No Place Like Sweet Home
Sweet Home Ranch does indeed sound like an idyllic place, some sort of agrarian utopia where Auntie Em puts up jam and jellies with the fruits of the orchard. Where rainbows cross the verdant green fields in which the family works and raises the foods that nourish the soul. While this image originated solely in my mind, the truth of Sweet Home Ranch seems equally implausible in today’s world.
Paul and Ruth Buxman live on Sweet Home Ranch, the name for their 40 acre farm in California’s Central Valley, where they grow Concord grapes, yellow and white peaches and nectarines, page mandarins and more. What sets Buxman apart from so many other farmers are the values he brings to the table. One gets the impression that first and foremost Buxman values quality of life for all involved. This manifests itself not only in the prohibition of any dangerous additives but also in the relations he forges with all employees.
At Sweet Home Ranch workers come first, they are considered family, and family is important to the Buxmans. Free babysitting is available on site for the children of all workers, and each worker is given a vacation every year to visit their families, with Buxman paying the transportation bill.
In addition Buxman also reserves a portion of his land for his workers to grow their own crops, providing all of the necessary water, equipment, and fertilizers needed. In exchange he says he was won extreme loyalty from his employees. At a time when immigration issues are scaring many farmers dependant on itinerant workers, Buxman remains secure in his knowledge that his fruit will get picked.
Other criteria for being California Clean, a collaborative that Buxman founded in support of environmental farming, mean that each certified farm must be family owned, and that the family must live on the farm. This is a lifestyle, and a choice. Buxman does not actually own his land, “We decided to live well and to be generous. We don’t want to own our farm if it means we can’t be generous.”
Environmental Ethos – Sustainability
Although one gets the impression that Buxman doesn’t subscribe to food trends, he could be a poster boy for then new ethos of sustainability. All the fruit is grown free of any toxic substances no matter how dilute. Once picked it goes directly to the stores. Buxman doesn’t deal with wholesale, instead he eliminates middle men and his fruit spends less time on the road burning oil. This means, that his fruit also arrives fresher, for better flavor and meaning that it can be picked riper. He has also made a conscious choice not to ship his fruit out of state. So while his fruit might not meet the 100 mile radius cited by some enthusiastic supporters of the definition of local, he only sells his fruit in California.
Fruit which is too ripe to travel, instead gets turned into preserves. Ruth Buxman (Paul’s wife) turns all of the excess into what is the only legally certified homemade jam available for sale in California. The fruit travels from the tree to the stove without leaving the farm, and Ruth stands at the stove making her homemade preserves in small batches. Each bottle is then stamped and hand signed by either Ruth, Paul, or their son.
Once the trees on the farm have exceeded their productive life they are shredded. It is much more expensive than burning but it is much better for the air, and the mulch is then used as compost on the farm. Creating a cycle of sustainable at even the most ardent environmentalist would be tough to criticize.
Organic, sustainable, local; California Clean is a completely different concept embracing quality of life across the spectrum. As Buxman says, “We’re thinking into the future.”
By Leith Steel