The story starts with pigs. Well, not exactly––Mark Pasternak had grown up around horses during his childhood in Southern California. But in 1971, at the age of nineteen, he purchased a 65 acre plot of land in Nicasio, Marin County, North of San Francisco, to start a ranch of his own. He started with pigs because “they’re Mother Nature’s greatest recyclers,” he says fondly,  “they can eat anything––eat all your garbage and still produce good meat.”

Though it started with pigs, the operations at the Pasternak’s Devil’s Gulch Ranch have expanded considerably. In addition to pastured pork, they raise rabbit and lamb, grow asparagus and wine grapes, and manufacture a variety of pelts and crafts. We at Peak Plate were able to try some of Devil’s Gulch delicious pork, as they supplied the meats for the Cochon555 BBQ Heritage Pork Event in San Francisco back in October.

With a combined agricultural experience that totals more than eighty years, Mark and his wife Myriam, a UC Davis Veterinarian school graduate, have run Devil’s Gulch Ranch with the experience and nuance needed for a successful and sustainable farm. Most of the product produced at Devil’s Gulch Ranch is either sold directly to chefs or at local farmer’s markets. “Over 90% [of our product] is sold to chefs,” Mark says, “the farmer's market is a different story.”

Being located near two of the best high quality Farmer’s Markets in the United States––the Ferry building in San Francisco and the Marin County Civic Center–– Mark feels compelled to sell his products at farmers markets despite not being his main priority. “It's got a great [profit] margin to it because you're selling retail, but we only do a limited amount of that.”

Mark first learned how to raise pigs back in the eighties from Red Castillioni, who raised pigs at a nearby cheese factory. He used the factory’s whey by-product as feed for his pigs. He supplemented the whey with other diverse byproducts as well, like soy pulp, tortillas and various breads. This is how Mark learned to diversify the feed he used for his own pigs, and why he has spent the past two and a half decades developing relationships with businesses that have recyclable by-products. His relationship with Clover Farms, where he gets out dated whole milk, has been especially valuable to the health and specialness of their pork. “I believe that one of the things that make our pork unique is that it’s milk fed, which really makes a big difference in the flavor. and I think that most people would agree,” Mark muses.

The Devil’s Gulch Ranch pigs are fed almost exclusively from local sources like Clover, keeping the interconnectedness of local products flowing through the local agricultural community. Other than the milk, the pigs are fed leftover bread and tortillas from local producers, as well as whey and brewers grain from local breweries. All together he and his partner Pete Langley feed a herd total of around four hundred pigs, which they raise from birth. “Once they’re weaned they go to one of two places [Langley] and I jointly rent to finish them with all the by-product feed we have,” Mark explained. Coincidentally, one of those places is Red Casallioni’s old pig barn behind the cheese factory, which was abandoned after Casalloni’s passing. A while later the Cheese Factory's manager contacted Mark about raising pigs there, and the story came full circle.  

 Stale bread donated by the local bakery to feed his pigs....Mark weaves his community together to reduce waste in his community

Stale bread donated by the local bakery to feed his pigs....Mark weaves his community together to reduce waste in his community

In 2000, Myriam started doing 4-H projects with rabbits, “because they're small and they're easy for the kids.” Myriam’s mom was a member of the French community in the SF Bay Area and an accomplished French cook. According to Mark, she once had a French chef over for dinner where she cooked and served rabbit raised at Devil’s Gulch Ranch. After they ate, the chefs asked Myriam’s mother where they got their rabbits, which propelled Mark and Myriam to expand their rabbitry business. Rabbits at Devil’s Gulch Ranch are fed both pelleted feed and a grass and hay mixture to ensure their complete nutrition. Continuing with their model of raising consciously fed animals, Myriam partnered with a local feed mill to produce the pelleted feed according to their specifications––free from corn, hormones, or antibiotics.

In their forty-five years as ranchers, Mark and Myriam have witnessed a dramatic change in the market for high quality meats in the Bay Area. “High end restaurants in particular now have consumers who have gotten more educated about quality of foods,” Mark explains. Changing tastes have also contributed to the shift, “grass fed beef and goat have gotten a lot more popular––rabbit has become far more popular than it used to be. Free range chickens, organic feeding, humane treatment––thirty years ago it pretty much didn't exist.” Mark explained that when he began ranching at Devil’s Gulch Ranch 45 years ago, the organic and sustainable movement was only beginning to get some traction in vegetable fields, and had hardly been introduced to the meat industry at all.

Though progress has been made in increasing ethics and sustainability in meat production, it’s been largely isolated to local markets on the coasts, rather than nationwide. “The west, the east––the two coasts have a lot more interest in [organic and sustainable techniques]. But as you get further into the middle of the United States, there's not as much progressive interest in better quality meats,” Mark says. Despite the slow progression of sustainable ranching, however, it is still moving forward, and maintains a promising future because of people like Mark and Myriam.

