By Katherine Bradford
Rancho San Julian's Farm to Table Lunch was a featured part of the Bacara Resort's recent Food and Wine Weekend to celebrate locally and sustainably grown foods. Both food and drink are vehicles that carry our region's cultural influences. The ranch lands, located between Highway 101 and Point Conception, include some of the most scenic rolling hills and oak groves to be found anywhere in the state.
Guests were warmly welcomed to the ranch by the Poett family with glasses of sangria and freshly baked empanadas. A circle of benches was set up under the oak trees, where Jim Poett talked about the history of the Rancho San Julian lands and his family's involvement since the early 1800s. His conversation with us ranged from sharing about the challenges of managing this 13,000-acre ranch under the current drought conditions to maintaining genetic diversity in the Angus cattle herd. Today the ranch is increasingly known for its production of grass-fed beef, raised under the expert eyes of Jim, his daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband Austin Campbell. In drought years, there is both less water to be found on the ranch and less feedin the form of European grasses such as oats and rye, and native grasses. Consequently, the herd size must be reduced and now stands at 300. Ranch products include not only beef, which is sold to local restaurants and at farmer's markets, but also hay, honey, lavender oil, and produce for the families that live on the ranch.
The ranch gardens and orchards are managed by Chris Thompson, who gave guests an educational tour on biodynamic farming methods and experimentation with dry farming. The active garden covers about two acres and growing areas are rotated after being used for a couple of years. After a wide variety of desired crops are harvested, the fields are not just left fallow but often planted with species that will help to enrich the nutrients in the soil. After touring the gardens, guests were invited to lunch under the trellis.
Picnic tables were beautifully set with Mexican tablecloths, vases of roses, bottles of Alma Rosa wines and pitchers of Sangria. The meal was created from the bounty of the garden and included a savory carrot soup, a salad of beets and mixed greens, a hearty chili, and featured the ranch's famous tri-tip. Elizabeth talked about the history of our region's tri-tip barbecue, which originated on the ranch. The tri-tip cut is from the tip of the sirloin; a side of beef yields only one to two pounds, which makes it a special cut. And finally, Chandler strawberries from the garden were the key ingredient in a delectable shortcake dessert. Everyone asked about when the next lunch would be held.
Jim Poett shares that his family is proud to be stewards of this ranch. The beauty of the land is enhanced by the fact that it is a working ranch. Rancho San Julian is a prime example of sustainable ranching and farming practices that are continually adjusted for the changing conditions of the land and availability of water.