White Buffalo Land Trust in this important effort.

We urge you to take a look at the plan, explore their vision for agriculture that is regenerative and healthy, and appreciate the benefits of practical, creative, and insightful ranch management.

Photo Courtesy of White Buffalo Land Trust

1. Rehabilitated Vineyards and Orchards

2. Oak Woodland Restoration

3. Reconnected Riparian Corridors

4. Revitalized Pastureland

5. Integration of Tree Crops and Animals

6. Center for Regenerative Agriculture

7- 10. Redesigned Animal Fencing, Paths, and Road

11. Increase Water Holding Capacity

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