Deep within California's oak savanna surrounding the central coast town of Paso Robles, the quietness of the lightly forested golden grasslands causes you to forget about time. Occasionally the wind swishes through the mixture of wild wheat, oats, and rye grasses and between the shrub-like almond trees sprouting from the hill sides, producing a calm, hushed rhythm to the land.
It is this welling of nature, the emanation of the savanna, and the nearness to the soil that inspires Nate Siemens, owner of Fat Uncle Farms, to be amidst the rolling landscape of his fledgling ranch and to launch a bold experiment in almond farming in the region.
After driving for a couple of hours through the expansive southern San Joaquin valley where Fat Uncle Farms has its original almond orchards, owned and operated by several generations of family for the last 53 years, we met Nate at the edge of their new ranch on the east side of Paso Robles, a town that was once the almond capital of the state.
As we drove through the 100 acre ranch along a worn tire track path that cuts across the fields and into the hills, Nate explained more about the purpose of his new project. He believes that the way to produce the highest quality of almonds, at the least cost to the environment, is to let nature preside over the land as it did centuries ago.
This means, first, relying on dry farming which depends on natural moisture instead of artificial irrigation reducing demand on California's fresh water supply. Second, it involves preserving the upper canopy of oak trees and the lower canopy of wild grains so that the ecosystem is not disrupted. Third, natural herding animals such as cows and sheep are allowed to graze freely to maintain and fertilize the fields. By not uprooting and plowing the land to plant vast rows of almond trees, rain water is naturally retained in the field and soil erosion, a major problem across the U.S., is greatly reduced.
Called natural or regenerative farming, Nate aspires to mimic nature on the farm as this process produces nutrient and mineral rich soil similar to the biome of the gut, yielding almonds that are better for consumption.
The raw almonds farmed in this way are more nutrient dense with higher protein and less carbs than commercial almonds, which receive substantially more water and chemical fertilizers. The flavor also stands out considerably with a fresher, slightly sweeter, more natural taste.
Human scale organic farming, based on the seasons, is more sustainable and gives the earth a chance to breathe. This natural management leads to a tastier almond product, one that customers love and feel good about eating.
After trying the almonds, Nate can see that customers appreciate the quality that comes with the natural growing practices. Transparency in farming allows customers to develop a stronger personal relationship with the product and a connection with the source. The double digit growth of the natural and organic foods industry is a sign that consumers are seeking food makers like Fat Uncle Farms.
Fat Uncle Farms almonds aren't pasteurized before reaching the grocery store, either by steam or a chemical process, meaning they are completely raw. Fat Uncle Farms almonds are not treated in any way.
Nate emphasizes that the future of farming is the sustainable approach and he hopes his new venture, the first of its kind in almond farming and in California, will have powerful ramifications in the region and in the way customers perceive the products they are buying. With commercial farming practices under more scrutiny, the results of his efforts may just change the quality of food we have access to and eat regularly.
Fat Uncle Farms sells their raw almonds and almond products at Los Angeles and Santa Barbara farmers markets and now on Treatmo. Ship or pay ahead for easy pick up at the farmers market with the app.
The almonds are featured routinely at the Hollywood, Santa Monica, Mar Vista and Santa Barbara Downtown Farmers Markets, among others. Almond products include flavored almonds, almond milk, almond flour, and almond butters. You will also want to enjoy their honey and heirloom grains, including Sonora Wheat Flour. Nate's brother, Justin, manages the farmers markets, extending a warm welcome to customers to choose from the abundant product offerings, and even exchanging a recipe or two.
Nate sees the regenerative farming practice as a life long process and one that is not related to a specific production or output goal, but one that has aspirations for a better planet, improved consumer health, and greater access to natural, nutrient rich foods. It's a goal rooted in the history of his family and the early farms of the San Joaquin valley and is now reemerging with his guidance on the almond covered hills of the central coast.
Find Fat Uncle Farms farmers markets through Treatmo app, pre-order or pay at the market, track purchases and chat with friends.
Treatmo Co-Founder, Spiro Zefferys. Loves hiking, cooking, and improving access to food. He has worked throughout Asia and Europe as a product engineer.