Field notes from California's North Central Valley

The Center holds

Like any good farm-loving family, we appreciate a good rain. But I admit, after days and days of it, our soggy spirits were ready for some sunshine last weekend when my husband, daughter and I headed to the Farm at Putah Creek in Winters, Calif., just west of Davis. The farm is the headquarters of the Center for Land-Based Learning, which was holding its annual spring open-house.

While assembling our picnic lunches in the back of our car and rousing Lily from her carseat-induced nap, we noticed family after family of kids in rain boots. “I think sandals may not have been the best footwear choice,” said Grant, looking down at his sockless feet in sandals.

But he needn’t have worried. The ground had dried and the skies had cleared to warm us on a perfect spring day.

The 40-acre property, stretched across a walnut orchard, welcomed us and dozens of other families for a day of hayrides, animal petting, and general meandering across its grounds.


We began in the barn, where lights strung from the rafters suggested a place with a history rich in food-sharing and perhaps a little dancing. A bunch of baby chicks peeped under a heat lamp in a galvanized tub in one corner. Lily approached them carefully, then slowly worked her way up to petting their soft, delicate heads. She loved it, and came back for more later.


From there, we went outside to visit some lambs and goats brought in from some nearby ranchers.


While we waited for the next hayride to start, we wandered through raspberry trellises, peeked into the composting area, noticed the fava beans planted in cover crops, and watched the bees trying to swallow a buzzing ceanothus (California lilac) shrub whole.


Once aboard the hayride, we learned about the farm’s work to create a place where agriculture and wildlife habitat can coexist—with native plant hedgerows designed with wildlife and pollinators in mind.


We also found out more about the Center for Land-Based Learning, which has interested me since moving here 7 months ago. It boasts the California Farm Academy, where budding farmers are mentored and taught about producing, managing and marketing specialty crops. Its SLEWS (Student and Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship) program gets high school students involved in habitat restoration projects. And its FARMS Leadership program turns young people on to sustainable farming and connects them with working farms for hands-on experiences. (And they make a nice spot for weddings, so there you go.)

The property is home to Free Spirit Farms, a sustainable farm run by Davis native Toby Hastings. He leases a few acres of land from the Center for Land-Based Learning, with the understanding his farm can also be used for educational purposes for the youth programs. Hastings runs a small CSA and sells food to Bay Area restaurants, which makes me want to return to find out more about him and his farm. He wasn’t available the day of our little tour, but this 2008 Davis Enterprise article is an intriguing read about him.

Our visit was only a small snapshot of this busy farm. But it all seems tied to the idea of creating a place where healthy food systems and healthy ecosystems go hand in hand, and then teaching the next generation how to bring it to the table.


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One thought on “The Center holds

  1. Very cool!

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