Meet the Maker: Jamie Mickelson, Sonoma Mountain Beef Co.
Many of us are looking for the place where passion and talent cross paths with purpose and utility – and it seems as though Jamie Mickelson has cracked the code.
A Glen Ellen native, Jamie launched her ranching operation, Sonoma Mountain Beef Company, in 2015 after earning a bachelor's and master’s in Agri-business at Cal Poly.
But her induction to the cattle industry began much earlier.
By the age of nine she'd already taken up the family mantle of raising and showing cattle and was holding her own in the arena. Not totally surprising since Mickelson is of the 5th generation of the Kunde family, who’ve been farming, ranching, and vinting in Sonoma County since German immigrant Louis Kunde (Jamie’s great-great grandfather) arrived in the United States in the late 1800s.
The family homestead has since been home to a dairy, pig farm, and in the 1940s cattle were introduced to the property. (Long-time residents of the valley might even remember brothers Bob and Fred Kunde's butcher shop, Jamie’s grandfather and great-uncles, which operated on the ranch at that time.)
“We’re continuing a family tradition,” Jamie explains, while touring the fig team around her digs in late spring of this year.
The ranch itself, built by Jamie's grandfather and nestled among old vines, orchards and assorted barns, paddocks, and outbuildings ("everything is still painted white, because that's how my grandfather loved it," she relays with obvious affection) serves as home base for Jamie's endeavors, but her cattle graze pastures throughout the county, as far west as the Petaluma coast.
But as the saying goes, this ain't her grandfather's ranching operation - Jamie brings a modern sensibility to the family tradition and it's a poignant illustration of the old becoming the new.
An emphasis on local sourcing and sustainability informs all of her business decisions. After roaming open pasture until reaching maturity, Jamie's animals are finished on local grain, and processing is handled by Golden Gate Meat Company in Santa Rosa. Her product is then sold directly to select Sonoma restaurants as well as at year-round farmers' market in Sonoma and Napa.
Sonoma Valley is rightly known as a foodie’s paradise, and the local food movement is having its moment here as well as across the country. But Jamie felt strongly about moving beyond current trends in foodie-ism and providing something she knew was needed, was of superior quality and at its core sustainable in the long term.
Since the beginning, Mickelson prioritized breeding and responsible, local sourcing over often-restrictive buzzwords of the moment, “grass-fed” and “organic.” Her strategy places a heavy emphasis on the Hereford genetics (only cattle with white faces stay in her program), pasture raising to ensure quality of life for the animals, and proper stewardship of the land.
"What I find now that I've been in the market is that consumers want a high quality, locally and humanely raised source of beef that they can feel good about feeding to their families," she observes.
"When consumers invest in the purchase of a rib eye steak, roast, or hamburger, they expect a great tasting experience." To deliver that quality with consistency is a tall order for an exclusively grass fed product, which is where Mickelson feels her brand earns its distinction. Beyond 100% local sourcing she says, "I can pretty much guarantee a great tasting product every time."
Of keeping it local, Jamie goes on to say, “maybe it’s my generation, but I’m a firm believer in buying, selling, and supporting local. Small businesses are the backbone of our community, and I don’t want to see that change."
So, what's next for Sonoma Mountain Beef Company?
"My vision is big!" the young rancher proclaims while we take in rolling valley views from the top of her grassy pasture.
From this vantage point, there's little room for doubt.
Find Sonoma Mountain Beef Co.'s product on the girl & the fig's menu in our Sonoma Mountain Beef Co. Burger.
Shop the online store at www.sonomamountainbeef.com, or catch Jamie at the following local markets:
Valley of the Moon Certified Farmers Market
Sonoma Farmers Market
Napa Farmers Market