Enjoy these sweet stories shared by our talented and dedicated staff. Each story is inspired by the work we do to fulfill the mission of Soil Born Farms.
Many times I have found myself wondering out loud if we could have picked an easier place to farm. For all of the blessings the American River Ranch offers for example, it sure seems to have an overabundance of inherited weeds and other pest pressures that humble the well-intentioned farmer. For many years we have struggled with this particular challenge, with seemingly no solution in sight despite our persistent efforts. For those of you who have experienced this in your own garden, you know what I am talking about. You may also know the joy one feels when you sense or experience a breakthrough as a result of your persistence and effort. This year we experienced such a breakthrough at the farm. While we have much to do and learn still, you can imagine the joy we felt just over a year ago when a previously weedy field yielded an amazing crop of yummy garlic. A careful tarping technique to eliminate light to germinating weeds, followed by shallow tilling to reduce the amount of new seeds that we bring to the surface and then finally careful mechanical tillage with a few hand weedings, left us with a beautiful crop. Less weeds, less tilling of the soil, a nutritious crop and most importantly, increased hope that we have landed on a technique that will yield improvements each year with practice and repetition. Thank you to the farming gods for showing us the way! ~Shawn Harrison, Founder & Co-Director
Since the beginning of Soil Born Farms, winter has been a time for us to absorb the lessons from the challenges and obstacles we have faced, an opportunity to gather to celebrate our progress and successes and to reach out to friends of SBF with gratitude. This winter solstice I pause to reflect on the three seasons that have just flown by. The farm at the heart of Soil Born Farms acts as a wise teacher, educating us about the rhythm of nature and demonstrating on a daily basis how growth is supported and challenges are overcome. We also witness the important role of rest and regeneration for the soil and for the people. Acknowledging the changing of the seasons helps me be more in tune with the wisdom of nature’s cycles and to adjust accordingly.
Working at the farm on Saturdays has been a delight. I love seeing people of all ages come from near and far to relax, visit with friends, listen to local musicians perform, take home delicious produce & products from local farms, go on a bird walk with Cliff, take a class, get their hands in the soil volunteering with the farm team and taste the simple, delicious recipes the culinary arts team has cooked up. The vibe is sweet and warms my heart. Our dream to welcome families to Saturdays at the Farm as a place to learn, create memories, connect with the natural world, purchase fresh-from-the-field veggies, inspire healthy eating and living (especially in little ones) is taking shape. Parents tell me that their young children are asking, “can we go to the farm today to get those good vegetables and see the chickens.” For me, this is a dream come true. Creating positive associations that encourage kids to eat their veggies and enjoy non-tech time outside is priceless. We are fortunate to have so many visitors willing to give us feedback so we can do a better job. We add new aspects each year and will continue to do so, starting with more winter pop ups and a longer season for the Farmstand (opening 8 weeks earlier than usual on April 6). Our historic American River Ranch offers visitors unstructured experiential learning and a chance to re-remember—to slow down, breathe and connect with our inner wisdom, a part of nature that will guide us in the direction of health and wellbeing if we take time to listen.
The best six doctors anywhere
And no one can deny it
Are sunshine, water, rest, and air
Exercise and diet.
These six will gladly you attend
If only you are willing
Your mind they’ll ease
Your will they’ll mend
And charge you not a shilling.
