Art & Ag September 2021 – Capay Canyon Ranch, Esparto


Capay Canyon Ranch is a mixture of the old and new. Situated on 400 acres in Esparto, the ranch dates back to the early 1960s when Tobin Barth’s grandfather – a row crop grower who wanted to diversify into trees – bought the property. In 1972, Tobin’s parents split off from the partnership and began to farm the orchards themselves.


Six years later, they added a processing facility and are now one of the oldest almond processing facilities in the state, “offering unparalleled quality and timely service to our buyers,” as their website notes “by drawing on an inventory of superior almonds harvested by a dedicated group of growers.” “My parents worked very hard,” says Tobin of the ranch that now spans three generations, “and developed the processing division which allowed it to become a sustainable business for us.”

One hundred acres of almond trees now surround the original family home where Tobin grew up and drove tractors starting at age eleven. “I love this old orchard because the trees are spaced out more and taller,” says Tobin. “It feels more expansive. Trees in the newer orchards aren’t nearly as tall and are much closer together.” Tobin enjoys taking his dog for walks in the morning and at sunset through this old orchard. “Stopping and looking through the canopy towards the sky – it’s just beautiful, and on a clear day you can see the Vaca Hills.”

The flame seedless organic table grape vines that greet visitors along the gravel driveway at the entrance to the farm were planted in 1984 and signal another decades-old element at the ranch: drying raisins the old fashioned way, using the sun and the original drying trays from his grandfather that are as old as the farm itself. (The table grapes and raisins are sold at co-ops and at farmers markets in the Sacramento/Davis area.)

Beyond the raisin-drying area and scattered throughout the property are weathered and rusting farm equipment, which, in keeping with the old-new theme here, are not far from the modern headquarters and office. Artists can also experience first-hand the busy processing plant, including the mountains of almond hulls sold as a food supplement to dairies, and the almond shells, are used as bedding or for compost.

“I don’t think there’s anything better than farming” says Tobin, quite a statement coming from the boy who just wanted to get away from farming, and left the life for 20 years pursuing a career in civil engineering, only to return to join his brother and sister in the family business 11 years ago. “You have to wear at least 20 different hats to be a farmer. It’s a noble vocation that’s very rewarding.”


Davis Poet Laureate, Julia Levine, has approached the Art & Ag Project to invite poets to walk the beautiful farmlands around Yolo County with a pen and notebook next year.  A contest of poems written about these visits will be held at the end of summer. Selected poets will be invited to read at the 2022 Art Farm Opening.  Stay tuned for more details coming soon!  In the meantime, here is a poem by Julia Levine inspired by her visit to Capay Canyon Ranch.

September at Capay Canyon Ranch

At the end of summer, an orchard

and its drought-sharpened leaves,


its dark pockets of cool.

Inside one, blue flash of a jay—


in another, birdsong

of a white-throated sparrow.


At the end of the orchard,

a valley rimmed in foothills,


and a river of wind

carrying the dark scull of crows


out of blistered scrub oak,

the scorched canyons.


We sit on the stone-hard dirt,

our hair flying.


You reach for my hand,

and we stay like that, silent


a long time, the hot wind pouring

over. At the end of wind,


this world. What is left to say,
except Hurry, save it.

Julia B Levine



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