meet the farmer
STEWARDS OF THE LAND
Pasture 42 owners farm small but think big.
WRITTEN BY AMBER K. STOTT
PHOTOS BY MIMI GIBOIN
ASusan Muller wants customers to ask, “Why are your eggs blue?”
She and her husband, Ken, run Pasture 42, an 84-acre family farm in Guinda, Calif., where animals are grass fed, practices are sustainable, and learning flourishes. The couple’s direct sales model relies on curious customers who ask questions and get to know their farmers’ philosophy.
Quality food and farming run in the Mullers’ families. Ken grew up on a conventional, large-scale vegetable farm, and Susan spent her childhood in 4-H and on her grandparents’ pheasant farm. The two met after college while working at Nugget Markets.
When the couple got married, they quit their jobs and traveled to Normandy, France, to work as WWOOFers. The global program has several names, including Willing Workers on Organic Farms and Working Weekends on Organic Farms. The purpose is to live and work on a farm while having an opportunity to travel the world.
While traveling, the couple read Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and, like most champions of it, their lives were transformed. Through reading and hands-on farm experience, the Mullers felt ready to tackle farming back home. Susan’s mom owned seven acres in Southern Oregon that she couldn’t take care of, and she allowed the Mullers to use it.
Susan wasn’t drawn to vegetable farming and had developed a passion for chickens, so the Mullers started a livestock farm. Susan remembers failing a lot in those early years.
“The first time we slaughtered a chicken, we had a book open on the table,” she recalls.
Six years later, the couple realized they didn’t have enough land for their grass-fed animals. The Mullers see themselves as farmers of both livestock and grass and are committed to growing their own pasture for feed. Financially, it’s more sustainable than purchasing animal food. Plus, the Mullers enjoy it.
“The plants and the animals are our co-workers,” Susan says, beaming.
So, in 2013, the Mullers packed up their cows and chickens and moved to California.
Today, the couple owns Pasture 42 in the Capay Valley (the name comes from the pasture-based operation’s location on County Road 42B) where they live with their two children (Oren, 6, and Delphine, 2). They raise grass, heirloom wheat, chickens, pigs, cows, sheep, turkeys, olives, and pomegranates. They employ six staff members and one WWOOFer. Their farm operates on a sustainable philosophy of “constant movement,” as Susan calls it. The animals graze in cycles. First, the dairy cows get their pick of tall grass fields, selecting their favorite plants or, as Susan calls them, the “ice cream” of the crops. The cows are moved twice a day into the choicest pastures.
Next, the sheep are invited to chew the plants down further. Meanwhile, chickens are shuffled to new areas of the farm every three or four days while the pigs might be placed on a field that needs rooting before rototilling. This system allows the plants and animals to work in concert, creating the tastiest meats, deep-orange egg yolks, and dandelion-yellow butter.
In addition to her love for working outdoors, Susan’s relationships with her customers motivate her. Because they sell directly to consumers, the Mullers cut out the middle man and earn more profit. This means they get to know their buyers more intimately through farmers’ markets and buying clubs.
Susan enjoys questions about how to cook their products, about customers’ diets, or why their eggs are blue. For Susan, these inquiries lead to a more informed consumer who’s supportive of the business decisions she makes — and is willing to pay a slightly higher price for her food. That personal interaction is ideal for a small farm business.
Interested customers can find Pasture 42 at the Saturday farmers’ market in Davis and at select pickup sites listed on the farm’s website.
Susan looks forward to meeting new customers at these markets and hopes they’ll come filled with questions.
“If you start asking questions about your food, eventually you will end up talking to a farmer,” she says.
Amber K. Stott is founder and chief food genius of the nonprofit Food Literacy Center, inspiring children to eat their veggies. She’s a food writer and has been named a Food Revolution Hero by the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, a Food Hero by Food Tank, and a TEDx Sacramento Changemaker Fellow.
Pasture 42 products are available for sale directly from the farm or at the Davis Farmers’ Market. Olive oils and soaps can be purchased through the website.
14665 County Road 42B, Guinda • 530-902-5251 • Pasture42.com
Davis Farmers Market
8 a.m. – 1 p.m. Saturdays, year round
Central Park at 4th and C streets, Davis • Davisfarmersmarket.org