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.
Soil Born attracts an incredibly diverse demographic of volunteers. One such group consisted of teens who were at the farm because they did something bad. I am unsure if objectionable behavior got them into community service work, but they certainly arrived with objectionable attitudes. Our task was to weed winter squash and harvest cabbage. “We have to weed all of this?” “We have to pick up cabbages by hand?” “My shoes will get dirty!” “This sucks…” I hear similar lines of questioning quite often with volunteer groups, but these complaints were tainted by a particular flavor of exceptional disdain. After a few minutes, huffs and puffs, and several unmentionable expletives, the group narrative began to change. Demeanors grew taller, complaints turned to compliments, helping hands were offered and courteous hard-working contributors began to emerge. “I could do this every day.” “Careful! Let me help you with that.” “I love cabbage!” Farm work is honest. It is indiscriminate and deep in our constitutions. At times, a little coaxing is required to re-remember the ethic but once engaged, it is transformative. I am grateful for the opportunity to play a small role in injecting positivity into our community. ~Tyler Stowers, Farm Manager
Soil Born Farms is fortunate to have the newly restored habitat of Cordova Creek as a resource. It is a beautiful place that offers many educational opportunities. In the spring, we took a class of thirty 3rd graders from White Rock Elementary School down to the creek and led them in a Sit Spot activity. Sit Spot is very simple: kids find a spot to sit by themselves quietly for a short duration of time without any directions other than to be in their spot. They can listen to the birds, count ants marching by or lie down and look at the clouds, it is entirely up to them. The kids dispersed to the creek bed and native plant area and each found a spot to call their own for the next 20 minutes. When we called them back from their spot and asked them to share out how they felt about their Sit Spot, we were deeply moved by the things they said. “It felt like nature was talking to me.” “Sitting by the creek helps me go to my calm place.” “I felt like a spirit animal.” “I like sit spot because I can actually hear myself think.” “When people have passed away, it feels like they’re here with us in this spot.” “At home I sit in my room by myself but this has changed me—now I want to go outside.” To get 3rd-graders, or anyone for that matter, to sit still for that long can be a challenging task but the babbling creek, the soft breeze and the endless shades of green have a magical way of calming us down and getting us grounded into our place, wherever that may be. We do Sit Spot often in the Roots and Wings Youth Education program because it is an incredibly effective way to get people connected to a place and we believe that connection is a strong foundation for creating stewards of this planet. Hearing the reactions from these young students was a potent reminder of why letting kids simply be in nature is important both for them and for our earth. ~Alyssa Kassner, Youth Education Assistant Manager
This November, leading into the season celebrating gratitude and community, we hosted a tree planting event in the Fruitridge Manor neighborhood. We designated a group of volunteers as on-site planters who worked to plant over 30 fruit trees at a new urban farm in South Sacramento. There were also two community groups who caravaned into the neighborhood to plant trees in back and front-yards. It was my role to facilitate a community planting group and to work with three incredible volunteers. At our first home planting location we met an engaged couple and their mother and we worked together to plant and mulch five trees. While we dug holes, we laughed in amazement at the power of bermuda grass and old tree roots, we shared our family histories and we sang the praises of fall colors and early season storms that softened the soil. While tucking in the final tree with “secret sauce” compost and woodchip mulch, we heard excited barking inside the house and before we could ask what kind of dog the homeowners had, two cute corgis sprinted through the back-door and into the yard. They ran circles around the space, sniffing the freshly turned soil, barking at their new trees and welcomed our volunteer group with unconditional love and joy. Everyone in the yard broke into laughter and chased down the corgis to pet them and thank them for coming out to say hi. Planting trees can be difficult at times—there are heavy tools, hard soils, and dirty jobs—but it’s shared experiences with volunteers, homeowners and their wonderful pets that bring so much joy to this work. ~Nick Anicich, Neighborhood Manager
Connecting with Nature
Digging deeper and deeper into the depths of the earth
Closer and closer to our core, our roots, our bond of humanity and nature
Civilization and wilderness
Order and chaos
Intellect and instinct
Connecting our bodies, minds and souls to the natural rhythms of the seasons
Guiding us to our primordial origins
Seeking truth, wisdom and renewal
Providing tools, resources, guidance and inspiration for discovering your journey in the natural world
Back to the land, to the beginning where earth wisdom was honored and celebrated
To the present challenge of balancing the scales of industrialization and the old ways
To the future of inner and planetary transformation
We are honored to guide you on your journey.
