Located in the unceded Mutsun territory of central California, approximately 30 miles from the coast, the history of the ranch reflects the history of the region and the state, both culturally and environmentally. For thousands of years, the indigenous people stewarded the landscape of the area, but late in the 18th century, tremendous change began. In less than 100 years, the landscape was completely transformed. By the late 19th century, the people who had made their home here were almost completely gone, and so was the ecosystem that they knew.
With the introduction of European domesticated animals, plants, management ideas, and the view that the earth is here to be exploited for financial gain, everything changed. In quick succession the land was controlled by Spanish missions, Mexican ranchos, American ranches, and then developers. The ecosystem today is much less perennial, productive, and diverse than it was in 1790. Our work now and for the next 100 years is to increase the diversity of people, plants, and animals by transforming our relationships and working with natural systems.
People arrived in the area between 12,000 and 15,000 years ago. As they did everywhere on earth, the new arrivals began to manage the landscape to meet their needs for food, fiber, medicine, fuel, and shelter. These ancestors of the Mutsun people sustained themselves and learned about the landscape for between 800 and 1000 generations. With the excellent weather and location, the indigenous people in the area thrived. This may have been the mostly densely populated place in the Americas north of the Mexican border.
Spanish explorers visited the area in the second half of the 18th century, but did not establish a permanent presence until the mission system began in 1769. The missions that most impacted the residents of this area were started in Santa Cruz in 1791 and in San Juan Bautista in 1797. Though there were few Spaniards in the area, each mission controlled vast swaths of land, which were managed to support the mission and generate wealth to be sent to Europe.
This period was the start of a dramatic change in the ecosystem of the region. The indigenous stewards of the land were displaced, killed, and controlled. They were no longer allowed to hunt, burn, harvest, plant, or hold ceremony as they had done for thousands of years. The Spanish brought their domesticated livestock and seeds from Spain, which also has a Mediterranean climate, and they brought the same management strategies that had already destroyed the Spanish ecosystem. It was the start of the transformation to an annual grassland, which is much less diverse and productive than what had lasted for thousands of years.
Though the mission period was catastrophic for the native people in the region, it did not last long. Mexico won its independence in 1821 and by 1835 the missions were secularized. The land that had been granted to the church was claimed by Mexico and then granted to Mexican citizens in large tracts of land know as ranchos. Many of the indigenous people who had been enslaved in the missions were forced to labor on the ranchos. The land that is now the Paicines Ranch was granted to Angel Castro in 1842 as Rancho Cienega de los Paicines. Angel was part of the guard at the mission in San Juan Bautista and was married to the majordomo's daughter. He received the grant in recognition of his service to Mexico.
United States Period
Within a few years of the grant to Castro, California became part of the United States. By 1865, when the deeds were perfected in Washington, DC, the ranch was owned by Alexander Grogan, an Irish speculator. His was the first of 5 American families who have owned the ranch since that time. It has been farmed and ranched ever since. It was home to the largest shorthorn cattle herd in the country around 1900. In 1965 thousands of acres were part of the world's largest varietal vineyard. During this period every flat acre and many of the rolling hills were farmed in the very conventional, chemical-intense model of the time.
Transition to American ownership completed the transformation of the area. While the Spanish and Mexicans had sent few permanent settlers to California, and had planned to allow the indigenous people to become citizens eventually, the American view was that the indigenous people were incompatible with their plans for the state. State-sanctioned genocide, coupled with unratified and broken treaties decimated the indigenous people.
By the end of the 19th century the indigenous population was around 25,000 people. The tule elk was believed to be extinct by 1873. The last grizzly bear was seen in CA in 1924. The change to annual grassland with 99% exotic plants was complete.
In 2001 Matt Christiano and Sallie Calhoun purchased the ranch from developers. Sallie was a long-time gardener with an interest in CA native perennial grasses. Their work at the ranch began with an effort to return those grasses to this landscape through planned grazing. It has since expanded to working with natural systems to regenerate the ranch ecosystem while producing food, fuel, and fiber, much of which is sold locally, helping to create a resilient local food system. They are also committed to sharing and learning with the broader farming and ranching community, believing that we can go further faster together.