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.
From preschoolers to retirees to Malaysian student athletes, the interactions I’ve had at Soil Born have been numerous and robust—and I still haven’t been here a full year. I’ve answered questions about fruit tree health, guided tours, and even encouraged soil-phobics to try and see what all this playin’-in-the-dirt business is all about. I’ve worn many hats in my short time at the ranch but it’s been my role as farmer educator that has left the greatest impression. Every season Soil Born hosts a group of apprentices to participate in our farmer training program. I’m concluding my first year and thus, witnessing the harvest of planting the seeds of farming lifestyle in the brains of impressionable and eager young farmers. What I mean to say is this season allowed me to witness the full transition of zero to one. Young people entered the gates with little to no farming experience and over the course of a growing season, now have marketable skills that will allow them to pursue their farming dreams. Shaping the young minds of aspiring farmers is a role and responsibility that I don’t take lightly. I am forever grateful to be afforded the opportunity to do so. ~Tyler Stowers, 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
Creating healthy connections and relationships between people, their community and the land they share is at the heart of everything we do at Soil Born Farms. With our edible city programs, like the annual Citrus Season community harvest events, I get to bring that mission out into the amazingly unique neighborhoods of the Sacramento area, considered among the most diverse and integrated in the country. Many of you may have visited Soil Born’s original farm in the Arcade area at some point during the past 17 seasons in which we’ve grown food on that land, but you may not have known that the neighborhood around the farm has long been a home to refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries.
Each year we host a Citrus Season event at the Hurley Farm, and during this past season’s event we were informed that coinciding with our harvest was the graduation ceremony for a Saturday school English Language program for the children of these refugees, occurring at the adjacent Thomas Edison Elementary school campus. We sent word to the principal and invited the families to join us at the end of the harvest to take some of the gleaned citrus home with them. While awaiting the return of the six harvest groups which were gleaning citrus from nearby homes that day, I was approached by two young Iraqi girls—12 year old twin sisters—inquiring about the available fruit. I told them it was still being harvested and invited them to wait with me. While we waited I told them about Harvest Sacramento, they shared some of their story with me, and we made plans for how we would work together to share the incoming harvest with the dozens of refugee families who were congregating nearby. As the harvest groups returned the girls went to work, helping to unload the fruit, distribute bags to the families and most importantly, translate instructions to the adults, many of whom spoke little English. As they helped one grateful family after another fill bags with citrus fruit their eyes got brighter, their smiles bigger and their joy more infectious. They helped to distribute over 2,000 lbs of citrus to the refugee families and had an even bigger impact on the Harvest Sacramento volunteers and I who had the pleasure of working with them.
While there are many ways we choose to divide ourselves these days, I’ve always found food a superb way to move through those perceived barriers—be they political, cultural, racial, linguistic, class, etc—and create connections based on simple, near universally shared values. Whether we’re gleaning fruit, building gardens, or planting fruit trees, what we’re always doing is building community and cultivating our edible city vision for the future we want to see realized for all of Sacramento diverse residents. Healthy land, healthy food, healthy communities. ~Dominic Allamano, Edible City Coordinator
As the Adult Education Coordinator, I interact with instructors, students, staff and the public daily, which continually fulfills my desire to serve our community. We offer a diverse selection of gardening, cooking, herbal studies, animal husbandry and nature classes to inspire everyone in our community to participate in a local sustainable food system. Our classes teach adults how to grow their own food; how to cook what they have grown; how to identify, grow and use herbs for health and wellness; how to raise backyard chickens for egg production and soil fertility; and how to connect with nature and become stewards of the land. The skills we teach go beyond self-reliance and environmental stewardship. With every interaction we open a world of possibilities to people who may never have had access to the beauty, wisdom and innate knowledge that our natural environment provides. One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job is offering our classes at affordable prices, so everyone in our community can have better access to an earth-based education. We offer most of our 3 hour discussion and hands-on classes at just $25 per class. Our Cooking Out of the CSA Box classes are just $10 each. Multi-class courses, such as the Family Herbalist and the Beginning Home Gardener, are offered at early bird registration discounts. We also offer free gardening classes in our spring and fall gardening clinics, which attract hundreds of people in our community who may otherwise not had the opportunity to participate in these education experiences. It’s my passion to continue providing underserved areas in our community the access to participate in our Adult Education program. Thank you to our supporters, donors, community leaders and staff for providing the resources that enrich our Adult Education program to better serve the needs of everyone in our community. ~Adriana Jones, Adult Education Coordinator
This year at the farm has, at times, seemed to simultaneously drag on and fly by. It has been a year of transition as we added a new administrative team member, which in turn shifted duties around the office and provided some of us opportunities to take on new responsibilities and grow. It has been a year of learning how my team members operate, learning how to best work with and support them and how to request what I need from them. I think the comradery we share and enjoyment we get out of working with each other is displayed in the work we do and the way we interact with the public. We care for each other, we care for the land and animals, we care about Soil Born and we care about you and our community. Thank you for supporting us in so many ways! ~Callie Urner, Financial Manager
At Oakridge Elementary School the 4th grade students partnered with kindergarten students to help plant a garden in the kinder yard. The 4th graders served as mentors for the new little gardeners and shared all they have learned in their own school garden. The experience was new to many of the 4th graders as well as kinders and one boy was unwilling to touch the soil. His comment, “I won’t touch that worm poop!” He was adamant. We had some discussion about whether he likes to eat and where he thought that food might come from. He was shocked to recognize that almost every food he listed had come connection to the soil in front of him. After some thought he placed his hands in the soil and began to put seeds in the ground. When it was time for the students to leave he was begging for more seeds and a chance to stay and work.
