Soil Born Farms has produced Sacramento’s premier farm-to-fork event for 15 years.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY JOAN CUSICK
When Soil Born Farms began its Autumn Equinox fundraiser in 2003, Sacramento’s designation America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital was still many years away.
“There was nothing like it,” recalls Soil Born founder and co-director Janet Zeller. “We thought, ‘How cool would it be to invite chefs to the farm and have the public come and interact with these chefs who are buying and preparing local produce?’ It wasn’t just about Soil Born and what we could grow then on an acre and a half. It was a harvest celebration of local produce, chefs, and cuisine.”
For the inaugural Autumn Equinox, about 100 farmers, chefs, and guests gathered at the original urban farm on Hurley Way. This year, Zeller expects a total of 1,000 people at Soil Born’s 55-acre ranch on the banks of the American River in Rancho Cordova.
“From the very beginning, we didn’t want to produce another food event where you have to stand in long lines for food,” Zeller says. “We wanted abundance to be a part of it.”
Strong chef support
Also from the beginning, top local chefs have supported Soil Born’s annual fundraiser. Rick Mahan of The Waterboy, Randall Selland of Selland Family Restaurants, and Kurt Spataro of Paragary’s are just a few of the longtime participants of the Autumn Equinox. This year, Spataro also will serve as one of six lead chefs for the fifth annual Tower Bridge Dinner, a highlight of Farm-to-Fork month sponsored by Visit Sacramento.
While the intent may be similar — to highlight Sacramento’s agricultural heritage — the Tower Bridge Dinner and Soil Born’s Autumn Equinox are quite different in execution. Instead of seating diners at one long table for a catered dinner, Soil Born encourages guests to walk around the farm as they sample foods, wines, beers, cheeses, and other local products.
“Our original idea was to have an intimate feeling, where the farmers and chefs and winery owners can get together with the people who enjoy their products,” Zeller says. “Interaction is very important to us. People want a direct connection with their food.”
Day on the farm
Soil Born also opens to the public in May for Day on the Farm, a daytime educational event for families and children. In contrast, the Autumn Equinox is an evening event for adults only.
Proceeds from both Soil Born events — and from longtime sponsors such as the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op — help fund urban farming and educational programs. In addition to Soil Born’s apprentice program for young farmers, this working farm also conducts numerous educational programs that reach thousands of children and adults each year.
But, for Zeller and the whole Soil Born staff, the Autumn Equinox is more than a fundraiser. It’s a chance to show off the beauty and abundance of the historic American River Ranch.
“It’s harvest time,” Zeller points out. “It’s a time for all of us to celebrate all the produce that comes from this area.”
Joan Cusick is a writer and documentary photographer based in Sacramento. A former public relations director for Maybelline, FedEx, and Charles Schwab, she now documents lifestyle stories in Northern California. For details, visit Joancusick.com.
Soil Born Autumn Equinox
Sat., Sept. 16, 2017
15th annual fundraiser for Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture & Education Project
5:30 – 9:30 p.m.
Soil Born’s American River Ranch
2140 Chase Drive, Rancho Cordova
Tickets are $75 per person. Tickets usually sell out a few days prior to the event and are not available at the door. For details, visit soilborn.org