By Pamela Dozois
The Solvang Pie Company, now under new ownership, is continuing an ancient tradition of growing their own wheat and producing a variety of baked goods.
According to Professor Manfred Heun at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, the first grains to be grown were varieties of wheat 10,200 to 10,500 years ago in Karadag, Turkey. Wheat has been modified over the centuries to feed the ever-growing population of the earth.
Kristin and Russ Collins recently purchased the Solvang Pie Company from Tracy Derwin, who had been making bread, pies and pasta and selling them at the Solvang Farmer’s Market for years.
Originally from Thousand Oaks, the Collins family had been frequent visitors to the Santa Ynez Valley and had a dream of moving here. Kristin owned a “4D ultrasound” business in Thousand Oaks, catering to couples who wanted to share their special moment with friends and family. With thoughts of retiring, however, she sold the business. The couple began looking for a new adventure and moved to the valley in 2012.
They originally thought they would open up a dairy but then decided to open a cheese shop, The Santa Ynez Valley Cheese Company on Meadowvale in Santa Ynez, selling artisan cheese from all over the world. Russ continued working at his full-time job in the packaging industry.
“I don’t know why we started in the cheese business. It just looked like a fun thing to do,” Russ said. “And it tasted good,” chimed in Walker, their 12-year-old daughter.
“The shop got too big for us. We became so busy with the shop that we didn’t have time to what we wanted to do in the first place, which was to make cheese. Sometimes we would have to open the shop a little later than normal when it was time for lambing, and that didn’t please some of our customers. They expected us open the store every day and on time. When we had work to do with the sheep and needed to be on the farm, people would leave notes on the door complaining. The retail end of it is tough, so we sold the business four years ago,” Kristin said.
They bought a house on Deer Trail Lane in Solvang with a little under two acres, which was too small to keep all their animals, so they had to sell 35 of their 40 sheep.
“We wanted to do something with the land, enjoy the animals, and do some cooking,” said Russ, who has a passion for baking and cooking.
One day, Kristin was looking online and found a property that was for sale. It had an apple orchard and a commercial kitchen.
“We went to see the property and suddenly everything fell into place. And that was it. We are here to stay,” Kristin said.
“The best part of it was that everything was already in place, and that’s what we were looking for. The property has an apple orchard, berries, apricots, peaches, rhubarb, and peonies. We grow our own wheat on 12 acres on Alamo Pintado. It was an ongoing business that had been established by the previous owner’s parents, then run by their daughter. It was already established,” Russ said.
There is also a commercial bakery on the property and they employ a baker who has been with the company for 13 years. They make bread, pasta, muffins, pies, apple cider vinegar and apple cider.
“Our wheat was planted in January on 12 acres on Alamo Pintado, across from the pumpkin patch and corn maze. We hope for a little more rain and not super-hot weather so it can grow happily for a few more months,” said Kristin. “Once it is harvested, we cut and shake it to just get the wheat berries from the wheat stalks. The berries are cleaned and finally we bring it to our mill to grind the berries into flour.”
The Collins family, which includes their two daughters, Walker, 12, and Morgan, 10, are animal lovers as well with five dogs, six house cats, two feral cats, two horses, a llama, an alpaca, five sheep, a pot belly pig and 10 chickens. They also plan to raise bees.
“This is something we’ve always wanted to do,” said Russ. “Our goal is to get this ranch back to where it was when it was first started years ago.”
“We want to provide our customers with the cleanest food possible,” he added. “It would be nice to become an organic farm, but that is a difficult process, which we are working towards. We also want to grow more varieties of fruit.”
“We’re excited because it’s time to start planting,” Kristin added.
“We love doing the farmers markets. It is such a nice atmosphere and you meet people who genuinely like what we make, and we get to see them every week,” she said.
The Collinses do three markets a week, one in Solvang and two in Santa Barbara. They also sell their pies at Nielsen’s Market in Solvang and at Gelson’s and Tri County Produce in Santa Barbara. They hope to get their pasta and other products into stores soon.
“This is also a very good education for our children. They see where their food comes from and how things are made from beginning to end, and they are part of the whole process,” said Kristin. “They sometimes even help at farmers market, passing out samples to the customers and making change.”
“I think it’s fun,” Walker said.
“We want to take time to strategize about the future of our farm,” Russ added. “We want to do some more wholesale and do another farmers market or two and do some on-line sales. But for now, this is a dream come true.”