On a recent seed scavenger hunt around a school campus students discovered the multitude of nature’s seeds and all their beautiful packets. One boy that has a hard time focusing in class and is often off task found the seed hunt to be exciting. He examined every shape and size of seed we found, asked questions and led others students to find more. As we wrapped up our lesson this particular student came to me and using a gentle calm voice that I hadn’t heard from him before said, I really enjoyed this lesson today and I hope you will back to take us to the garden again very soon.
Moving students through the garden in large groups can be a whirlwind. At the school campuses we often take 150 students through a garden in less than 3 hours. Needless to say the plants and seeds need a little repair work after a session like that. As we replanted the garden at Ethel Baker this year I was working with 5 students that had earned lunchtime privileges to be in the garden. We were planting delicate items like onions and beets. As the lunch bell rang, one student approached me concerned that her nails were full of dirt. I shared with the students that the soil they were working in would help their immune systems and would also increase their ability to concentrate in class, as reported in various scientific studies. I turned around to shut off the water and when I turned back around, the group of 5 students had circled up around a garden bed and they were attempting to breathe in the smell of the soil, as if the aroma would make them smarter on the spot. Who knows, maybe it did.
The goal of Growing Together is to increase students leadership skills and impact the students in a way that the knowledge they gain will stay with them through junior high, high school and beyond. Recently, we started work with Fern Bacon. Many of the students we work with at elementary schools move on to attend this middle school. One of our teacher partners shared how she started the garden club on campus. It turns out some of our former students were the motivation behind this. Many students had been asking about garden club for weeks and decided to ask and find out why. The students began to list all the reasons the garden at their elementary school had affected them. These same students, when asked, began to dream about the potential of a green space right outside their classroom. They were able to look at the space and see natives, butterfly attractors, raised beds and dynamic learning spaces. These dreams were born from the seeds that were planted at elementary school. ~Shannon Hardwicke, Growing Together Manager
This past year, I got one of those activity trackers which forced me get out from behind my desk and walk the farm more. And although I’m closing in on my two-year mark at the farm, this past year, I saw the ranch through different eyes. I was able to spend more time viewing the animals. I inhaled the various seasonal scents of our plants and the trees – and the compost! I observed how the vibe of our Farmstand and it’s visitors would fluctuate from spring to autumn. I noticed that our play area never seemed to tire of little visitors. I watched the farm transform with additional fencing and infrastructure. I witnessed a staff that always rallied when large events were on the horizon and a weary fundraising staff become suddenly charged by a generous donor. I witnessed a wild fire of poppies, an abundance of annoying Johnson and Bermuda grasses and new herb gardens. This year, I felt more connected to the farm, the staff and to my position. I felt growth on all levels. Sometimes, I get caught up in all the farm projects I wasn’t able to organize or complete. Now I know that all I need to do at that moment is get up from my desk, find a quiet spot on the farm and look around. ~Andrea Jaggers, Project Manager
I have pictures taped all over the bookshelf on my desk. They are of past apprentices, co-workers, sunrises over the field and, of course, animals. Sometimes I take a moment to look at the pictures and just sit, allowing myself to relive those moments. Over the past 6 years at Soil Born, I’ve spent a lot of time with my field co-workers and the apprentices. It’s been a changing cast of crew members as the years have gone on and each player has brought something different to the farm. Though there were ups and downs, in some small way, we all helped shape each other into who we are today. I’ve kept in contact with some of those that have come and gone, some are my closest friends.I can see how different I am from my first day here until today and I have all of them to thank for that. I know that without Soil Born we may have never crossed paths and shared the moments that we did. I hope they all know the kind of impact they have had on me and I can only hope that I had some impact on them. Your contributions to Soil Born Farms helps make these types of life changing interactions happen ~Elle Huftill-Balzer, Farm Manager
