Enjoy these sweet stories shared by our talented and dedicated staff. Each story is inspired by one of our goals and initiatives at Soil Born Farms.
After nearly a decade of planning, phase one of the Cordova Creek Naturalization Project nears completion. This project removes a concrete lined channel that serves as the western boundary of the farm and replaces it with a natural winding creek. This project has been developed by a group of partners that includes the Sacramento County Departments of Water Resources and County Parks, Water Forum, City of Rancho Cordova, California Native Plant Society, Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, and Soil Born Farms. Upon completion, this project will add 7 acres of riparian habitat around the creek, a walking trail with interpretive signs that allows public access to the American river Parkway, and gives Soil Born Farms another 13 acres of land to expand our agricultural production. This project allows us to take our mission of connecting food, health, and the environment to the next level. ~Jared Clark, former Ranch Manager
One important aspect of school garden learning is encouraging students to connect with the environment to the extent that they change some of their practices and hopefully encourage others to change as well. At Pacific Elementary, the 4th grade class has gotten very passionate about the lack of butterfly habitat that exists in their urban landscape. This week they asked me to come in as an “expert” so they could ask questions to further their study and plan toward building a butterfly habitat for the kinder class on campus. The students spent 45 minutes asking questions that related to native plants (using the scientific names), butterfly needs, sun exposure challenges, and expressing their concerns about other insects/animals that might use the habitat they are building. The questions were challenging and well thought out. It was amazing to see students becoming so passionate and thoughtful about this cause, especially students that have only had one meaningful interaction with some Fritillary caterpillars. They started the project by teaching their kindergarten buddies about the power of cover crop and then doing a joint planting with their buddies. They are calculating their plant needs, evaluating support structures for vines and creating educational signs. In fact they have now created the Pipevine swallowtail team, the Monarch team, the Fritillary team and so on. Their plans are providing them a powerful educational unit in class but more importantly they are being transformed through this learning and I can only imagine the impact their butterfly habitat is going to have on the young students of the school campus.~Shannon Hardwicke, Growing Together Manager
Each year, we recruit a new crop of apprentices in the spring, watch them learn and grow over the 8 months that they are here and them set them free back into the world in the fall. If we’re lucky, we are able to watch them evolve even further into farmers as they take on a 2nd year apprenticeship with Soil Born Farms. At this point, I haven’t had the opportunity to see the growth of one of our apprentices, up close, for more than 2 years but Maceo is a different story. Maceo came to us as a 15-year-old, sophomore high school intern from the Met High School. He first approached us because he needed to fulfill his internship hours with his school and he knew that he wanted to be a farmer. When he started with Soil Born, he had already started his own 1-acre farm at 15 years old. His parents weren’t farming it, he was, on weekends, after school and in the dark with a headlamp. He didn’t come from a family of farmers; this is something he had set out to do on his own. Over the past three years, he’s been coming to Soil Born two days a week, going to school and working his farm business. He’s done roadside stands, a CSA program, restaurant sales, layer chickens and meat birds. I’ve had the extreme pleasure of watching him grow and mature into an amazing farmer and business owner over the last few years. He’s savvier about business than many adults I’ve met. He was just featured on Good Day Sacramento for his family oriented pumpkin patch. He sells at the Midtown Farmer’s Market and is looking to expand from his current 10 acres to 20 acres. And he’s only 18. Maceo will be graduating high school in Fall 2016 and heading off to college. The verdict isn’t out yet on what school he is going to attend or whether he will run a farm while he’s in school, but he will be studying Agro Business wherever he decides to go. His classmates ask him why he keeps coming out to Soil Born for the remainder of his internship if he runs his own farm, and in his own words, “Because it’s hecka fun and I wouldn’t be where I am right now without those people.” I know that he learned many things from us, but I hope that he knows how much we have learned from him, how proud and amazed we are by him and even after he heads off into the world, we will always be his “Farmily.” ~Elle Huftill-Balzer, Farm Manager
This past year has been truly magical. I don’t think I could choose just one story to share considering that something worth sharing happens at least once a day. I am so fortunate that I get to witness the transformative power of the American River Ranch whenever we have a group of kids out for a field trip, Summer Day Camp, volunteer opportunity or special event. I myself am renewed and energized daily by this beautiful place. I especially feel the positive impact of the ranch and the Youth Education program when I see the same kids, time after time, run to the Youth Garden to visit Lefty (one of our beloved Youth Garden chickens), see if there is a new fairy house or gnome home hiding in the grape vines or check on the seeds they’ve sown or the plants they’ve transplanted. It is obvious that whether kids have come to the ranch one time, for a whole week in the summer or every other Friday for a whole school year, they feel a strong sense of connection to this