Helena and Matthew Sylvester have been partners long before they were ever married. As Helena’s interest in growing food developed, Matthew encouraged her–from growing plants on their patio in Oakland to leasing a farm of their own in Sunol, California.
“It was my goal, but it was a group effort. Matt was there supporting me every step of the way…While the years have aged me, the giddiness and drive are still there – as is Farmer Matt’s unwavering support (he’s now full time on the farm, going on his 5th year) – it’s amazing what you can do when you believe in yourself, but it hella helps when you have others who believe in you too.” -Helena of Happy Acre Farm
Helena and Matthew are now partners in marriage, on the farm, and in raising their son, August. Mornings at Happy Acre start early and evenings stretch out as long as possible. We all know that farmers are some of the hardest working people, particularly when you have to teach yourself everything from scratch. The daily routine is met with flexibility and a support system of their own making.
“I’d never met someone who wakes up in a good mood every day, before you. Sometimes it drives me crazy (I need coffee first, sometimes two cups) but really, I admire it. You carry that positivity with you through everything you do. We’re definitely not taking the easy road through life, our route is filled with bumps, challenges, and sometimes a change of directions – but damn than obnoxiously positive attitude of yours keeps us on track, and it’s helped bring us here.” -Helena to Matthew of Happy Acre Farm
This is Matthew’s second Father’s Day. Both Helena and August are so grateful to have his love and encouragement.
“As hard and stressful as some days (or weeks or seasons even) of farming can be, I am hella lucky. Lucky to be able to do what I want for a living, instead of what I need to do to get by. And lucky I get to spend so much time with my main dudes.” -Helena of Happy Acre Farm
Don’t forget to tell all the father figures in your life how grateful you are for them.
Sunny Sunol, California sits wedged between two historic railroad lines, a beacon of small town America along the rails and a remembrance of times past. Located along Niles Canyon, there are sweeping views at every turn—and there are a lot of turns. Winding roads slither their way up the foothills, then spit you out to the surrounding farms.
The population hovers just under 1,000 people. Aside from the 913 humans who call Sunol home, the tiny town boasted a rare honorary mayor, Bosco Ramos, a black Labrador and Rottweiler mix who beat out two candidates in the 1981 election. He served until his death in 1994. Now a new four legged boss rules the roost—Roux, at Happy Acre Farm. She was a rescue pup, abandoned on a doorstep in a cardboard box and adopted by Helena and Matthew Sylvester. At her new home—she’s plays the role of honorary farm dog mayor. (Read more about Roux here.)
Helena and Matthew are both first generation farmers, originally from Oakland, CA. As they’ve taught themselves the ins and outs of ag life, they’ve learned to divide and conquer. Helena is the greenhouse master, planning out everything—from planting schedules to sharing the family’s activities on social media so their customers can embrace where their food comes from. Matthew spends a lot of his time in the fields, taking on farm projects from irrigation to soil nutrition and harvesting.
Last year, these two first generation farmers brought a second generation farmer into the world. August Wolf is already curious about his surroundings and has proven himself to be the best taste tester around.
Every Friday, Helena celebrates Farm Fashion Fridays on instagram. It’s a playful way to say something powerful that farmers know across the world:
“The farm doesn’t care what size my clothes are, what I look like in a bathing suit or that my husband brushes his hair more often than I do. It doesn’t judge me when I wear the same thing 5 days in a row or tell me I’m look sick when I’m not wearing make up. #Farmfashionfriday can be a lot of things. For me it’s about showing what farmers actually look like, and being silly because I am who I am.” -Helena of Happy Acre Farm
“My hopes for August’s childhood are for him to be outside as much as possible…I want him to be comfortable outside, and to be able to use his imagination and play. I want him to know the different birds and frogs and other animals we get on the farm. I want him to be able to get his energy out, make smart decisions, and trust himself, but also be able to ask us for help when he needs it.” -Helena of Happy Acre Farm
“It’s a lot of hard and dirty work, early mornings, late nights, and learning curves. We don’t get off the farm much during the season, unless you count doing farmers markets, and our date nights are usually spent in the fields with leftovers and a cold beer. But it’s worth every moment, to do something we’re both truly passionate about, and we’re excited to watch our family grow and raise our children to follow their own path, wherever it may lead.” -Helena of Happy Acre Farm
“If you want to be something, be it. If you want to do something, do it. If you want to grow something, grow it.” -Helena of Happy Acre Farm
“When I first started farming, I only knew two other female farmers: my boss and her friend. Through the years that has changed dramatically to the point where I now meet more women farmers than men. I’m not sure if there are more women farming or if now we’re just able to see each other, or both. Either way, it’s magic.” -Helena of Happy Acre Farm
“If you’re inspired to start farming and are looking for tips on where to go from there, here are some things that hit home for me.
