I can sum up my childhood with one story. I once had a sweater that my mom made for me when I was about 12. It was made of mohair, which was sheared from our pet Angora goat, Lilly. After it was sheared, the wool was "carded" ( the process of gently pulling the wool with wire brushes into soft long strands). The wool was then dyed in boiled cabbage leaves to get a soft purple color. Mom then spun it into yarn on her spinning wheel, and after she had several balls of yarn, she knit the sweater ( a bulky, super-soft, long sleeve giant of a thing). creating my lilac "Lilly" sweater.
It was not a "normal" childhood.
We didn't know it at the time, but we were incredibly lucky. We were living a pioneer life at a time when everyone around us was enjoying the pleasures of convenience food such as foil wrapped ding dongs, and TV Dinners. We had homemade bread (for which Mom ground her own wheat), and ate walnut butter sandwiches, and spoonfuls of fresh honey from our bee hives. We ate our own meat, as in, the chickens, rabbits, ducks, pigs, and even a cow that our parents butchered and then froze in our always-stocked freezer. We ate from our garden year-round, and enjoyed mom's canned preserves and applesauce when the garden was lean. We had goat milk and fresh eggs every day. We ate carob instead of chocolate (yuck), and we never even saw a loaf of white bread or pre-packaged anything. Our parents were hard workers and devoted themselves to the farm and to a certain way of life for their family.
Things have changed this last year and they have both moved off the farm. It has now passed to the next generation, consisting of three children with their spouses, eight grandchildren, and six great grandchildren, most of whom live here in the Santa Ynez Valley, and several right here on the farm.
We are adjusting.
Follow our journey as we navigate sharing the farm together, reinventing our focus to more than just walnuts, and holding true to our parent's vision when they bought a little farm some 42 years ago.
*Our parents were more than farmers - they were avid world travelers - from Africa, to North Korea, to Mt. Everest. They always kept a Travel Diary and took plenty of photos. We will occasionally post excerpts here.*
Nepal - Thursday May 22, 1980 - written by Dad:
This was our best day. They have all been good, but today was exceptional. We drove about an hour out of town to Godavari. The wheat harvest was on, so the villagers spread the wheat on the roadway so the cars can drive over it and thresh the grain from the stalk. Everyone was busy at work - the men in the nearby fields, cutting by hand and wrapping the what in bundles. The women carry these enormous loads to the road and spread it out for the cars. Then they sift it and let the wind blow away the chaff. It was fun to let the perennial crowd of kids (who follow us everywhere) look through the zoom lens of the cameras. The adults also like to look. Sometimes I pick out a shy little kid and give him a balloon.
We drove a few miles further on to the Godavari Botanical Garden, which was absolutely gorgeous and sparkly clean. Lots of beautiful little streams, flowers, trees, butterflies. It was a joy to wander slowly through.
In the afternoon we returned to the Tibetan Refugee Camp and looked up Tsering Bongtak, who had told us earlier that he would teach Gretchen how they weave rugs. We past the gompa (flying Tibetan prayer flags) and the piles of rocks inscribed with "O Mani Padme om" (The jewel lies in the lotus). We kept the gompa on our right side, so as not to undo the prayers - and climbed to the second floor of a brick house. There, Tsering's brother was weaving, and Gretchen and Tsering sat down to begin the lesson. His mother kept serving us tea (half tea and half cream with sugar, and very good) . We took the tea with both hands and smiled a lot and bowed ever so slightly. Lots of people came to watch. After the lesson, we sat in his mother's small room (about 15' x 6') and drank more tea and looked at pictures of the Dalai Lama as a boy.
We'll try again for Lukla at 5:45 am - but it's looking more and more doubtful. There is lots of thunder and wind outside now - so it may not be out time to go to Everest. No matter. We'll do something enjoyable.
Mom learns how to weave in Nepal at a Tibetan Refugee Camp.
