Joe Judge and his wife Gail live in Bennett Valley where they have 10 acres of grapes and raise beef for their consumption.
Judge is the current President of the Bennett Valley Grape Growers and a past commissioner for the Sonoma County Winegrowers. He works for Wells Fargo Advisors as the Senior Vice President, joking that he spends ¾ of his time there and ½ of his time working in his vineyard.
On his 10 acres, Judge grows Syrah, Grenache and Sauvignon Blanc. He sells his grapes to local wineries.
Judge got his B.S. in Environmental Studies and went to work for the U.S. Forest Service where he was in charge of cattle allotments for Tonto National Forest in Arizona.
“I became involved with cattle, liked it and have been raising them ever since,” Judge said.
He said his environmental background made him want to know the source of the beef he was eating, and he quickly realized that many of his neighbors were in the same situation.
Judge and his wife raised two children: Sarah and Blake. Many of his neighbors were also raising children, and Judge started selling quarters of his steers to local families as well as eating his own beef. He said that by purchasing the calves young and raising them himself, he, as well as his neighbors, knew where their beef was coming from.
Judge was raising Angus steers, but over time, he transitioned to Dexter cattle. Dexters are an Irish breed of cattle, known for their small size. A mature Dexter bull weighs around 1,000 lbs., approximately half of what a more common breed such as an Angus or Hereford would weigh. Judge buys his steers from a breeder in Healdsburg.
Judge said the Dexters fit the smaller property he rents from a neighbor. He currently has two steers, but is soon getting a third.
With his two children grown and no longer living with him and many of his neighbors in the same situation, Judge only sold three quarters of the meat from his next steer.
Judge was inspired by reading about the Range to Table program where local cattle ranchers are donating beef to the Redwood Empire Food Bank to feed low-income Sonoma County families.
Judge only had a small amount of beef left (he estimates one quarter of his steers to be approximately 100 lbs.) and wanted it to have a direct impact.
That was when he had the idea to give the last quarter to his vineyard management crew.
Judge noted that many of his vineyard workers were families, some husband and wife crews and some families with multiple generations working in the vineyard. He’s commended the hard work of Javier Rivas and his crew at North Pacific Vineyard
Management who work in all weather, hot or cold, year-round.
Judge plans to give the quarter of beef to Rivas and let him distribute it to families in need who are working for him.
Judge wants to encourage others in the community to find a way to give back. He said giving back to the community is integral and hopes other will find a way to do so, large or small.