Hit the trail
Sierra Oro Farm Trail makes it easy to meet your farmer
“It’s so exciting, I’m smiling.” With just a few weeks to go before the kick-off of the Sierra Oro Farm Trail Passport Weekend, event organizer Nicole Johansson was understandably enthusiastic as she anticipated another sellout for the annual food-and-wine event that gives local foodies and farm-to-table advocates a ticket—or a passport, rather—to visit the farms and wineries of Butte County during early fall harvest.
“It’s really just taken off,” Johansson said by phone about the event that started with just eight farms eight years ago, and this year will highlight 30 destinations over the Columbus Day weekend (Oct. 12-13). “We’re just impressed with our local farm community—we have so many specialty growers. I think that this is definitely a complement to the ‘buy local’ message.” She explained that, for people who might be interested in spending their money on local products, but might not know what is available and where to find it, “the farm trail is an opportunity to come support your local growers.”
The Butte County Farm Bureau sponsors the event (along with the Chico Chamber of Commerce and Tri Counties Bank) as a way to promote agricultural tourism in Butte County, which in 2012 produced more than $721 million in crops. And the 30 farms and businesses taking part in the Passport Weekend cover a wide variety of what’s grown and made countywide, from the Oroville-area olive oils of Lodestar, Butte View and Calolea, to the apples of Paradise (Noble Orchards), to the meats, nuts, rice and wines of the northern Sacramento Valley. In fact, likely a big part of what draws 2,000 people to the trail each year is the growing number of wineries in the county that take part: 13 on the trail this year (including one—New Clairvaux in Vina—just across the Tehama County line).
The Sierra Oro Farm Trail was created in 2005 by Nicole’s husband, olive grower, olive-oil producer and owner of Oroville’s Lodestar Farms, Jamie Johansson, along with Heather Quilici of Oroville’s Quilici Vineyards. The idea for putting a map of area farms together came after the Johanssons built a tasting room at their farm. According to Nicole, they thought: “How are we going to get people to come to Oroville to taste olive oil?
“So, we thought we’d better align with other farms,” she said. Some of the early farms and businesses included with Lodestar and Quilici on the farm-trail map were Grey Fox Vineyards, Odyssey Winery and Vineyards, and Maisie Jane’s California Sunshine Products. The Passport Weekend event debuted the following year as a way to promote the trail and give the farms a weekend to pull together their products, and show their wares along with their operations.
The passport event isn’t the only time the trail is open. The first Sunday of every month, most of the venues are also open for the public to visit on their own, or via guided van tours ($50 per person, $80 per couple).
When asked if she had any advice for those hitting the farm trail for the Passport Weekend, Johansson started by saying that if everyone begins at stop No. 1 on the morning of the first weekend, things will be very overcrowded. “Mix it up a little bit; dare to be different,” she said. Travelers can start anywhere on the map they want, and they have all weekend to fill their books with venue stamps. Since Johansson says that “Chico gets hit on Saturday really hard,” maybe try Oroville, or Richvale or Durham first.
The goal with the Sierra Oro Farm Trail is for all of the cooperating participants to get a chance to play host. It’s not about getting a big payoff, “it’s about us making enough money to print another map,” Johansson said, adding, “It’s a great return on investment.”