Here is one of the surprise benefits of our rather off-beat upbringing. When I was fairly young, my girlfriend and I decided that we wanted to get out of school for a day or two. We came up with the idea that Poison Oak would do the trick. So after school we went down to the creek and found some nice, juicy leaves, which we tore in half (so as to get the most contagious part of the plant) and proceeded to rub the leaves all over our arms and legs. Confident that we would be sitting in front of cartoons rather than at a desk in no time, we parted ways. Within days, the red raised blotches began to appear ..... on my friend. Not on me. I was clear as a bell. Here's why: Our pet goats regularly grazed on poison oak plants. We drank their goat milk every day. In other words, I was immune to poison oak! I had to suffer not only through school - but through school without my best friend, as she was home with a terrible case of poison oak. Sigh.
This is a Santa Ynez Valley News article from October 1985. Dad was only 43 at the time of the photo. He was a tireless farmer. He was still working Monday through Friday in Santa Barbara at his own investment firm, but would head straight into the orchard after work and all day long on the weekends. Back then, Harvest could be a month-long venture, with all family members pitching in. Some things have changed since then: we have a new variety of nuts that harvest in November (which adds some pressure with a December 1st deadline from Diamond), our processing plant is now an open air structure that (depending on the year) can be sweltering hot under a blazing sun or cold and rainy. We have much of the same antique farm equipment that came with the purchase of the Farm (and is holding together on a prayer and a dime). Harvest is right around the corner and we have much to do: tractors need repairing, the plant needs to be sanitized, we need one more round of watering, the orchard floor needs to be prepped. The trees look better than they have in a decade - that 20" of rain was a miracle. In many ways, 2019 has been our most difficult year ever, and yet we are hopeful. We have an exciting and ambitious goal list for 2020. We are settling in to this new rhythm and new "normal" on the farm, and the three of us are working better together than thought possible. The farm is cleaned up, scrap metal has been sold off, many dump runs have been made with 40 years worth of build-up. The tide seems to be turning. I think we're going to make it. I think Dad would be proud.
Mom is starting a new Personalized Painting business (at the age of 83!) She has been an artist all her life, was an Art Major in college, and attended the prestigious Art Center in LA on a scholarship. The top image is a photo taken of Central Park on my recent trip to New York. The bottom image is the painting Mom made for me from my photo. Acrylic, 16x20, and it is stunning. As we head into the holidays, consider A Personalized Painting, which makes a thoughtful, loving gift for friends and family. (Or a gorgeous addition to your own home.) Mom will work with you directly to discuss the project, size, and overall result you desire from the work. Please message us if you'd like contact information.
By Pamela Dozois
Parents often dream of leaving their children a legacy of land that their children and grandchildren and future generations can live and enjoy in perpetuity.
Dick and Gretchen Kieding were living on a small two-acre farm, growing their own food, in Santa Barbara and raising their children. On a chance visit to the Santa Ynez Valley, their dream of expanding their family farm became a reality.
Dick Kieding holds his companion, Asha, and the hand of his wife, Gretchen. In back, from left, are their children Eric, Anne and Kerry, who holds the cat, Scout.
“The story goes that my sister Anne had the chicken pox so the ski vacation the family had planned was canceled,” said Kerry Morgantini, the eldest daughter of the Kiedings. “As my mother was caring for Anne, my father decided to take a drive and check out the Valley. He came across a walnut grove that had been on the market for less than a week. He returned home and stated that he had just purchased a walnut grove in Ballard. My mother was delighted. They were both ready to move to a larger property and expand their farm, as they wanted a healthier lifestyle for their family.”
The 22-acre farm was purchased in 1976. The walnut trees, on 17 of those acres, were already there when Kieding purchased the property and there was a standing agreement with the Diamond Nuts Company to purchase all of the walnuts they grew each year. That agreement still stands after 43 years.
“My father didn’t know a thing about walnuts and he got an ear full from me about moving, as I was a senior in Santa Barbara High School at the time, and didn’t want to move,” said Morgantini.
“My parents paid the full asking price for the land, and all the equipment was included on one condition — that the owner remain available to teach my parents about growing walnuts,” said Anne Guynn, the Kiedings’ second-oldest child. “We didn’t move to the valley until May because my parents were busy learning about walnuts and constructing the necessary enclosures in which to house the animals they wished to have on the farm.”