~Nursery rhyme quoted by Wayne Fields, What the River Knows, 1990
Thank you for believing in the vision of Soil Born Farms and supporting our work! ~Janet Zeller, Founder & Co-Director
Soil Born attracts an incredibly diverse array of visitors. While the individual intent, context, background etc. behind their decision to visit the ranch varies wildly, what remains constant, uniform, and perhaps predictable, is their reaction. A first time visitor sticks out like a sore thumb. Head up, mouth agape, pointing, observing, absorbing. All of which is followed by questions, exclamations, comments all palpably flavored with excitement. They will say things like, “I never knew this place was here,” or “This place just feels good.” At its core, Soil Born Farms provides an opportunity for folks, urbanites and all, to connect to the natural spaces —particularly food-growing spaces. In my opinion, they are re-remembering what it feels like to make that connection for our existence is preceded by a co-habitation with the living, natural world. I am incredibly lucky to be able to work and learn at a place that provides epiphanic connections with such great quantity and frequency. ~Tyler Stowers, Farm Manager
Our adult education program serves a diverse demographic of people wanting to take classes and courses on a variety of topics to build skills of self-reliance, environmental stewardship and the confidence to grow food for their families. I interact with students almost on a daily basis and particularly enjoy seeing our regular students developing their skill sets: growing herbs and making herbal medicine, raising chickens and beekeeping in their backyards, growing and harvesting produce to cook wholesome meals for their families, creating natural products from their home gardens and ultimately connecting with our land, themselves and each other with each experience they have at American River Ranch. Soil Born Farm’s impact goes beyond meeting the educational needs of our community. We are a nurturing, healing oasis within the urban corridor, a community hub to enjoy, learn and engage. With all of the wonderful people I meet at Soil Born each day, there is one person in particular that stands out as exceptional in her determination to participate in our adult education classes. The woman has a mobility disability which necessitates the use of a scooter. She doesn’t have a car and uses the scooter as her main mode of transportation. Her interests are in taking classes in our herbal studies program. Even though the farm is three miles from where she lives, she drove her scooter to the farm on a crisp chilly early morning determined to fully participate despite her mobility challenge. She arrived on time, in good spirits and ready to get more involved. Your contributions help us continue operating our programs to better serve our community. Thank you for supporting Soil Born Farms and have a wonderful holiday season. ~Adriana Jones, Adult Education Coordinator
My sweetest memory from 2018 brings me back to this summer, having the opportunity to lead our summer Teen Empowerment and Leadership Program. For six weeks, eight teens came out to the farm three times a week to work and learn alongside staff. Watching their transformation over those six weeks was incredibly rewarding. Not only did I witness growth in each individual in their ability to perform the tasks they were given but I could also see the change in their confidence, in their connection with each other and their dedication to being here at the farm to contribute to the project. By far my favorite experience with them was rafting on the American River as an end of season celebration. I will never forget being in the raft with them while they let loose, told silly stories, looked at wildlife and laughed and squealed with delight while swimming in the cold, refreshing water. And best of all, seeing them support each other and work together to make it safely down the river. These teens are absolutely amazing; they are capable, thoughtful, insightful, self-aware and willing to try new things. At a young age they are already dedicating themselves to making the world a better place through their actions. This group truly inspired me and gave me so much hope for the future of our community and our planet. ~Alyssa Kassner, Youth Education Assistant Manager
This year in the school gardens we had the opportunity to start “Salad Bar” gardens. These gardens will grow produce to be served at the school salad bars. Students are caring for these spaces driven by their excitement for the day they will be able to see their produce on the salad bar labeled, “Grown in Your School Garden”! While working in one of these gardens at Pacific Elementary, we planted edible flowers and checked on the progress of our purple broccoli. All of the students were enthusiastic as always, but one student in particular was squealing with delight, expressing such deep joy at the thought of growing purple broccoli for her peers. In the same moment, we were munching on edible flowers that were being planted and the students were eating every available flower they could find. It is this connection to real, beautiful and fresh food that gets kids excited and hopeful for change. These gardens have the power to have lasting impacts on students and their family’s habits and choices. ~Shannon Hardwicke, Youth Education Manager
I am lucky to experience sweet moments daily through my role at Soil Born Farms. A major highlight of my job is working at the Ethel I Baker school garden. I get to spend time with amazing, brilliant and compassionate students who are excited about their knowledge and skills and are ready to share them with their classmates. There are two students who bring me the most joy, Trey Vaughn and Baylina. These two young people are the caretakers of their school garden. They know what is growing, when to water, when to harvest and how to do it. They teach other students how to maintain the garden, what is edible, what smells good, what feels weird and what sounds interesting. These two students find me as soon as I am on campus, at every break they get and even get to take time out of their class to assist me in teaching other classes. They come to me to share successes and hardships from their school day and home-life. I am forever impressed by these two amazing young leaders and I feel lucky to have connected with them as a mentor. ~Vanessa Forwood, Community Education Coordinator