I’m the Communications Coordinator for Soil Born Farms and this allows me the opportunity to be involved with many different aspects of our organization. I am the Farmstand Manager and coordinate the CSA program. I help with the website, community events and education activities, assist our Co-Directors and much more! Soil Born Farms is such a special place that brings together so many people. Such as our dedicated hard working volunteers and people of all ages that have similar ideologies of life: love for the environment, local healthy food and good intentions. I have the pleasure of being able to interact with new and regular Farmstand customers. I like to ask how someone heard about the Farmstand. Some say from seeing our Farmstand cow signs around the neighborhood or word of mouth from a friend or family member or by taking a class on our farm for the first time. I really like the many ways that people discover our farm and then instantly want to come back again and again. I’ve worked here long enough to begin to recognize the level of involvement some of our regular customers have with us because they not only visit the farm and shop, but they participate in our fundraisers, events and/or classes because they have interest and support the goals that we are trying to accomplish for our community. There are many improvements and changes ahead for Soil Born Farms. The best way to stay informed is to subscribe to our On the Horizon e-mail newsletter. Please continue to share this special place with your friends and family. We couldn’t share our vision without all of you!. ~Rebecca Le, Communications Coordinator
At our last Farmstand, a group of girl scouts came by to interview some of the Soil Born staff. They had been talking to women in different professions about how they had chosen their professional paths and how they got there. They were eager to learn about my passion for farming and farmer education. They seemed particularly excited when I shared that I was going to a Women in Agriculture conference, where I was going to share and learn with other farmer women. It was really empowering to have the next generation of women be curious and excited to know more about different career options. When they left I thought about how maybe in the future, one of them would be an apprentice on the farm. This thought further confirmed my desire to teach the next generation of farmers in California. Your continual support to Soil Born Farms help trains the next generation of food growers, land stewards and community builders. ~Clara Villalobos Andino, Farmer Education Manager
I work in five schools in South Sacramento and often weave the practice of gratitude into my classes. There are many wonderful things I hear but my favorite are about students and the way they see themselves in their community. ‘I’m thankful I get to grow food and eat it,’ ‘I’m thankful for teaching other students how important bees are,’ and ‘I’m thankful for making a difference.’ Every time I hear one of these comments, I know we are working towards thoughtfully raising the next generation of land stewards and leaders. This work is made possible by the generosity of people that support Soil Born Farms. I deeply appreciate it and know my students do too. ~Brit Schneider, Community Education Coordinator
In conversation, my children often call Soil Born Farms “my farm” or “Mom’s farm,” and I explain to whomever they’ve just spoken with that it’s not actually MY farm, just where I work. But as I sit here reflecting on the role the farm plays in my life and in my community, I must admit that it is my farm. Elle and Tyler and all of our farm team grow the food I feed my family. Alyssa and our Youth Education team have given my daughter magical Summer Day Camp days. Dominic and Harvest Sacramento have organized fruit harvests in my neighborhood. The farm itself connects me to the land, even as I sit at my desk in the office! I look out onto the newly planted beds of lettuce, I walk outside to share lunch with my friends and colleagues, and am thankful to have a place such as this. This farm could be “my farm” even if I didn’t work here (thankfully I do!). I ask that no matter where you work or whose farm you consider this to be, you will consider making a donation to help however you can, because its truly more than my farm, or your farm, or your neighbor’s farm, but our community farm. ~Melanie Choy, Programs Manager
I truly enjoy when students come out to learn and see the many exciting things happening out here at the ranch. One group in particular has stuck with me, as they were a group of high school students who were tasked with designing an urban farm. As we toured the ranch, I was impressed with the level of questions, enthusiasm and interest in agriculture brought forward by this whole group. Whether it was asking about Bermuda grass, pigs or farm layout they seemed genuinely intrigued by the prospects of farming. As a young and relatively new farmer myself, it was heartwarming and inspiring to see another generation take an interest in where their food comes from. This is why it is so important to have places like Soil Born Farms that serve as beacons of education and prospect in our communities, and connect food, health and the environment for those who may not have the means to. ~Scott Dunbar, Ranch Coordinator
This past year and a half has flown by as I’ve been communicating with our supporters and adding value to an already strong fundraising program that was in place here at Soil Born Farms. One of my favorite things to do in my work is thanking our supporters. What I’ve found through that process is that our donors enjoy giving to us and feel good about doing so. Gratitude has a great way of positively affecting everyone around you. It’s practically contagious and has somewhat of a boomerang effect, which is illustrated by this response I just received from a recent donor: “You’re welcome, Liz! And I should be the one thanking YOU for you all you for our community via Soil Born Farms. You guys are one of a kind.” Wow! I get to work at a place that inspires such responses. How lucky am I? We have an amazing group of supporters who are active part of a community that is changing lives by reducing hunger and improving the health and wellness of our community and ultimately, our world. I feel very fortunate to be interfacing with amazing generous people, working alongside our hardworking staff and to have a job where I get to practice gratitude each and every day. ~Liz Shahbazian, Development Manager
