Black Dog Farm

Black Dog Farm

Situated along the 101 between Willits and Ukiah in Mendocino County, Black Dog Farm (BDF) operates under the umbrella of Ridgewood Ranch’s School of Adaptive Agriculture. The farm thrives through the passionate efforts of its co-owner, Caroline Radice, whose journey from food service to farming showcases a unique blend of traditional farming practices and modern community involvement. BDF stands out not just as a farm, but as an ideal model of the community.

Caroline Radice’s love for farming is deeply rooted in her upbringing, her last name, ‘Radice’, literally meaning a root vegetable in Italian. Caroline’s parents maintained a large garden and cooked from scratch, instilling in her a passion for fresh, homegrown food. After years in the food service industry, Caroline transitioned to farming, driven by a desire to grow and cook high-quality, less common produce.

Black Dog Farm operates on 2.5 acres of arable land, with around 1.5 acres actively farmed at any given time, allowing for seasonal fluctuations. The farm specializes in salad mixes, growing premium greens during winter, a diverse salad mix throughout the rest of the year, and vibrant edible flowers. These crops are cultivated using low to no-till practices and open-pollinated seeds sourced from local farmers, ensuring sustainability and quality. Caroline’s commitment to minimizing waste is evident in her practice of cooking everything harvested each week, and selling and donating what is not cooked.

Caroline finds joy in introducing others to unique vegetables and edible flowers. Rather than simply recommending them, she prepares meals that showcase their potential, making them irresistible to those who try her dishes. Her belief in the magic of edible flowers reflects her broader philosophy of celebrating the beauty and vibrancy of fresh produce. “I think there is something really special and magical about eating flowers,” Caroline says, emphasizing her passion for integrating flowers into her salads for both their beauty and flavor.

Connected to Ridgewood Ranch, a non-profit organization, BDF benefits from the resources and support of the School of Adaptive Agriculture. The School of Adaptive Agriculture offers hands-on training and education in sustainable and regenerative farming practices, providing farms like BDF with necessary resources and support. This producer support relationship mirrors the sales and distribution support of that provided by NCO and MendoLake Food Hub, with NCO and the Community Wellness Program acting as the umbrella organization. As many of you may know, Caroline ran the Food Hub for several years,during a period in which she was having difficulty keeping BDF profitable, a common struggle amongst burgeoning farmers. 

Black Dog Farm is co-owned by Caroline Radice and Jason Pluck, who also runs Caring Kitchen, another NCO program. The dedicated farm team includes Sarah, Katherine, and Takashi, each contributing their skills to the farm’s success. Takashi, a retired engineer from Sacramento, lends his expertise and experience, enhancing the farm’s operations. One of BDF’s noteworthy features is its cold storage unit constructed by Takashi. While the unit is equipped with an electronic cooling system (CoolBot), the natural coolness of the environment often renders the system unnecessary, highlighting the farm’s efficiency and resourcefulness. While modern technology aids in administrative tasks, Caroline prefers relying on tried-and-true traditional farming methods.

Where technology does play a large part is more so in what she chooses to grow and cook: aka “the algorithm.” Caroline’s social media feed is a huge source of inspiration for her recipes, coyly stating how she has served several of the more practical viral dishes, and too great success. She has also used the same method to source new seeds, commenting “Hey we see you like weird specialty vegetables, this other person also likes [them],” on how the algorithm works for her.

In addition to Caroline’s catering business, BDF focuses on partnerships with wholesale buyers and the Food Hub. These sales support the farm during lulls in the catering business. Caroline finds immense gratification in synchronizing her farming efforts with the needs of her catering business. She proudly remarked how they had recently harvested and used over 40 lbs of salad mix, demonstrating the seamless integration of her two passions. As Caroline notes, “The key to salad is a good dressing. With good salad dressing, you can have salad every day with every meal.” Caroline then goes on to describe one of her personal favorites: a breakfast salad of fresh greens, a poached egg, and one of Mendo Ferments’ many krauts.

As event season kicked off on May 1st, Black Dog Farm has transitioned from winter planning to summer planting. The team is busy planting perennial herbs and summer vegetables, ensuring a bountiful season ahead. Caroline’s philosophy is straightforward: “[Sarah and Katherine] just plant a lot of stuff, and I’m just going to keep cooking, and we’re all just going to cross our fingers that it will work out great, and it 99% of the time does, and that 1% I just order from the Food Hub!”

Caroline Radice’s approach to farming at Black Dog Farm exemplifies the harmony of tradition and innovation. Her dedication to community engagement and sharing the joy of fresh, vibrant produce has created a model farm that not only provides high-quality food but also enriches the community. As Black Dog Farm looks to the future, it continues to inspire with its blend of passion, sustainability, and culinary creativity.

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