Working alongside children in the garden space is a privilege. They bring so much magic and humor to the garden. They also ask a lot of questions, and those questions are not always about the garden, but they can create the biggest ripples in a pond. One of the most common questions I have been asked since the time I have stepped onto a school campus as a garden educator is, “Are you Hmong?” The children’s reactions when I answer yes, always brings a smile to my face and reaffirms the path I walk. After such an excited reaction and commotion in response to my answer, I’m riddled with more questions like: do you speak Hmong, do you know what this word means, what is your last name, what clan are you from, what is your favorite food, do you know how to kill a chicken and every once in a while I will have a student ask about Hmong folklore. One of the girls who asked me that very same question last year is now a regular in the garden. She greets me with a wave, smile and occasional hugs when I am on campus, which makes me feel welcome and trusted at her school. She is always looking for ways to help, harvest and improve her school garden. She has also developed a sense of respect and responsibility for the garden that has grown this year since learning that I am a Hmong girl, just like her. We share a name, a garden, a culture and a home together, the Earth. ~Gao Ly Yang, Youth Educator
Every year we do a cooking demo with several classes at our Growing Together school sites. This year, we worked with the 4th graders at Pacific Elementary and we focused on broccoli, the produce of the month. I was a little concerned, as broccoli doesn’t historically have a great reputation with kids. We got into small groups and made broccoli soup as well as a ginger sesame broccoli stir fry using vegetables from the school garden. The students were so engaged and excited to learn about cooking. Many of them were cooking for the first time. They were all excited to taste their own creations. When we finished cooking the meals, there wasn’t a spoonful of broccoli soup or stir fry left, they ate it all! This story speaks to the power that a firsthand garden and cooking experience can have when it comes to building healthy habits for the next generation. ~Jenn Macleod, Youth Educator
One of my favorite youth programs at Soil Born Farms is the Exploration field trip series. Classes come to the farm four times during the school year, allowing them to experience the farm throughout the seasons. A 6th grade class was visiting the farm for the second time and we were pulling out the last of the summer peppers and eggplants. Two giggly girls came up to me and it was obvious they were trying to figure out who of the two would ask the question. Finally, “Um, we wanted to know, do you speak another language?” I responded back in Spanish, “Yes, I speak Spanish!” They turned to each other and said, “I knew it!” Then turned to me, “We thought you looked like you speak Spanish! We speak Spanish too. I’ve never had a teacher speak Spanish!” They then went on to tell me about the other students who speak Spanish and that one student just moved from his ranch in Mexico and didn’t speak English, so he might need more help. It was such a cool moment! I would have been mindblown as a 6th grader to have met a teacher who spoke my native language. It reminded me of two very important things: First, representation matters. Second, those connections and relationships with students are, hands down, the most important thing in teaching. Without this, nothing else really matters. ~Jessica Bolaños, Youth Educator
I joined the Youth Education team at the end of the year, and spent my first couple of visits to the Ethel I Baker Elementary getting to know the students I would be working with for the rest of the year. I was running a station for most of the classes where I was supposed to be reviewing the plant life cycle and 6 plant parts with small groups, a nice way to see how much the kids already knew and what we could discover in the future. One group of 3rd graders came and introduced themselves as the “Nature Kindness” team. We sat down on soil but before I could even learn their names, one of the students noticed a small bird chirping around a bush and then it disappeared. Everyone got very excited and quiet, hoping to see the bird again and I explained how being patient and quiet allows birds to feel more comfortable around humans. No one said a word for a whole minute and the bird came back out. We observed the bird and discussed its long, thin beak and what sorts of things it could be eating. We talked about other bird beaks and critters we saw in the garden. The students then initiated a thoughtful discussion on endangered species and deforestation and what things we could do to help out our planet and be kind to nature. It was such a meaningful and compassionate conversation that began before I even learned any of their names or discussed the plan for the station. It just goes to show the power of a teachable moment and how important natural spaces are in education. These kids are going to change the world one day! ~Lacey Carlson, Youth Educator
It is a joy to see people taste freshly harvested organic produce from our farm. In my meal prep classes, students prepare seasonal produce for the week. I like to include lots of greens and we blanch them ahead of time so they can be easily incorporated into just about anything. One Saturday morning during class, the farm manager, Tyler, came in with a mountain of rainbow chard that he had just finished picking. It still had glistening beads of morning dew on it. I will never forget one of my students who had never tried chard before exclaimed, “This is a thing of beauty! I didn’t know vegetables could be so beautiful.” The chard was particularly gorgeous that morning. The piles of leaves became smaller and smaller as the students chopped and blanched, turning the mountains into small balls of cooked green goodness to take home and cook with. A few days later, I received an email from my student with a photo of a delicious white bean and chard soup that she made. Her whole family loved it, kids included. She said that this chard changed her life. That just made me smile! ~Terese Hollander Esperas, Project Manager
