An Interview with Leslie Moody And Mitch Ackerman, Owners
Local Hero: Innovator
Photos by Stephanie Cameron
Blue corn crepe filled with prosciutto and gruyère, topped with egg and red chile.
Rancho Gallina is a proudly green inn and retreat center just off the Turquoise Trail, providing farm-fresh food in a relaxing and authentic rural setting just minutes from Santa Fe, Cerrillos, and Madrid. Leslie Moody and Mitch Ackerman are the inn’s proprietors, ranch hands, cooks, and chicken whisperers.
How did you get to where you are now? What’s the backstory, and what was the moment that brought you to your current work?
We met as union organizers in Denver in the mid-nineties. It was intense work in a then very conservative state. We were both elected to leadership positions young, and together helped shift the political climate in the state and raise the standard of living for thousands of Coloradans. We built a close-knit community around our home and family, hosting countless happy hours, working dinners, and traveling colleagues. Food and drink was always a critical part of building our movement, and key to maintaining our health, family, and sanity while working incredibly stressful jobs.
By 2012, we had been “promoted” to roles in Washington, DC, our kids had grown, and we were in dire need of a change. One night after hosting an elaborate dinner party, a dear friend pulled us aside and said, “You guys, this is your secret superpower!” We laughed, but when we later took stock of what we were good at and what excited us, we came up with a few shared loves: food, cooking, people, travel, social justice, and the Southwest (New Mexico was our go-to getaway from Denver).
We were lucky to find a great spot with a rich history stretching from the San Marcos Pueblo to artists and horse breeders. After lots of work and digging deep into our savings, we launched Rancho Gallina in 2014. We welcome travelers from all walks of life, but our history allows us to regularly host those who organize for positive change, both for group retreats or a well-earned break.
Tell us a bit about how Rancho Gallina engages in environmentally friendly business practices.
It’s core to our DNA. We undertook the renovation of an old, sprawling property, built by ranchers and artists, with the aim of minimizing our carbon footprint and honoring the high-desert landscape.
We installed fifty-four solar panels, three geothermal heating/cooling systems, rain catchment, greywater, water-saving everything, LED and solar lighting, and electric car chargers. We conserve, reuse, recycle, and compost. We even haul buckets of wash water out to the yard all summer. We’ve built relationships with local organic farmers. And of course there’s the gallinas––our chickens are the stars of our breakfast crew and composting program.
What is a local food issue that is important to you? Why?
Access to clean water and affordable farmland is critical to our culture and our local food supply. The changing climate will present tremendous challenges that the next generation of farmers must confront to maintain our amazing local food tradition.
New Mexico’s farm culture is so inspiring and unique, but we must protect our precious water supply from abuse and contamination if we want to make sure we have viable, local alternatives to industrial agriculture.
Tell us about Rancho Gallina’s food program.
We serve what we call New Mexiterranean cuisine. Mitch trained in classic French cuisine, Leslie’s grandma hailed from Spain, and we add Moroccan, Italian, Middle Eastern, and of course do everything with a New Mexican flair (i.e., lots of local chile). Breakfast is our staple, but we cater family events and host retreats where we cook three meals a day.
Virtually all our food is organic and as local as possible––this is a core value. We feel it’s as important to transition the world’s diet away from industrial/chemical agriculture as it is to transition from fossil fuels. Plus local, seasonal, and organic just tastes better. We have had an especially close relationship with Green Tractor Farm, a mere eight miles down the road and true local heroes.
We’ve collaborated with a number of restaurants and food organizations on pop-ups and events. We’ve catered dinners with Opuntia and Squash Blossom, and last year the Street Food Institute catered more than half the weddings at the ranch. We’re looking forward to hosting edible’s spring pop-up in May!
Where do you recommend guests go out to eat?
The Black Bird Saloon, Opuntia, Dr. Field Goods, The Kitchen, The Hollar, Fire & Hops, and for great local music, the Mine Shaft and Beer Creek. For traditional New Mexican: La Choza and Casa Chimayó, or the San Marcos Café right around the corner! For beverages: Iconik, of course, and we love Tumbleroot’s tiny tap room on Bisbee Court.
What do you love about living in Cerrillos?
Officially, we’re in unincorporated Santa Fe County––we call it Baja Santa Fe. It’s funky and arty and very down to earth; it’s authentic and gritty, a welcome contrast to the sometimes over-polished tourist scene. It’s got [musician] Joe West’s Theater of Death (Joe’s great-uncle built our place), and two movie ranches, putting us in the heart of Tamalewood. It’s the real deal.
We’ve enjoyed hosting traveling musicians last year, both for gigs in town and music writing retreats. We are planning to host house concerts and open to more community gatherings this year. The ranch was a home to artists for years, and we want to build on that legacy.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with edible readers?
Only that we sometimes book far in advance. We’d love to host your family, event or retreat, but just let us know as soon as you can!
31 Bonanza Creek Rd, Santa Fe, 505-438-1871, ranchogallina.com