Growing a Fresh Start
Rockside Ranch is farming with intention — and helping those in crisis along the way
By Patrick Myers
Rockside Ranch in northern California is one operation with two objectives. The newest addition to Cornucopia’s Organic Poultry Scorecard, Rockside is in part a ranch, specializing in the sale of organic poultry. But Rockside also helps young men overcome personal crisis, such as addiction and loss of meaning in life.
Rockside’s participants live on-site and are immersed in farm activities, community, and classes on spiritual formation and life skills, benefiting from the structure that farm life provides. Students collect and wash the eggs from the farm’s certified organic chickens and monitor the birds while they forage in mobile coops on 30 acres of pasture.
By keeping their operation small-scale and only taking on eight students at a time, Rockside is able to provide their animals with the space and care they need while also focusing on each participant’s individual needs and future career opportunities. Among students who have graduated from the program, over 80% are employed today.
While enrolled at Rockside, students become an integral part of a local, sustainable food chain. They learn how to prepare and eat nutrient-dense, whole foods and share their knowledge in the community. Rockside’s close-knit clientele often send thanks to the students for the ethically produced and nutritious meals they provide.
Rockside director Craig Thompson explains, “We treat our animals with dignity and respect and we have a close relationship with the majority of our customers. When our customers buy from us, they know they’re not only getting a more nutritious meal, they’re also contributing to the restoration of the students’ lives. In turn, the students come away knowing they contributed to a beautiful family experience.”
Nothing exemplifies this relationship better than Rockside’s sale of turkeys during the Thanksgiving season. The students help process and package the birds, which are slaughtered on-site. Raising a flock of 75 broad breasted white turkeys, Rockside sells the organic birds at local markets and delivers directly to families across northern California.
Going on 11 successful years, Thompson is now focused on opening a new ranch and program in South Dakota and expanding the Rockside model to other farmers and ranchers. He sees Rockside as a model that could work for organic farms across the country, helping communities heal inside and out.