Some Sheet readers may have noticed a Classifieds posting last week for an “off-grid farmstead lease;” a “historical 52 acre private inholding in the Inyo National Forest” 35 minutes from Mammoth and 50 minutes from Bishop. That private inholding is none other than Banner Springs Ranch, known locally as the source of hops for Mammoth Brewing Company and Mountain Rambler Brewery.
Banner Springs Ranch has grown and sold produce locally for ten years, said Ranch co-owner Jeph Gundzik. “We grew Asian greens, lettuce, spinach, shallots, potatoes, garlic, squash … we did probably about 30 different things here,” he told The Sheet.
But the recent arrival of Abundant Harvest Organics, an organic produce service from the west side of the Sierra, has changed tastes and demand.
“We’re somewhat limited because of the climate that we grow in,” Gundzik said. “I think people began to want something different, and when Abundant Harvest came to town, that brought everything to a head. We lost a lot of customers.”
Gundzik said he and his wife, co-owner Delinda Briggs, would continue to grow hops. “Those plants will be around for a long time,” he said.
Jeph and Delinda are using the change at Banner Springs Ranch to embark on a new venture in Queen Valley, Nevada, about 25 miles away.
“It’s a completely different climate,” Gundzik said of the new ranch. “It’s at a lower elevation, flat, and we have water rights to surface and groundwater out there, and 190 acres to grow on, so it’s really a much larger operation, and the cool thing that we’re doing is developing a green waste diversion project.”
Gundzik explained that “green waste” is essentially “anything that used to be living,” including food products and yard waste. Gundzik and Briggs plan to create a green waste composting operation that could potentially service both Mono and Inyo Counties, turning waste into compost for a new 20-acre orchard.
Gundzik explained that such an operation is all done outdoors. First green waste is ground up, then set out into large windrows, where it cures for six to ten weeks.
“It’s a simple process … [and] it’s a lot cheaper than hauling it,” he said, alluding to the scheduled 2023 closure of Mono County’s Benton Crossing Landfill, which could force the County to haul waste to Lockwood, Nevada, about 10 miles north of Reno.
Gundzik also noted that the State passed AB 1826 last year, mandating commercial organics recycling. The State currently allows exemptions based upon a jurisdiction’s ability to process green waste. As Mono County Solid Waste Superintendent Tony Dublino explained, “The State and Sacramento are in recognition of the fact that a lot of rural areas and smaller counties don’t actually have processing facilities in place. But “I think in 2020, [the State] will have to revisit the exemption.”
Dublino said the County has not come to any specific arrangement with Gundzik regarding the new green waste processing operation, and whether it will or not “remains to be seen.”
He said some challenges facing Mono County’s use of the Queen Valley ranch would include the distance to transfer materials—the ranch is about 60 miles from Mammoth and 50 miles from Bishop—the lack of a “specific organics collection infrastructure,” and the lack of a pricing system.
Once Benton Crossing Landfill closes, however, “I think that … a facility that can process that kind of material that’s 60 miles away, versus hauling that material to Lockwood, becomes more viable at that point.”
Dublino said Mono County is certainly moving toward processing and recycling food waste, considering it accounts for about 30 percent of all solid waste currently being landfilled. “It’s going to be within ten years [that] there’s going to be significant shifts in that direction,” he said. “Ultimately the question is where should that kind of processing take place.”
“Let’s just say everybody is looking at how they can diversify the waste stream,” agreed Mammoth Disposal Director Rick Vahl. Vahl noted that support from the local communities that would pay for the service will be particularly important.
“I’m hoping that we can pencil something out and make it work,” he said of Gundzik and Briggs’ operation. “But you have to get the buy in of the community and take it slow.”
Gundzik said he’s hoping to get a pilot project going by this summer. In time, the Queen Valley ranch could accept green waste from not just Inyo and Mono Counties, but from Nevada as well.
Although Gundzik and Briggs have been running Banner Springs Ranch for 14 years, they appear to be taking the change to their operations in stride. “That’s the cool thing—when one door closes another opens,” Gundzik said.
Before going into farming, Gundzik formerly wrote international investment risk analysis in Salt Lake City for the largest institutional investors in the world.
“Delinda was the inspiration for our farming adventure,” he said. “She is a sixth generation farmer from Carlsbad.”
Now, leasing Banner Springs Ranch “will free our time for this much bigger [green waste] project, and ultimately I think our community will benefit greatly from that, much more than our ability to feed two dozen families or so,” Gundzik concluded.