It would be hard to find a more perfect antidote to the COVID-19 crisis than spending time in the beauty and bounty of our local farms and ranches. Whether it’s standing in the middle of a fragrant apple orchard, feeding a handful of hay to a hungry goat, or stirring a pot of preserves made with freshly picked berries—it’s hard to stay worried, anxious, or melancholy, and impossible to feel isolated. Just ask Lynette Sonne. As founder of FARMstead ED, it’s Sonne’s job to organize outings for both tourists and townies who want to learn about everything from soap-making to soup-making, cherries to cheeses, canning to composting.
“Now more than ever, people want to learn even more about where their food comes from, how it’s grown, who their farmer is, and how local products are made,” she said.
A SLO County native, Sonne has always been in love with all this county has to offer, especially its farms, ranches, and riding trails. The concept for FARMstead ED came to her while out horseback riding one day on a friend’s ranch. An enthusiastic fan of all her friends’ hand-crafted foods and products, she wanted to bring them to a larger audience. Why not find a way to bring people out to the sites themselves, offer a real-world experience, and teach them a little in the bargain.
Founded six years ago, FARMstead ED “collaborates and cross-pollinates with farms, ranches, and purveyors throughout SLO County, bringing farms and guests together to learn hands-on how food gets to their table and how products are made for their daily living,” said a recent press release.
Its goal is “to promote SLO County farmsteading skills and practices through educational workshops and gatherings at pop-up classrooms held at local farms, ranches, and other purveyor-related venues. The charm comes from these opportunities for people to truly experience locally grown and made through a variety of different hands-on classes and Table to Farm dinners all over the county.”
Wait. Table to farm? Didn’t it used to be farm to table? Well, yes. But in the time of COVID, as many businesses are doing the “pandemic pivot,” so too, is FARMstead ED. Where farm-to-table means serving local food in restaurants and schools and the movement to bring awareness that what we see on our plates comes from a farm—FARMstead ED brings the table to the farm, offering up local chefs who prepare meals for an on-site dining experience. They’ve even started to take them to private parties for people vacationing at Air BnB locations.
This summer, and now this fall, people are looking for uniquely creative outdoor experiences and the fresh air that comes with wide-open spaces. And that’s where the SLO County Farm Trail comes in. An offshoot of FARMstead ED, and now in its second year, the trail “connects agri-enthusiasts with ranches, farms, and purveyors of SLO County using a printed and online trail map.”
A quick glance at the online map will reveal nearly two dozen stops (dots on the map) from Nipomo to San Miguel. Enticing names like Bees Knees Fruit Farm, Giving Tree Family Farm, Leo Leo Gelato, and Vicarious Ranch mingle with more familiar ones like Talley Farms, Avila Valley Barn, and Gopher Glen. All spark our curiosity and beckon us to visit soon.
Ticket prices vary and are listed on the website at www.farmsteaded.com. Proceeds from ticket sales go to the organization, to promotion, and to the participating farms themselves. It’s a way for them to stay afloat during a time when so many businesses are having to close their doors.
In the time of COVID, “… businesses along the SLO Co Farm Trail have been planning and cultivating new and creative ways to allow folks to continue visiting their farms and ranches, all while maintaining social distancing of course, which is about one cow apart,” Sonne explained.
With families spending more time together, and homeschooling on the rise, these private tours, and custom programs offer both entertainment and a bit of a vacation for the whole family. Here are just a few of the offerings. Jam Session at Hartley Farms (a jam-making workshop at the farm), Inside the Olive (extra virgin olive oil tasting & farm tour), Sip & Soak Self Care Experience by Life Elements (a foot soak with hand-crafted self-care products), and the Goat & Alpaca Experience.
For the fall, there’s a Farms & Flowers Photography workshop, Pumpkin Picking at Avila Valley Barn, and Olive Harvest. “It’s my favorite time of year,” said Sonne. “Indian summer lingers with warm days and cool nights … and the colorful show Ma Nature puts on during this harvest month.”
A big believer in the concept of agri-CULTURE, Sonne and her organization seeks to bring as many people into the fold as possible.
“My dream is for enough space to mention each and every farmer, rancher, purveyor, chef, photographer, restaurant, and sponsor that shares their knowledge of food and craft with us. All so we can be better educated about the products and groceries that feed our daily lives.”
Feeling anxious, worried, lonely, or melancholy? A trip on the SLO County Farm Trail might be just what the doctor would prescribe.