Dirt Rich

Soil Born Farms grows nourishing lessons

By Gabrielle Myers
October 2023

Soil Born Farms is the farm in the farm-to-fork capital.

Walking the farm at American River Ranch, off Chase Drive in Rancho Cordova, the bounty and its possibilities present themselves in powerful ways.

First, let’s admire the farm beds, prepared a year or two in advance with cover crops that promote carbon sequestration. Next, here’s an area soon to be planted in tall oaks. Nearby is a restored creek, cleared for salmon and steelhead spawning.

A walkway features hundreds of California native plants. An outdoor classroom is shaded by hanging grape clusters. At the demonstration garden, children find runner beans, sunflowers, peppers and tomatoes flush for picking.

Soil Born Farms, founded by Shawn Harrison and Marco Franciosa in 2000, and joined two years later by Janet Whalen Zeller, is a nonprofit teaching farm. Lessons include how to be responsible land stewards and nourish ourselves with food we grow. The organization has a permanent home next to the American River.

Through a collaboration with nearby Cordova High School and the Folsom Cordova school district, Soil Born is building a barn for cows, pigs, sheep, goats and other animals for students to raise, study and show.

Soil Born helped develop school gardens in Sacramento and Rancho Cordova. The farm supplies greens for students to enjoy at lunch. Seeing the cycle of nourishment helps young people become invested in their health and wellness, Harrison says. He notes, “Through this relationship, they will make better decisions about what to eat.”

Between Sacramento City and Folsom Cordova school districts, about 60,000 students are served. When those students become adults, the impact of early healthy eating will help transform how our community manages its environment and food.

Harrison describes his passion for agricultural as rooted in his family’s struggles with health. “On the health side, we’ve had a lot of diet-related disease in my family,” he says. “Soil Born brings two passions together of caring for the earth and caring for ourselves.”

He continues, “Let’s put a farm in the city, and bring these issues together. Literally put a farm front and center in the urban environment and heavily program it to show people how intimately food, the environment and our health are connected.”

At Soil Born, young adults work as counselors for summer camps, farmworkers, produce packers and culinary team members in Phoebe’s Tea & Snack Bar.

While some teens and young adults are interns receiving credit, most are paid. Many are from lower-income areas. The farm hosts more than 100 classes a year for adults and youth to learn how to garden and farm.

Soon visitors to Soil Born will immerse themselves in an agro-forestry planting of 3 acres of valley and live oaks for acorn flour. There will be native elderberries and wildflowers for medicinal value, a program the farm is developing with United Auburn Indian Community.

Saturday is the busiest time, with Soil Born open to the public from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to pick up online produce orders, visit the snack bar for homemade scones and pastries, wander through the aisles of Mille’s Mercantile for local and sustainably raised dry goods, participate in classes, and visit the demonstration garden and restored American River creek habitat.

Like most nonprofits that survive on donations and grants, Soil Born always seeks financial support. Volunteers with culinary and gardening expertise are welcome to help.

For information, visit soilborn.org.

Gabrielle Myers can be reached at gabriellemyers11@gmail.com. Her latest book of poetry, “Too Many Seeds,” can be ordered from fishinglinepress.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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