History of Nojoqui Ranch

Excerpts from "One Hundred Years at Nojoqui Falls Ranch" by Reka K. Badger

Sunny fields of golden grain and rugged foothills dotted with cattle distinguish the Santa Ynez Valley, giving it the look of a place lost in time. Western wear prevails, the Grange thrives, and horse trailers abound, sure signs of the outdoor life that resident farmers and cattlemen treasure and defend.

Among the old families that pioneered the Valley, the Giorgi clan remains a vital link to the agrarian past that continues to inform local affairs. Holding fast to family tradition is third generation Bill Giorgi, and his wife, Gail, who devote their lives to keeping the family's beloved Nojoqui Falls Ranch a viable operation.

 

A four-generation legacy, the ranch came into the family in the 1800's when Natale Giorgi bought "1743 acres more or less" in the foothills of the rugged Santa Ynez Mountains.

 

Grampa Giorgi, who emigrated from Switzerland in 1879, landed in San Jose at the tender age of 22. He soon headed south to work as a dairyman, first in Harmony and later in Cat Canyon, near Los Alamos.

In 1896, he moved onto Nojoqui Falls Ranch, (named after the legendary waterfall located on the property), and contracted for the land, as well as cows, horses, barns, and a house, from the heirs of John Pietro Righetti. Family lore has it, that to ensure his continued good luck in the new world, Natale kept a portrait of the elder Righetti hanging in the parlor of his new home.

 

Grandpa Giorgi established a dairy farm that boasted over 100 cows, and with the help of his five sons, serviced a regular route along the coast. He shipped his butter from the wharf at Gaviota to markets in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and kept the milk inspector happy by giving him a bottle of the family's best homemade wine whenever he visited the ranch.

 

Always an innovator, Giorgi was the first resident in the area to bring electricity to his ranch, running wire all the way from Buellton. By requiring new subscribers to pay him a little something when they signed up for electrical service, Giorgi handily recouped his entire initial investment.

 

In the 1920s, Grandpa Giorgi leased to Santa Barbara County the spectacular Nojoqui Falls (a 165-foot wonder located on the ranch) and 40 acres of land for use as a public park. Fifty years later, the county considered buying the falls, but after having the land appraised, decided to continue with the lease arrangement.

 

Born at the ranch in 1899, Bill Giorgi's father, Tito, turned from dairying to raising cattle, and dry farmed garbanzo beans, lima beans, barley, and juicy plum tomatoes. In those days, harvest meant cutting, drying, and dumping the beans on the hard ground and then walking the horses over them. Tito and his brothers would then hoist the beans on their pitchforks and let the breezes carry away the chaff.

 

During the Depression, Tito helped put food on the table by hunting and fishing, and supplemented the family income by trapping coyote, fox, raccoons, even a skunk or two, and selling the pelts to a broker in Chicago.

In the late 1930s, an encounter with a black widow spider put Tito in the hospital, where he met his favorite nurse and future wife, Alma Marie Schlange.

 

Handsome and trim at just over 50, Bill Giorgi remembers getting up every morning before school to milk the cow, and digging into the endless pies and jars of jam his mother made from fruit grown in the family's orchard. As a special treat, every year around Christmas, Tito would whip up a batch of his signature English toffee.

Before Bill attended college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, his father and two older brothers made all the important decisions on the farm.

 

"If I did anything," Bill laughs, "it was 'go get your butt on the tractor.' I didn't make any management decisions or anything like that."

 

"I worked my way through college. I'm kind of proud of that," Bill reveals. "I'd been in 4-H and FFA all my life, so all the money I raised from selling animals at the fair, I put into an account for college. I used to work on weekends. In fact, I'd even push a broom between classes."

 

Bill earned a degree in Farm Management, and polished valuable skills that have helped him to build his business, design budgets, and even calculate his spraying program.

 

"You bring all this data together," Bill explains, "and analyze each one of your operations separately to figure out how to divide up all your common costs, so you can find out what's making the money and what isn't."

Bill's wife and "best friend", have been running the ranch together the last thirty years. Bill met Gail, a city girl from Southern California, in 1973. They married in 1975, and moved into a mobile home on the ranch.

Tito semi-retired from ranch work about 1965, "farmers and ranchers don't fully retire" says Bill. First-born brother Ken then took over running the ranch.

 

After graduating from Cal Poly in 1973, Bill returned home and the two brothers worked the ranch together for two years. Brother Ed then stepped in and he and Bill managed the ranch the next three years. Tito died in 1977 and Ken passed away in 1978. Bill and Ed then formed a family partnership in order to keep the ranch together. The partnership is owned by Bill and Ed along with their nephews Michael and Jason Giorgi.

 

Ed moved to Nebraska in 1979, and Bill and Gail took over full operation of Nojoqui Falls Ranch. The couple have been farming on their own ever since.

 

The Giorgi children, Toby, age 25, and Amber, 23, both thrive in the outdoors and show a keen interest in the future of the ranch. Toby, who just finished a hitch in the Marines, attends college part-time and has taken an interest in the life sciences. Always willing to do his share of the farm chores, Toby doesn't hesitate to fire up the tractor or buck bales of hay. He spends his free time hunting, fishing, and enjoys "just about anything done in the outdoors".

Amber, an accomplished equestrian, hunter, and budding veterinarian, teaches horsemanship, and operates her own horse-training facilities on the ranch.