Sunday, February 19, 2012

Happy Acres Farm–A Family Affair

SLO Visitors Guide 029Something got your goat? Not at Happy Acres Family Farm. Goats are what it is all about at Happy Acres, a state licensed, certified organic dairy goat farm. More than 200 of them rest under shade trees, munch alfalfa in enclosures, or roam in the grasses with the alpacas. 

SLO Visitors Guide 037Stephanie Simonin is the goat lady, and her business has grown from one sweet goat named Stella, who Simonin brought in some years ago to help feed calves who had lost their moms. Stella still lives here along with an assortment of animals who share the farm. There are mini-teacup pigs, miniature horses, regular sized horses, a miniature donkey, a cow, alpacas,SLO Visitors Guide 035 a goose, cats, kittens, small dogs and really big dogs. All the animals get a name and the goats have tags on collars around their necks so you can see what those names are and be properly introduced. Simonin, her mom, Laurie, her sister, and all the kids take part in running the farm. 

In 2009, Simonin completed work on a large farm stand that sits at the entrance to the property. When you first drive up two huge Burmese Mountain dogs greet you enthusiastically. If you should happen to SLO Visitors Guide 025bring your pet along, Simonin requests that you leave the pooch in the car while you visit. 

The stand contains cheese, ice cream, eggs from free-range chickens, and certified organic fresh produce. Happy Acres offers a line of skin care productsSLO Visitors Guide 034 made from the milk at both the stand and online. The products include moisturizer, facial cleanser, lip butter, eye cream, and soap bars. Eczema, psoriasis, and acne are helped by products like these. They also contain vitamins A, B, and K, amino acids, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous and are paraben free. 

SLO Visitors Guide 033Simonin’s Mom, Laurie produces all the lotions and cheeses. The cheese production area is located in the milking barn. Large batches are produced for restaurants in the area. “We were asked by one of the Italian restaurants to make an Italian cheese,” Laurie commented as she pointed to a cooler stocked with two sizes of oblong shaped cheeses. “Most cheeses are French. This is Toma,” she explained, “made with no culture.” 

Some of the other cheeses are Fresh Chevre with herbs that are grown locally, one with Sundried Tomatoes, Parmetta, which would be used as you would Parmesan, and Feta. “Some are made without salt and some with,” Laurie said. 

While goat milk is well known to be good for those who are lactose intolerant, Simonin commented that she discovered the benefits of drinking goat milk first hand. Not soon after one of her children, who suffered seasonal allergies, began drinking it, the condition cleared up. “No more sinus or runny nose,” she said. 

SLO Visitors Guide 028While Laurie produces the products, Simonin is in charge of the goats, performing milking chores twice a day. Her sister and the kids also pitch in and have chores like giving Lucy the cow her bottle feeding. Lucy is actually still a calf and requires milk along with feed. This is just one of the rescue animals that have come to live at Happy Acres. The calf had been mistreated toSLO Visitors Guide 026 the extent that she still is not quite as well socialized as she should be, but with tender care at Happy Acres she is beginning to trust her new owners. A cow is useful on the farm especially during the time that the goats give birth. The kids often need a supplement of milk and Lucy will be beneficial at that time. 

Simonin breeds the goats once a year and relies on the blood line and talents of Scotty, the Billy goat among others. Scotty roams the back pasture along with an assortment of goats and two black alpacas. The alpacas were also rescue animals, and they perform a valuable service. The farm is located in the countryside of Templeton and it is not uncommon for there to be mountain lions, SLO Visitors Guide 031coyotes, and foxes about. Even neighborhood dogs are a threat. When a threat is perceived, the alpacas give out a high-pitched sound and immediately go on alert. They herd the goats back behind them and prance forward, shrilling their call as a warning to whatever predator might be trying to gain entrance to the field. 

Another nice element of having alpacas is that they produce a fine, soft wool that is spun into yarn for making clothing. The yarn is sold at the farm stand and the funds are donated to charities that the kids choose. 

