By Matt Villano
They’re growing more than grapes and produce at Shone Farm in Forestville — they’re growing farmers, too.
The 365-acre parcel is both a working farm and an outdoor learning laboratory, the place where students in Santa Rosa Junior College’s Agriculture and Natural Resources department get hands-on experience. The property is one of the largest college farms in the country, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. It also is one of the most diverse field-teaching labs in the country — a place where students study to become grape growers, winemakers, farmers, park rangers and pest-control specialists.
The farm opens to public visitors at least once a month for nine months of the year.
On these free-admission public days — dubbed Pick & Sip days — visitors are welcome to come, marvel at livestock, pick and buy in-season produce and grass-fed beef, taste wine and olive oil made from estate grapes and olives, and interact with students and professors alike.
The events themselves have a festival atmosphere: music playing, people talking and laughing, the products center stage as the stars of the show. Lynn Ellerbrock, sales and marketing coordinator, said in addition to fruits, veggies, wine and olive oil, the farm sells house-made value-added products such as strawberry preserves, Gravenstein apple syrup and dried heirloom beans.
“If we grow it or make it here, you can pick it up on one of our Pick & Sip days,” she said, noting that roughly 300 people attend each of the open-to-the-public events. “We feel this is a great way for outsiders to come, visit and get to know the farm.”
Ellerbrock added that free tastes of student-brewed craft beer also will be available on Pick & Sip days starting this summer after the farm resuscitates its brewery program in the spring semester.
There’s also a Fall Festival every harvest, which includes u-pick pumpkins and strawberries, hay rides, and more.
In addition to about 40 acres of buildings, the farm comprises 120 acres of forest, 100 acres of pasture, 90 acres of vineyard, 12 acres for crop production, and 4 acres of olive and apple trees. There also is open space around the farm’s perimeter that serves as wildlife corridors and habitat — this is home to a natural resources program that focuses on forestry, watershed restoration and wildlife habitat enhancement.
Taken as a whole, Shone Farm is one of the largest agriculture sites in the California Community Colleges system.
Students who complete coursework on-site are taught commercial production techniques that they can apply in the workplace or parlay into additional studies after transferring to a four-year university. The largest program, SRJC’s on-site Wine Studies Program, attracts 300 to 425 students each year.
During public days, though some of the action takes place in the fields adjacent to the parking lot, most of the event unfolds in the Warren G. Dutton Jr. Agricultural Pavilion, a sprawling building with an expansive patio that looks out on the Russian River Valley American Viticultural Area.
Go early enough in the day and from the patio you can look down on morning fog in the valley below.
“It really is a beautiful spot,” Ellerbrock says. “Beautiful and productive.