Four years ago I was starting my farming apprenticeship with Soil Born Farms. One of the first projects we were assigned to was laying out irrigation in the outdoor classroom. I had never done anything like this before. I didn’t know what a “tee” or an “elbow” was, let alone a coupler or a ball valve. I have come leaps and bounds from that day—from my first year of farming, a year running the Farm on Hurley Way, and two years working at the American River Ranch, I am equipped with the skills that enable me to teach others what I once learned here myself. What keeps things fresh for me, is that I keep learning every day. This winter I have been diving into pack area improvement projects—fixing tables, building vegetable washing/drainage systems, fixing pallet jacks (trying), installing shelving. The list is endless and every project is an adventure. I am grateful that Soil Born gives me the space to keep learning. Especially as a woman, I feel empowered when I get to use a drill or a skill saw, and build something that makes our work more efficient and impactful. I look forward to the many challenges and learning experiences ahead. ~Alicia Baddorf, Field and Pack Coordinator
Cooking in the garden is a wonderful and different way for students to learn about respect, teamwork and trying new things. I have had the most wonderful experiences this year visiting our partnering elementary schools who have been involved with our Growing Together program. Each of the school gardens look beautiful, loved and cared for. I have the privilege of cooking with the classes who help tend their cherished gardens. The day starts with our team of staff and volunteers arriving early to set up the cooking activities as we anxiously await our first class to arrive. We know it is show time when we can all hear the excitement and laughter coming towards the garden. The class is split into small work groups where each student has an important role in preparing a part of our meal that we all share at the end. The student’s enthusiasm and desire to participate is contagious and the teamwork and sharing I see fills me with pride. After each group finishes their portion of the meal we all come together to share gratitude, ask the students to tell the rest of the class what they made, and then enjoy the meal together. It is an amazing feeling to see everyone gather around the table to share the bounty of their garden and what we’ve accomplished together. I have had teachers tell me that students who normally argue are working together in peace and some students who never want to participate are the first to raise their hand to help. I am so grateful for these experiences and I am looking forward to next year where I will see the same students return to the garden to cook with me again. ~Michelle Sikora, Kitchen and Nutrition Coordinator
One of the many privileges that come with working at the American River Ranch is interacting with kids from the community that visit for field trips. I remember a particular group of 6th graders that recently helped us plant our garlic. These kids were so eager to be set free in the field with the seeds. After carefully explaining to the kids how to specifically plant the seed right side up and 6 inches apart, they snatched the seeds and jolted into the work. I was amazed at how quickly these kids planted over 2,000ft of garlic with attention to detail. I quickly noticed the different groups coming up with different systems that worked better for them. It was great to see kids working together as a team to find more efficient ways to plant the seed. These are the types of interactions that not only brighten my day, but bring hope that our future generations will be more connected to their food and the land it comes from. ~Justin Roberts, Second Year Apprentice
I started at Soil Born as a second year apprentice six years ago and I have grown into a Program Manager for the Edible City and the Greenhouse. I will be leaving Soil Born at the end of December. It is hard for me to articulate how much working with this community has meant to me. I have had the chance to work with bright and excited apprentices, countless devoted volunteers, dedicated staff, resilient community leaders, and inspiring teachers. Being a part of the Soil Born community has changed my life in so many ways. I want to thank everyone for the opportunity to touch your lives and hope that you all continue to grow and deepen your connection food, health, and the environment. ~Michele Ranieri, Greenhouse and Edible City Manager