GROW SOMETHING. Whether you have a back yard raised beds, pots on your lanai or an allotment, grow something. Get crusty, get muddy, get hooked.
MAKE MISTAKES. They are inevitable, just learn from them.
FACE CHALLENGES. Your first move isn’t your final step – don’t get discouraged when you realize this is a lot harder than you maybe thought it was going to be.
GET DIRTY. Help with a school garden, volunteer on a farm (and if they say no it’s probably not because of you, there are strict farm volunteer laws in CA), there are even internship opportunities at amazing farms like @full_belly_farm , or programs like @ucscfarm or the stone barn.
BUILD COMMUNITY. Meet other farmers or people interested in supporting local farms. Community is huge. Instagram has been amazing for broadening our farm community – and answering our farm questions.
“Farming with a babe has definitely been a learning curve; with less sleep, a lot of prioritizing what NEEDS to get done vs what would be nice to get done, and learning to say yes and accept the offers of friends and family to help out. But seeing this butter bean suckin’ on a tomato, grabbin’ at kale leaves and trying his first roasted hakuri turnip makes the craziness worthwhile.” -Helena of Happy Acre Farm
Stay up to date with Helena, Matthew, August, and Roux on instagram.
Chance Land and Livestock was founded in 2000 by Robin and Chris Niederhauser in Clements, California. For the last 14 years, the couple and their 2 children, Brooke and Seth, have lived on and worked the land. Ranching is a family way of life, after all.
“We always had our kids with us. They came along as often as they could when we worked cattle or doing the daily chores. We are blessed that they have always enjoyed it. They learned early on the responsibility it takes to have cattle and horses. A lot of school vacations and holidays are spent caring for the cattle. Flexibility is very important when it comes to taking care of livestock.” -Robin Niederhauser
Brooke recently graduated from Cal Poly and is now a first year veterinary student at Colorado State to become a large animal veterinarian. Due to her upbringing, Brooke has been able to spend countless hours dedicated to her passions: the ranching industry, caring for animals, western heritage, and health. Becoming a vet is a perfect combinations of those interests.
“Growing up on a ranch definitely gave me a unique perspective on life, and taught me hard work and commitment. It also taught me to appreciate the beauty in everything, as it was a great place to live and grow up.” -Brooke Niederhauser (pictured below)
Both Robin and Brooke have been riding horses for as long as they can remember. Robin learned from her father, and she and Chris passed the same knowledge down to their children. Brooke now competes regularly in rodeos, and has been since age five.
“I barrel race, breakaway rope, and team rope and competed in both high school and college rodeo. I was a part of the Cal Poly Rodeo Team and helped put together Poly Royal Rodeo. This past year, I also won the West Hills College Rodeo in barrel racing, and got to ride an amazing horse. I love the team and the memories I made there, and the sense of team work that always persisted. I train my own horses, and love when all the pieces come together for a successful run.” -Brooke Niederhauser
“I wish people knew that ranching is not just a job but a way of life for all of us. We love the land and we love our livestock. We do the best we can to care for it all.” -Robin Niederhauser (pictured below)
In the spirit of the holiday season, when we’re all feeling a little extra thankful, it’s fitting to look to our parents and mentors remind them what they mean to us.
