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Bodega Byways by Eva Granahan
Patty Karlin on Bodega Goat Ranch

Bodega Goat Ranch for 30 years!

A Model for Small Scale Sustainable Agriculture 

Dec 28, 2018

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Patty Karlin is an engaging fixture of Bodega. For twenty years, from 1984 to 2004, she ran the Bodega Goat Cheese company with her husband Javier Salmon. I have fond memories, when as a young girl in the 90’s, I spent time on the ranch playing with the baby goats. When the marriage ended, they both kept the rights to the business name. 

To distinguish herself, in 2008, Patty created the new brand, Bodega Artisan Cheese, expanding her product line. Though Patty sold the label and recipes in 2013, she still has control of the 7.5 acre ranch that can sustain 60-80 goats at a time.

Since 2014 she has run  “Patty’s Farm Stay”  through AirBnB. When you stay with her, she offers discounted farm tours, cheese tastings, and the option of a farm to table breakfast. I would recommend booking in advance due to its overwhelming popularity. 

Patty has always been interested in  sustainable agriculture and now has more time to pursue making it a reality for her, the neighbors, greater community and future generations. Her goal is “leaving a legacy that’s a model for small scale sustainable agriculture where farmers can make a living.” She will ideally have zero inputs, meaning no bills, by decreasing costs - which is the only way for small farms to generate an annual profit. 

Amongst other things, Patty is very concerned with carbon footprints. In one year for 60 goats she would pay a $25,000 feed bill, which could be drastically lessened by growing the needed food herself. She discovered that 50% of the commercial feed cost goes to fossil fuels. Another downside of purchasing feed from an outlying entity is that hay and grain is best for sheep and cows, but the original diet for a goat is trees and shrubs. This natural diet uses less pasture and the goats absorb it all. When you go back to nature’s pure form, the carbon inputs go way down if not disappear. 

On the property there is an 80,000 gallon water tank for agricultural rain catchment used for irrigation during dry months. The Permaculture Skills Center installed an 11 roof system designed to catch rainwater; its main intention is to stretch the water as far as possible. Hence, the goal of “dry farming” is to use the least amount of applied irrigation. All up the side of the hill are a series of swails to catch more rainwater to directly saturate the birms that will have shrubbery (a.k.a. goat food) planted in them. 

At first, Patty focused solely on the barn, which houses the cheese room and milk parlor, where I remember drinking the freshest milk I’ve ever had right out of the big vats. As a young girl, I didn’t even know how privileged I was. Though she explained that “eventually you see the value in the land” itself and is now doing her best to utilize the whole property to the fullest. She sprouts barley seeds which take only seven days until the grass is ready to feed to the goats. She also makes seed balls by embedding seeds in clay, too large for turkeys to gobble up. There is also space allotted for a bird yard to house ducks and chickens. 

As the world turns…

Patty’s big questions are “What legacy are you going to leave?” and in regard to her ranch operation, “Who’s going to run it when I’m gone?” Like she asks, who will take over if not the children? Her grown children have other careers; nevertheless, she wants it to remain with someone to carry out the vision. 

Bodega Goat Ranch Member Eating Leaves.The ranch only keeps Alpine goats, which are “lean machines” that make the most milk with the least fat. Currently Patty only has four, but she wants to gradually build by adding more goats little by little only as they grow enough foliage to feed them. 

She runs the ranch with a “team approach to farming,” where all five people who live on the land share farm chores. She notes that “farms are folding left and right” and countless dairies on the Sonoma County Cheese Trail are going out of business, so people need to get creative and bridge the gap since most farms are not subsidized and land is so expensive. 

The Italian community brought dairies to Sonoma and Marin Counties in the 19th Century. However, milk as a thriving local product couldn’t survive the times. Five generations later, the grown children are now going back to the land and reviving their family legacies. Patty predicts that before too long, all fossil fuels will collapse, and we will have to go back to 17th Century living where people depended on the land. 

The goal is to get the farm to support itself by providing for the people, animals, and earth. Patty is in need of a ranch or dairy manager. Please contact her in regard to that or for other questions: email bdgagoat@sonic.net  or leave a message at (707)876-3483. 

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