Originally published in the April 5, 2017 print edition of the West Sacramento News-Ledger
West Sacramento’s Urban Farm program is preparing to grow with a new location on the property of the Barn, which is planned to begin the process of sprouting produce by the end of April, according to the program’s manager Sara Bernal.
The new farm, which will be just over a quarter of an acre, is the city’s fifth and joins the farms at 5th and C, Lake Washington, Cummins Way, and the Fiery Ginger Farm, which is located behind Yolo High School at 919 West Acre Road.
The Urban Farm program is a collaborative effort headed by the Winters-based non-profit Center for Land-Based Learning. Its main partners include Raley’s, Nugget Markets, Community Business Bank, Bayer Crop Science and the city of West Sacramento’s Chamber of Commerce.
“[The new site] is going to be really, really amazing because it’s not only a partnership with Fulcrum Reality, [who owns the land], Raley’s is also a huge sponsor on that site,” said Bernal, who started the program in 2014. “We’re going to be growing food at that farm that will be sold directly to Raley’s supermarkets here in West Sac. Drake’s Brewery is going to be taking over space at the Barn, so we’ll be growing food for that restaurant.”
The farm will additionally support a farm stand and food produced at the new site will be sold at the West Sacramento Farmers Market, which will be moving to the Barn when it returns this summer.
“The produce that will come out of there is definitely going to make its way through a lot of different avenues and it’s also a way for us to test out new markets for the farmers,” said Bernal, who will be farming the new site until farmers are assigned to it. “It’ll be growing anywhere between 30 and 40 different vegetables and melons.”
Mary Kimball, executive director for the Center for Land-Based Learning, said the new farm site has been in discussion for several years and she’s happy to see it finally coming to fruition.
“The opportunity is so great there because it’s so open and so many people are going to see it because it’s right next to the Barn,” Kimball said. “There’s just so much excitement around the riverfront. [The Barn] will be the first of its kind in the Sacramento region that has a farm attached to it and a farm stand and a way for people to really connect to the agriculture of the region.”
The Urban Farm program is part of the California Farm Academy incubator program, which trains farmers in both farming and business. Bernal said a lot of the country’s farmers are retiring and that a new workforce being trained will be important to the country’s agricultural future.
She added that the academy and the Urban Farm program are a way for people who want to become farmers but have little-to-no knowledge of farming to get into the business.
“We break those barriers by working with all these different types of people who actually have access to land and take the time to get contracts to have five-year-at-a-time renewable leases,” Bernal said. “That by itself, I think, is one of the larger advantages of having an incubator program. Most of these land owners wouldn’t want to lease land to Joe Schmoe, but they’ll lease it to a reputable non-profit that’s operating a program.”
Bernal said a big part of her job, aside from establishing locations for the farms, is fundraising. She said each farm costs approximately $40,000 to establish. A lot of that funding comes from the partners of the program.
Fiery Ginger, for instance, was fully funded by Raley’s and a portion of its crops go to the grocery chain’s Food for Families program, which helps provide food for hungry families, according to the site’s farmers Hope Sippola and Shayne Zurilgen.
Zurilgen is a former middle school teacher and Sippola formerly ran a farm at a middle school in Davis. Both got into full-time farming later in life, which Bernal said is fairly common with the Urban Farm program. Zurilgen and Sippola met through the farm academy.
The Fiery Ginger farm, named after Hope because, as she puts it, she’s a ginger, took root at the Yolo High School location about a year ago, and is a prime example of some of the benefits the farms bring to the community.
One of the biggest benefits of the Fiery Ginger farm in particular is the work its farmers do with local youth.
“We’re a for-profit farm, but a lot of our mission is working with the schools,” Sippola said. “We work with schools here in West Sac and provide some educational stuff and opportunities for these Yolo High kids to get some community service hours, field trips and other stuff.”
Sippola added that she and her business partner host students of all age groups at the farm and that while on the farm, the students participate in various activities from helping plant to learning about raising chickens.
The farmers said they also work four days a week with a transition to adult living program that helps 18-22-year-old students living with intellectual disabilities become more independent in adulthood.
“We are hoping that we can develop a business model that’s sustainable financially, but also can provide all these other types of services to the community and engender respect and support from the community as a result,” Zurilgen said.
Zurilgen praised the farm-to-fork movement that has become such a big deal over the last decade, but said although it’s generated a lot of interest, there’s still a lot of work to be done for people to recognize the importance of healthy eating and that quality food costs more.
“That said, all this kind of promotion of that concept, farm-to-fork, has opened doors for us to work with schools,” Zurilgen said. “I mean I worked at a school for 15 years, the lunch system was terrible. People are starting to see that it’s important how you raise food and investing in your health. I think those concepts are becoming commonplace now.”