“I am extremely thankful for my mom. She taught me about hard work and the importance of family. Most importantly, she taught me how to always be there when someone needs me. She is such a hard worker, as she takes care of the majority of the office work regarding the ranch, and still finds time to exercise horses and keep everyone fed and happy. Even if she’s been working all day and is exhausted, she still makes sure that she finishes everything she expected to do that day when she woke up. I hope that I’m as good at balancing out my life as she is someday, and that I can always be counted on as well. She is a constant source of support, and I’m grateful that I can call her at any time for advice or encouragement.” -Brooke Niederhauser
Who taught you the value of a good work ethic? Perhaps this is the perfect time to say thank you.
The epicenter of Rankin Ranch lies in a valley of Walker’s Basin, just outside the tiny town of Caliente, California. The cattle ranch has been in operation for over 155 years—and remained in the Rankin family the entirety of its existence. Six generations have sweat over the vast acreage they call home (31,000 acres to be exact).
In 1863, Walker Rankin established the property. Years prior, the Pittsburgh native felt called to the West, and luckily enough, found success in the California gold fields. All the hard work and dedication he and his wife, Lavinia, poured into the land left a lasting impression that would extend from their children, to their grandchildren, and so on. Walker is even credited with being the first to bring purebred Hereford cattle to the region.
After his passing, Lavinia continued to run the ranch.
“Her family came across the plains by covered wagon to settle in California when she was a young girl. This pioneering spirit carried through her long life of 100 years and 4 months. During this time, she saw so many changes with transportation transitioning from horse and buggy to seeing planes fly. She was a very progressive woman and owned one of the first cars in the area. My great-great grandfather, had little interest in traveling by car and preferred to ride his horse. But Nana would travel to her grandsons’ football games and take a car full of kids with her to cheer on the team…Her longevity and adaptation to the many changes that she experienced are admirable.” -Amanda Barrett
The expanse of all that has been accomplished on Rankin Ranch piles high. Many have been involved with the Kern County Cattlemen and Cattlewomen’s orgainzations. The honor of Cattlewoman of The Year has been bestowed on Helen Rankin in 1988, Glenda Rankin in 2008, and Amanda Rankin in 2013. Amanda was also selected to be a National Beef Ambassador is 2007, allowing her to travel around the US and speak about the beef they raise.
Rankin Ranch also serves as a Dude Ranch, with mountain cabins and the opportunity to experience the cowpoke lifestyle. A wide range of activities from horseback riding to fishing to feeding farm animals to square dancing are on the agenda each day. It was developed by Helen Rankin in 1965 as a way to diversify the family business and take the edge off their dependence on the ever volatile cattle market.
“My grandfather, Leroy (grandson of Walker and Lavinia), had passed away unexpectedly in 1954 and my grandmother, Helen, found herself with a difficult decision to make, should she keep the ranch or sell it? Many people advised her to sell, as there were not many cattle ranches run by women at that time. She chose to honor our family’s legacy and learn how to manage the cattle ranch. Less than 10 years later she began building our guest ranch facilities. She was ahead of her time in the field of agritourism and inviting ‘city slickers’ to experience life on the ranch. Through her hard work and determination, she established our guest ranch which has been in operation for over 50 years. We now have 3rd generation Rankin Ranch guests. One family celebrated their 50th year visiting the ranch in 2018.” -Amanda Barrett
Shelby Newman started full time at Rankin Ranch in 2017 after graduating from the University of Montana Western with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Natural Horsemanship. Before that, she spent her summers working with the Rankins.
“I would say that my job title is a secretary…but not the kind of ‘secretary’ that everyone thinks of. My job varies greatly from day to day and you never know what you might end up doing. In the case of Rankin Ranch, titles don’t mean much and no title is more or less important than another.” -Shelby Newman
On any given day, Shelby may have responsibilities to manage in the office like answering emails or helping guests. On other occasions should could be out in the pastures wrangling horses or being a camp counselor to the visiting children, many of whom are experiencing ranch life for the first time.
