established in 1915
It all began one hundred years ago when Catharine and Arthur Wilson relocated to Swanton Valley, CA from the state of Virginia. Their son, Ben Wilson, now in his 80s, was born and raised with his four siblings on the Laughing Canyon property and has remained the sole care taker of the valley since buying the property from his parents in the 1950s. The family lived solely off the land by farming vegetables and fruit and raising chickens, pigs and goats. Uncle Dave Wilson of Dave Wilson Nursery provided an orchard which allowed the family to preserve fruit and Catharine was a keen forager of the edible plants and mushrooms in the valley. Ben and his siblings attended the same 1920's one-room schoolhouse for their entire elementary and middle school years. Ben and his twin brother built a few of the structures that are still on the property when they were young boys. However, after his siblings moved away, Ben was the only son left to maintain the family ranch.
In 1964 Ben married the love of his life, Jan. Together they raised their four children on the family farm and mom, Catherine, remained on the property in a house built by her sons until her death at age 100. Jan, built a business as a wedding cake baker and decorator after training with Presidential Pastry Chef, Adolph Volk in Santa Clara. For the next 40 years, Jan's successful catering and cake business provided a delicious and unique product to the families of Santa Cruz county. Jan's cake business evolved over time into Buttercup Cakes & Farm House Frosting, a charming bakery located in Santa Cruz.
Ben "wasn't much of a farmer" but more considered himself a "rogue engineer". Despite his claim, he worked the land and harvested its bounty his entire life. He built almost all of the structures on the property: water wheels, wood shop, commercial kitchen (for Jan), tool sheds, and a home for his parents. Now, in his 80's, he still maintains the entire property including road maintenance, forestry, fire prevention, and water treatment.
Where we are now
Today the canyon is the location of Laughing Canyon Farm which was started by Carren Wilson and her husband John Dixon. This organic farm and orchard provides the ingredients for the desserts and pastries made at the family bakery, Buttercup Cakes. Vegetables and fruit grown on the farm are also used to create delicious, grown-on-site ingredients by the Laughing Canyon Catering Team. The fruit and vegetables never leave the farm on their way to the table.
The tradition of canyon hospitality continues with the invitation to host your special event in the location of the family campground. For over 100 years, family and friends have gathered, raised dust, danced, played and celebrated next to the shimmering laugh of Mill Creek. Countless occasions have been celebrated in this sun dappled glen and the joy of communion with loved ones and this pristine natural environment is the inspiration for Laughing Canyon.
Celebrating in this joyful place and allowing its unique spirit to nurture guests is a tradition now shared with couples and their guests for the most important event of their lives. We look forward to hearing your plans.
Carren & daughter Hannah
Every great Laughing Canyon celebration includes cake!
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