The intense energy of summer is long gone, and we have learned to rely on winter as a time for us all to find center again.
Growing up in the suburbs of Portland, I never felt deeply connected with the shifting of the seasons. It always felt like it was either rainy season or (the very brief ) sunny season. I couldn’t have imagined that I would trade in my high-rise lifestyle to raise four kids, hundreds of pastured pigs, and endless acres of hay with my husband and family in a rural area comprised of expansive quiet and charming towns populated by merely hundreds.
I moved to Scott Valley, California, hometown of my nowhusband, Rich, almost ten years ago and have slowly adopted a new lifestyle that is so completely integrated with the seasons that it’s hard to remember any other way. Whether it’s the snowpack in the mountains impacting our irrigation during the spring, the cold weather changing the consumption rate of pigs in the winter, the timing of the rain being a blessing or a curse during hay season, or the amount of daylight stretching or compacting the length of the workday, the seasons shape every corner of our lives.
During winter, our whole family mirrors the natural world outside our windows: we’re slowing down and preserving our energy, a part of a natural cycle to prepare for the next year’s busy season. These short days demand more rest, with cozy nights around the woodstove and early bedtimes for our young children. The shift of seasons allows for the necessary work on the farm to get done— feeding animals, working on equipment, planning for the upcoming “season”—but the intense energy of summer is long gone, and we have learned to rely on winter as a time for us all to find center again.
The beginnings of many small farms start with a family history, and California Heritage Farms is no different. Rich and his three brothers started a farming operation in 2006, when they inherited a small herd of cattle from their maternal grandfather, who had deep agricultural roots in Willows, raising beef cattle, rice, and dairy. The Harris brothers purchased 150 acres in Scott Valley, where they had grown up, moved the herd, and launched the farm as a traditional cow-calf operation, with the guys raising a little hay in tandem for cow feed during cold winters when the pastures go dormant. Today, pasture-raised pigs have replaced the cattle herd as our primary livestock and our hay operation has continued to grow and thrive. Over the years we’ve added in a u-pick berry patch, cut flowers, chickens, goats, and Farm School, a full time school co-op hosted on our farm. Since the inception of the farm in 2006, fourteen Harris cousins have hit the scene, and life continues to get fuller and fuller.
Rich and I wake at the same time, well before light cracks over the hills through our kitchen window, careful not to wake the four little ones from their comfy beds. I shuffle straight to the frenchpress and begin grinding the beans of our favorite local roaster, while he bears the twenty degree weather outside and chops wood to get the morning fire started. A day’s work begins hours before either of us head out for “work,” and things swing into full gear by the time the last of the kids wakes up. It might be quiet outside, but by the time everyone has been fed breakfast and gotten dressed for the day, the energy inside our house is not for the faint of heart.
You’d be hard-pressed to find any family farm that isn’t fiercely committed to passing on the ethos of their farm to their family and passing on the ethos of their family to their farm.
The work of farm and family is intricately woven together, and many days, there is no separating the two, especially living on the ranch. Rich’s work takes him between home and the shop, fields, and pigs time and time again, often with four little Carhartt coats and pairs of muck boots in tow. To decide to make farming your livelihood is to simultaneously make an intentional choice about how you want to raise your family. You’d be hard-pressed to find any family farm that isn’t fiercely committed to passing on the ethos of their farm to their family and passing on the ethos of their family to their farm. For us, this takes on many forms and is a constant evolution that shapes our business and our home. Hard work, honesty, integrity, love—these are some of the core values that we embrace whether we’re parenting or working to raise the highest quality pork and celebrating the abundance of good food with our community.
Rich and I have built the foundation of our lives around food. In our earliest days, before we lived on the ranch or had kids, I learned to cook from the garden produce he brought home, and we would stay up many late nights churning out fresh batches of pesto, tomato sauce, potato soup, and salsa. Through all of these years, food has only grown to hold more space in our lives; it nourishes our souls as much as it does our bodies. It’s the way we make an income, spend our free time, and celebrate every occasion.