Marie Myllyla has spent the past few summers working at Rankin Ranch. Earlier this year, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls with a BS in Animal Science and an emphasis in Equine Science.
“The best part of working on a ranch are the horses. I wouldn’t have had a job if it weren’t for those horses. They work hard day in and day out. They don’t complain. You’ll find one you get along with well and that really makes for a good day working with them 10+ hours. You get to know what they want, they get to know what you want.” -Marie Myllayla
“After graduating from Cal Poly in 2008 and returning home, I had an interest in selling our own beef. My time as a National Beef Ambassador had opened my eyes more to the ‘beef’ side of our business. This idea was not something new, as the family had considered it over the years. My father and I had many conversations about it before taking the leap in March 2014.
It has been an exciting adventure, with lots of learning along the way. We sell our beef here at the ranch to guests and the local community. We also travel to neighboring communities for Farmers’ Markets. We have earned a loyal following of repeat customers who love Rankin Ranch beef. Our beef is all natural, grass fed and grain finished. The beef is aged at the butcher shop for 21 days before cutting up into delicious steaks, roasts, and more. We are very proud of the quality of our beef with everything grading high choice to prime.” -Amanda Barrett
“The best part about my job, that is an easy one… the people! The Rankin family is one in a million. From Bill and Glenda Rankin (Nana and Papa, as I know them) to all eight cousins in the 6th generation and everyone in between. Everyone is kind, genuine, knowledgeable, inviting, and so much more.” -Shelby Newman
“Growing up on the ranch I learned the value of a positive work ethic and teamwork at a very young age. As children, we were always included in the day’s work and learned what it takes to keep the ranch running. My parents also emphasized the value of respect. You respect others, the land, and the livestock. When you give respect, you will often get it in return.” -Amanda Barrett (pictured below with her father, Bill)
Horse Etiquette to Remember from Marie Myllayla
Your horse dictates what you’re going to work on for that day. If you start your day thinking, “we’re going to work on leads,” you and your horse are going to struggle.
Recognize the slightest response and reward it.
Consistency is key with training – present a cue the same way every time. I think a horse’s best quality is their try. You find a way to get desire and try out of your horse and you really can’t ask for anything more.
Shelby and Marie herding cattle with the modern-day help of a helicopter.
Dory Fishing Fleet, operating since 1891, was founded before the city of Newport Beach. The location can’t be beat—beachfront, in the sand, at the base of the Newport Pier, once known as the McFadden Wharf. Over 100 years ago, the market was designed to cut out the middleman, selling the daily catch directly to the public. That business model remains untouched to this day. The Market is open Wednesday through Sunday until noon. They offer a vast array of the freshest possible seafood. The stone crab and spot prawn are among their most popular items.
Nico Voyatzis has worked in the fishing industry for 25 years. She’s run the gamete of occupations, from fishing to cleaning tanks and cutting lobster to selling fish at the market. She, along with her husband and his family, work tirelessly to maintain the historical business.
“Families get crazy when working together, a fishing family more so. You have to be on call 24/7. You compromise and take a deep breath knowing that they will be there no matter what, especially when your employee doesn’t show up for work. It has been an interesting 25 years of events. Many fisherman have left the fleet, but thank God there are still a few that are willing to replace the hard work and long hours of their fathers or retired fishermen.” -Nico
“The Dory Fleet is quite a unique piece of history. It was here before the city of Newport, since 1891. I’m lucky enough to have been here a while to hear some of the retired fishermen’s stories, working outdoor by the beach, seeing all the regular costumers and locals for as long as I can remember and the great support from the community.” -Nico
“My husband’s father was looking for a job, coming to America with only $600. Back in 1981, it wasn’t very much at all. He went fishing on the pier and happened to notice a few fishermen down at the fleet. He went and asked them for a job, lucky enough a guy hired him. He was bating lines in the beginning, then started to go fishing with him. After a few years, he saved enough to buy a boat and fishing gear for himself. Marco and his brothers started along side their dad at a very young age. By the time Marco was 16 he was able to go fishing on his own.” -Nico
“My favorite part of the job is being outdoors.” -Nico
Barbie Thompson Lee left the advertising world to become a farmer in Valley Center, just outside of San Diego. She invested many years developing her own company, but felt it was time for something new. So she went out in search of the perfect plot of land to begin her new adventure—where she’d have to start from scratch, and self-teach her way to success.