Tours of the farm are available by appointment consisting of learning how to milk, and blending your own cheese, which you geSLO Visitors Guide 039t to take home, bottle feeding baby goats when they are born, and feeding peanuts to the goat herd. Tours last one and half to two hours long and cost $25 for adults and $12 for children. Happy Acres offers discounts for school groups. Call Stephanie at (805) 434-7580 for an appointment.
Happy Acres Family Farm products are sold at Farmers Markets in Morro Bay, Templeton, Baywood Park, and Avila Beach. They are also available at area stores and the cheeses are featured in recipes in dozens of restaurants. You can find their lotion products for sale online at

A visit to Happy Acres Family Farm is sure NOT to get your goat! 

(This article was published in the Access San Luis Obispo County Visitors Guide Winter 2012 issue.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Olive Oil Producers are Green All the Way

SLO Visitors Guide 047At Kiler Ridge Olive Farm it isn't only the olives that are green; it's a way of life for owners Gregg Bone and Audrey Burnam. Their journey into the world of olives began with a bicycle tour through the Tuscany region of Italy. While exerting the effort it takes to pedal up the steep road grades of that area they took in the expansive views that included olive trees. When Bone, who has an extensive technical and engineering background, was ready for a totally different career, they decided to look for property on the Central Coast of California. Maybe it was luck or was just plain serendipitous, but they found an impressive 60 acres at the top of a hill on the west side of Paso Robles. Here they planted five varieties of Italian olive trees and built an environmentally friendly processing mill and tasting room.
SLO Visitors Guide 053Approaching the hilltop you are greeted with a 360 degree view of the surrounding terrain. It is like standing on top of the world and is hard not to be impressed. There at the pinnacle is the Frantoio, a large straw-bale-based building that Bone and Burnam built. You can tell that it is not made from the usual construction material as you look at the surface of the building and see that it is wavy, not flat. Inside it is a refreshing cool on a hot day and cozy warm on a cold one. The Frantoio is where all the important activity of the olive oil business is conducted. 

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The major part of the building holds the massive Pieralisi milling equipment that the couple had imported from Italy. Bone, using his engineering skills, is hard at work creating a machine that will raise the hopper in which the olive crop is loaded and dump it inside into the first processing machine. There are ways to do that now utilizing a forklift but requiring about five individual steps. "I want to cut that down," Bone says, "and get my olives into processing as quickly as possible." 

Speed is somewhat essential in making olive oil. To get the best flavor and be assured of making that coveted extra virgin oil, it is imperative to get the olives into processing within 24 hours. The temperature is also an important element. It is ideal is to mill at no more than 40 degrees centigrade or 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Olives, as they sit in the hopper, generate their own heat. 

A tasting tour will have you learning everything you ever wanted to know about olive oil and will most likely change the way you shop for it. Burnham conducts the tours and begins by explaining the types of olive oils. "There is mild, medium and robust," she says. "Greek and Italian olives tend to be more medium and robust. Flavors should be fruity, bitter, and pungent." All three of these flavors should be balanced in each oil. 

An oil called Olio Nuovo is made from olives that are very green in color and the oil is the freshest you will find. The olives are picked and quickly presSLO Visitors Guide 048sed and bottled. Olio Nuovo is not stored in tanks for any time which would allow the particles and sediment to settle. Much of that stays in the oil and that is why it must be consumed in two to three months as these particles would begin to ferment. The term olio nuovo means "new oil" in Italian. It is strong, peppery, and fruity and contains a greater amount of polyphenols which are thought to be helpful in warding off heart disease and cancer. 

Kiler Ridge Olive Farm is a registered organic farm and is in the process of obtaining certification. The facility is totally solar powered making this a completely green business. There is a full commercial kitchen on site and Burnam uses this to whip up appropriate snacks to use in tastings.
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"We have about 1500 Italian olive trees now," Burnam says, "and we plan to increase to 2500." The five varieties grown are frantoio, leccino, maurino, pendolino, and coratina. Starting on the first weekend in November, relatives and friends come to the farm and begin hand harvesting the olives. "I'm the farmer in the family," Burnam says, "and I check every day to see when the olives are ready for picking." The ideal time has the fruit just beginning to turn a darker shade, almost black. "But they are still green inside," Burnam comments. 

