American River Ranch Legacy Project

Restoration and Development Updates


With the late Spring heat starting to increase, life on the farm is really starting to take off. Bluebirds and tree swallows have nested and are now feeding chicks, hunting hawks and great horned owls are ever present, as well as, a mix of coyotes making daily rounds. These hunting animals are helping us welcome in a diversity and greater abundance of farm veggies and tree fruit. On this food production front, we have received good early news that the fruit quarantine in Sacramento implemented by California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is targeted to end the 1st or 2nd week of June. While we will likely miss offering early fruiting crops like cherries, other popular summer fruiting varieties like tomatoes, peppers, squash, peaches and nectarines will all be back in the mix this year. As far as the cherries go, expect those to show up in some tasty treats coming out of the kitchen.

In other news, Soil Born Farms received very welcome funding recommendations that bode well for significant system improvements on the farm. First and foremost, funding recommendations for the planned animal barn have been very positive so far and by August we hope to have final funding approvals that will allow us to start construction of the barn in the Spring of 2025. If all goes well, visitors will not only be welcomed by a new beautiful interpretive space focused on farm animals, but also our first returning farm animals by the Fall of 2025. The animal program is a key component of our regenerative land stewardship plan. In alignment with this plan, Soil Born Farms also was recently awarded a grant from CDFA to double our field tunnel production focused on leafy greens production for our local schools, initiate a compost production/food waste recovery system and replace our existing 20×40 produce cooler with a new energy efficient unit. Similarly, expect to see more climate friendly equipment in use on the farm, highlighted by a new electric tractor and electric utility vehicles. These additions are made possible by grants from SMUD and the California CORE program.


Winter cover crops fill the farm with lush green plant growth through the early spring months, an annual stewardship practice that we practice to help enliven soil biology and restore much of the farmland on the American River Ranch. This mixture of plants includes bell beans, peas and vetch from the Legume family which capture atmospheric nitrogen that is then converted by soil biology to plant available food for our vegetable crops planted in Spring. For the visitor to the farm, these fields of green radiate an energy of renewal and vibrancy that is good for the soul. Quiet walks around the farm are also a spectacle this time of year as Blue Bird nesting begins. Mating pairs are staking out and claiming recently installed boxes and there is constant activity in the fields as a variety of birds swoop in and out to feed on seeds and insects.

Other possibly less noticeable changes are also afoot at the ranch designed to improve the visitor experience and accessibility. Renovations to our schoolhouse are nearly complete including ADA ramping and decking, new siding and paint, new heating and air system, renovated bathroom and a spruced-up space for our herbal studies program. We have also submitted our largest funding request to date which is seeking State of California funding to help construct a new animal barn at the American River Ranch. This building will be our first new building project and will house a new animal program in partnership with the Agriculture Academy at Cordova High School. We will certainly be keeping you all apprised of this exciting program over the next year and hope our community of supporters will help us launch this program that benefits the ecosystem of the American River Ranch and our youth in Sacramento.


Inching toward my 23 winter farming in Sacramento and this year on the American River Ranch feels like the biggest movement toward best practice stewardship than ever before. As I write this, the bulk of our vegetable fields and open farm fields and garden beds have been planted in soil enriching cover crops which are germinating really well. Soon green fields will fill the farm all aimed at increasing organic matter, feeding biology, loosening the soil and protecting the ground from winter rains. Vegetable, orchard, forest and pasture blocks will follow these covers in the Spring, Summer and Fall of next year. The evolution of our farm towards diverse annual and perennial plant ecosystems is truly in full swing and life of all types are present more and more each year. Right now, great horned owls are staking out their territory in readiness for winter mating and their calls are a beautiful sound in the morning and evening hours. Coyotes have also been particularly active around the farm this year too and hunters like egrets and blue herons are showing up to feed again in our fields. This diverse life below and above ground tells us that we are going in the right direction and moreover bring a magic energy back to this land.

Complementing activities at the farm level, the overall site improvements for American River Ranch continue to advance and support our larger aim to create an accessible and dynamic learning center for the community. Most recently, energy has focused on renovating our schoolhouse. Internal spaces are getting a facelift and external siding, decking and ramping will improve the accessibility of this space. Our effort to kickstart the animal program again starting with our goal of constructing a new animal barn in the fall of 2024 is also moving along. Final designs are nearly complete and early efforts to source construction and program funds are beginning. This effort to build our first new building and bring animals back to the farm will be a big lift for us, but worth it for so many reasons. First among these, is the opportunity to take our partnership with the Cordova High School Agriculture Academy to the next level. Equally, animals on pasture and rotating through the farm serves as one of the final missing ingredients to creating a truly regenerative farm model here at the American River Ranch.


The spring and summer season has nearly come and gone at the American River Ranch. Our farm team produced bumper crops of delicious squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, basil and lettuce. Many of these crops were planted in 10 new field tunnels which allow us to reduce water use and increase produce quality by partially shading crops in the warmer months. This infrastructure addition made possible through a grant from California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA) has also allowed us to begin ramping up production of nutritious lettuce which each week will go directly to the school salad bars at Sacramento City Unified School District. In our steady march toward regenerative farming practices, the Farm team has also been diligently working on transitioning more of our production fields to low-tillage permanent bed systems. This intensive process starts with focusing attention on eliminating perennial weeds in our soils and then progresses into building up organic matter and soil biology, followed by permanent beds and deep mulched paths. You can learn more about these practices for the farm and gardens by attending our monthly regenerative farming tours. Lastly, I would also share that our daily aspiration to be better stewards of the earth is in full effect at the farm. When we focus on creating better conditions for life to happen, more life starts to show up. As the resident caretaker I see this most in the quiet evening hours of the farm where
coyote, hawk, owl, bluebird, frogs and insects of all types emerge. So exciting and such a tremendous blessing!