~Adriana Jones, Adult Education Coordinator
This year’s Autumn Equinox Celebration felt very special to me. I was proud of what we accomplished as a team; we made the farm shine. I got to spend a lot of time near the event entrance pouring drink samples. I had hundreds of interactions with our supporters from a quick, “What beer would you like to try?” to longer conversations about our Farmstand remodel and reminiscing how Soil Born has grown over the years. As one of the staff members who has now been here the longest, I have history with many of our supporters and we have a shared history of the American River Ranch. Soil Born Farm and all its supporters have a special place in my heart; my life has been enhanced by my time here. Thank you, our wide and generous community, for your financial backing of Soil Born Farm. With your support, we hope to continue enriching your lives and our community for decades to come. ~Callie Urner, Financial Manager
Working in the school gardens there are many stories to tell. Students’ lives are being affected daily by this work. I would like to share a common story that I heard from students from a variety of schools and backgrounds. A student from Oak Ridge told me that she dreams to build a garden at her home that her dad would love. He works long days and doesn’t have time to take care of a garden. She would fill the garden with her dad’s favorite peppers so they could cook their spicy chicken recipe together. Then she would add strawberries and carrots and make it beautiful. A boy from Cordova Gardens put his dream into action by pleading for garden space in his backyard and then teaching his family how to plant seeds. After only two weeks of gardening classes, he was ready to accomplish his dream. Two boys from Pacific dream about planting more native plants and flowers in their backyards so they can attract bees and butterflies that are declining due to environmental impacts. Students are taking their garden learning home. These are the voices of change and empowered youth that give me hope. ~Shannon Hardwicke, Youth Education Manager
In the spring, we host Growing Together schools on field trips to the American River Ranch. We take students on a farm tour and do a variety of activities such as making farm fresh snacks, exploring the garden, planting seeds and playing games. During one of these activities I met a boy named Johnny who was exceptionally helpful to his classmates and to me and who was very excited and interested in what was happening in the garden. He knew a lot about many of the topics we covered during the field trip and asked great questions to learn more. At the end of the field trip, I mentioned to the teacher how great Johnny had been. She was happily surprised. As it turns out, Johnny has a hard time in the classroom setting and is often getting in trouble. He had even been given a full-time aid to help manage his classroom behavior. However, in the garden he flourished and found space to shine. It was a perfect example of the healing power of an educational garden and its potential to spark a desire for learning and cooperation. ~Jenn Macleod, Youth Education Assistant
We harvested beets during my third grade class garden time at Oak Ridge Elementary School. Many of the students have had beets before, especially if they were a part of the Soil Born Farm cooking demonstrations. I asked them ways they could eat a beet. Unanimously, kiddos agreed on cutting them in small slices and tossing them into a salad. This is great and super healthy, but beets are super versatile and can be cooked and eaten in many different ways. I informed them that I will turn these beautiful beets they have harvested into Red Velvet Beet Bites. Some of their eyes got big, excited, and others: a confused look on their face. They were amazed that these beets could become a sweet confection and looked forward to trying them. One of my students from the very same class came right back into the garden to tell me about what he wants to make some day. He could not hold it in, he stood nice and tall and drew a deep breath before telling me that he loves lettuce and he wants to make a lettuce cake someday. He wants to become a great cook like his mom and he loves having salad every day, but using only green-leaved lettuce. ~Gao Ly Yang, Youth Education Assistant
It was great to be back in the garden at Ethel I Baker Elementary in September. Last school year I was an intern for the Growing Together program and I really enjoyed being a steady member of their school community. When the school year ended I said my goodbyes to the students and staff assuming someone else would be working with them in the fall. To my surprise and delight, a position opened up at Soil Born on the Youth Education team. I eagerly applied, went through the interview process, and was hired just in time for this school year. The students were surprised and pleased to see me in the garden again this year. The amount of hugs I received made my heart soar. They were excited to show me all the information they had retained from our garden classes last year. They told me about the gardens they grew over the summer and all the delicious foods they tried. Their excitement grew as they explored the garden and found all the amazing food growing. They were especially happy to see the small pumpkin patch that had taken over the citrus orchard. Sunflowers that grew larger than their heads were also a favorite. Building relationships with students is the ultimate gift for me. When I get to campus each day, students tell me about their morning or their weekend and they confide in me when they are sad, frustrated, happy or hungry. They come to the garden to feel better and sometimes to have conflict resolution or to pull out weeds in an effort to release their emotions. They pick flowers to go along with their apologies when they disrupt their class or hurt a friend. They ask what they can do in the garden. I typically have a group of about eight students who work in the garden before school and during their lunch recess. These amazing youth know their garden so well that they tell me what needs to be watered or weeded. They feel ownership of the garden and they make suggestions on things we can grow or build. I am so honored to be able to facilitate this real-life, hands-on learning experience for them. Their school garden is more than a place that grows food; it is the place where youth grow emotionally, intellectually and socially. ~Vanessa Forwood, Youth Education Assistant