place. Maybe it’s the fact that they get covered with mud and dirt, or that they eat food that was grown on this land. Or maybe they feel a sense of ownership because they do meaningful and empowering work in the Youth Garden or that they get to harvest baskets of tomatoes from the main field for the Food Bank. Maybe they are connected to the farm because they know the farmers by name, they collect acorns to grind into flour like the native people do, or they put their feet in the American River for the first time in their life. I truly don’t know exactly what it is, but I know that the farm, the river, the animals who live here, and the people who take care of this place enchant kids of all ages. At the end of every youth interaction we hear their sweet sentiments in our closing gratitude circle. Kids (and the parents, grandparents, teachers, guardians, aunties and uncles that come with them) have so much love, respect and gratitude in their heart for Soil Born Farms and this wonderful place we all share. ~Alyssa Kassner, Youth Education Coordinator
I’ve had the pleasure of working at Soil Born Farms nearly 6 years. I marvel at the changes that have taken place over the years: New farmers and staff to befriend, new fields in production, site improvements to our kitchen and outdoor classroom and incredible gleaning, school garden and community building. At the same time, my own family and community have been growing. Often–certainly in my own past work lives–work life and personal life are two very separate spheres. With each year at Soil Born Farms, the two parts of my life intersect more and more. My child loved her time at Summer Day Camp this year; my friends make it a point to be at the Autumn Equinox, other parents in my child’s kindergarten classroom work as partners on our programs and events, my local grocery store worker’s wife brings her students to Soil Born on field trips and my neighbor is a donor! I am thankful to have found a way to use my skills to support the vision and mission of my workplace, but also it is more and more apparent that I am also supporting my community. ~Melanie Choy, Programs Manager
Connecting food, health and the environment is not just a mission statement but a way of life at Soil Born Farms. As the youngest and most recent member of the Soil Born family, I have had the opportunity to grow in endless ways. I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in a number of activities ranging from moving irrigation pipes to feeding our animals and most recently working in the orchard. These tasks cause me to put on many miles, allowing me to witness some truly incredible natural spectacles. Breathtaking sunsets, praying mantis devouring prey and ceaseless avian activity are just some of the daily rituals working on the ranch. I grew up hiking and exploring Mt. Tamalpais in Marin observing animals and developing a passion to their conservation and success, and to witness such wildlife activity daily is a true blessing. On one such day, Jared Clark, our Ranch Manager, and I had just finished building a series of tension braces for our new interior fence near the Youth Garden. As we were packing up our tools and excitedly preparing for our newfound summer time tradition of al pastor from the local taqueria, I felt the suns ray diminish as hundreds of white and black specks soared above. I excitedly called Guy Galante, our Youth Education Director and incredible photographer, who was one step ahead of us snapping shots of what turned out to be American white pelicans, now a rarity in the Sacramento valley. There must have been six to seven hundred of these charismatic megafauna soaring above in a true display of wonder and marvel. It is my belief that the ranch serves as the most important tool in the organization by displaying true California beauty and providing the opportunities for first-class experiential learning. In addition, the ranch serves as a means for growing healthy food in an environmentally friendly and supportive manner. While creating the pathways for access to those who need it most, Soil Born Farms lives up to its mission statement of connecting food, health and the environment by truly supporting our community. ~Scott Dunbar, ARR Coordinator
Throughout the year our charming little farmhouse kitchen gets a lot of use. Our dedicated volunteers and staff conduct many different activities in the kitchen including: Cooking nutritious farm-to-table lunches, offering preservation workshops, hosting Nutrition/Dietetic interns from Sac State, preparing healthy snacks for youth visiting the farm, holding Community Dinner Nights, training talented Jr. Chef interns and providing nourishing meals for many of the events Soil Born offers. One of my favorite things is the opportunity to cook with youth visiting the farm. During our Summer Day Camp Program I get to fire up our adobe pizza oven and make homemade pizza with our campers. The kids get excited to roll out their own dough and make their own pizza creations. Some of the favorite toppings include cherry tomatoes, basil, summer squash, peaches, potatoes and, of course, cheese! My one rule about topping pizzas is that there has to be at least 1 fruit or vegetable that makes it on the pizza but most of these kids load it up with everything. After everyone is done topping the pizzas, I show the kids the inside of the oven and let them stand in front of it (at a safe distance of course) to feel the heat. They are always surprised at the fact their pizza only takes 60-90 seconds until it’s ready to eat. After I fire off all the pizzas we sit around our picnic tables, give thanks and eat together. When children get a chance to partake in the experience of growing, harvesting and cooking their own food they are more willing to try new things. ~Michelle Sikora, Cooking and Nutrition Coordinator