The farm was totally self-sufficient. The family raised chickens and ducks for eggs; turkeys, rabbits, cows and pigs for meat; sheep for wool; and goats for milk. They grew their own vegetables and even raised bees for honey. They didn’t even buy flour, Morgantini recalled. They would buy a 50-pound bag of wheat and grind it themselves to make fresh bread as needed.
“My mother was a pioneer woman,” Morgantini continued. “We were raised in the manner of ‘Little House on the Prairie’. We did everything ourselves. My mother sewed our clothes, knitted, crocheted, farmed, tended the garden, cooked (from scratch), cleaned, and raised us without any outside help, and even had time to do her art.”
“We didn’t realize how good we had it until we were adults,” said Guynn. “This farm was the fulfillment of a dream for my parents and they made it into everything they ever wanted. Their only charge to us is to keep the farm going.”
“One of my fondest childhood memories was when I was about 12 years of age, my mom made me a sweater. She sheered our angora goat, dyed the wool in cabbage leaves, carded the wool, spun it into yarn, and knitted it into a sweater for me. … It was super soft and warm,” Guynn remembered.
“My dad was an investment advisor and supportive of anything my mother wanted to do,” explained Morgantini. “My dad had the travel bug long before my mother. Their first excursion was on their six-week honeymoon, when they traveled to six different countries. On another trip they climbed to the Mount Everest Base Camp and on yet another trip my father climbed Mt. Ararat, to the top. They made travel diaries and we are privileged to have them to read, each one recounting the many wonderful and exotic countries they visited in their lifetime. They had many world-wide adventures while concurrently working on the walnut farm and raising a family.”
Dick and Gretchen Kieding are now living in senior communities in the valley. Dick lives at Friendship House as he has advanced Alzheimer’s and Gretchen lives at the Atterdag Village where she is very happily surrounded by friends and continues to do her art, a life-long endeavor. One of her paintings is now on display at the Wildling Art Museum.
“My mother still visits the farm and helps wherever she is able. She periodically brings her many friends to the farm for lunch and continues to busy herself at the farm doing her gardening,” said Morgantini.
The Kieding Family Farm, also known as the Ballard Walnut Farm, is growing and expanding. The Kiedings have eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
“We are presently trying to redefine who we are as a farm. We are not just walnut trees. We are experimenting now with a lot of different options,” said Guynn. “As the walnut trees are aging, we are considering establishing a ‘choose and cut’ Christmas tree farm, a dream of Kerry’s who also loves farming, and would like to acquire a couple of reindeer.
“We will also be opening a farm stand in the spring and we have a location for campers who can stay overnight in their camper in the walnut grove. The farm is also registered as a photography location. We operate as a partnership and hold meetings regularly. We have work days where everyone gets together to accomplish whatever is needed around the farm. It’s a family affair.”
Guynn and Eric Kieding, the youngest of the Kieding children, have, for the most part, lived on the farm their entire lives and raised their children there. Morgantini has always lived in the valley but recently moved back to the farm after her parents moved to senior communities.
“I had a great childhood growing up here — summers spent with my loyal dog and BB gun always at my side; friendships built on experiences shared; going to a one-room school house; the hard work and satisfaction of completing another harvest; being able to raise my family on the same ranch and realizing what an incredible gift Ballard school is,” said Kieding. “I love traveling and seeing the world, but this little part of our valley is where I’m happiest.”
“Our childhood was like ‘Little House on the Prairie’, but the grandchildren, mostly boys, experienced a childhood that was more like ‘Tom Sawyer’ with 22 acres of land to run around in and have fun with each other,” said Guynn.
Guynn is involved in the marketing aspect of the farm along with the farm stand. Kieding is the farmer and mechanic who keeps all things running smoothly, and Morgantini loves to farm and garden.
“We just want to share our experiences with those who are interested. It’s an adventure for us as a family and it’s a privilege to have this opportunity and I would like to share it,” said Morgantini.
“It would mean a lot to us if we could keep what our parents started alive and thriving for future generations,” said Guynn.