The Pasternak’s are not only dedicated to the production of high quality meat and produce, but also in educating youth to develop skills to produce food and live sustainably as well as understanding the interconnection we have with nature. Their nonprofit organization, DG Educational Services (DGES), hosts educational camps at Devils Gulch Ranch in partnership with the Marin YMCA, and supports international agricultural development projects, particularly in countries like Haiti and El Salvador. Myriam received a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the organization’s work in Haiti.

Between their extensive agricultural expertise, dedication to humane, sustainable production practices, and long-standing devotion to their nonprofit causes like youth education programs and international agricultural development, Mark and Myriam have created a very special operation at Devil’s Gulch Ranch whose meats are served at over one hundred and fifty restaurants in California spanning from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. Mark encourages consumers to visit his website and engage in the dialogue of agricultural sustainability––“we want consumers to take a look at what we're doing and the dialogue we engage in,” he says. “All we hope for is that people enjoy our products.”

Proof is in the pudding.  Here's a  list of where you can enjoy a meal created by some of the best restaurants stretching from San Francisco to Los Angeles:

123 Bolinas, Fairfax

A16 Rockridge, Oakland

A 16, San Francisco

Aatxe, San Francisco

AQ, San Francisco

Ristorante Avanti, Santa Cruz

Bar Agricole, San Francisco

Bar Tartine, San Francisco

Barrio, San Anselmo

Benu, San Francisco

Bi Rite Market, San Francisco

Black Cat, San Farncisco

Bluestem, San Francisco

Broken Spanish, Los Angeles

Bouchon, Yountville

Calavera, Oakland

Camino, Oakland

Canetti, Forsetville

Central Kitchen, San Francisco

Chez Panisse, Berkeley

Commonwealth, San Francisco

Corso, Berkeley

Craft, Los Angeles

De Young Café, San Francisco

Delfina, San Francisco

Drivers Market, Mill Valley

El Salchichero, Santa Cruz

Electric City Butcher, Santa Ana

Eveleigh, Los Angeles

Esperpento, San Francisco

Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco

Farmhouse Inn, Forestville

Fifth Quarter, East Bay

Fish, Sausalito

Flour and Water, San Francisco

Foreign Cinema, San Francisco

Fork, Point Reyes Station

French Laundry, Yountville

Gabriella Cafe, Santa Cruz

Gather, Berkeley

Good Eggs, San Francisco

Gwen, Los Angeles

Hops and Hominy, San Francisco

Hopscotch, Oakland

Jardiniere, San Francisco

Joe's Restaurant, Venice

John Ash, Santa Rosa

Kin Khao, San Francisco

La Folie, San Francisco

La Toque, Napa

Left Bank, Larkspur

Le French Butcher, Los Angeles

Local Mission, San Francisco

Hopscotch, Oakland

Local Butcher Shop, Berkeley

Locanda, San Francisco

Lucques Restaurant, Los Angeles

Magnolia Pub and Brewery, San Francisco

Marina Meats, San Francisco

Marin Community Farmstand, Forest Knowls

Mavericks Restaurant, San Francisco

Meadowood, Napa Valley

Melisse, Santa Monica

Michael Mina Restaurant, San Francisco

Michael’s on Naples, Long Beach

Molina, Mill Valley

Morris, San Francisco

Naked Kitchen, San Francisco

Namu, San Francisco

Nick's Cove, Marshall

Nico, San Francisco

Nopa, San Francisco

Nopalito, San Francisco

Oliveto’s, Oakland

One Market, San Francisco

Osteria Stellina, Point Reyes Station

Outstanding in the Field

Perennial, San Francisco

Petaluma Pie, Petaluma

Piazza D’Angelo, Mill Valley

Picco Restaurant, Larkspur

Piccino, San Francisco

Pizzaiolo, Oakland

Pizzalina, San Anselmo

Quince Restaurant, San Francisco

Range, San Francisco

Rich Table, San Francisco

Ritz Carlton Dining Room, San Francisco

RN74, San Francisco

Sabio, Pleasanton

Saison, San Francisco

Saltwater Oyster Depot, Inverness

Salumeria, San Francisco

Scopa, Healdsburg

Sent Sovi, Palo Alto

Serpentine, San Francisco

Seven Hills, San Francisco

Signorello Estate, Napa

Sir and Star, Olema

Smokestack, San Francisco

Sona, Los Angeles

Sons and Daughters, San Francisco

Sotto, Los Angeles

Spago, Beverly Hills

Spruce, San Francisco

SPQR, San Francisco

Starbelly, San Francisco

State Bird Provisions, San Francisco

Tender Greens

Terrapin Creek, Bodega Bay

Three Stone Hearth, Berkeley

Trou Normand, San Francisco

Union, Pasadena

Village Bistro, San Mateo

Vin Antico, San Rafael

Waterbar, San Francisco

Zazu, Santa Rosa

Zuni Cafe, San Francisco