I started farming six years ago as a response to feeling extremely depleted in life as well as having major digestive issues. I never thought that when I started farming I would find my greatest passion in life. I imagined learning how to grow my own food and then getting back to my “regular” life. Soil Born Farms has given me the opportunity to explore this interest in great depth. I have worked in the field, with the animals, as an administrative support, a mentor to apprentices, a volunteer coordinator, an educator, an outreach coordinator and for four years I have run the greenhouse. The culture at Soil Born Farms allows people to pursue their passions while supporting the mission of the organization. As a result of my exploration at Soil Born, I have found my place and passion in life. I love everything about plants, including: Growing plants, educating people about plants, working with volunteers in the greenhouse and gardens, eating plants, learning about plants, talking about plants and any way I can connect with plants! I love to share this passion with people and Soil Born supports me in this endeavor. I hope you will consider supporting this organization and the work we are doing. Join my Year-round Garden Team and share in this exciting passion with me. ~Michele Ranieri, Greenhouse Manager
I consider it a victory every time someone comes out to the farm and truly enjoys the produce that comes directly out of the field. This fall I led a volunteer day where 15 AmeriCorps volunteers helped with the usual weeding tasks in the field. I interact with a lot of wonderful volunteers and these young people were on another level of enthusiasm. At one point, I pulled up a couple of carrots from the ground to see how big they were getting, and asked the group if they wanted to come over and harvest some out of the ground to snack on. Without hesitation, nearly all of them belted out “YEAH!” and rushed over to experience the taste of a fresh carrot. Aside from the smiles and approval of the vegetable that I grew, what made me most happy was that they didn’t wash the carrots off, just wiped some of the dirt off on their shirts and chomped down. ~Alicia Baddorf
During my first few months working for Soil Born Farms, I overheard someone in the office say that someone named Gary had inquired about volunteer opportunities for someone with construction skills at the farm. My ears perked right up. What’s that you say? You have skills in carpentry, woodworking, handyman-ish things AND you would like to use your free time to volunteer at the farm to help us move projects forward, as well as maintain what we have? Well, we reached out to Gary immediately and guess what? Gary has committed a large portion of his free time to the farm, invested in our staff and our mission and even promotes the farm on his personal blog. Gary has personified volunteerism, which is defined as “the policy or practice of volunteering one’s time or talents for charitable, educational, or other worthwhile activities, especially in one’s community.” He was raised locally, he lives locally and he is giving his time locally. Many people see the faces of our Soil Born staff, but few people understand the critical support, time and energy our volunteers expend behind the scenes. Without them, a 55-acre organic farm with limited funds is a daunting task. But WITH volunteers, it’s a manageable, educational and connecting experience that we can all draw inspiration from. ~Andrea Jaggers, Project Manager
There are so many special moments that happen when children visit our farm. It is so inspiring to hear the joy in the kids’ voices and the happy expressions on their faces when they exclaim with wonder at the close up view of a lesser goldfinch, while they proudly carry a spade after helping turn a bed and sew it with cover crop. We also love when a skeptical student eats a carrot and kale wrap for the first time and turns to us and says, “This is actually pretty good…can we have seconds?” and parents watch with amazement as their children willingly eat greens. With mud on our faces and lizards in hand, the youth education program at the American River Ranch provides connective experiences that allow kids to connect with themselves, each other, food and nature ~Guy Galante, Youth Education Director
While working here, I have come to learn what Soil Born Farms means to people, whether they are visiting for the first time or if they are long-time supporters. The farm gives an immediate sense of peace, love and connection to anyone who visits. I had such awe for it myself when I first came to the American River Ranch and even more when I learned about the things that happen on the farm and that are contributed by the farm for the community. I am still in awe every day when I am not at my desk and I walk around the farm to see all the animals and seasonal changes. I was walking past a school bus parked in front of the barn a few weeks ago during a field trip when I found out one of the students was a neighbor of mine. She immediately said hello and gave me a hug. She was happy to be at the farm and it was nice for us to cross paths. It reminded me of how the world is so big but also small when we find out how close and connected we all are to one another. I feel good knowing that some of my neighbors got to experience the farm and learn about it because the more people learn and love this place, the more they will want to share their experience with their friends and family. If there is one thing I learned while being here it’s that word of mouth is a powerful thing. We like to ask our customers how they heard about us and most say from a friend or family member. We like to build relationships and give meaningful experiences at the farm and in return we have many friends that come back often. ~Rebecca Le, Administrative Assistant
