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  • Lezlie Sterling / Bee file, June 2012

    An apprentice picks green beans during the summer at Soil Born Farms in Rancho Cordova. Nearby, an amphitheater has sprouted, with big help from Leadership Sacramento.

  • Anne Chadwick Williams / Bee file photo

    Beets and turnips, oh my! Just two of the crops at Soil Born, where more people will be able to gather and learn when the amphitheater is completed. It's due to be dedicated next spring.

Seeds: Growing farm-to-table education in Sacramento

Published: Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3CALIFORNIA LIFE
Last Modified: Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012 - 8:26 pm

Sacramento is finding its identity, unearthed in its fertile fields.

The city's new marketing campaign and unofficial motto – "America's Farm-to-Fork Capital" – echoes what a lot of Sacramentans have been saying for a while: The best thing about living here may be the food.

We can eat fresh, locally grown produce year round – including fruit and vegetables from our own backyards. It's worth celebrating.

Leadership Sacramento, a program of the Sacramento Metro Chamber, took up the cause this year, too. That led it to Soil Born Farms' American River Ranch, the oldest continually farmed property in the Sacramento suburban area.

"Sacramento doesn't really have a defined image," said Matt Notley of Ogilvy Public Relations. "Portland (Ore.), Austin (Texas), Minneapolis; they all have images. Sacramento has enough people and size to fit in that group – but what is it? What's our identity? We're halfway between the Bay Area and Tahoe."

Notley, one of 35 members of the Leadership Sacramento's Class of 2012, thought his city could do a lot more with what brought so many people here in the first place. Not gold, but agriculture.

"Most people don't realize the agricultural bounty that surrounds us," Notley said. "Year round, we have fresh fruit and vegetables. The farm-to-table movement is really taking off with local chefs."

But how does one connect that concept with the populace?

"That's what Soil Born is all about," Notley said. "They're getting people to reconnect with healthy living right here."

By helping people grow food right here.

To that end, Leadership Sacramento is helping Soil Born grow, too.

Recently, ground was broken on a new outdoor classroom and amphitheater at the 55-acre farm on the American River Parkway in Rancho Cordova. Able to seat 200 people and accommodate crowds of up to 500, the new facility will create an oasis for learning about food, healthy eating and farming.

Weather permitting, the project will be finished in time for the farm's annual spring celebration.

"We hope to complete the actual construction this fall," said Soil Born co-founder Shawn Harrison. "We'll add the landscaping in the spring. We'll have a formal ribbon-cutting during our Day on the Farm in May 2013."

Work has been rapid. Josh Leachman, a Leadership Sacramento member from Stonebridge Properties, took the lead as project manager. The stair-step seats have been carved out. The concrete foundation for a welcoming trellis was poured.

"Every one of us has been out to the site to check out progress," Notley said. "It's the largest project ever attempted by a Leadership Sacramento class. We raised the most money (of any class), and it's happening."

Said Harrison, "They've been an amazing group. We were looking for a project to inject some energy into our educational activities on-site. This is exactly what we were thinking about."

The total project will cost about $270,000. Most of that was provided by companies or organizations that donated time, services and supplies.

"A lot of us joined Leadership Sacramento because we really want to make the Sacramento region better and promote how great it is," Notley said.

"This was a class that was ideally set up for a project like this; we had people from construction companies, an architect, nonprofit veterans who knew how to raise money. Everything clicked.

"It's going to be impressive," he added. "It's big property. They needed a centerpiece."

The classroom will be used by thousands of kids and adults who visit the farm regularly as part of Soil Born's educational programs. The farm already hosts close to 3,000 students annually.

But Harrison sees far more potential in the new amphitheater.

"There's nothing else quite like it in this area," he said. "It's an intimate space on the parkway that's multipurpose. It can be used for lectures, dinners, meetings. It will get a lot of use.

"Everybody thought it was overambitious, but I'm amazed," he added. "It all came together."

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