“Aren’t you worried the bee will sting you?” I asked David Rowntree from across the table as we enjoyed a socially distant outdoor dinner together in the lush fruit and vegetable farm of NewTree Ranch, which he co-founded with Ed Newell. He smiled and looked back at the black and yellow insect gently ambling across his hand, as if he knew my concern was beyond the realm of reality.
And as I was soon to discover, it was: NewTree Ranch was designed to enable guests to realize their place in the greater context of nature, not perpetuate the distance humans have put between themselves and the planet.
Nestled in the golden, rolling hills of Sonoma County, NewTree Ranch sits on 120 acres of prime California landscape. Newell and Rowntree initially conceptualized their Northern California escape into luxury and wellness as a fully biodynamic operation, in which food was grown and raised onsite, free from the influence of chemicals and pesticides, and the added effects of shipping. They would rely on the earth to guide them, reducing their carbon footprint while providing delectable cuisine in a luxurious setting. Part of this approach meant raising cattle and slaughtering them onsite, rather than relying on factory farmed beef to feed their guests.
But a photo of a cow on display in the ranch estate’s dining room threw a wrench into their plan.
Newell quickly realized that his guests were uncomfortable with seeing their animal-based food in its living form while consuming said animals. “I had asked David to move his photos of the animals out of the dining room,” Newell recalled in an interview, before realizing it wasn’t the art that was the problem. “If they’re uncomfortable with eating animals from the farm, then we should just stop eating the meat.”
After this epiphany, NewTree’s onsite staff unanimously supported reimagining the ranch as a plant-based experience for themselves and for the guests. And with an expansive onsite garden burgeoning with an endless variety of tomatoes, berries, apples, peppers, and every other rare or exotic fruit and vegetable one could imagine, there was no shortage of delicious options to center in their culinary offerings. Walking through their farm feels like exploring Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but with vitamin boosts instead of tooth decay.
Becoming plant-based was in some ways, an inevitable shift for NewTree Ranch, which reimagines luxury as a conscious effort to care for one’s self in every aspect. Material comfort comes in the form of a stunning ranch estate boasting four expansive and beautifully-appointed bedrooms, a pool overlooking the oak-lined pasture, and a glamping tent ideal for stargazing, among a plethora of other features geared towards rest and relaxation.
Guests, who will often stay for weeks at a time, can find healing in strolling through the secluded property, experiencing the zen of a Wim Hof ice bath, learning to make tea or arrange flowers, or even by going on a sound journey on the dock of the lake.
And after switching the culinary experience for guests to a plant-based one, Newell realized that treating food as medicine completed the puzzle of providing a true wellness experience. “You’re getting to experience the ethos and the values that vegan living includes,” Newell explained to me. “It isn’t just not eating animals, it’s being connected with nature and growing food. Not everyone can do that in their living spaces. But if that’s something you want to try, this is a place to come explore that, because that’s what works for here. And you can take from it what you want.”
Because eating plant-based is only a part of conscious eating overall. Veganism alone doesn’t address the destructive palm oil industry that destroys orangutan habitats, or the single-use plastics that plenty of vegetables and vegan snacks come wrapped in, or the cartel violence in Mexico spawned by the American demand for avocados. By growing everything Chef Matteo Silverman could ever need onsite at the ranch, NewTree eliminates the potential for ethical inconsistencies to infiltrate their vision.
“I really felt like I wanted to create something here where when people left after a week or two, or a weekend, they would be feeling better than when they arrived,” Newell says. Whether that’s luxuriating by the pool while snacking on plant-based delights, booking a deep tissue massage by the fireplace, or driving the provided Tesla the 10 minutes it takes to get to downtown Healdsburg, guests get to define the boundaries of their personal journey.
For most, however, connection with nature is a given result. After only a few days of cleansing the body through conscious eating, quieting the mind with Wim Hof breath work, and softening the soul with sound therapy, it was easy for me to internalize that a bee is more than a potential source of pain; it’s a valuable pollinator and creator of honey that is just as entitled to live on this planet as I am.