That passion is what fueled the evolution of our business to include pasture-raised heritage pork; we sell whole and half shares direct to the consumer, working with key partners to deliver our pork from Portland down to Los Angeles. To offer our customers an experience with outstanding food that is not only delicious and fun to cook but that also generates health for their family and contributes to a more sustainable food system is an honor to us. Working directly with our customers has been one of our favorite parts of farming, but the logistics behind direct-to-consumer sales from such a remote area have been something that has challenged us. We began this side of the business before we had kids, and we would load freezers up in the trailer and deliver orders, six hours north to Portland and six hours south to the Bay Area. Then we had four kids in three years, and deliveries (pork, that is!) quickly became cumbersome, so we tested other models and found some amazing partners that help us make our pork available through the rest of California and Oregon.
I learned to cook from the garden produce he brought home, and we would stay up many late nights churning out fresh batches of pesto, tomato sauce, potato soup, and salsa.
Over the years, we continue to find connection with our community and customers right here on our farm—by opening our gates during the summer months for the u-pick or the ever-increasing farm dinners and events we’re hosting throughout the year. Between the constant bustle of cousins, friends, family, employees, and berry pickers, our house never slows and our doors don’t stay shut for long. This is likely part of the reason that it felt so natural to host Farm School here on our property. The idea of having eighteen kids and two teachers and parents dropping off and picking up everyday sounds overwhelming to many people, but to us, it feels like family.
Farm School is a blend of all the best parts of public school, homeschool, farming, community, and friendship. As a private co-op, we get the opportunity to build a fulltime school program that integrates shared values among the community, while nurturing each child’s own passions and connection to the natural environment. As founders and parents, Rich and I have the honor of shepherding the vision and fostering the intentional culture that is shared by the teachers, families, and many partners of Farm School.
Not surprisingly, Farm School shares the same heart and soul as our family and our business, with food at its core. Food is a pillar of Farm School: through planting, growing, harvesting, processing, cooking, and tasting, the children are exposed to real life examples of math, literature, science, social studies, art, and more. Food is the backbone of our curriculum, and it’s embedded in our culture. At Farm School, the process of how we consume food is just as important as learning the science behind the soil composition we grow it in. We take the time at every snack and meal to gather together around the table, practice gratitude, eat whole foods that are served on real dishes. The kids take turns setting out cloth napkins that they place in the dirty linen basket when finished. Food scraps get put in a bowl in the middle of the table, and two kids have the “chore” of feeding the scraps daily to the pigs, goats, and chickens.
The idea of having eighteen kids and two teachers and parents dropping off and picking up everyday sounds overwhelming to many people, but to us, it feels like family.
While the food program at Farm School is just beginning, we hope to grow it quickly. Our vision is to use the whole farm as the classroom and to integrate every part of learning into the natural environment. We are working to build a system that not only teaches the students through the farm, but also produces food as a byproduct of their curriculum and projects. On three acres, we have the potential to produce enough food to not only supply the Farm School food program but to also grow fresh food for our community, maybe even one day contributing to a larger Farm to School program for our partner public school district, helping to make fresh local foods more available to kids throughout our whole community.
Rich and I have earned a bit of a reputation in the Harris family for being the dreamers, jumping first and trusting the net will appear, with new ideas in abundance and a neverending list of projects to follow. In many ways, this is how parts of the farm business have evolved and certainly how Farm School began, as a curiosity and interest and then a determined decision to bring a vision and dream to life.
Through all of these years, food has only grown to hold more space in our lives; it nourishes our souls as much as it does our bodies.
This winter, you can find us in the kitchen adding onions and pig feet to the large stockpot of simmering bone broth on the stove or outside slow cooking fresh pork leg over open fire for hours until the fat is crispy and the meat tender. This is the time of year where we both find a little more time in our days to experiment and dream, pacing ourselves with the slower rhythm of winter. Whether it’s taking a deep dive into sourdough baking, obsessing over the art of fermentation with homemade vinegars and sauerkraut, or planning the next growth step for Farm School and the farm, winter is a cherished time for us to stock our pantry and feed our souls.
This is the second in a four-part series, in which Niki Brown tells readers what’s happening on the family farm throughout the seasons. Niki, her husband Rich Harris, and their four young children operate California Heritage Farms in Scott Valley, California, where they grow hay, raise heritage pigs, berries, pumpkins, and flowers, and host Farm School.
Niki, her husband Rich Harris, and their four young children operate California Heritage Farms in Scott Valley, California, where they grow hay, raise heritage pigs, berries, pumpkins, and flowers, and host Farm School.