Right now tasting requires that you call ahead and make an appointment. It is well worth it. You won't want to miss the ultimate olive oil tasting treat that Burnam and Bone offer. "Have you ever had olive oil on ice cream?" Burnam asks. 

You areSLO Visitors Guide 052 skeptical. Then she serves up a small cup of vanilla ice cream. She drizzles the extra virgin olive oil over it as if it were a caramel sauce. She adds just a touch of sea salt. You gingerly try some and surprise! Your mouth is full of the most interesting tastes of sweet pungency. You chuckle and are a bit embarrassed for having thought, “I am going to hate this." You go on to consume the whole cup, adding more oil and sea salt as you go. Who would have thought to mix these ingredients?

Future plans call for having barbecues and other cooking delights outside on the spacious patio. Tours of up to 50 people can be handled. You can find Kiler Ridge Olive Oil locally at Pipestone Vineyard and Cregor's Deli in Paso Robles. It is also sold at We Olive in Fresno and Beyond the Olive in Pasadena or you can order it online at

(This article was published in the Access San Luis Obispo County Visitor’s Guide Winter 2012 )

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Life of a Luffa

SLO Visitors Guide 045"A luffa is a plant with an attitude." That's the statement that Deanne starts off with on the tour of The Luffa Farm in Nipomo. She says this with conviction and repeats it. "A luffa is a plant with an attitude, not unlike an orchid," she explains. "You know how it is with orchids. They don't do what you expect.” It seems luffas are like that too. Of course for most people finding out that they are a plant and not a sea creature is their first surprise. "But they're sponges, right?" That's what Deanne and her family hears over and over.

There was a time when Deane didn't know what a luffa was. Her introduction came from receiving a bunch of seeds from a college professor when she lived in the Bay area some years ago. She and other members of her family took theSLO Visitors Guide 042 seeds but had no idea what they were. "We all thought they might be watermelon seeds," she says as she tells the story. "We went to the library and we looked through books to try and find out what they were." Finally deciding that they were some kind of Chinese cucumber plant, each family member planted the seeds in their gardens.

Deane's sister was thought to be the one with the green thumb, but her plants came up and then withered and rotted away. For some reason Deane decided to plant hers up against some fencing and as they grew she attached fishing line to the fence, the vines took to them, and the gourds began to form. Then she forgot about them. Some time passed and when she did finally check on the plants she found that the gourds had turned brown, dried out, and appeared dead. She picked one, heard the seeds rattling inside, peeled off the outer skin, and behold, there was a luffa. This began her long journey as a luffa farmer.
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Nowadays Deane grows her plants in pots in two large greenhouses. "I tried growing them here in the ground but the gophers just attacked them," she says, "then when the afternoon winds came up, as they do in Nipomo, it blew the blossoms right off the plants. No blossoms, no luffas."
SLO Visitors Guide 044The luffa gourd develops at the base of the flower. They grow down at one-half inch a day and more than one gourd grows on a vine. When some magical moment occurs inside the gourd, it turns off itsSLO Visitors Guide 040 growing mechanism and begins to change from bright green to yellow and finally to brown. By this time it is hard and dry. Shaking the gourd at this point allows the seeds to rattle inside. "That's when you know you can pick it," Deane comments.

In 2009, a fr.eak freeze that only affected her property destroyed all of Deane's plants and she had to start over again. Fortunately she harvests the seeds which she used to begin new plants. She also sells the seeds to anyone who wants to try growing luffas. 

A tour of the Luffa Farm begins with a comparison of commercial luffas grown in other countries and imported here. Because these plants have to be chemically handled it affects the feel of the luffa and they are quite stiff and abrasive. Deane's luffas have just a slight amountSLO Visitors Guide 041 of stiffness, but are essentially soft. "You can use them to wash the car if you want to," she says. “Our luffas won't give you raw skin, just a good clean feeling." They can be used on dishes and can be put in the dishwasher or the washing machine. "Just don't put them in the dryer," she warns, "as this will make them dry and scratchy." 

