Agriculture, Food, Ranching

Joe Pozzi: Raising Lamb, Making a Difference

July 8, 2019

In the early 1990s, sheep rancher Joe Pozzi knew he needed to do something different. If he didn’t, he’d risk losing everything.

A fourth-generation rancher

As a fourth-generation rancher in Marin and Sonoma counties, Joe has spent his entire life raising sheep and cattle on his family ranch near Valley Ford, MALT-protected since 1993. Ranching is a labor of love for the Pozzi family. Joe’s lambs are 100% grass-fed, grazing on lush coastal hills near the Marin-Sonoma county line. Through ranching, Joe feels a deep connection with the land, the animals and his loyal customers.

But ranching isn’t always idyllic and carrying on a family legacy, like Joe is, is no easy task. Twenty years ago, the agricultural economy began shifting: small-scale family ranches were being replaced by increasingly larger industrial operations, squeezing out the smaller producers. Furthermore, inexpensive imported lamb was becoming increasingly available. 

And on top of that, Americans don’t each much lamb to begin with (1/2 lamb per year as compared to 120 pounds of poultry and 60 pounds of beef per year) despite impressive nutrition and health benefits.

Joe Pozzi in the fields

Business as usual for Joe, a small-scale lamb producer, just wasn’t going to be enough.

So Joe decided to take a risk and make a change. A big one. His decision has changed agriculture throughout Northern California.

Embracing Change

It started one morning in the 1990s as he was loading his grass-fed lambs onto a truck to be sold onto the wholesale market. Back then, he was getting 70 cents per pound, a price that did not reflect the value of his careful land stewardship and the high quality of the grass-fed lamb he was selling.

“I was so disappointed that these beautiful lambs were being shipped to a feed lot and mixed with all of the other lambs from throughout the United States. These lambs deserved better.”

Joe Pozzi

Joe realized what he wanted. He wanted to provide customers with a different option — the choice to eat 100% source-verified, grass-fed lamb.

Joe Pozzi sheep dogs

A Better Option

That same day twenty years ago, Joe decided to develop his Pozzi Ranch Lamb® program, and since then he has partnered with other local lamb producers to realize his goal for consumers: they have created a 52-week-per-year supply chain to provide lamb to shoppers at Whole Foods stores throughout Northern California. Consumers can know where their lamb comes from and can support the practices of farmers who strive to maintain the best management practices for the animals and the land.

“How do you compete? For me, it’s been staying small and diversified, and by changing the paradigm so we can bring back value to the ranchers.”

Joe has broken the mold for what makes a West Marin rancher.

In addition to spending 52 weeks a year ranching, he also spends 52 weeks a year on marketing. Earlier this month, Joe visited at Whole Foods in Reno. He set up a table and a grill and cooked his delicious lamb, enticing customers over with the aroma. He talks with everyone on these market visits, he says. His aim is to help them understand the connection between the food they eat, the farmers and responsible land stewardship practices.

“If those four hours in the store, far from the family ranch, helps sell lamb for the next twenty years because the customer has tasted the difference, then I’ll know that I’ve had an impact.”

Joe Pozzi

Adding Value

To continually add value to the lamb he sells Joe has earned a third-party certification from the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) program, attesting to the practices that he puts into place for the welfare of the animals.

Joe also has played an active role with the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District and the Farm Bureau, balancing stewardship and local politics in an effort to support agriculture.

Joe has worked extensively to create a market for local wool; one overlooked benefit of sheep is the incredible fiber they produce annually. Joe sources local farmers ’ wool, further adding value and diversify to our local farms and ranches.

Protecting agriculture in Marin is about more than just protecting the land. It is also about the active stewardship of the land and innovating how to do business so that the bottom line makes sense for the ranchers and farmers.

With people like Joe Pozzi making a difference, farming and ranching have a bright future in Marin County.

Joe Pozzi barn

Want to support Joe Pozzi’s vision?

Visit our Buy Local page to see where you can buy his lamb and wool. You can also contact Joe at www.pozziranch.net if you are interested in buying directly from him.