Putting Down Roots
A pair of former apprentices start their own urban farm
By Daniel Barnes
Very few of their neighbors know what Randy Stannard and Sarah McCamman are growing in the backyard of a house on 64th Street. Behind the unassuming and slightly worn Tallac Village neighborhood home, on a 1-acre piece of land stretching all the way back to 65th Street, Stannard and McCamman have transformed a once-neglected yard into a burgeoning urban farm known as Root 64.
Stannard and McCamman met while apprenticing at Soil Born Farms, and they had been searching throughout the greater Sacramento area for a small parcel of land with a move-in-ready house when they found the location in Tallac Village. Escrow closed in August 2017, and the partners immediately started getting the large patch of dried grass behind the house farm-ready, with the goal of harvesting their first crops in time for the Oak Park Farmers
Market in May. “The garlic was the first thing that went in the ground last fall,” says Stannard, who also serves as executive director of Oak Park Sol, a nonprofit that works to create urban farms and community gardens. “We had to put in the irrigation system, and we got that up and running just in time for when we needed water.”
There are now roughly 60 distinct types of herbs and vegetables in the ground at Root 64, several dozen fledgling fruit trees donated by Soil Born Farms and the Sacramento Kings Foundation, and a newly built straw-bale walk-in cooler that will dramatically decrease energy costs. In addition to selling at the Oak Park Farmers Market, Root 64 also partners with a handful of nearby restaurants and caterers to provide the ultimate in farm-to-fork freshness. “There are some really awesome chefs in Sacramento,” says McCamman.
Rebecca Campbell, the co-owner of Sac City Brews Neighborhood Tap House in Tahoe Park, met Stannard when she worked on the board of Oak Park Sol, and she became one of the few chefs to receive Root 64’s initial delivery of produce. “It’s a pretty impressive thing. They have a super-diverse crop plan,” says Campbell, who creates a small menu of seasonal salads almost entirely from the vegetables at Root 64.
In addition to Sac City Brews, Root 64 also supplies organic, hyperlocal herbs and vegetables to nearby businesses OneSpeed Pizza, Magpie Cafe and Rossi Catering & Deli. “We’re trying to do stuff as close to us as we can,” says Stannard. “It’s a mixture of existing relationships and also proximity to the farm.”
Stannard and McCamman walk the field on Monday, then send out an availability list to their partner chefs before hand-delivering special orders and standing orders every Wednesday morning. “The chefs definitely are very supportive,” says Stannard. “It takes a commitment on their end to want to work with small farmers because it takes a little extra work.”
For her part, McCamman is hardly afraid of a little extra work. She didn’t know anything about farming when she first came to Soil Born Farms 10 years ago, but she was driving the tractor within her first month. “In college, I had become interested in food-justice issues, and I also learned how to cook and eat well,” she says. “I found a good community surrounding the farm scene.”
Two years of long, hard days at Soil Born gave McCamman the confidence to start her own operation, Heavy Dirt Farm in Davis. She worked there for six years, building up a following at the Oak Park Farmers Market. “More and more people would come to the farmers market to buy from me,” she says. That made the transition to selling under the Root 64 banner almost seamless. “It’s the same products, and we have the same stall and I have the same tablecloth. It’s just a different sign.”
Stannard believes that the social capital of the contacts he and McCamman made while apprenticing at Soil Born Farms is just as important as the hands-on farm experience. “Many of those apprentices are farming in the region, so we have a good farmer-to-farmer network of friends,” he says. “If we’re looking for resources, we can put out a call to borrow whatever we might need, and somebody in our network probably has it.”
When we spoke in late June, Stannard and McCamman were anticipating late-summer and early-autumn crops of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash. “Usually about mid-July we start seeding stuff in the greenhouse again for fall,” says Stannard. They had yet to decide if they wanted to plant a winter crop at Root 64, as the area tends to flood during the rainy season, but they eventually want to open a neighborhood farm stand.
“We’re not quite at the point where we’re prepared to invite people into our space,” says Stannard. “That’s down the road.”
Daniel Barnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org