For Richard Hamilton and family, farming and ranching in Northern California’s Sacramento Valley is a multigenerational operation. In 1867, Hamilton’s great grandfather established the Hamilton Brothers Farm—now over 150 years later, the farm is still a testament to that legacy. “My uncle Dave Hamilton is third generation. I am fourth generation and my kids are fifth generation,” explains Hamilton to Food Tank.
Hamilton Brothers Farm is a diversified operation in Rio Vista, Solano County, featuring sheep, lamb, and cattle, along with dryland farming that produces grains like wheat and barley. Each generation in the Hamilton family finds its own unique way to contribute to the farm and ranch. Hamilton’s son, Charlie, is the pest control advisor for the farm’s cropping operation. Maggie, the eldest daughter, works for a marketing agency and offers assistance and outreach opportunities. Younger sisters Annie and Josie portion out their spare time by helping their mother and fellow co–owner, Anastasia Hamilton, with administrative tasks and marketing or with ranching and animal care needs in the field.
Through the years, Hamilton Brothers Farm has been able to maintain its multigenerational business by working with Niman Ranch. The partnership began in 1996 when the Hamiltons shifted from selling to traditional lamb markets, to joining the company’s network of small independent family farmers. Annually, the Hamiltons sell between 1,100 and 1,300 lambs to Niman Ranch. This consistency over the 20-years-long relationship continues to contribute to the sustainability, quality, and success of the family business. “Niman Ranch is one of the main reasons we are still in the sheep business. They appreciate the quality of lambs we supply and [they appreciate] what we have to do to raise sheep in a very demanding market environment that can hinder our ability to be sustainable,” says Hamilton.
Collaboration and a respect for resources are fundamental guiding principles for the Hamiltons’ sustainable business. From the ranchers, to the livestock, to the surrounding habitat, and to the greater Solano community, Hamilton believes that all parts of the system need to work together to succeed. Grazing patterns of the farm’s sheep and lambs demonstrate this.
Sheep feed on rotating crop residue—thus facilitating weed control—as well as providing nutrients to enrich alfalfa fields. They also feed on some of the most sensitive grassland areas left in the Sacramento Valley of California. “We work with the Solano Land Trust, UC Davis, and The Nature Conservancy in using sheep in the restoration of native grasses and plants and managing the vernal pool habitat within the Jepsen Prairie of the Sacramento Valley,” says Hamilton.
Much like his father before him, Hamilton encourages future young farmers to explore the industry and to be continuously open to progressive learning. His most important suggestion for farming sustainably is “being a student of what you are doing.” But Hamilton also recommends that future young farmers anticipate, adapt to, and acknowledge the inevitable challenges of the industry. “We have to educate the community to the role of agriculture in being a land steward to the open space that surrounds Rio Vista and the other communities of Solano County,” says Hamilton. “We also have to educate the community about the role agriculture plays to economies and why our existence is important to the future of our area.”
Farmer Friday is a monthly series featuring Niman Ranch family farmers and ranchers raising livestock in a traditional, humane, and sustainable way. With more than 40 years as an industry leader, Niman Ranch works with more than 70 independent family farmers and ranchers across the United States to encourage better food system practices. All Niman Ranch pork, beef, lamb, and prepared products are certified under the Certified Humane® program and available nationwide at both food service and retail locations.