On the Hoof
City’s last real ranch delivers the beef
By Gabrielle Myers
Thin channels of water weave through green marshland along East Levee Road in North Natomas. Large geese, blue herons and egrets poke for food in mud still plump from a rare spring rain.
To the road’s left, a vibrant pasture, thick with clover, rye, alfalfa and fescue, raises each blade to greet the sunlight. Behind me in the distance Downtown Sacramento’s buildings sit as dark dots. Tracts of suburban houses stand guard between the city’s agricultural and industrial land.
Avdis Ranch, the only commercial cattle ranch inside the city limits, sits on more than 50 acres of grassland between wetlands and suburban sprawl. With another 100 leased acres, Avdis maintains its productive grass-fed cattle, sheep and goat operation. The result is healthy, local, pasture-raised meat for locavores to enjoy.
Husband and wife Nick and Nikki Avdis carry on the tradition of ranching that has been in the family since 1940, after Nick’s parents and an uncle emigrated from Tripolis, Greece.
As a boy growing up on the ranch, Nick would anticipate his father’s return from grazing sheep on the river trail as far away as Cal Expo. When Nick would see dust clouds rising from near the river and hear the sound of approaching hooves, he knew his father would be home soon.
During the devastating floods of 1986, the family home and ranch land were immersed in water. After the floods, the recently formed Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency took measures to build higher levees and, through eminent domain, took over the family ranch.
Nick’s parents, not fluent in English and still learning the new language, were unable to fight the loss of their land.
Nick became an attorney in 2003, specializing in environmental law and land use. He now serves on the SAFCA reclamation board and turned what happened to his parents into fuel for his fight to treat individuals touched by SAFCA with respect and care.
He doesn’t want what happened to his parents to happen to other people.
“The experience of losing our land was traumatic and it shaped the way we saw the world,” Nick says. “It really fueled my desire to engage in public service and help the less fortunate.”
Over the years, Nick and Nikki took what was left of the original family ranch and, bit by bit, expanded the acreage. The couple grew herds and flocks and created a closed, self-sustaining herd of about 50 Angus-cross cattle and a flock of 30 Dorper sheep.
The Angus herd contains some of the genetics of the original Charolais line raised by Nick’s parents.
On the day I visited Avdis Ranch, nine baby goats and sheep, just a few days old, awkwardly walked around a verdant pasture near the family home.
The Avdis Ranch commitment to healthy and happy livestock shows in the way the animals are raised on abundant grassland with no growth hormones or unnatural additives. The animals thrive on pastures that are irrigated only as necessary. During the cold season, when the grasslands need rest, Avdis animals are fed with a local mix of hay and orchard grass.
The value of pasture-raised, natural and grass-fed meat becomes apparent in the kitchen and on the plate.
Savoring a pan-roasted rib-eye, the steak’s thin, webbed marbling melts in our mouths. Next comes cottage pie. The ground beef’s savory juices infuse our mashed potatoes, carrots and turnip.
Finally, we enjoy perfectly grilled tri-tip. Each thin slice is cut against the grain, smothered in morels with extra virgin olive oil.
Avdis Ranch offers an authentic local experience from pastureland to purchase.
For ordering information, visit avdisranch.com or look for the booth Saturdays at the Natomas Farmers Market.
Gabrielle Myers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her latest book of poetry, “Too Many Seeds,” can be ordered from fishinglinepress.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.