It’s been a year since David Evans of Marin Sun Farms took over the Rancho slaughterhouse, transforming the closed-down operation into a high-quality slaughter and meat processing plant. Under Evans’ ownership, the old slaughter facility on Petaluma’s northern edge has been revived and refocused. Recently, Marin Sun Farms earned organic certification, a huge boon for the region’s livestock industry, especially, the small-scale producers who are part of the growing field-to-fork movement.
For a time it looked bleak at Rancho, that bleakness hauntingly portrayed at the time in a press photograph of vultures ominously roosting in a dead oak tree near the shuttered slaughter house. A federal investigation and massive meat recall had forced Rancho’s former owners to close the gates, most of us thinking never to open again. Sonoma County was faced with the real possibility of forever losing its last major slaughter plant when David Evans rode into town to save the day, preserving a vital link in the food production chain. Evans, a fourth generation member of a coastal Marin ranching family, rolled up his sleeves and went to work to build his business.
Evans’ can-do spirit and passion reminds us of when Larry Peter – against all odds – staked it all to buy the historic Petaluma Creamery, preserving it as a milk processor when developers were eyeing the valuable downtown property for a commercial business complex. Looking back, saving the slaughter facility and milk processing plant were tremendous wins both for Sonoma County agriculture and Petaluma, the historic River Town whose very identity is built on agriculture. It could have easily gone the other way but, miraculously, both agricultural landmarks are open and doing very well thank you.
David Evans and Larry Peter are super heroes in my ag book. They are men who have staked their lives and financial futures in agricultural businesses essential to the intricate infrastructure of Sonoma County’s thriving food system. We owe them a lot, particularly, as we hear calls for more local food production. Both Evans and Peter are daring, visionary entrepreneurs investing millions of dollars in farming’s future while naysayers write the obituary on Sonoma County agriculture.
The truth is we need the feed mills, food processors, equipment and supply companies that are part of the vital support industry for farms and ranches every day. Dairies go out of business if there isn’t a place to sell their milk. Livestock ranchers, working on razor thin margins anyway, can’t afford the time or money to haul steers or hogs to slaughter plants three or four hours away. We’ve all seen what happened to the Sebastopol apple industry when canneries and packing sheds shut down.
Just imagine if the slaughter house and creamery had closed. Those two sites would now be growing houses and commercial buildings rather than bustling hubs where milk and livestock are delivered daily from North Coast ranches. Their disappearance would have further diminished the county’s agricultural economy and eroded the farm base. Instead, we have thriving, dynamic businesses that need more milk and livestock. That means more production on farms and ranches. And maybe, even, a few new farms and ranches, always a good thing in my ag book.