By Pamela Dozois
Parents often dream of leaving their children a legacy of land that their children and grandchildren and future generations can live and enjoy in perpetuity.
Dick and Gretchen Kieding were living on a small two-acre farm, growing their own food, in Santa Barbara and raising their children. On a chance visit to the Santa Ynez Valley, their dream of expanding their family farm became a reality.
“The story goes that my sister Anne had the chicken pox so the ski vacation the family had planned was canceled,” said Kerry Morgantini, the eldest daughter of the Kiedings. “As my mother was caring for Anne, my father decided to take a drive and check out the Valley. He came across a walnut grove that had been on the market for less than a week. He returned home and stated that he had just purchased a walnut grove in Ballard. My mother was delighted. They were both ready to move to a larger property and expand their farm, as they wanted a healthier lifestyle for their family.”
The 22-acre farm was purchased in 1976. The walnut trees, on 17 of those acres, were already there when Kieding purchased the property and there was a standing agreement with the Diamond Nuts Company to purchase all of the walnuts they grew each year. That agreement still stands after 43 years.
“My father didn’t know a thing about walnuts and he got an ear full from me about moving, as I was a senior in Santa Barbara High School at the time, and didn’t want to move,” said Morgantini.
“My parents paid the full asking price for the land, and all the equipment was included on one condition — that the owner remain available to teach my parents about growing walnuts,” said Anne Guynn, the Kiedings’ second-oldest child. “We didn’t move to the valley until May because my parents were busy learning about walnuts and constructing the necessary enclosures in which to house the animals they wished to have on the farm.”
The farm was totally self-sufficient. The family raised chickens and ducks for eggs; turkeys, rabbits, cows and pigs for meat; sheep for wool; and goats for milk. They grew their own vegetables and even raised bees for honey. They didn’t even buy flour, Morgantini recalled. They would buy a 50-pound bag of wheat and grind it themselves to make fresh bread as needed.
“My mother was a pioneer woman,” Morgantini continued. “We were raised in the manner of ‘Little House on the Prairie’. We did everything ourselves. My mother sewed our clothes, knitted, crocheted, farmed, tended the garden, cooked (from scratch), cleaned, and raised us without any outside help, and even had time to do her art.”
“We didn’t realize how good we had it until we were adults,” said Guynn. “This farm was the fulfillment of a dream for my parents and they made it into everything they ever wanted. Their only charge to us is to keep the farm going.”
“One of my fondest childhood memories was when I was about 12 years of age, my mom made me a sweater. She sheered our angora goat, dyed the wool in cabbage leaves, carded the wool, spun it into yarn, and knitted it into a sweater for me. … It was super soft and warm,” Guynn remembered.
“My dad was an investment advisor and supportive of anything my mother wanted to do,” explained Morgantini. “My dad had the travel bug long before my mother. Their first excursion was on their six-week honeymoon, when they traveled to six different countries. On another trip they climbed to the Mount Everest Base Camp and on yet another trip my father climbed Mt. Ararat, to the top. They made travel diaries and we are privileged to have them to read, each one recounting the many wonderful and exotic countries they visited in their lifetime. They had many world-wide adventures while concurrently working on the walnut farm and raising a family.”
Dick and Gretchen Kieding are now living in senior communities in the valley. Dick lives at Friendship House as he has advanced Alzheimer’s and Gretchen lives at the Atterdag Village where she is very happily surrounded by friends and continues to do her art, a life-long endeavor. One of her paintings is now on display at the Wildling Art Museum.
“My mother still visits the farm and helps wherever she is able. She periodically brings her many friends to the farm for lunch and continues to busy herself at the farm doing her gardening,” said Morgantini.
The Kieding Family Farm, also known as the Ballard Walnut Farm, is growing and expanding. The Kiedings have eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
“We are presently trying to redefine who we are as a farm. We are not just walnut trees. We are experimenting now with a lot of different options,” said Guynn. “As the walnut trees are aging, we are considering establishing a ‘choose and cut’ Christmas tree farm, a dream of Kerry’s who also loves farming, and would like to acquire a couple of reindeer.
“We will also be opening a farm stand in the spring and we have a location for campers who can stay overnight in their camper in the walnut grove. The farm is also registered as a photography location. We operate as a partnership and hold meetings regularly. We have work days where everyone gets together to accomplish whatever is needed around the farm. It’s a family affair.”
Guynn and Eric Kieding, the youngest of the Kieding children, have, for the most part, lived on the farm their entire lives and raised their children there. Morgantini has always lived in the valley but recently moved back to the farm after her parents moved to senior communities.
“I had a great childhood growing up here — summers spent with my loyal dog and BB gun always at my side; friendships built on experiences shared; going to a one-room school house; the hard work and satisfaction of completing another harvest; being able to raise my family on the same ranch and realizing what an incredible gift Ballard school is,” said Kieding. “I love traveling and seeing the world, but this little part of our valley is where I’m happiest.”
“Our childhood was like ‘Little House on the Prairie’, but the grandchildren, mostly boys, experienced a childhood that was more like ‘Tom Sawyer’ with 22 acres of land to run around in and have fun with each other,” said Guynn.
Guynn is involved in the marketing aspect of the farm along with the farm stand. Kieding is the farmer and mechanic who keeps all things running smoothly, and Morgantini loves to farm and garden.
“We just want to share our experiences with those who are interested. It’s an adventure for us as a family and it’s a privilege to have this opportunity and I would like to share it,” said Morgantini.
“It would mean a lot to us if we could keep what our parents started alive and thriving for future generations,” said Guynn.
Recently Morgantini’s son, Christopher, echoed his grandparents’ wish — “Please take care of this place. I don’t know where I would be without it.”