Freedog Farms at Cactus Flower Ranch

pacific coast highway

Freedog Farms at Cactus Flower Ranch

(Photo of highway 101 heading north to San Francisco)

8/2-8/13

My next farm stay was in California, just a hint north of Santa Barbara directly off of the 101. I saw my temperature gauge drop to a comfortable 70 something degrees when I neared the Pacific coast, and I immediately opened my windows. The fresh air filled my car carrying the wonderful sweet smell of the sea. It raised my spirits immediately; I was on the coast again! I could even see the ocean from parts of the 101, and I couldn’t wait to get my feet in the sand again. Anuk was also in better spirits because we had the chance to stop at a park along the way with actual grass, trees and shade. I told her about the beach, and she just stared at me the same way she always does oblivious to what I’m actually saying, yet she enjoyed being talked to all the same.

After a bit of traffic coming through Santa Barbara, and getting a little turned around we found Freedog Farms. Sierra met us at the gate and led us onto their comfortable homestead. Bandit, the great pyrenees puppy excitedly greeted Anuk. They were face to face, Anuk with her head bobbing out of the car window while she stood on my lap, and Bandit tall enough to easily stick his head in my Mini’s window. He was only seven months old and already 90 pounds of fluffy white farm dog. I had been introduced to this breed on the farm in Tennessee, so I already knew what excellent farm dogs they are.

Anuk shied away trying to hide from Bandit, being only about 10 pounds at this point, but she eventually warmed up to him. The two were playing together soon enough, unequally matched in size, but equally matched in eagerness to play, and neither knew when to stop. Thankfully Sierra had an adjustable fence that we put up so Anuk could be penned up for her safety and so everyone could get a break from their loud, rambunctious and often yelp-highlighted play. Bandit after all didn’t know his own size and would step on her occasionally or try to carry her off by her collar. And when Anuk gets excited she barks very loudly. It was amusing to watch, but also stressful being unsure if at some point Anuk would be trampled.

After we arrived Sierra gave us the grand tour on their UTV (utility terrain vehicle) of their 43 acre property. We weaved our way all over the property on worn-in paths and new ones carved by her husband Darin, until we arrived at the very top of the nearly treeless hill. It was a magnificent view, and we could survey the property and surrounding area. The 101 cut through the middle of the landscape with sloping hills rising up on the other side of the highway. The dry yellow grass stretched out to meet clusters of rich green trees and the occasional farm building. The hills rose up tall enough to hide the ocean that lay beyond, but the fog rolling in almost daily reminded me that the sea was not all that far away. I decided then that I would walk/run up that hill every morning with Anuk, which we did with Kate Bush’s song “Running up that hill” in my head.

We stayed in their large tee pee style tent set up on a partially shaded area a little ways away from the main barn house. It had two cots set up inside; I slept on one and put my stuff on the other. There was plenty of room inside to set up my camping chair and stand-up fully to move around. I was very appreciative of these accommodations after sleeping on the ground in a small two-man tent with a puppy. It was very hot inside during the day and melted any toiletries I mistakenly left inside, but it was pleasantly cool at night, hovering around 50 degrees. I had access to the bathroom, kitchen and living area downstairs in the house. So I could make breakfast and lunch on my own schedule, and relax on the couch during down time. I usually shared dinner with Darin and Sierra.

Darin and Sierra were new owners with many ideas of what to do on their farm. So I was there in time to help start on projects. One of the first projects that Sierra had me work on was painting some signs for vegetable and herb labels; white paint on rustic barn wood. And then I worked on their Freedog Farms sign; acrylic paint on a giant re purposed canvas. It was great work. I also helped Sierra with various building projects, like setting up their raised beds and building a fence to keep deer out of their plant nursery. When they purchased the farm, it came with loads of tools, tractors and a fully-equipped workshop. Many projects didn’t even require a trip to Home Depot. And I tell you it was so fun to watch Sierra work; there wasn’t anything she backed down from. She clearly had a knack for building and knew her way around power tools, no instructions required. I would watch her drive by on the 4-wheeler pulling a trailer full of wire mesh, wooden frames and other various parts with the biggest grin on her face. When I offered to help, she would occasionally accept, but mostly she wanted me to continue with the painting projects.