Returning to our Growing Together school sites to cook with the students again this school year was an exciting time. Before we begin the cooking activity, I always ask the class if anyone has cooked with Soil Born Farms in their garden before. This year, so many excited and enthusiastic hands raised and it just warmed my heart to see familiar faces. One student said that last year she got to cook with me as a group leader and remembered all four recipes we made. She went on to tell me that she now makes scrambled eggs at home the way we made them in class, with onions, sautéed greens and cheese. Another special moment was with a first grade class at Ethel Barker Elementary. We were at the end of our cooking activity and passing around all of the unique peppers we grew at the farm this year: Habanadas, Jimmy Nardellos, Aji Dulce, Mad Hatters, Topepo Rosso and Islander peppers. One young boy had a Jimmy Nardello pepper in his hands and asked me if he could eat it. Of course I said yes and he took a big bite of the pepper. I asked him what he thought and he gave me a big thumbs up! Next thing you know all of the first-graders were happily snacking on the raw peppers. It is so rewarding to see that these experiences really do have an impact on these kids and that they are gaining an understanding where their food comes from while developing a foundation of culinary skills that they will bring into their lives as they grow older. ~Michelle Sikora, Kitchen and Nutrition Coordinator
This year a lot of energy and focus has gone into expanding our Farmstand. We have increased the months it is open, grown Phoebe’s Tea & Snack Bar and Millie’s Mercantile offerings and incorporated a training program for some wonderful teens. At the same time this expansion is taking place, my visible role during the Farmstand operating hours has decreased. But one recent Saturday I was able to work our Harvest Festival, charged with manning a wreath-making station. This golden-feeling day is galvanized in my mind. It was sunny and warm, lots of families were in attendance and Rod Stinson and his fun band provided the perfect music to hum along to. There were plenty of people interested in making wreaths, attracted by the beautiful display of dried and fresh materials picked by my helpful co-workers. Wreath-making is not necessarily a quick process, so I had time to get to know a little about each person who came to make a wreath and share a bit of myself with them. Through wreath-making, we also got to explore our creativity with one another and provide support for some who were unsure of themselves. In the end, everyone went home with a lovely, custom wreath to enjoy during this holiday season. I hope when they look at their wreaths they will feel feelings of connection to their creative selves, to that lovely day and to me and the other people who spent time creating with them. ~Callie Urner, Financial Manager
This year, I worked my fourth Farmstand season. We have expanded and changed the Farmstand’s look, layout and logistics. Phoebe’s Tea & Snack Bar also expanded and I had the opportunity of being lead through the process of hiring a great crew to run it. Although changing and shifting things around week-to-week to improve or try something better or different has been a little tough to adjust to at times, reflecting towards the end of this season, I can reap the benefits and appreciate all the improvements. We have done a great job and many customers love to stop by and grab a pastry or cold or warm beverage and sit and hang out enjoying live music performed by different musicians each week. Seeing regular and new customers pleased and happy with their foodie purchases allows us to chat with connect more with them too. You can really feel the sense of the strong, loving community that comes out to visit each weekend. Please consider making a small end-of-the-year donation to help us continue expanding the Farmstand which is scheduled to go through a remodel in 2019. ~Rebecca Le, Communications Coordinator
Being an administrative assistant at a farm is truly a unique experience. Though most of my days are spent in the office behind a computer, I often get pulled into other projects around the farm. On Saturdays, I enjoy the opportunity to work as a cashier at the Farmstand. Over this past year, I have had many wonderful interactions with our customers and community members, many of who return week to week and quickly become familiar faces. One of the highlights of the season was when we introduced a six-week Teen Empowerment and Leadership Program this past summer. At the beginning of the program we had the teens try out different positions at the Farmstand to see what they liked doing and how they performed at different jobs. In the beginning, they were very intimidated to talk to customers and stressed out by the fast pace of certain positions. By the end of the program however, they all seemed to have found their niche and were taking on their roles with confidence and purpose. It was awesome to see the teens become more and more confident with their job duties and to see their personalities shine as the weeks progressed. After the program ended, three of the teens returned to work regularly at the Farmstand each week. It is great to see young people come into their own and prove themselves as youth leaders and I am glad that Soil Born Farms is a welcoming space that provides them with these opportunities. ~Laurel Smith, Administrative Assistant
