Mary Kimball is the Executive Director and Sara Bernal is the Program Manager for the Center for Land Based Learning West Sacramento Urban Farm on 5th and C Streets. Autumn Payne apayne@sacbee.com
Mary Kimball is the Executive Director and Sara Bernal is the Program Manager for the Center for Land Based Learning West Sacramento Urban Farm on 5th and C Streets. Autumn Payne apayne@sacbee.com

Home & Garden

Her farm-to-fork skills land her on a Rose Parade float

By Debbie Arrington

darrington@sacbee.com

December 29, 2017 02:00 PM

About two weeks before Christmas, Mary Kimball got the surprise of a lifetime – and a big date for New Year’s Day.

Representing her non-profit program to help future farmers, Kimball will ride in the 2018 Tournament of Roses Parade, aboard the Scotts Miracle-Gro float commemorating the company’s 150th anniversary.

“I’ve never been to the parade,” said the Woodland woman. “But I’ve been watching it all my life. ... New Year’s Day is going to be crazy.”

It’s also a huge chance for Kimball to share with the world the farm-to-fork message behind her work at the Winters-based Center for Land-Based Learning and its West Sacramento Urban Farm program.

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“The more I thought about it, the more excited I became,” she said. “This is a way to share what we do while representing our region’s farm-to-fork efforts. People will be watching from all over the country, all over the world.”

To be seen on TV by an estimated 50 million people in 220 countries, the 129th Rose Parade celebrates “Making a Difference.” One of the parade’s major sponsors, Mircle-Gro selected Kimball because her center’s programs embody that theme. The company has been a longtime supporter of the center’s urban farm program.

“It’s important to us to celebrate volunteers and people who made a difference in their community,” explained Patti Ziegler, Miracle-Gro’s Rose Parade point person. “It’s a super fun way to thank them while highlighting their contributions to the community good.”

Themed “150 years and Growing,” this particular float is extra special to the Scotts Miracle-Gro company, Ziegler noted. Featuring more than 27,000 roses, the float depicts bountiful backyards, from 24-foot-tall irises in a fantasy pollinator garden to produce-packed vegetable beds. “Extreme Makeover” host Ty Pennington also will be among the float’s riders.

“We’re pretty excited about 150 years of growing and gardening,” Ziegler said. “Our company actually created the backyard that we know today. Scotts defined the home lawn and garden category. Scotts was the first to show how you can enjoy your own backyard and turn it into this beautiful, great play place for your whole family.”

In 1868, Scotts started as a grass seed mail order company in Ohio, where the company is still headquartered. Now, its sales top $2.8 billion as a world leader in lawn and garden products, including many for organic gardeners and farmers.

Located on the former site of an abandoned gas station, the West Sacramento Urban Farm at 5th and C streets has benefited from Scotts’ “GRO1000” initiative and its Grassroots Grants for community greenspaces and gardens. (That’s how Miracle-Gro first connected with Kimball.) The farm broke ground in 2014 as the first in a series.

Transforming what had been a longtime eyesore, the pilot program turned a busy corner into a flower-filled oasis. From late spring through fall, this “flower farm in the city” hosts “U-Pick” events where customers can cut their own asters, coneflowers, zinnias and other blooms.

About two-thirds acre in space, this mini-farm is one of five sites cultivated through programs nurtured by the Center for Land-Based Learning. Started in 1993, the center provides young farmers with access to land, extensive agricultural education and hands-on job training. It also introduces high school students to agriculture.

“The hardest part of getting into agriculture is access to land,” Kimball explained. “We’re trying to make it easier for beginning farmers.”

Its West Sacramento program grew rapidly into a major success and a model for similar programs nationwide.

“We now have seven acres spread out over five sites,” said Sara Bernal, who manages the West Sacramento farm program. “During the summer and fall, those farms harvested 35,000 pounds of produce a month.”

The produce is offered at seasonal farmstands at each location. In addition, the center helps its newbie farmers learn how to sell their harvest at farmers markets and to local retailers such as Raley’s and Nugget Markets.

Produce also goes to school lunch programs and local food banks. About 5,000 pounds a month is donated to food banks and closets in addition to food grown specifically for charities.

“We broke ground (at the 5th and C streets site) three years ago and we’ve already grown this much,” Bernal said. “There are a lot of ways to define success and one of ours is that we ‘incubated’ 12 new farm businesses to date in just three years. Those are farmers who will be serving (this region) for many years to come.”

Meanwhile, Kimball is practicing her wave and smile; she’ll need to keep both going for 5 1/2 miles along the parade route.

“After the parade, I get to go to the Rose Bowl, too,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to that.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

129th Tournament of Roses Parade

When: 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 1

Where: Pasadena, CA

TV: Channel 3