Harvest Sacramento volunteers get to have some unique and memorable experiences out in the edible city. Sometimes the fruit tastes incredibly good. Sometimes the people are magnificent and a joy to meet. Sometimes the fruit trees are awe inspiring and humbling. And sometimes all these qualities, and more, come together to create the kind of wonderful experiences that make us so confident in the positive power of the edible city. In mid-August 2015, 20 Harvest Sacramento volunteers had such an experience with a tree we lovingly refer to as the Big Fig. This giant fig tree, estimated to be over 100 years old, is composed of seven massive trunks grown into a single crown some 50′ wide and 35′ high. It sits alone in the center of a dry field in the midst of the Tahoe Park South neighborhood, a remnant of the farms, fields and orchards that long ago became the neighborhood. It is set back far from the street, out of sight and out of mind, without mulch to cover the bare soil, irrigation to water it during the drought, nor any other signs of care. And yet, it was covered in countless delicious figs awaiting our harvest visit. The harvest of a tree such as this would always be a treat, but on this night the people who came together for the harvest and the amazing light in the sky, made it all the more memorable. Among our harvest group were families from Oak Park and Elk Grove, whose kids quickly merged into a pack, harvesting alongside residents from nearby neighborhoods, and a group of seven international students from Sac State, representing countries in Asia, North Africa and the Southwest Asia. This intergenerational and international group had a joyous and productive time together, harvesting more than 200 lbs of figs from the tree, plus another 300 lbs of apples from an adjacent orchard. They finished up just in time to channel the energy of the powerful shared experience into an epic twilight group photo, accompanied by an almost full moon rising up behind the Big Fig. ~Dominic Allamano, Harvest Sacramento Coordinator
My favorite part of farm stand is greeting new families at the farm. The children are often excited to be in open space where they can run, be loud, and touch earth; the parents are often joyful to slow down, soak in the views, and share this special place with their children. I remember one family in particular that I had met a few days earlier at an outreach event at a local community center. I went over to say hello and was greeted by smiles and surprised exclamations that they didn’t realize this haven existed in our community. They explored, bought produce and offered hugs when they left. Each time I see them return, they make a point to say hello and ask what’s new around the farm. And each time, I am reminded that this is how we build community: With kindness, patience and celebration of nature.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with elementary and middle school students this year through Growing Together, a project of Soil Born Farms. At Pacific Elementary School, the students are so excited to be part of the garden that between 15 and 20 students come during their lunch period and recess to help us work, promising to return the next time we’re there. During our formal classes, we teach garden lessons that relate to science, math, art, literature, and critical thinking but some of the very best moments come during our free time together. I share with students why I love to work in the garden and in turn, get to hear why they love it too; some say it began with a mom, aunt, or grandfather but for some this is the very first time they’ve sown a seed and watched it grow. They are immensely excited, proud and empowered. It fills me with gratitude and humility that I get to show them the magic that’s to be found in our garden and nature spaces. ~Brit Schneider
After 31/2 years working at Soil Born, I’m now the girl who has been here “forever,” according to some farm stand patrons. With all the changes constantly happening at the farm, I feel honored to have been around to witness the comings and goings, the property improvements and the changing seasons of the farm. This year I was able to share and see the farm in a new way with many people in my life: My high school friend who came back to California after 10 years on the East Coast, a new pal who had heard about Soil Born but never visited, my in-laws who listen to me talk about this place every time I see them. Listening to their perspectives of Soil Born and taking them around to meet the pigs, sheep and cows (my favorite thing to do with visitors) provides me with a refreshed perspective, reconnection to the farm and a sense of pride in the work we do. It is a place I am so glad exists and am blessed to be a part of. ~Callie Urner, Financial Manager
In my first season as an assistant farm manager at Soil Born Farms, I have had the privilege to work alongside a bright, fun, and loving group of farmers and colleagues, and feel extremely fortunate to work with a great cohort of apprentices. They all taught me so much as an educator and farm manager this season. One of my favorite parts of my job is being involved in the learning process for beginning farmers, in the field and in the classroom. I love sharing in the learning experience, as apprentices develop new skills, build interests and refine areas of expertise. I’ve enjoyed joining apprentices from Soil Born and other farming programs in the area on field trips to other farms.
I’ve been impressed how apprentices, by the end of the season, are able to lead volunteers and work-traders in complex farming tasks that they had done for the first time only a few months earlier. It’s a magical experience being able to watch people come into their own and step into new roles and responsibilities. I’m excited about this coming year when I’ll be more involved with apprentice education and curriculum. I look forward to building a new space for beginning farmers to learn, grow, and share their knowledge and experiences with others, as well as grow into new roles as organic farmers. It’s so fun to see apprentices get comfortable using farm tools, harvesting crops, and learning a whole new language that centers around producing delicious, affordable, and sustainably-produced food. I’m grateful to be a part of this learning process as a member of the Soil Born team. ~Clara Villalobos Andino, Farmer Education Manager