Being new to the organization, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started working at Soil Born Farms. There was a lot of information to take in and many new faces to meet. My third day on the job turned out to be the day of the Autumn Equinox Celebration fundraiser, one of our biggest events of the year, and to say it was intimidating would be an understatement. However, I felt incredibly welcomed as I walked onto the farm, getting greeted by my new Soil Born Farms family. As the day went on and the night came about, I was able to walk around and everything I saw amazed me. With the lights brightening up the sky, I witnessed guests laughing and socializing while the vendors at the tents were conversing and serving out delicious food. The music filled the air and I have never felt so relaxed. I knew at that moment that I was incredibly lucky to be in a community that is as friendly and warm as this one. It was exciting to experience something like this and I look forward to having more experiences to share with others with this organization. ~Kara Ly, Accounting Assistant
Cultivating community through working in the gardens with volunteers has been a highlight for me this season. One beautiful late summer morning, I found myself sitting around a table drinking tea with five adults and a teenage intern discussing health and self-care. They all contributed their experiences working with herbs and teas, lowering stress and actively investing in their own health. Then together, they came to the conclusion that immunity starts in the gut. I sat silently smiling as the conversation built, all directed at one person who expressed an interest and need to use herbs for digestion but was unsure where to start. When our volunteers and customers advocate their experiences to each other so that someone may benefit, it lets me know that we are on path to facilitating a community’s empowerment in their health—spiritually, mentally, and physically. ~Kellan MacKay, Farm Business Coordinator & Staff Herbalist
It has been great to meet so many new faces every week through the Saturday Volunteer Field Days. Not only is it fun to have conversations and get to know everyone, especially the regulars, but the volunteers often provide some simple reminders for me to slow down and enjoy the work. They find intrigue in things that may, at times, seem mundane to me (hand-weeding, for instance…), and offer a fresh perspective through their questions and open minds, ready to learn. From the past two seasons of working Saturday Field Days, I have come away with many sweet stories, but the sentiment is generally the same; sometimes it’s okay—good, even—to slow down, admire your surroundings, ask questions and come back ready for more. ~Maggie Mason, Farmer
One of my favorite experiences this year happened while the farm team moved the big, heavy tarp in the main field. This time was no different, except Maggie found a killdeer nest. Sadly, there was one dead chick, but there was another one still alive and very scared. Maggie swooped in to save the day, gently picked up the chick and moved it to a safe location into the hedgerow where the chick could be reunited with its parents. One of the beautiful things about being on the American River is the ability to see so much wildlife. Throughout the year I have seen foxes, deer, coyotes and a plethora of birds. It’s a true delight to know you have the possibility to see a variety of wildlife throughout the day. ~Jenna Dennis, Farmer Apprentice
Greeting guests as they arrive on Saturdays for Farmstand is always a pleasure for me. It is a chance to connect with our visitors. Some are first-timers even though they may have lived down the street for years. Others are bikers along the American River Parkway that saw our Farmstand sign on the bike trail and decided to stop by for organic coffee, pasties, live music and, of course, great organically-grown produce. I am genuinely pleased to see our guests and tell them what’s new and in season. And to the first-time visitors I meet, I say, “welcome to your new favorite place.” I also enjoy seeing our regular Farmstand customers who stop to chat with me and share their news. Keeping the visitor parking flow moving smoothly and safely is my first priority, but all the handshakes, hugs and high fives make this part of my job pretty sweet. ~Gary Hare, Groundskeeper
This is my first year working with Soil Born Farms and it has been one impactful memory after the next. Working on our community programs, Harvest Sacramento and Neighborwoods Initiative, is fulfilling in and of itself. However, what I am beyond grateful for is the opportunity to work with so many passionate community members. From gleaning and donating thousands of pounds of fruit that would otherwise have gone to waste to planting young fruit trees in neighborhoods and community spaces in South Sacramento, this community of volunteers has made a huge impact. It is truly inspiring to see community supporting community. ~Shiree Rezendes, Edible City Assistant
This November, leading into the season celebrating gratitude and community, we hosted a tree planting event in the Fruitridge Manor neighborhood. We split a group of volunteers into on-site planters, who worked to plant over 30 fruit trees at a new urban farm in South Sacramento, and into two community planting 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 welcoming 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 is shared experiences with volunteers, homeowners and their wonderful pets which bring joy to this work. ~Nick Anicich, Former Edible City 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 with Soil Born. 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. These work-traders are often at the heart of what we do at Soil Born. We staffers count on the infusion of fresh energy and enthusiasm 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 healing connection that can keep us moving forward in our lives. One of our work-traders started out as a greenhouse volunteer who 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 is all about. ~Alex Morton, Former Greenhouse Coordinator