“I think some people have a picture of a small farm as an idyllic place that’s kind of laid back and simple. The reality here is that there are always so many things that need to be done and sometimes it feels more like warfare than a laid back place. It’s a constant battle to keep on top of the various bugs that are out to eat your plants, the birds, squirrels and gophers who are found of eating them too, the broken or chewed through irrigation lines. You can’t ever let your guard down.” -Farmer Barbie Thompson Lee
Tomatoes are Barbie’s favorite crop.
“I start the seeds in the greenhouse in February then plant when we think it’s safe from frost. Most of the plants go through September or October if we’re lucky so it’s a long time you spend with them. There are so many different varieties that it’s really fun planning out what you are going to grow and adding new varieties to your favorite producers.” -Farmer Barbie Thompson Lee
Although Lucky Dog Ranch is named for Barbie’s pack of happy dogs, she also has quite a few other four-legged friends. There’s Tigger and Tom, a set of barn cat brothers, and horses Buddy and Joanie.
“There really isn’t one Lucky Dog. We really liked seeing how happy our dogs were when we moved out here. They had so much room to play and just be themselves that the name just came about.” -Farmer Barbie Thompson Lee
I asked Barbie what skills from her previous career translated into her new lifestyle. It turns out having a sense of humor has been crucial in her journey.
“Farming can be really humbling and your plants don’t care how important you think you are or what promises you’ve made on their behalf. They are just going to do what they are going do. You can’t take yourself to seriously. They are really the ones in charge. You just need to do what you can to support them…Never give up! It’s a very rewarding lifestyle. You’ll learn a lot about yourself as well as how to bring a crop to market.” -Farmer Barbie Thompson Lee
Meet Tugboat Captain, Michelle Walford. She’s been in the industry for 10 years and currently works for Pacific Tug Boat Service out of Long Beach, California.
Michelle was born and raised in Bakersfield, CA. After high school, she applied for colleges all over her home state, with her sights set on International Relations so she could travel and work in other countries. This dream was fueled by her desire to explore and be by the water.
“I applied for Cal Maritime with a Global Studies Major and was accepted. My very first day of orientation someone in the grade above me asked my major. I replied, ‘Global Studies,’ and he immediately shook his head and said, ‘You don’t want that. You want to be Deckie. You want to drive boats.’ I immediately walked over to the orientation table and changed my major to Marine Transportation. I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what a ship really was.
I graduated with a BS in Marine Transportation and a 3rd Mate Unlimited License. Since then I have upgraded to a Chief Mate Unlimited along with my 1600 Ton Master.” -Walford
“I can be treated differently because of my gender, usually when I first start a new company, and not necessarily treated negatively, just different. I overcome that with mountains of patience.” -Walford
“I believe if you have to tell people how great you are at something, you’re generally not that great at it. I’m not a yeller, especially with a crew I’ve never worked with. I treat everyone with respect and ask for the same in return.” -Walford
Michelle encourages women with a bit of wanderlust and a penchant for adventurous vocations to consider maritime professions.
“I don’t think our career is advertised as much as it should be. Lots of women want to travel and do something outside the norm, we just need to get the word out.” -Walford
As captain of her own tugboat, Michelle gets to be her own boss, use her gut and her knowledge to make tough calls, and occasionally bask under the northern lights if the location is right.