Simply by the nature of my job, I end up working on many different projects in many different areas on the farm. Some days I help run field trips and on another day I might work on a compost pile all afternoon. This variety has made the job a joy. Last week I was helping to lead kids through the garden and we turned the tour into a sort of game. Seeing the joy on their faces and hearing their laughter was magical. Later that day, I was taught how to use the leaf blower. Though this was a completely different job from working with kids the moment was just as magical. Trust me when I say that there are few things as exhilarating as having a leaf blower strapped to your back feeling like you can control the air around you. This has been the case with every single job I have had here at Soil Born, whether it be working with kids, or weeding the youth garden, or talking to customers at the Farmstand. I cherish every memory and I feel blessed to be having this experience. ~Abraham Lewis, former Youth Education Assistant
I worked as an Administrative Assistant for my first two years at Soil Born Farms and as a Communications Coordinator and Farmstand manager for the last two years. When I first started, everything and everyone was new to me. This year, I am reflecting on how many people I now know by first name: CSA members, Farmstand customers, volunteers, work traders and returning visitors. It makes my day when I get to make these kind of connections as I spend most of my time in the office or working outside to prepare for the Farmstand. A mother with a young daughter and two sons came to shop and visit nearly every weekend. Sometimes, they brought their birds out to the farm (I think that’s the coolest thing ever). One of her sons made it a point to visit and chat with me each time they came out and eventually we started going on short walks around the farm together or hung out under the grape arbor in the outdoor classroom. He showed me all the tricks his bird could do. I loved laughing with him as we ran or walked around the farm. He also had a lot of farm and animal knowledge and I learned a lot of things from him. In July, I was feeling pretty down because our farm rooster, Home Boy, got eaten by a coyote. The young boy found one of his feathers on the farm and gave it to me to keep because he also had the privilege to know him too. I will never forget the kindness and fun that he and his family showed me while being here. Their visits were a highlight of my year. ~Rebecca Le, Communications Coordinator
What a year it has been! I am so happy to work with all the wonderful people on staff here as well as the community of visitors, volunteers, patrons and farm neighbors. I had the absolute pleasure of leading the field days this summer. The volunteers that showed up every Saturday to help us get our field work done were all wonderful. It was a great experience to be able to share my passion and work with people who are willing to learn and work hard towards a common goal for a good cause. A big motivator in my move to Soil Born was being able to work closely with the farm’s community. It has been fun to be on a farm in an urban setting that works closely with the community it serves and I love sharing the fruits of my labor (literally), my knowledge and my passion. ~Maggie Mason, Field Coordinator
When I was in high school, my friend and I were in charge of organizing a bake sale to raise money for our club. Typically these sales would be set up in the cafeteria during lunch. Instead of a bake sale we decided to hold a healthy food sale to provide an alternative to the fried, greasy choices on the lunch menu. We wrote a letter to the local grocery store asking for a donation of yogurt, fresh veggies and fruits and granola bars. I can still remember walking into the store to talk to the manager, feeling nervous but certain that our idea was a good one. My work today is not so far removed from that early work! I am still submitting requests for donations—organizing grant applications, donor campaigns, and more—to help get more healthy food into more people’s lives. How lucky to find this unique place, Soil Born Farms, that is feeding the idealism of my youth by giving me concrete ways to contribute to the health of our community. We did get the donation of food and our “unbake” sale was a success. Help us make our work a success and consider making a gift this year. ~Melanie Choy, Programs Manager
