Stemple Creek Ranch Brings Grass-Fed Beef to the Ferry Plaza

Brie Mazurek, CUESA Staff
December 12, 2014

CUESA is excited to welcome two new local meat vendors to the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, ranchers with a passion for their animals and the land. This week we introduce you to the family behind Stemple Creek Ranch, and next week you can learn all about Chowdown Farm.

Four Generations of Land Stewards

Loren Poncia was destined to be a rancher. His great-grandfather Angelo immigrated to California from Italy in 1897 and began raising dairy cows, pigs, and chickens in Fallon, Marin County, now the home of Stemple Creek Ranch.

The Poncias farmed dairy cattle until 1989, when they transitioned to beef. Loren started his own herd when he graduated from high school to help pay for college at CalPoly. Later, after a stint working “in the industry,” he felt pulled to follow his passion and returned to the family ranch with his wife, Lisa. They now raise Angus cattle and Dorset and Shropshire lamb on about 1,000 acres in Marin, Mendocino, and Humboldt counties.

Stemple Creek’s livestock are born in the fields and raised in open pasture throughout their lives, without artificial hormones, growth promotants, or antibiotics. While large, confined animal feeding operations must buy feed, the Poncias let their animals roam, allowing nature to provide. All animals are grass fed and grass finished, with no supplemental corn, soy, or grain. “We specialize in higher-fat grass-finished beef, not super lean,” says Loren.

Hay is harvested from their certified organic pastures in the spring to save for times when green grass is scarce. Most of the livestock is not certified organic, however, because their local processing facility, just 15 minutes away, is not certified, and they would need to truck their cattle three hours away to one that is.

Ranching with Nature

A deep love and respect for the land runs in Loren’s blood. His father was one of the founding members of Marin Agricultural Land Trust, and Loren also served as a board member for a decade. Their property in Marin is protected by an easement that ensures it will remain in agricultural use in perpetuity. “We’re very proud of that,” says Loren.

The Poncias have restored riparian habitat on their land by planting native plants and trees around the creek, which prevent erosion and encourage wildlife. “We want to work in harmony with Mother Nature and have a biodiverse operation,” Loren says. Thanks to their efforts, the creek now provides nesting grounds for at least 24 different species of migratory birds.

Stemple Creek is also one of three ranches to participate in the Marin Carbon Project, a program that seeks to illuminate the carbon sequestration potential of rangeland in response to climate change.

Grazing is carefully managed by rotating the cattle through about 100 different pastures. “Our goal is to let the pasture rest so that the blades of grass get big enough that they capture all the sunlight that shines down on them, allowing for strong root development and pulling carbon from the atmosphere into the soil,” explains Loren.

Building Soil to Prepare for Drought

One of the focuses at the Marin Carbon Project is increasing the water holding capacity of soil by building organic matter, a strategy that could increase drought resilience.

“Our biggest challenge is having a high-quality grass-finished product year round,” says Loren. “A year ago at this time, we were heavily impacted by the drought and were considering a complete dispersal of our operation.” He was able to keep his cattle fed with hay he had harvested earlier that year, and thanks to spring rains, the ranch was saved.

With just a few other employees, the Poncias make their small operation work by selling to butcher shops, restaurants, farmers markets, online customers, and occasionally Whole Foods. Lisa manages the farm’s marketing and finances in addition to her second job as an attorney. Loren recently took a big leap quitting his off-farm job to focus on the ranch full-time.

“I love watching the cycle of life, from when the first rains come and the grass grows and the babies are born,” he says. “The sun’s energy is captured by the grass, the cattle thrive and grow, and we’re able to produce a high-quality product that people here in the Bay Area really love and appreciate.”

Stemple Creek Ranch and Chowdown Farm will be at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (back plaza) on Saturdays starting tomorrow.

Photos by Karen Pavone, courtesy of Stemple Creek Ranch.

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