Sonoma County Farm Trails Connect the Public and Local Foods

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Several farms and food producers, such as Oak Hill Farm in Glen Ellen, are preparing to welcome the public this weekend and next. Photo provided by Oak Hill Farms

Before weekly farmer’s markets and local food movements became a staple of the North Bay, Sonoma County Farm Trails connected the public to their local food producers.

Formed in 1973, the nonprofit creates maps and guides for local agriculture, and hosts events such as the popular Gravenstein Apple Fair.

For the last year, connecting the public to the region’s farmers and ranchers became difficult in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Farm Trails was forced to cancel many of its events in 2020, and moved to an online format for the recent Gravenstein Apple Fair Benefit Concert last August.

This month, as live events return to the North Bay, Sonoma County Farm Trails is getting back on the farm with the upcoming Weekend Along the Farm Trails event on consecutive Saturdays and Sundays, Oct. 23–24 and Oct. 30–31. The self-guided agricultural tours allow families and food lovers to explore ranches, creameries, orchards and much more at several spots that will offer activities for all ages and a bevy of local foods.

“We decided just recently to revive our fall tour, because the infection rates are going down and we thought let’s try to give our farmers and public just a little more taste of normalcy that we all ache for,” Farm Trails Project Manager Ellen Cavalli says.

Cavalli, who co-owns Tilted Shed Ciderworks with her husband, Scott Heath, is a self-described cheerleader for Farm Trails, and she knows firsthand the importance of local connection for the agricultural community’s success.

“Not only do I work for Farm Trails, I’m also a member,” she says.

While the pandemic shuttered many opportunities for face-to-face interactions, Cavalli notes that the last year’s disruptions in national supply chains highlighted the importance of local food.

“There was a lot of scarcity and fear of scarcity that created a dramatic increase in demand for CSAs [Community Supported Agriculture] and local produce,” she says. “We immediately created a shelter-in-place portal on our website so that folks could find fresh food and ways of safely interacting with our members.”

Still, the nonprofit is eager to get the public back on the farms, and the Weekend Along the Farm Trails event boasts varied experiences and offerings from across the county.

“I call it a ‘choose your own agrarian adventure,’” Cavalli says. “Some tour destinations will be open one day, some will be open both, some will have workshops and demonstrations, some will have guided tours, some will have farm animals; it’s going to be really diverse.”

Weekend highlights include two multifaceted lavender farms, Bees N Bloom in Santa Rosa and Monte-Bellaria di California in Sebastopol; sustainable spots like Oak Hill Farm and its Red Barn Store in Glen Ellen (pictured) and Green String Farm in Petaluma; and kid-friendly places like nonprofit horse sanctuary Well Trained Horses in Sebastopol, as well as several pumpkin patches and other popular family destinations.

Online registration for the self-guided tours is free online now. Once participants register, they can map out their routes and see the specific features and Covid-related safety protocols of each farm on the tour.

Weekend Along the Farm Trails takes place Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 23–24 and Oct. 30–31. Register in advance at Farmtrails.org.