Site improvements at the American River Ranch are continuing to advance. Our new entrance project is starting to wrap up. Gates, fencing, native plant landscaping and striping are complete. In the next week or two we will have service to our new electrical panel and power brought to our new automatic irrigation system, new entrance gate and lighting fixtures. A few final touches over the next 60 days including a finishing seal coat over the driveway will complete the project. A big thank you to the Wildlife Conservation Board, Sacramento County Regional Parks and the City of Rancho Cordova’s Measure H Community Fund. On another exciting front, our renovated Farmhouse Kitchen is really taking shape and soon we will be installing new insulation, washable wall surfaces, LED lighting and kitchen flooring. All new equipment will soon follow. We are also beginning to collect feedback on our Animal Barn designs and will subsequently start developing the actual construction plans for the facility. Our program partners at Cordova High School have been providing guidance and ideas for the space. Lastly, the planned Oak and Elderberry Forest is now moving into action with the development of a Habitat Monitoring and Management Plan, planting site preparation focused on weed abatement and soil fertility and finalization of site design.
We are hitting the home stretch of our entrance improvement with paving and striping of the parking lot and driveway now complete. Over the next few weeks work will focus on fencing, an entrance gate, electrical and native plant landscaping. Super exciting. Our kitchen renovation is also moving along nicely with interior repairs currently being completed and new equipment starting to show up. New grants from the Wildlife Conservation Board have also been formally approved and we are working on contracts to initiate work on the construction designs for a new animal barn and a 3-acre Oak and Elderberry forest ecosystem. Funding for the barn has not been raised yet, but once designs are underway we will begin fundraising in earnest. The animal barn will allow us to bring animals back to the farm and develop a dynamic animal education program in partnership with Cordova High School’s Agriculture Academy. The Oak and Elderberry Forest will merge habitat, ecological, and agricultural goals into one dynamic demonstration project. We are excited to work with a variety of stewards on this project including HT Harvey, River Partners and local Maidu, Miwok and Nisenan leaders.
I am excited to report that we are only a few weeks away from starting construction on our entrance project. This work will include driveway widening and realignment, a new entrance gate, a small paved parking lot, electrical utility upgrades and native plant landscaping. Work is expected to wrap up by the end of the year. This project is supported by the Wildlife Conservation Board and the Measure H Community Enhancement Fund from the City of Rancho Cordova. Our ambitious team has also been making progress on other site improvements. The demonstration home garden is taking shape and we plan on forming garden beds within the week. With support from the Tegna Foundation and the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, the area we are affectionately calling sustainability square is also coming along. Two new outdoor classroom areas in the space are nearly complete, new raised garden beds demonstrating different design options are in place and a new irrigation system has been installed through the whole space to help us be extremely wise in conserving our precious water resources. Lastly, our farmers continue to make great strides working towards improved soil and natural resource management with a variety of practices in full display on the farm right now. These include two new shaded growing tunnels, intensive summer cover cropping and a no-till block for the production of leafy greens and roots. We hope you will come visit us on a Saturday to see all of these wonderful additions to the farm.
We are continuing to make great progress on site improvements at the American River Ranch. Our new greenhouse and propagation space has churned out more beautiful plant starts than ever before and many of these have found their way into your gardens. Thank you so much to SMUD’s SHINE grant award for helping make this project happen. Production will dip a bit in the greenhouse during the summer months and then pick up once again in readiness for fall garden plantings. In Sustainability Square, new footpaths for our visitors are complete and beautiful benches for our new outdoor classroom space are ready for installation. Demonstration raised boxes, an herb spiral and vertical gardens are also on the way. Our progress at reducing tillage and weeds, combined with increasing the health and vitality of our plants out in the fields and gardens is on full display this year. Plants are lush, green and vibrant and new trellising and shading techniques should help extend the life and quality of our tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Lastly, contract bidding for our entrance improvements are expected back within the week which pushes the construction start date out to late August. This work is supported in part by the Measure H Community Enhancement Fund from the City of Rancho Cordova and through the Wildlife Conservation Board. Thank you so much to all of our partners and supporters.
