Rebecca Thistlethwaite: TLC Ranch and the Agriculture & Land-Based Training Association

Cultivating a Movement

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Read the full text transcript (PDF) of the oral history with Rebecca Thistlethwaite

334 Rebecca Thistlethwaite. Photo by Tana Butler.

With her husband, Jim Dunlop, Rebecca Thistlethwaite runs TLC Ranch on 20 rented acres in Watsonville, Santa Cruz County. The initials stood for “Tastes Like Chicken” until the ranch stopped raising meat chickens; now, in keeping with TLC’s social and environmental philosophy, it’s “Tender Loving Care.” TLC currently raises pork, lamb, and certified organic eggs—more than 200 dozen per day, from more than 3,000 pastured chickens.

Thistlethwaite and Dunlop emphasize scrupulous “beyond-organic” animal husbandry and resource stewardship. They sell pasture-raised meat and eggs to local restaurants and at farmers’ markets in Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Santa Clara Counties. TLC eggs are also available through several CSA programs and at a variety of grocery stores and other retail produce outlets in the Monterey and San Francisco Bay Areas.

In addition to the family business, Thistlethwaite has worked with the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) as Director of Programs and as manager of the organization’s Rural Development Center and Farm Training & Research Center. Since the time of this interview, she has taken a research position with UCSC’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. And she opines regularly about farming, food, and social justice on her blog, HonestMeat.com.

Thistlethwaite grew up on the fringe of a Portland, Oregon, suburb, with a love of the outdoors and an interest in environmental issues. She majored in natural resources management at Colorado State University, with a semester abroad in Belize studying ecology, biology, and sustainable agriculture. While working as a ranger in Idaho’s Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, she sampled organic produce proffered by a backpacker. That taste lured Thistlethwaite into an apprenticeship with the farmer who produced it: Mary Jane Butters, of Paradise Farms—a former wilderness ranger herself.

Other farm apprenticeships followed, and then a master’s degree in international agriculture and development at UC Davis. After graduate school, Thistlethwaite worked and studied in Guatemala and Honduras, pursuing interests in tropical agriculture and biodiversity, eventually returning to the U.S. to work for ALBA. After she and Dunlop met at a California Small Farm Conference in 2002, they founded TLC Ranch.

Sarah Rabkin interviewed Rebecca Thistlethwaite on July 15, 2008, at Thistlethwaite and Dunlop’s home in Aromas, California.

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