Meet Rosanna Van Straten. By day, she is a photo stylist and creative director. (Check out her work here: www.rovanstraten.com ) In her free time, she loves to get away on her 2001 Harley Sportster.
“I work in production as a photo stylist and creative director. I love the freelance lifestyle as it gives me more time to go on adventures, which then in turn inspire me to make more creative images at work. I am working to set up a photo studio as well, I want to build my own little empire. There’s nothing more freeing than not having certain orders to follow at work, just as it is not having to follow a map on a road trip.” -Rosanna Van Straten of @pennylanesplitter
“I ride often between occasionally commuting to work to avoid traffic and lots of fun weekend and much longer rides and camping trips with friends. My favorite part is obviously the latter- riding along the gorgeous open roads of the western US and feeling like there’s no filter between you and your environment. Every smell, change in temperature, shift in weather, road conditions, view– completely with you. Feeling that vulnerable gives you something extra. It’s a high risk, but it’s a higher reward.” -Rosanna Van Straten of @pennylanesplitter
“Some of my favorite places I’ve ever ridden have been Glacier National Park, Montana, and pretty much the entire state of Utah off the beaten path. Closer to home, in the bay, I love to ride in Marin, or to Port Costa, or along the coast towards Big Sur. We sure are lucky.” -Rosanna Van Straten of @pennylanesplitter
Trina’s heritage is deeply rooted in the tightly knit Californian farming community she calls home. Raising cattle, pigs, chickens, rabbits, cows, and horses on a farm that’s been in her husband’s family for 100 years. Ask her what makes her most proud, and Trina’s quick to tell you all about her organic pork and farm fresh eggs. But what truly makes this mama bear beam from ear-to- ear, is the joy she takes in watching just how naturally her son Jaden’s taken to farm life. Still only 12, Jaden’s already begun raising his own herd of cattle. And nothing could make this hardworking Carhartt mom feel any prouder than seeing that.
Meet Angela, Jackie, and Jacquie, butchers at Avedano’s Meats in San Francisco.
“It’s definitely a little harder trying to become a butcher as a female. People look at you and don’t necessarily think butcher. But you can’t give up. Show them your desire and determination. Keep showing them until they get it. Eventually your perseverance will win. If you want something bad enough, don’t ever stop till you get it. Anybody can do anything.” -Jacquie Smith
“Avedanos is the only shop in the city of San Francisco that does whole animal butchery, for all its animals, on the premises. Everything comes from Northern California. Everything is fully pastured raised. Avedanos knows the farms and farmers. Avedanos knows what the animals are eating! And Avedanos uses every single part of the animal! The chef in me also wanted to learn how to make pates, rillettes, sausages, how to properly smoke meats, cure meats, age meats. Avedanos does everything! I talked them into taking a chance on me. Gave them 200% everyday. A couple years later, they asked me to become a partner!
An ordinary day for us starts around 8am. We start cutting to fill up the case. We start with the chickens, then the pigs, the lambs, and finally the cows. We prepare a bed of crushed ice for our fish delivery. It takes about two hours to fill the case in the morning. We open the doors at 11am. There are usually people waiting to come in. After our first wave of customers, we can usually find time to start projects. We make delicious panini sandwiches and have a steady stream of people all day coming for those. Brine the briskets for pastrami, the brine pig legs for hams, start smoking the chickens, and bacon. There always something to do. We close the doors at 8pm and scrub the place from top to bottom.
We are not just a butcher shop. You can get everything you need to make dinner at Avedanos. We get fresh pasta delivered, from the Pasta Shop in Berkeley. Bread delivered from Crepe and Brioche, in the city. All of our produce is organic, and properly in season.
I love the customers! I love talking to people about the best way to cook each cut. Since we do whole animal butchery, we definitely have cuts nobody has ever heard of. But I will tell exactly what to do for perfect results. People come back and tell me all about their dinner. I love turning people on to new cuts and cooking methods. I enjoy the craft of it, everyday improving my technique” -Jacquie Smith