The ranch got its name when Rebecca King and her family purchased the property in the spring of 2008 and noticed that the land had an abundance of sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus), a flowering plant native to coastal California. Monkeyflower Ranch is home to 100 milking ewes that produce a rich sweet milk perfect for making cheese and yogurt, and in 2009 Rebecca began commercial milking and cheese production for her farmstead cheese business, Garden Variety Cheese. The cheese and yogurt are sold at Bay Area and Central Coast farmers' markets, restaurants and retail locations and farm-share customers can also purchase eggs and free-range lamb, pork, and duck that have been naturally raised without antibiotics, hormones, steroids or chemical wormers.
At Monkeyflower Ranch producing high quality meat and dairy products has always been based on land stewardship and holistic management. In 2009 Wild Farm Alliance (WFA) assisted the ranch in establishing a biodiversity farm plan, and in 2012 Monkeyflower Ranch expanded this concept by participating in a three-year habitat restoration project funded by the California Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).
Wild Farm Alliance and Wildlife Conservation Board Project Overview
Over the course of the project WFA and Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) worked with the landowners to design hedgerows and pasture edges that serve multiple ecological functions. Native trees (mostly oaks) and shrubs provide shade for livestock, reduce soil erosion, attract beneficial insects, improve water infiltration and increase habitat for wildlife. These plantings were made possible through the help of youth from the Watsonville Wetlands Watch and Teen Conservation Leaders with the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
To further the educational impact of this project, volunteers from American Conservation Experience helped to remove non-native invasive species such as eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)and Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius). In October 2014, WFA hosted a field tour that attracted participants from the local farming community.
Management Practices and Irrigation
After each planting cardboard and mulch were applied to suppress weeds, conserve moisture, and develop the soil. In addition to installing hedgerows along seven pasture paddocks, the placement of sedges around the sediment basin creates valuable habitat for amphibians and other species that benefit from wet environments.
Rebecca has been working to manage a rampant ground squirrel problem, and since the project's inception, raptor perches and owl boxes have been placed throughout the pastures to provide roosting and nesting areas for the wildlife species that are responsible for predation and pest management services on the farm. Watering the newly planted hedgerows required the implementation of a separate water tank that also supplies water for the livestock. NRCS and WCB funding covered a significant portion of this expense, and the irrigation system was installed by Pajaro Valley Irrigation.
Lessons Learned and Project Outcomes
When Rebecca acquired the site, much of the topsoil at the ranch had been lost due to 80 years of row crop production on a sandy sloping hillside, and she has been working to rebuild soil organic matter with manure applications and pasture seeding. The irrigation system for the project's hedgerows required some coordination in the beginning and is now automated and low maintenance, with healthy trees and shrubs that are part of a biodiverse farmscape. Monkeyflower Ranch demonstrates the myriad of ways in which agriculture can be both ecologically and economically compatible.
Customers appreciate the conservation efforts happening on the farm, and Rebecca plans to keep the land in agricultural use while continuing to support habitat. She is proud of the fact that these practices protect our natural resources and provide long-term benefits to wildlife and future generations.