For thousands of years, Native people inhabited the oak forests and rolling hills of Capay Valley, nestled in northern California. Today the land is planted with olive trees, vineyards and a bounty of other crops. Seka Hills is the line of agricultural products that come from this land. The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation chose the name Seka Hills in their native Patwin language to honor the blue hills that overlook the area.
When the Tribe was forced off their land in the early 1900s they were on barren, non-irrigable land. In 1940 they received a small parcel where they could grow some necessities, but were forced to rely on the government for survival.
In the late 1980s, the Tribe received more land and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was enacted. At that point, the Tribe focused on building a bingo hall which provided cash flow to purchase more land and build the Cache Creek Casino you see today.
As more land was able to be purchased, the Tribe, honoring the legacy of their ancestors by protecting and preserving the natural balance in their environment, focused on sustainability with the use of the land. Olive trees thrive in a mediterranean-like environment which Capay Valley is known for.
The Tribe started small with plans of food and prosperity for their Tribe and the valley, but what they were producing was so good they decided to expand and grow with the success. Eventually, the mill and tasting room were brought to fruition.
Yocha Dehe owns one of the most diverse farming and ranching operations in Yolo County, totaling 17,000 acres, including areas set aside for habitat restoration. The Tribe takes great pride in sustainably cultivating 16 crops on 2,200 acres of which 250 acres are farmed organically.
Natural systems incorporate beneficial insects, cover crops, mulching, drip systems, and crop rotations. Yocha Dehe also runs 700 head of cattle, following a sustainable grazing program on the Tribe’s 10,000 acres of rangeland.
Leading the Seka Hills product line is the critically acclaimed Estate Arbequina extra virgin olive oil. The Tribe began growing olives in 2008 with 82 acres of Arbequina olives. Today, that number has expanded to nearly 500 acres that is mixed with other varietals. The olives are harvested and delivered immediately to the on-site, custom-designed, Alpha Laval mill, producing the Séka Hills extra virgin olive oils. The Mill, completed in 2012, serves the milling needs of both the Tribe and the growing ranks of Yolo County and regional olive growers.
The olive orchards are one of the largest and most popular crops grown in the area. The olives are harvested in the late fall using special machinery that allows three workers to harvest an entire orchard. This cuts down on labor costs and creates an efficient way to harvest the olives.
Seka Hills mills all of its olive varieties separately, and sells the oils as different varietals including Arbequina, Picual, Frantoio and Taggiasca, as well as a special edition Tribal Blend. All of the Seka Hills olive oils are certified extra virgin and meet the standards set by the California Olive Oil Council.
Melissa Costa, a sales & marketing representative for Seka Hills, said the company aims to educate consumers about the importance of high quality olive oil and make it easily accessible and affordable for all.
“We want to have a high quality oil that consumers can trust and afford, so that they can use it for all their meals,” Costa said. “This way they can take advantage of those healthy fats and kick other, high-processed or rancid oils to the curb without breaking the bank.”
Seka Hills also offers food products such as vinegar, beef jerky, honey, wine, nuts and other snacks. The public can visit the mill and learn about the processes behind the olive orchards. Customers can also visit the Seka Hills Olive Mill & Tasting Room and enjoy educational tours, wine and olive oil tastings and a menu of artisan food options.
According to the Seka Hills website, “Guided tours and tastings offer visitors a chance to experience the growing line of fine agricultural products from the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation that now includes olive oils, wines, honey, beef jerky and seasoned nuts.”
Because of the success of the olive orchards, the Tribe now owns and operates the fire department that sits on the Tribal land and serves Capay Valley. The fire department also helps out in any other emergency, all hands on deck scenarios, such as the recent fires in Paradise, California, and beyond.
The Tribe donates harvested fruits and veggies to the community and to local food banks. They also donate countless sums of money to health and wellness projects and organizations throughout the valley, Costa said.