Furthering Change, Fostering Community'To think that we could produce milk on our suburban plot, that idea really captivated us.'
Steve Rudicel's motivation for starting Mariposa Creamery, a "micro dairy" that produces specialty goat cheeses in his backyard in Altadena, was fairly matter-of-fact: When you "find yourself with too much milk," he says, "then you start making cheese."
He didn't set out to win awards (like the gold medal in the International Dairy Competition at the L.A. County Fair), or to become so enamored with goat farming and cheese making that he'd find himself about to move to the slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains with his girlfriend and business partner, Gloria Putnam, to try his hand at these enterprises commercially.
Yet considering the unconventional path his professional life has followed, it doesn't seem like such a leap. Rudicel began two careers after earning his graduate degree in English about 15 years ago: He landed a gig as a lecturer in interdisciplinary general education at Cal Poly Pomona, and, around the same time, opened The Press Restaurant, a bar and grill in Claremont, the college town where he'd completed his studies.
His interest in locally grown food led him to plant fruit trees at what he calls "my crazy ancestral house," the Zane Grey Estate, a sprawling Mediterranean Revival-style mansion in Altadena, built in 1907 and once home to the eponymous author. Rudicel's family bought it in the 1970s.
After participating in fruit exchanges with neighbors, Rudicel and Putnam began hosting community events at the estate, including an "underground" farmers market, from which was born the Institute of Domestic Technology, an onsite school dedicated to food crafting skills.
And then came the goats. "To think that we could produce milk on our suburban plot, that idea really captivated us," Rudicel says. Once he developed a bond with the animals, he was hooked. "You just feel very special about them and you have this human-animal relationship that's very ancient."
Today, his work life looks a bit like the courses he teaches at Cal Poly: interdisciplinary. He's perhaps the world's first scholar/restaurant proprietor/cheese maker/goat herder. But the common thread in these seemingly disparate pursuits is fostering community. His department at the college nurtures small student learning communities, The Press Restaurant has become a Claremont institution, and the estate is now a focal point for local urban farmers and foodies.
Rudicel enjoys frequenting other small, community-based businesses as well, such as California Bohemian Leather in Altadena for handcrafted belts, and Mother Moo Creamery in nearby Sierra Madre for organic artisanal ice cream.
He definitely doesn't want to lose his link to the community as he prepares to herd goats on his land in the Angeles National Forest, which is only an hour-and-a-half drive from Altadena but feels, he says, "a million miles away." To stay connected, he plans to open an Altadena pizzeria that will benefit from the cheeses produced at the new creamery. And he hopes the dairy draws friends and co-conspirators up the mountain, too. "I'm not a hermit," he says. "I like living in Los Angeles."
Check out Steve's Los Angeles.