I am thankful to be part of an organization where I get to watch our communities develop relationships with their local food systems and the plants that produce our food. I had the pleasure of working at our Fall Garden Clinic plant sale in September. Everyone had something to share about the plants they were taking home. A lady told me her grandma would make tea out of comfrey and that she couldn’t find the plant anywhere else, a couple talked about their sensory garden they’ve spent the past several years working on, a volunteer discussed the best ways to defend winter greens from slugs, kids were zooming around with excitement after being told they could choose their very own plant. What I love most about plant sales is knowing that dozens of gardeners in our neighborhoods are growing their own food, forming herb gardens, and helping create healthier communities. Home gardeners may not think of themselves as agents of change, but increasing access to healthy food can be as generous as growing food right out of one’s own doorstep and sharing the season’s bounty with a neighbor. ~Nicole Carpenter, Administrative Assistant
One of my favorite things that I have had the opportunity to do this year is work the Soil Born produce stand at the Midtown Farmers Market. Week after week I get the chance to interact with customers about our organic produce, food education and what Soil Born does as an organization. It is such a pleasure of mine to exchange knowledge about specific produce, growing and gardening information and cooking tips with the community in such a great setting as the farmers market. It’s a gift seeing the joy on people’s faces when they are truly excited about buying and eating produce that we’ve grown. Even more amazing is seeing customers interact with each other and encourage one another to try a new vegetable or experiment with a new recipe, when a customer asks a question such as “what is Delicata squash” and another customer responds “oh, it’s my favorite, you have to try it!” or someone wants to know more about Stinging Nettle and another customer tells them how amazing the health benefits of it are without hesitation. I know that I am part of an amazing community who cares about health, organic food and sustainable living as much as we do at Soil Born. Thank you to all the customers (especially the regulars!) that come out on Saturday to the Soil Born stall and make selling vegetables an absolute treat. ~Griffin Cassara, Second Year Apprentice
The day started as you would imagine it would start at a farm; birds chirping, squirrels collecting acorns and the joyous screaming of 35, 3rd graders exiting a bus that had just arrived for a field trip. As we corralled the kids into a giant egg shape that was supposed to be a circle, the children began to curiously shout out a hundred questions a minute. After answering the same question six times, we started doing a clapping rhythm to get their attention. It caught on one by one until every child was quiet and all we could hear was the clapping rhythm. We begin going around the circle and introducing ourselves and sharing our favorite animals. The tallest girl said hers was shrimp and the smallest said hers was a whale. It began to take shape as a day that would go down in the books as an incredible day that I would never forget. After meeting all of the little people and answering the same question as before a few more times, we were off to meet the chickens and the pigs, or as the kids say, “the pickens and the chigs.” After watching Barley (one of our largest pigs) destroy a massive pumpkin for breakfast, we went on to form another egg-shaped circle. It was time to pet a chicken and find out how many 3rd graders spoke fluent chicken. We sang our chickens a song and gave them some freshly harvested kale as snack with a big bowl of hummus and we used our kale to eat every last bit. One child even asked to lick the bowl. As always, hummus was a big hit.
After a snack, we asked the kiddos what they would like to do for 5 minutes and one hand flew up like a rocket. The little girl asked to do what we call sit spot. It’s where the children spread out and find a place to sit by themselves to just observe the world around them silently for five minutes. We had the children spread out and after five minutes had passed, a single howl went out to gather them back together. Thirty-five third graders ran towards us excited to share what they have noticed. After sharing stories of butterfly sightings, birds dancing, bugs crawling and the cool air whistling through the leaves we began our hike to the American River. Down at the river the salmon had begun to swim upstream to spawn. As we descended to the shore we began to see a group of vultures looking for a bite to eat. A true sign of salmon season is the vultures and the fishermen that line the shores. As we ate our lunch on the shore a women that was fishing began looking at us with this look of excitement. She began yelling, “We caught one, we caught one!” Her husband around the bend managed to catch a salmon that was almost four feet in length. He had the salmon on a string so that it would not get away but keep it alive. He then proceeded to walk it like a dog in the water over to us. The children couldn’t contain themselves as the fish walked (swam) towards us. He lifted the fish out of the water and the kids cheered with joy and huddled around, touching the fish and asking questions about fishing and the river. That day, as amazing as it was, doesn’t happen just every once and awhile—it is happening three to five times a week. Watching children be exposed to the outdoor world and having experiences outside the classroom is the sweetest little story I can tell. ~Daniel Montelbetti, Operations Assistant