A Day of Soil, Farmers & Food! Farm to Fork Experience in the Foothills

By Dawnie June 14, 2013

Sierra Foothills Farm and Wine Tour Experience by Bethany Woy

Yes, we know that California is known for amazing fresh fruits and vegetables. We are known to produce some of the best wine grapes in the world. We are blessed with rolling hills of orchards, farms and vineyards. On a beautiful Saturday this May, a few food lovers decided they would venture out of Midtown Sacramento and join Local Roots Food Tours on the exploration of the nearby Sierra Foothills. A bartender, secretary, regional manager and executive chef joined the Local Roots staff and spent an afternoon discovering the wonders of nature right outside our back door. Here’s what they found.

“ We met up in Newcastle at a quaint little country store that you would see out of an old time movie. All fresh produce and local items were sold there. No big box stores. Just products from local dairies, farms, orchards and vineyards. Right away I knew this would be right up my alley. Living in Sacramento, it’s great to be able to shop at the Co-op or Farmer’s Markets, but seeing a little store with so many wonderful local products was refreshing.

We loaded up into the comfortable bus and headed out to Colwell Thundering Herd Farms where we met Rich and Nancy Colwell that own a mandarin farm. This couple have lived in Penryn since 1984, but the family farm dates back to 1959. The Colwells continue to live in an old ranch home owned by the Butler family dating back to the late 1800’s. (the land has supported peach, pears and plum orchards at that time!) Meeting Rich and Nancy was amazing and they were the nicest people ever. You could definitely see the passion they have for farming. I had no idea there were so many varietals of mandarin oranges but Rich gave us a full mandarin grove tour where we got to actually touch the trees and learn about pruning, harvesting and processing this amazing fruit. It was so wonderful to have them open up their property to us visitors.  The Colwells produce mandarin and lemon olive oil as well as balsamic vinegar and mandarin chocolate sauce. After touring the farm and getting up close and personal with the fruit we were asked to sit in a wonderful shady area of the property and asked to sample the Colwells products. We got to sample the olive oils, chocolate sauces, vinegars and even the fresh fruit itself.

They were some of the juiciest oranges I’ve ever had! All I can say is yum. The Colwells brought us into their family business and wanted to share the love of farming and we were greeted with such warmth and enthusiasm from start to finish.  It was the perfect way to start the day. We had to purchase some of our own oils and sauces because we couldn’t get enough! I can’t wait for Christmas (or any other holiday for that matter!) because these gift sets are going to make the best gifts.

We then loaded up the bus again and headed through the curves and hills of Placer County. It was gorgeous. We learned about the history of the area, early settlers and English Colony Way’s historical palm trees. I learned so much. Next we were off to Natural Trading Company where we met Jarret who was honestly the coolest person ever. He took time out of his BUSY day to give us the most personal tour of the property. He started off by showing us one of the greenhouses where sunflower sprouts and wheatgrass grow. Jarret showed us the different stages of the sprouts and informed us of the health benefits of these products. By the end of the greenhouse tour, many of us knew we had to buy the right juicer to get the most out of fresh fruits, veggies and sprouts! We were in awe of the beautiful rows of green produce lining up the hills of their farm! Josh told us about the amazing CSA program they are starting next month and it really peaked my interest. We even got to eat the seasons first yellow cherry tomatoes! He shared how the local farmers compete on who is going to be the first to sell this years tomato harvest and they always come in first! The farmhand also taught us about their innovative way of fertilizing the ground with their chickens! Actually seeing where these crops were grown inspires me to sign up and cook with these items! Amazing! We weaved through the fields with the animals- we felt so privileged to see the true start of the vegetables and fruit (and even eggs!) we consume. We were just blown away by this operation. We talked about it all the way home and we keep telling our friends about it.

My mind was boggled by the first two stops and how much labor of love is put into these families crops and orchards.  Our tour was only 1/2 way over and I felt complete already from learning to much in the first 1 1/2 hours!  Our next stop was over the hill, through a grove of trees and down another dirt laden lane to Twin Peaks Orchards.  The moment the bus stopped and let us out I knew I had found another small farm that I normally would have just whizzed on by with my car  –  a true hidden gem!  Camelia, one of the owners to the family farm came out to greet our group.  Lucky for us, their first peach harvest was underway and we were able to sample and buy.  Twin Peaks Orchards is very well represented in Sacramento in many restaurants for their wonderful stone fruits.  They just don’t get any sweeter and juicer than this farms…especially as the season moves into more heat and longer days.  Mmmmm, mmmm…..all I could think about is peach pie, peach parfaits, peach daiquiris and simple fresh peaches in my warm oatmeal.  Sold!  Twin Peaks is a 4th generation farm dating back over 100 years in the same family.  Hard work, long days and lots of praying for crops to make it through frost, or blight or peach curl…you name it – in a heart beat a whole season’s crop can be ruined and their family income can come to a complete halt.  Twin Peaks offers fresh fruit of many varietals, citrus fruit and their famous Amagaki persimmons thru the seasons.  When they don’t have fresh fruit they sell their Orchard Delights which is their wonderful fruits in jars made into jams, sauces and salsas.  Once again, I am adding my shopping trip to visit this farm to pick up some wonderful local products for gifts over the holidays!

At this point our tour group was somewhat hungry and definitely thirsty so we jumped on the bus and back down the lane we went, over a creek bed and past a beautiful herd of sheep with their lovely little lambs playing in the tall green pasture.  Next thing I know we turn into this off the beaten path quaint winery Dona del Cielo.  It wreaked coolness right when we drove up and were greeted by the local winery dog with its tail wagging like were were his favorite friends arriving!  Local Roots Food Tours put on a wonderful nice catered charcuterie style lunch in a beautiful winery setting.  We paired our wine tasting with the delicious lunch selection; of which, many of the tastings were from the local farms we had just visited and or from the local Placer County area.  Dona del Cielo has a great casual atmosphere.  We dove right into the wine flight and were being educated by what we were drinking, what the wine paired nicely with and how many notes could be found in each wine.  We didn’t want to leave but knew there was still more ahead of us to explore.  I don’t want to spoil the entire farm tour experience for those who are even thinking of joining Local Roots Food & Farm Tours for this great day out.  All I can hint around to is more stops at a local organic 22 acre farm and a local bakery that will awaken your sweet tooth are just a couple more stops on the route we took!

This tour is a awakening for the commitment to sustainable farming, and all that it takes to make that happen. I think about that now every time I eat. Thanks Local Roots for this incredible experience!  Exploring Northern California hills and valleys with someone else chauffeuring you around is a perfect was to get behind the gates and beyond the tractors to meet local farmers and vintners. I felt so connected to my community when I was driving home. There is nothing better than discovering the local agriculture growing and understanding the role of farmers and restaurants that use these products. The tour really opened my eyes and taught me why I eat local. It was a perfect day and I honestly can’t wait to tell more people about it and go again. I would recommend this tour to anyone. Foodie or novice alike.”