Darin and Sierra were great hosts, showing me around town, introducing me to the best places in town: farmers markets, breweries, restaurants, and even the Apiary (which specializes in mead, cider and hard kombucha). Darin is skilled in the art of beer and wine, and he loves to share his knowledge and expertise. They really took me in and invited me to stay with them at their place in Carpenteria for a few days. Anuk became one of the pack. In addition to Bandit, they also have an American dingo named Reno and a yellow lab name Titan Dan. There are also three additional dogs in the mix at their place in Carpenteria, but Anuk spent most of her time following Bandit around.

While I was with them at Carpenteria, Darin invited me along to pick out a new surfboard at Channel Islands in Santa Barbara. I’m sure a lot of big names pass through those doors, and it was a pretty big deal to get a tour of their facility and warehouse. I also got to tag along to the Surf N’ Suds beer festival, sampling beers from all over. Anuk was mostly happy to sleep through this event, so I just carried her from one spot of shade to another while people stopped me constantly to pet her. Everyone loves a puppy!

Darin took Anuk and I to Jalama beach and Santa Claus beach. Anuk loved being able to run free on the beach, dig in the sand and play with the children. The California kids were so cute with their beach hair and their loose-fitting wetsuits. They were drawn like a magnet to the puppy, and they ran circles around her always keeping her pounces away from the youngest one of them. Anuk attempted to chase the lab Titan down the beach, but he was too fast. Once Titan was on the chase for his ball, that was his only focus, so that kept Darin pretty busy. He would throw the ball for him out into the ocean. Titan would bound right into the water swimming out through the waves to retrieve it. Anuk didn’t even like to get her feet wet in the chilly water. I was happy to swim briefly. The cold water was refreshing on those warm sunny days, and the air was dry enough that after I got out, I dried off in no time.

On one of my free days in Carpenteria, I borrowed a beach cruiser bike. I settled Anuk into a shoulder pouch that I had made and took her out for a ride. We made it all the way to the beach and back. It was cool enough for a sweater, but warm enough for shorts. She was scared at first because of all the loud motorists, but she eventually settled in against me with her head tucked into the bag. Most people didn’t pay any attention until she popped her head up. I got quite a few smiles on that ride. To my chagrin I realized the way back was all uphill. I made it all the way to the entrance of the avocado farm (where their place is) and then the hill rose steeply. Then I had to get off and walk the rest of the way. It was quite the workout!

Back at Freedog Farms, they got their water tanks tested. We knew that the water wasn’t up to par for drinking, but they got good news that they had more water than they previously thought. Water is such a precious commodity out west, and we were conserving everywhere we could: turning the water on only to wet and rinse while showering, flushing the toilets only about once a day and being thrifty while washing dishes. They also have a wonderful device that pulls the humidity from the air and filters it, and that was the water we drank. Its interesting that there is such a drastic difference between east and west coast in relation to water. Though of course it would be in everyone’s interest to be good stewards of water everywhere on our planet. “Agua es vida” (water is life), is what they said on the farm in New Mexico.

While I was still here, I received word from Adam, one of the guys I met camping in Zion. He was looking for some artwork for his podcast. He asked if I would be willing to exchange some artwork for a place to stay in the Bay area with he and his wife. He also offered to show Anuk and I around the dog friendly places in town. I accepted his offer and made arrangements to leave.

Highlights:

Darin & Sierra
Driving a 4-wheeler
A wonderful introduction to the Santa Barbara area
The Apiary
Anuk and Bandit

Lowlights:

The struggle with drought and fear of fires
Having to leave

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