Soil Born Farms runs on a lot of volunteer energy. I myself came to the farm because I was a regular volunteer at the California Native Plant nursery that is co-located here. Besides volunteers, we also have a work-trade program where people can sign up for a regular work shift and receive a CSA box in return. We staffers count on the infusion of fresh energy and enthusiasm that work-traders bring at least as much as they count on the box of fresh vegetables. I can tell you from personal experience as well as from the stories volunteers tell, that coming to work-trade or volunteer at the farm can be a healing experience. Many of our volunteers are between jobs, facing challenges or big changes in their lives including recent retirements. Coming to work on the farm in the fresh air, hands in the dirt, watching the progress of the seasons and the cycle of growing crops offers a connection that can help keep us moving forward in our lives. One of our work-traders started out as a greenhouse volunteer. She had recently left a busy career and was volunteering not just at Soil Born but also at several other organizations. At first, she was giving away the produce from the CSA box to neighbors because she is not a cook. Gradually, she began to tackle preparing the vegetables and now she is trading recipes and waxing poetic about winter squashes. To me, that’s what it’s all about. ~Alex Morton, Greenhouse Coordinator
The Farmstand patrons have provided the highlight of my experience at Soil Born this year. Over the years working here, I have seen families return and their children grow older. One of the regular customers took the Herbalist Course here at the farm and gave me a sample of his homemade salve to share with the farm team. Another customer was en route to Paris after her Farmstand visit and we engaged in a short conversation in French. I have enjoyed a myriad of conversations about how to prepare items found at the Farmstand: from how to use culinary herbs and varieties of winter squash to how to turn fruits into jams. ~Alicia Baddorf, former Field and Pack Coordinator
Helping prepare food has been part of my life for as long I can remember. Whether it was making my great grandmother’s handmade ravioli recipe with my grandmother as a child, being the family salad creator for my mother or harvesting fresh tomatoes and cucumbers out of my father’s home garden to make us all a snack before dinner; I have always enjoyed working with food. I never really knew how lucky I was to be introduced to cooking at such a young age. It was not until I graduated with a degree in Food and Nutrition and started working at Soil Born Farms that I really developed my passion for healthy food and taking cooking to another level. I became more confident in the kitchen, more knowledgeable about cooking locally and with the seasons and my vegetable vocabulary expanded immensely. I started off by cooking lunches for our farmers and staff, planning menus for our large food events, creating recipes for our weekly cooking demonstrations and doing various food preservation projects. I am now teaching our Out-of-the-CSA-Box cooking classes, visiting the senior center to conduct cooking demonstrations and my favorite cooking with youth. I am very thankful that I get to work in a place where I can share my passion and pass on what I have learned to individuals of all ages. Knowing how to prepare nutritious, local, seasonal foods will help keep our community strong, healthy and vibrant. My focus for the next year is to continue sharing my passion of food by teaching youth, families and seniors how to cook simple, delicious and healthful meals that the whole family can enjoy. ~Michelle Sikora, Kitchen and Nutrition Coordinator
As the administrative assistant, it is easy to get caught up in my office work. At least once during my day I’ll step outside the office and take a walk around the farm where I am reminded of the amazing effect a team of passionate people can have on the community. One of my favorite moments from this past year was seeing a group of children on a field trip in the field amongst the herb hedgerows. Our youth education staff whispered something to the children. Suddenly the group yelled “Thank you farmers!” The farmers harvesting crops on the other side of the field stopped what they were doing and waved back with smiles on their faces. It is these small moments where the connection between the land and the people who grow our food is fostered. It is through your support that we are able to provide an environment where the youngest in our community can learn about food and the natural environment. ~Nicole Carpenter, Administrative Assistant
In the early years of Soil Born Farms, Marco Franciosa and I started to reach out to as many contacts in the community as we could to help advance the project. One of our most significant conversations came in the oddest and ultimately most synergistic of ways. One of Marco’s family friends suggested that he introduce us to a local prominent developer who might be able to help. On the chosen day, Marco and I were asked to go to the Blue Cue bar in midtown and wait for a call. The call came and we were instructed to walk across the street to Biba’s and join the developer for an impromptu meet and greet. After exchanging greetings, our conversation turned to the project. At the time we were hoping for possible assistance with some used farm equipment or perhaps if we were really lucky a piece of land? As luck would have it, it was at this meeting that we first heard of a piece of ground that might be available on the American River. At the time, no immediate bells of recognition went off about this property, we just filed the information away and continued about our business. Fast forward two years in 2003 when Janet Zeller, Marco and I started our visioning activities for a permanent home for the project. The information from this earlier meeting about the ranch popped back into our consciousness and we decided to dig a little deeper. We revisited our visioning board. Swimming hole. Check. Permanently protected. Check. Close to schools and public transportation. Check. Large enough to grow more healthy food. Check. Check. Check.