After a tour, a stop in the gift shop is a must. Along with growing luffas, Deane also grows a variety of aromatic and healing herbs and uses them in products she creates such as hand poured glycerin soaps, lotions, bath salts, sachets, bath fizzlers and teas, eye masks, and neck wraps. She also makes a type of fabric coaster with lavender, peppermint, spearmint, and rose inside. When you rest a hot beverage on them it releases the scent to drift around you. Luffa Farm products are available online at
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Groups, bus tours, and school groups are welcome at the Luffa Farm and they can enjoy a choice of a catered lunch or cookies and tea. Reservations are necessary for group tours. Call 805-343-0883.
The Luffa Farm is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. A free tour requires no scheduling. Find them at 1457 Willow Road in Nipomo. 

(This article was published in the Winter 2012 issue of the Access San Luis Obispo County Visitor’s Guide

Windmill Farms–It’s Not Just a Farmer’s Market

SLO Visitors Guide 020Windmill Farms isn’t your ordinary farmer’s market. For one thing it is available every day, rain or shine. The old fashioned barn and windmill grace the side of the road just off the 101 freeway on Thompson Road in Arroyo Grande. As cars whiz by on the freeway they might miss this special place, but if they slow down and make a stop, they will surely enjoy the adventure of a visit to Windmill Farms.

Approaching the Farm you will see old fashioned western wagoSLO Visitors Guide 003ns and a quaint trolley car. Nearby is a field with sunflowers and corn growing high. As you walk through a vine covered archway you might feel like you are entering into a magical world especially when you glimpse your first view of the garden. Brilliant blue pottery is surrounded by potted roses of white, red and yellow. SLO Visitors Guide 005Brightly colored ceramic flowers and little toadstools accent the green foliage of the plants. Here too are fountains and statuary. Benches situated on the gravel pathways offer a place to rest and enjoy the peaceful scene. Mounted on the front of the building is artwork featuring whimsical cows and chickens.SLO Visitors Guide 002

The garden at Windmill Farms specializes in a variety of roses and succulents. “We decided on these two types of plants because of the hardness of our water here,” commented Lorna Kirk, owner of the Farm. Lorna and her husband bought the property in 2000 when there was only the front small barn building on the site. They have since built onto that structure, greatly enlarging the capacity of what the barn can offer. Inside you will find a myriad of items from the pesticide-free fruits and vegetables that they grow on their adjacent farmland and on a farm in the Central Valley to an eclectic and colorful assortment of gift and culinary items. You will see beautiful gift items, crockery, natural lotions, soaps, fragrances, and oils, cards, tableware, decorative art, collectibles and more. Specially made up gift baskets are also available.
SLO Visitors Guide 013In the main part of the room are shelves stocked full of a wide variety of gourmet foods, sauces, jams, preserves, breads and mixes. “Most of the gourmet foods are from California suppliers and local sources,” Kirk said, “we like to support our local farmers. You can sample anything you might be interested in before buying,” she said, “this way you won’t be disappointed."
Outside in the Critter Corral visitors can walk through and pet or feed the animals. There are goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs, SLO Visitors Guide 017turkeys, and Guinea fowl. The goats in particular strike interesting poses as they reach over the fences to beg for your attention. Throughout the year the Kirks host school groups to come and see the animals and take part in a little of farm life. Kirk mentioned that they do breed the goats and will sell kids.

Special events take place at the farm. In the fall a large supply of pumpkins are put outside and people and kids come from far and wide to make their special pumpkin selections. “We are also excited to be starting to host the Central Coast Garden Club here,” Kirk said. The Club will meet there on the 4th Sunday of the month at 2 P.M.SLO Visitors Guide 016
If you are looking for something special for that person who has everything, this is a good place to come to find something unique whether it be gift items, gourmet food, coffee, and tea, or lovely roses and garden art. SLO Visitors Guide 009Or perhaps you might just like to sit in the garden with a cup of gourmet coffee and a delicious raspberry scone! Windmill Farms is open from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. in summer and until 5 P.M. in winter. Do stop by, you won’t be disappointed.

(This article was published in the Winter 2012 issue of the Access San Luis Obispo County Visitor’s Guide –