FB Chamberlin Ranch
Picture: Andrew Hill
The Ted Chamberlin Ranch is located in the rolling hills of the Santa Ynez Valley, 30 miles inland from the Santa Barbara coast. The ranch occasionally gets morning fog in the summers, which rolls in from the Santa Ynez River. The summers are hot and dry with temperatures averaging in the high 90’s during the day, and mid 60’s at night. The winters have an average rainfall between 12-15 inches and temperatures drop to 30 degrees. The homestead rests at 1,000 foot elevation, while the remaining 8,000 acres of pasture sits between 800 and 1,200 feet of elevation. The climate is considered Mediterranean with oak savannas, coastal sages, and flat agricultural lands.The ranch raises Black Angus Cross cattle and utilizes managed grazing to benefit the natural rangelands. This has improved the soil health, plant vigor, plant diversity, and water holding capacity, which results in the ability to sequester carbon. In addition, the result of these practices has been healthier cattle with improved weight gains. They practice planned grazing and have applied many techniques learned from Holistic Management training. The Chamberlin family also leases out land to farmers who grow different crops such as pumpkins, sweet corn, squash, tomatoes, cilantro, peppers, as well as grain hay for cattle and horses.
“Kiss the Ground’s farmland program has helped me connect with other like-minded farmers and ranchers who are looking to do things differently: to better the soil and the planet while being profitable.” – Russell Chamberlin
Russell admits that “transitioning to regenerative agriculture has been difficult financially for the ranch.” Patience and willingness to stay the course has been a test, however they are now seeing great results with rehabilitation of the rangelands and health of the cattle. They see changes in biodiversity where they least expected it, and are looking forward to increased biodiversity where they planned for it. Increasing the rotation has increased the forage available for the cattle and wildlife, which has allowed the native oak trees to regenerate. They’re also seeing more native perennial plants, wild oats, and wildlife, and a few unexpected, but welcome surprises: dung beetles and natural springs have returned to their pastures. Their success at applying regenerative methods has even been featured in the Santa Barbara Independent, in an article highlighting the carbon sequestration potential of their land.
As the Chamberlin’s grow and figure out best practices, they aim to establish a profitable way to transition their tillage hay and vegetable crop lands to a no-till system.
Picture: Paul Wellman
The Chamberlin’s work with the Healthy Soils Program on applying compost to rangelands and they established a trial site with the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Their journey to soil health through compost application is featured in this excellent video, made possible by UC Santa Barbara, Community Environmental Council, the Cachuma Resource Conservation District, UC Cooperative Extension, and the CDFA Healthy Soils Program.
The Chamberlin’s are also involved in the Conservative Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentive Programs (EQIP) – projects for cross fencing and replacing and adding water troughs with wildlife escape ramps. In addition, they have a grazing test site where they try regenerative grazing techniques and host workshops.
There are a handful of other farmers and ranchers practicing regenerative agriculture in the Santa Ynez Valley, such as Solminer Wine Company, Las Cumbres Ranch, Orella Ranch, Hidden Canyon Ranch, Dare 2 Dream Farms, Fairview Gardens, and Cuyama Lamb. Ted Chamberlin Ranch hosts workshops to help educate other farmers and ranchers about the practices they’ve adopted and to spread awareness, with the hope that others will adopt regenerative methods. They face challenges sharing this work, however, because some farmers and ranchers are skeptical about climate change and hesitant to change their practices, even if economically viable and profitable.
The Chamberlin’s can attest that Kiss the Ground’s Farmland Program has been key in sharing information, a supporter in recognizing the work they are doing, and helping them achieve their goals, which include increasing soil organic matter, sequestering carbon, increasing the water holding capacity of their soil (which in turn will lengthen their growing season), increasing biodiversity, and increasing their yield and, ultimately, their profit. The Chamberlin’s appreciate Kiss the Ground’s network of producers, researchers, and others that are available for consulting, and resources such as webinars on how to join carbon markets. Farming is labor intensive and their time is limited, so they are grateful for continued learning opportunities, help with problem solving, and soil testing and monitoring.