Recently Morgantini’s son, Christopher, echoed his grandparents’ wish — “Please take care of this place. I don’t know where I would be without it.”
Front: Dick and Gretchen Kieding. In back, from left, are their children Eric, Anne and Kerry.
In response to this remarkable space in time that the world finds itself in, and prompted by a feeling of helplessness (and anxiety), I started keeping a paper log of the daily stats for Coronavirus cases and deaths. I broke it out by local, county, state, national, and global. After two weeks of watching numbers increase, I decided to use the figures for something that might offer something more positive.
I started with 651 paper hearts strung together with fishing line, each heart representing a lost life in California to Covid-19. It quickly grew, and as of this writing, the tree has 2,171 hearts strewn about the branches. They are wind-swept and tangled, and some have blown away. We've added a bench to the tree so that folks can stop by and have a moment of peace and reflection if they desire. It has turned into a passion project - with a commitment to see it through to the end of this pandemic, whenever that may be. Be safe everyone.
If one word could encapsulate the year of 2020 … I think it would be “Home”. This year, more than ever before, this Farm has been a refuge for our family. It is a place with open space and feels “normal” in a most unbelievable year. In the early months of the pandemic, (when even going to the grocery store could be wrought with fear and anxiety), the simple act of turning onto our driveway brought relief and calm. We all found ourselves busy with projects: building a chicken coop, planting a garden, home improvement projects, building a new Farm Stand, and plenty of time together. Some family members were laid off, or lost their jobs altogether. Some adjusted to working from home. As we moved into summer, our Hip Camp sites were booked solid, as folks sought safe travel alternatives. Our walnut crop looked as good as ever, and it felt like we were managing the pandemic. Fall brought a single 117 degree day, which literally fried about a third of our crop. We carefully planned a 10-day homecoming visit for Mom, who has been in lock-down for close to a year. We celebrated an early, socially-distanced Thanksgiving with her, and managed a whirlwind walnut harvest in two days time. Our family has had three positive Covid test results (all recovered), and for the first time in over 50 years, we did not spend Christmas together. Like everyone, we are weary of this new normal. But I don't think that anyone living here on this little 22 acre parcel ever fails to be grateful for this gift of space, and health, and simplicity that Mom and Dad provided us when they purchased a little hobby farm some 45 years ago. We are nearing the two-year anniversary of Dad moving to a care facility. And Mom to a different one shortly thereafter. We are all a bit more grounded this year. A bit more weathered and cautious. Gone are the weekly s'more nights with margaritas. We are a bit more distant from one another – as each family grapples with their own struggles this pandemic has brought. But we are doing OK. We are doing better than many. We are grateful. We are patient. We are hopeful for 2021.We will keep moving forward, one day at a time.
** My “Heart Tree” kept me very busy for several months – but very quickly the number of lives lost to the pandemic became too much to keep up with. As I write this, the staggering number of Californians lost is over 26,000. The tragedy of it can be overwhelming. It may well be a decade before life starts to resemble what we think of as normal. It all changed so quickly. It seems that the only tool for survival is to stay in the current day, or the current moment. That is enough for now.
This will be the third year in a row that Mother Nature has not been kind to us. Two years ago, it was an early frost - which "froze" the hulls to the nuts, and caused the leaves to fall early and made a mess for harvest. Last year, it was a single 117 ° day that fried the nuts inside their shells , and this year (now a week away from May 1st) we have received about 7" of rain, a fraction of what the trees need, with little hope of any more to come. Even if we could water as much as we wanted, it's just not the same as nutritious rain water. We need to be realistic about our future as walnut farmers. The trees are stressed. It may be asking too much for them to rebound every several years when we actually get adequate rain. We are grateful for Hip Camp, and the steady stream of campers seeking outdoor open space - but how long will this last? People will gradually return to tropical vacations, and Disneyland. What then? We struggle with this question. Will any grandkids even want this farm - with little or no income options? Are we perhaps the end of the line? It's too big a question for now. For now, we will enjoy this simple life - this little slice of tranquil beauty - and let the future be whatever it will be. I know we'll be OK.