Written by Koa Kalish and photographed by Paige Green
At PT Ranch, 525 acres sit at the base of the Sierra mountains, where melted snowcap hydrates the land. Historically, with the abundance of moisture in the soil, grass has grown plentifully. But with the increasing droughts, the Taylor family, including Molly, her sister Madeline, her mother Emily, and father Ned, with the help of their full-time employee Alejandro Chavez, need to be more strategic. For the most part, they have been able to raise about 150 animals, year-round, by managed grazing on the grass alone, along with some feed such as pellets of grain for the poultry. The ranch belonged to Molly and Madeleine’s grandparents but was managed by people outside of the family until the Taylor family decided to manage it themselves.
A recent conversation with Molly Taylor traced her journey returning to the ranch. During college, Molly studied at NYU and embarked into the world of New York City’s arts nonprofits. She enjoyed her work but began to feel like she wasn’t making much of an impact. She intended to take a short-term break from city life, and spent time traveling and doing work-trade on farms. One day in the Italian countryside, Molly was picking olives on her farm-stay, and a thought dawned on her. “There I was in Lucca, picking olives for free. When I called my mom that day, she told me she had a bunch of people there on the ranch, picking olives for her!” That’s when she realized. “I said to myself, ‘wait, I should be picking olives at my own house.’” That summer, Molly returned home and started helping her mom get the family business off the ground.
The journey has been humbling: without an agricultural background, Molly thought that within six months, a ranch business could be born. “It’s been three years,” she says, “and we are still sort of just starting. But we’ve made a lot of progress.” Currently, PT Ranch’s livestock consists of 150 hair sheep (Dorpers and Kathandins), a few thousand freedom ranger chickens, a few hundred turkeys a year raised for Thanksgiving, a couple of hundred ducks, and heritage pigs. All the livestock is pasture-raised and rotated to enhance soil health. They also plant and grow cover crops, as well as a hay crop, to be grazed by the animals. And during the height of the grazing season, they can host other ranchers’ herds of cattle to include in their rotations.
A few seasons ago, Molly’s was intrigued when she learned that indigo seedlings were available through the Fibershed community. As someone who is “always looking for ways to diversify… [the] indigo plants piqued my interest as an opportunity to learn about the plants and their dye production. Fibershed’s network was super helpful — we ended up partnering with artist Judi Pettite, who helped us host a workshop on indigo dyeing on the ranch, which some Fibershed members attended. It was a great example of the thoughtfulness and resilience of Fibershed’s network which includes such an array of people — from dye makers, to farmers, and artists.” At the 2019 Fibershed Wool & Fine Fiber Symposium, Molly and Judi spoke to the co-benefits of this collaboration on a panel discussion about partnerships.
What inspires Molly the most, she says, is finding the interconnectivity of benefits. “Discovering the nexus between climate change mitigation, producing healthy food, and producing good employment opportunities for people was something that really excited me,” she explains. “It’s way harder in the urban studies and urban planning world to find something that’s so win-win-win. With regenerative agriculture, we are delivering amazing benefits on so many levels that I don’t really see a drawback. It was an easy choice, ethically and morally for me.”
At the beginning of January 2021, the Taylors embarked on a large silvopasture project. The term combines the latin word for tree with pasture, and so it is in practice: “the deliberate integration of trees and grazing livestock operations on the same land.” The silvopasture was designed by Eliza Greenman and based on the Spanish Dehesa model, a multifunctional, agroforestry silvopasture system, one of the oldest and most sustainable silvopasture systems in the world. The silvopasture is intended to restore the historical oak woodland, the ecosystem that once flourished here on the ancestral lands of the Northern Sierra Miwok.
With this design, PT Ranch established 6,000 trees, including over 1800 species of drought-tolerant fodder tree and shrub species, 1,300 mulberries and black walnuts, 1,300 olives, 600 willows, and 1,000 fruit species, including pomegranate, fig, elderberry, and goji berry. Layering edible crops and natural dye sources into the landscape, each planting site was chosen with a different goal in mind, and with an overall goal to incorporate more biological diversity into the silvopasture by integrating in nitrogen-fixing and pollinator-friendly native plants. In some cases, the focus was on reducing erosion, offering more diverse forage for the pigs and sheep, or providing additional shade for animals grazing during the hottest of summer months. In a couple years, the livestock will be able to eat from the fodder banks and benefit from their shade. Feeding leaves from the fodder bank will release nutrients and build soil for the oaks and natives to grow and thrive. This one practice is a step towards diversifying the farm system to support enhanced carbon capture and system resilience.
Each practice is also encompassed by the Carbon Farm Plan (CFP) that PT Ranch is developing — a holistic approach that Molly notes is “a great way of exploring how to develop our business and meet the ecological goals we had set for ourselves.” Fibershed’s Climate Beneficial program supports connecting producers with Carbon Farm Planning opportunities, through Technical Service Providers like Resource Conservation Districts and partners like the Carbon Cycle Institute (CCI). For PT Ranch, Fibershed facilitated support including ongoing technical assistance with Lynette Niebrugge, Manager of Carbon Farm Planning at CCI and a part-time project partner for Fibershed. “Lynette has been awesome to work with on PT Ranch’s CFP, an experience which led me to write a few more plans for producers in our area” shares Molly.
All in all, it may be thanks to the original groves of olives trees that called Molly home and inspired such healthy and high-quality food that is now being offered through the hard and dedicated work of the Taylors at PT Ranch.