Ag Spotlight: Giving Tree Family Farm
Meet Tina Ballantyne of Giving Tree Family Farms
Say hello to Tina Ballantyne, owner and operator of Giving Tree Family Farm in Santa Margarita! Tina and her family, who bought the property in 2008, raise Nubian dairy goats, alpacas, and Heritage Breed turkeys. They sell the turkeys for their meat and use the goat milk and alpaca fiber to make soaps, lotion, hats, and other products at local stores. However, their main service and source of income is agrotourism.
“Customers can visit our website to schedule tours and classes. All tours and classes are privately scheduled at a time mutually convenient for the clients and farm and generally include one family or a couple families,” Tina said. “Visitors come and learn about the farm and animals and then we'll go down and feed the animals and pet pigs.”
Tours usually last about an hour. Tina also teaches soap and cheese-making classes, which are about two hours long and include a farm tour.
Last but not least, Giving Tree Family Farm offers a unique “AirBnb Experience,” which can be scheduled directly through the Airbnb website. During this special, 3-hour session, visitors get to enjoy a tour, a soap-making class, and a fiber-making class.
During a typical day, Tina and the fam will be up at dawn feeding the animals, milking the goats, and cleaning the barn. Then they head back to the house to take care of things there and teach/lead any scheduled classes or tours. They end the day by heading back out to milk again and do evening chores. It sounds routine, but that wasn’t always the case.
“We are city folks who never had any intention of having a farm, but in 2008 our daughter and son-in-law found this property on Craigslist. It had two rundown houses but no other improvements or anything. They asked us if we would be interested in purchasing it together and starting a family farm,” Tina said. “At the time, I was an elementary school principal in SLO and my husband worked, but the idea was so enticing, we decided to jump on it.”
The Ballantyne family is 100 percent self-taught and have had to learn everything the hard way. Her advice for someone dreaming about owning a farm or ranch: “just go for it!”
“There is SO much to learn, but the best way to learn is by experiencing it and learning from the successes and failures,” she said. “Loving animals and being close to family was the deciding factor for us. … We are one big family and we wouldn't have it any other way.”
Being part of the ag community comes with many benefits and challenges. For Tina, the biggest benefit is the lasting connections with fellow aggies.
“About 8 years ago, when I decided to run the farm full-time, I contacted Lynette Sonne with Farmstead Ed. The contacts I made through that have been priceless and of utmost importance,” she said. “It has been so beneficial because we learn from each other and support each other. It's been super helpful and really fun.”
She said the greatest challenge of being in ag is creating a work/life balance: “When you raise animals, it is hard to get away for dinner, let alone to take a vacation.”
But inflation, and the cost of good to run a farm, has also proven difficult.
“If there were one thing that people could do, it would be to become conscious of where your food comes from. Shop local and shop farmers markets. Go out to farm for a tour or on the open farm days,” Tina said. “If the non-ag community would be open to and active in supporting us that would be extremely helpful—not just to us as individuals, but to our animals and our families.”