Improvements continue at the American River Ranch. Our new two-way entrance road and parking lot is nearing the bidding stage and construction should begin sometime in July. Access to the Ranch will be much easier once these and other planned bicycle and pedestrian upgrades along Chase Drive are completed. These projects will cause some disruptions so stay tuned for updates. We have been hard at work creating a new outdoor education area called Sustainability Square. Paths and seating are being built for this dynamic space which will feature classes and workshops focused on developing skills related to building healthy soil, composting, efficient water use, container gardening and herbal medicine. We have finally begun planning for the addition of a 3-acre native oak and elderberry orchard adjacent to the restored Cordova Creek riparian area in the American River Parkway. This new restoration project will serve multiple purposes: creating important wildlife habitat, providing community education, and producing nutritious food and medicinal crops including acorn flour and elderberry tincture. Oak and elderberries will define the planting with complementary plant species incorporated throughout. The American River Ranch is located in the ancestral territory of the Nisenan people who have cultivated this area for thousands of years. The proposed project will seek to honor and learn from their accumulated knowledge regarding responsible stewardship of this land. Oaks and elderberries were selected as focal species because of their cultural significance as well as ecological importance. California’s oak woodlands support more biodiversity than any other ecosystem in the state and native blue elderberries provide critical habitat to the threatened Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle. Both plant communities are on the decline due to development and agricultural pressure. This project models a solution by establishing native plantings that provide both critical wildlife habitat and usable crops
Ever since Soil Born Farms took over the lease of the American River Ranch in 2007, we have slowly and steadily focused on restoring this amazing community treasure. Currently, public entrance improvements including a paved parking lot and a widened driveway for two-way vehicular access are making their way through the planning and permitting process. This effort has been going slowly as we navigate challenges brought on by COVID-19 and the many intricate development constraints of the site. Current timeline estimates show construction starting in summer 2021 and completing in early fall. These projects, along with a host of utility upgrades (gas, sewer, water and electric), will help us to better accommodate the visiting public and prepare for several needed renovations and new building projects. Project designs are underway for updating our existing farmhouse kitchen, construction of a new animal barn and a new farmstand/commercial kitchen space. Rest assured, we will continue to keep you updated monthly on how things are progressing and, as construction draws near, we will be sending out frequent notices to help visitors successfully navigate work crews.
Greenhouse Garden Shop Update: We have been working overtime to get our new Greenhouse Garden Shop & Fruit Tree Nursery completed at the American River Ranch before spring arrives. I am happy to report that our work is nearly complete! In total, the space includes renovations to our existing hoophouse, the addition of a brand new 24 x 36 ft. greenhouse, a new covered space for potting up plants and teaching, a completely rebuilt plant storage or hardening off area and new retail spaces for visitor shopping to pick up all of the essentials you will need for your gardens, including best practice tools, soil amendments, our best pick fruit trees and organically grown plant starts. This new community resource is guided by our mission to help all of you get outside, grow your own food, eat better, improve your health and steward the earth. You can find all of these items on our Online Marketplace with Saturday order pickup and be sure to check out our monthly online classes on seasonal gardening topics to help guide you through your growing adventures.
Thank you to the Clark Family for supporting this project. We are grateful to our dedicated volunteers Dennis and Yonnie Murphy and Kevin Clara for their expertise and help. Kudos to Kellan MacKay, Gary Hare and Shawn Harrison for planning and building the new spaces. And thanks to our local utility provider SMUD for selecting Soil Born Farms as a 2020–21 SHINE Award recipient to help make this project happen.
Since the beginning of the project in 2000, the act of growing organic seedlings for the farm and the community has been a constant. Each winter we pour through catalogs and secure our favorite varieties of vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruit. For many years we have longed to expand this area of our work, knowing that starting with healthy baby plants is critical to the success of any aspiring gardener or farmer. This year we have finally taken the leap and have been working hard to develop an expanded and improved greenhouse and garden supply center here at the American River Ranch. One component that we are currently working on is a redesigned hardening off area where plants are moved into when they leave the greenhouse. This space allows baby plants to acclimate to the outdoor world and protects them from squirrel and bird predation. Soon this space will be filled with a constant flow of beautiful and healthy plants that will hopefully make their way to your garden. We can’t wait for everyone to see and experience this and many more improvements that are being made at your community farm. Happy gardening!
Even though we are closed to the public right now, Soil Born Farms has been busy making improvements to the American River Ranch. First and foremost, with soil health at the core of our work we now have about 80% of the production fields in cover crops for the winter using our new seed drill. Oh, what a difference this tool has made. Cover crop germination has been fantastic and the mix of seeds we have included will keep our soil covered, add ample amounts of organic matter and nitrogen to the soil, suppress weeds and reduce compaction. We have also recently just completed the construction of a new greenhouse on the farm. This facility will focus on increasing the production of vegetables, flowers and herbs for sale through our marketplace. Not too long from now, more garden plants and garden education will start flowing into the community and help support our vision for an Edible City. Not far behind the greenhouse are plans for improvements to our entrance. The narrow driveway into the farm that constricts cars, people and bikes will be widened and a paved parking lot will finally be constructed to replace our dirt lot. Right now we expect these updates to be completed by late June of 2021. New native plantings and a really cool bio-swale design feature that captures and conserves water will be integrated into these projects. Our outdoor classrooms and garden spaces are also taking shape. You will notice a new chicken coop and shade structure in our Youth and Family Garden. The Sustainability Square classroom is close behind with features that enhance our hands-on classes in herb production, composting, container gardening and water conservation. And last but not least, we are starting the design process for a new animal barn and associated animal program. The barn will take a bit of time, but by Spring of 2021 we expect to welcome back pasture-raised chickens. More animals will follow. We cannot wait to see all of you back on the farm. Until then, stay healthy.