Santa Barbara Magazine

June 30, 2023


Stefan Selbert watches over a herd of Bonsmara cattle at Las Cumbres Ranch.
How one family is breaking away from the herd to embrace regenerative agriculture and give new life to Las Cumbres Ranch

Written by Wade Graham | Photography by Dewey Nicks

The landscape of the Santa Ynez Valley is as iconic as any in California: dark, chaparral-clad mountains enclose a tapestry of oak-dotted hills and grassy vales segmented by creeks.

“We have three main goals for the ranch,” says Stefan. “Raising healthy cattle, regenerating the land, and sharing what we’re learning,” through education and training events sponsored by the Selberts’ Las Cumbres Ranch Foundation.

Its seasons are marked by changing colors on the grasslands: the bright Irish green of new winter growth, splashes of colored wildflowers in spring, then summer’s mellow gold, fading to gray in the fall, before rains begin the cycle anew.

The landscape is capacious, generously accommodating the activities of its human inhabitants—vineyards stretch away here, cattle graze there, occasional, tidy towns announce themselves to travelers with horses in white-fenced pastures. There seems to be a permanent state of harmony between nature and people. But, in fact, this is a place held together by a complex and fragile balance.

When Jim and Patricia Selbert bought Las Cumbres Ranch in 2017, they were looking for a beautiful and tranquil place to retire. A perfect distillation of the Valley, perched on a range of hills overlooking a fertile, bucolic landscape, the ranch covers about 1,000 acres of a former Mexican land grant, about 6 miles west of Los Alamos and 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Little did they expect that their retirement would prove to be a hardworking one.

The ranch had some cattle on it—also some exotic animals, such as African antelope—but the land was conventionally managed and not healing or regenerating. When the Selberts had the animals removed, a friend told them: “No, you have to graze it,” remembers their son Stefan, who, after years of working as an audio engineer in Los Angeles for artists including Kanye West, is now the ranch’s operations manager.

Animals that graze, it turns out, are important to this ecosystem.

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