Each season of each year brings new opportunities to learn and improve on our organic growing practices. This Spring and Summer season proved no different. While green vegetable crops loved the rainy and chilly weather, our many varieties of Peaches and Nectarines certainly did not. Many of you are likely experiencing what we are dealing with this year in your trees, the dreaded Peach Leaf Curl. Red, bumpy, curled leaves filled our trees which has led to defoliation and reduced photosynthesis. All told about 100 trees will require replanting and/or severe pruning this winter. We can all do our part by providing affected trees with extra fertility through liquid fish and kelp fertilizers and protection from sunburn due to lack of leaf cover. A dormant season copper spray can help prevent this calamity, as can the selection of disease resistant tree varieties and additions of other foliar nutrients sprayed directly onto the leaf surface. In other more positive news, we are making steady improvement in our march toward reduced tillage in our production fields and gardens. Compost, cover crops, mulches and tarps are employed throughout the main River Field to aid in decomposition, increasing organic matter content and weed suppression. It is quite a site to see if you feel like walking the fields during your visit to the farm on Saturdays. Visitors will also begin to see the establishment of perennial pasture mixes into several of our field blocks to help suppress bindweed, build organic matter and prepare for the return of grazing animals to the farm likely beginning with flocks of sheep. Stay tuned for this exciting development.


As Spring approaches Soil Born Farms is about to begin its 24th growing season in Sacramento and 17th at the American River Ranch. Each year offers new opportunities to learn, adjust and make improvements to our systems and 2023 certainly has much in store for our young team of farmers and educators. On a practical level, repairs to our pump and water delivery systems are already in motion including the installation of fire hydrants on the property to assist with fire suppression.

We are also in the final stages of completing construction designs for our first new building construction, the long-awaited animal barn. Once design and program plans are completed this year, we will begin the fundraising process to construct the barn which will serve as a joint use facility with Cordova High School’s Agriculture Academy.

In keeping with our overall commitment to good land stewardship, 2023 also ushers in a variety of activities that will lighten our footprint, improve ecological diversity and improve production. First and foremost, the planned 3-acre agroforestry project dominated by Oak and Elderberry species is slated for planting at the end of the year. This dynamic ecosystem will integrate and celebrate the wisdom of the Nisenan people, while lifting up the power of native plants to feed, educate, diversify, and restore.

In a similar vein, the farm team will also be expanding greens production using climate friendly field tunnels. With funding provided through the California Department of Food and Agriculture, a total of ten 100 foot-long tunnels will expand our Greens to Grow On program which will produce a variety of greens and other crops year-round destined for the salad bars of our local school lunch programs.

Last but not least, our team continues its steady march toward low tillage farming and the intensive use of a variety of tools including transition to permanent production beds, use of biologically rich compost, managing intensive year-round cover cropping, installation of soil moisture monitoring systems and introducing more strategies that encourage natural pest management like raptor perches and Bluebird boxes.


Over the last 22 years you have most likely identified with Soil Born Farms as a place to access and learn about healthy, delicious food. While this is certainly a core activity of the project, at a deeper level our work is grounded in a more elemental aspiration, to become good stewards. We believe that the capacity to be a good steward of our body, our minds, the community and the earth is innate to all humans. In the world we live in today where humans need to feed, clothe and house its growing population is destroying our fragile Earth’s ecosystems, embracing the role as steward has never been more critical. Soil Born Farms believes that the desire to be a good steward can be awakened by witnessing the beauty of nature or tasting a delicious meal, but the skills required to be a good steward have to be fostered and learned through hands-on practice and repetition. This belief has born fruit through a daily commitment over the last 15 years to better steward the American River Ranch. After years of neglect, fields of star thistle are now witness to an explosion of diverse plant and animal life. While we have much to learn and much left to work on, this resurgence of life at the farm reaffirms that humans can support their needs at the same time as nurturing the larger web of life that we are part of. This same adventure awaits all of you. The organic garden both big and small, offers an opportunity for everyone to directly step into a renewed relationship with the earth and with yourself.

On this note of relationships, all of us at Soil Born Farms would like to honor Elizabeth Collins who recently passed away at the age of 96. Otherwise known as Betsy to her friends or Bubba to her grandchildren, Betsy will forever be in our hearts. In 2000, myself and another young farmer Marco put a note in Betsy’s mailbox asking if we could grow food on her property in exchange for some produce each month. Her positive response led to the creation of our first urban farm on Hurley Way. This welcoming and adventurous spirit, describes the bright light that Betsy was and how she lived her life. Soil Born Farms may never have got on the ground without her, and for that gift and for all of the wonderful memories we shared with her we will be eternally grateful. Betsy, we love you and know that you are on to your next adventure.


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.SMUD logo 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.