The other animals are used in the preparation of many products, from home-made sausages to top-quality cheeses that are produced and even-aged at the ranch. They are in the midst of expanding their activities to ageing beef, lamb and pork products, as well as processing bacon, ham, cheeses, yogurts and various other products, such as fermented salsas, sauerkrauts, and kimchis.
For Brian Block, the manager in charge of the ranch’s food programme, more than ‘artisanal’, ‘organic’ or ‘free-range’, the most important word that runs through farm work is ‘sustainable’. “I would say that we close the cycle, and it is how I like to think of things so that we can be really self-sufficient here and utilise all of the resources that we have and only supplement when we need to,” he explains. Block used to work for acclaimed restaurants in the US and says the work he can do at Rancho Santana is quite unique.
“We do not use any chemicals or pesticides, utilising natural ingredients and methods such as various blends of plants and chillies, as well as permaculture-based solutions such as companion planting. We also have a greenhouse here used mainly for germinating and sprouting, assisting with our efforts to use heirloom produce,” he adds. In the property, there is also an orchard with limes, grapefruit, oranges, mandarine, guava, and a variety of other trees. “Within the next few years, we should have the majority of our fruit sourced from our orchard.”
Exemplifying the idea of sustainability that Block likes to promote, all pigs receive a daily meal comprised of kitchen scraps, including food that would otherwise go to waste in the restaurants. Right now, for example, the animals are being fed with peanut-flowers (a good source of protein) an ingredient local farmers currently did not have a consistent market for.
Another example is the soil management created in the facility, combining compost from the kitchen and garden with manure from the livestock. In a large five-department field, they turn the compost each month, helping its decomposition with the addition of molasses from Nicaraguan rum, which is used as a kind of a biological starter to keep the fermentation going.
This has changed the topsoil in the garden considerably, explains Felipe Cruz, lead farmer at Rancho Santana. “Because we are so close to the sea, the high amounts of sodium prevented us from growing a lot of food here. Through structured management, we can now grow different ingredients.” The manure also comes from the horses at the stables at the ranch, to which is added sawdust from the wood mill, which builds all the furniture on the property, creating jobs for the community.
This is one of the main goals of Rancho Santana. Almost all of the 600 employees who work there (from servers to farmers) are residents of nearby neighbourhoods who have been trained and qualified to do their jobs, allowing them to have a source of income in their own community and a new profession. “We are especially proud of our efforts, as we have developed this program using a team of local staff. Each step of expanding our program has also served to teach our employees valuable skills, while also utilising their knowledge and customs whenever possible,” says Brian Block.
In reality, they usually learn a great deal from the staff, about how to adjust to the local products, the climate and other challenges. Now, with the opening of Harvest (last November), Rancho Santana has expanded its operations to Managua, to allow city residents to also have access to organic vegetables and ready-to-eat foods that are produced on the property.
“Our goal is to offer better food to all people we have around us,” says Block. “We work to provide top-quality and healthy ingredients for those who visit us, but also for those who cook the dishes for them. For me, at least, sustainability has a lot to do with that.”