This is where it gets really strange. I honestly believe that the spirit of the American River has somehow woven its web around many people over the years in order to help serve its grand purpose and by design, shape theirs. Mine seems to be one of those stories. It just never clicked to me where this property was located. On my visit to the Ranch though, everything came into focus very quickly. I knew this place. Almost all of my spare time up to the age of 20 was spent exploring the middle stretches of the American River. My childhood home backed up to fields that stretched unencumbered down to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center and the American River. My daily activities were filled with fishing, riding bikes, hiking and swimming down at the river. The American River Ranch is on the South side of the river, directly across from the section of river that served as the epicenter for most of my most cherished childhood experiences. In fact, my “spot” is literally a stones throw from our agricultural pump, along a small fork in the river. The energy of this spot where I could sit, think and be alone helped me navigate the sometime angst of growing up. It’s the same spot where I would later ask my wife to marry me. It’s the stretch that I ran, fished, and swam. As it turns out, it’s the same stretch that many of my family members grew up near when they were children. My uncle remembers getting in trouble with the farmer for doing donuts in his pear orchard. It’s a short 5-minute walk from the family home where my wife grew up and both of her brothers worked picking pears on the farm during the summer. I’ll stop there, but you get the point. It certainly felt then, and continues to feel now, that this was a place we were meant to be. It feels exactly like the river helped shape, heal and teach me to love and care for the earth, and now it is my role to help nurture the American River Ranch so that it can help do the same for future generations. ~Shawn Harrison, Founder & Co-Director
It always feels good to take a moment for reflection and gratitude. Part of my job is looking ahead and helping to bring more of our dreams and intentions for Soil Born Farms and the American River Ranch to life little by little and step by step. I often joke that the vision Shawn and I have held for our organization since the beginning is enough work to keep us busy for many lifetimes. Patience is one of the lessons this project has taught me along with so many others especially the value of perseverance and holding an intention though challenging times.
As anyone working in the nonprofit world will attest to, often the needs and opportunities to serve the greater good are restrained by a shortage of financial resources not by a lack of passion or dedication for the work. On the flip side, people who are drawn to work, volunteer and donate to nonprofits are what make this work so rewarding. It comes down to people. Soil Born Farms is extremely blessed to have so many incredible staff members, volunteers, community partners and generous donors who make it possible to continue our important work and take steps to transform a neglected piece of property into a legacy project that will benefit our community today and generations for years to come.
This year our vision for Saturdays at the Farm came to life before our eyes. Each week, we welcomed new visitors and friends to the American River Ranch. Our plan is to make this beautiful place a destination point for all ages to come reconnect with nature, see food growing in the field and on trees, take classes, volunteer, play, explore, listen to local musicians and meet up with friends and neighbors. It warms my heart to see multi-generations and diversity of the Sacramento region represented in those who come to the farm. One day, I met a young family visiting for their first time. They brought their parents who are farmers in India and wanted to visit an organic farm. I love to hear stories from Farmstand shoppers about how much they enjoy the seasonal produce we sell and how our demo team inspired them to try healthy vegetable recipes at home.
Sometimes when I feel weary, just the thought of smiling faces and the positive feedback we receive from the people we serve and from those who make our work possible, fill me with enough energy to last several lifetimes! Thank you so much for sharing the vision of Soil Born Farms and for encouraging us with your love and support. We can’t do it without you. I hope you will plan a visit to the American River Ranch this winter or early spring and experience the joy for yourself. ~Janet Zeller, Founder & Co-Director