One of the questions I've struggled with as I've considered whether to take a job with McCormack Ranch in Rio Vista is whether place or profession is more important to me. In some ways, this is a variation on a question posed in The Small Farmers Journal some years ago. Lynn Miller, the publisher of The Small Farmers Journal, asked his readers, "Where is the best place to farm?" At the time, I answered, "Wherever you are!" - I felt that it was possible to pursue one's farming dream wherever one happened to live. Experience - indeed, my own attempts to transition from a start-up farm to a full time enterprise, have helped me realize that the answers to this question are far more complicated than I first imagined. Scale of operation, access to markets, farming infrastructure, and access to quality farmland are all critical parts of answering this question!
Having grown up in the foothills on the way to the Sonora Pass country of the central Sierra Nevada, I was drawn to the Auburn area after graduating from UC Davis. I think most people can be divided into those who prefer the mountains and those who prefer the coast - and I fall squarely in the former group. While I enjoy the ocean, I'm most at home in the mountains. That said, there have always been parts of the Central Valley and Delta regions that I found attractive - including Rio Vista.
But place (or preference for place) is not the only trait in my self-identity. I also see myself as an agriculturalist generally, a rancher more specifically, and a shepherd most specifically. Despite its frustrations, hardships and long days, shepherding is the most rewarding work I've ever done (though not in financial terms).
Given these two elements of how I view myself, my decision came down to a matter of priorities. Am I a foothills guy who is also a shepherd, or am I a shepherd who happens to work in the foothills (at least at the moment)? I've written previously about the struggles I've encountered in trying to make my living with sheep in the foothills. In the final analysis, I had to decide if making my living from raising sheep was more important than the geography in which I made that living. Accepting that I could never achieve an economically viable scale in my current location (and with my current access to capital) helped me realize that the opportunity to work for McCormack Ranch was too good to pass up! It also helped that Rio Vista is a rural community that happens to be about halfway between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Nevada!
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