Dating to the 1870s, Lemon Canyon Ranch boasts two of Sierra Valley’s oldest and best-preserved barns, photo by Beverly Jordan

A Celebration of Artwork and Agriculture

Once a year, the Sierra Valley Art + Ag Trail offers the public an up-close look at the operations and talents of this rural mountain community


It’s not every day that family-owned ranches and historic sites open their doors to the public.

Consider the Sierra Valley Art + Ag Trail a rare treat.

Held one day each fall, the annual event allows visitors and locals alike to dive in and explore the rich agricultural past and thriving art community of Sierra Valley—a Lake Tahoe-sized valley about 25 miles north of Truckee dotted with a few small towns, but mostly known for its wide-open space.

People wander through the Genasi Barn at last year’s event, where creations from five makers were on display, photo by Beverly Jordan

“It’s an incredible event with monumental potential, as it’s a draw for those who live in California and Nevada, who get a chance to see these historic, cathedral-size barns and working cattle ranches that one wouldn’t be able to see any other day of the year,” says Lindsay McIntosh, executive director of Musica Sierra, which produces the event in collaboration with the Sierra County Arts Council, Sierra Nevada Conservancy and Plumas Arts.

Thanks to the cooperative efforts of many in the community, the Sierra Valley Art + Ag Trail provides an intriguing glimpse into the region’s history, hearkening back to a time when the valley’s family-run dairies played a crucial role in supplying milk, butter and cream to the miners of the Comstock Lode in Virginia City.

The public now has the chance to tour the privately owned dairy barns of the area, some of which were built over a century ago using hand-hewn timbers and wooden pegs, yet continue to serve the needs of these modern working ranches.

In addition to the history lessons, more than 80 local artists and exhibitors set up at the various sites, proudly displaying a wide assortment of creations made from wood, paint, glass, ceramic, metal and fiber.


Origins of an Autumn Classic

The concept for Art + Ag was born in 2016 when Sierra Valley resident Kristi Jamason embarked on a mission to showcase what this rural area had to offer.   

“I started noticing there were amazing artists in Sierra Valley, and nobody knew they were here,” says Jamason, a potter who serves as the Feather River Land Trust’s land protection manager. “I was mulling the idea of having a studio tour.”

While Jamason knew many of the artists in the area, she reached out to her friend Carolyn Roberti to help connect with the agricultural community. (Members of the Roberti family moved to Vinton, in the northeast corner of Sierra Valley, in the 1870s and began operating a ranch in the 1920s.)

“We started reaching out to ranchers. I was so surprised to learn how many local artisans there were, and we started pairing people to go to certain ranches,” says Roberti, who, along with her husband Robert, provides tours of their family’s cattle ranch operation on Art + Ag day. “It has been a really special event. It showcases our community, agriculture and the people who live here and the history.”

Adds Robert: “If we don’t start telling our story, we will be forgotten. People don’t know what we are doing. We wanted to open up the place—let people know where their food comes from.”


Taking to the Trails

Experiencing the Sierra Valley Art + Ag Trail, scheduled for September 21, is simple. The first step is to purchase a general admission pass for $10 (or $15 after July 31) and get a map showing all the sites on the tour. The map, available on the event website along with the passes, also includes which artists and activities to expect at each location.

Then choose your starting point among the three trailhead options: Sierraville School, the new Sierra Valley Preserve Visitor Center near Beckwourth and the Sierra Valley Grange Hall in Vinton. From the trailheads, you can pick whatever route best serves your desire and energy level.

Perhaps your goal is to learn more about the ranching community. Or to marvel at the array of artwork. Or maybe you’d like to find a spot with fun activities for the kids, like a pumpkin patch complete with a bounce house and corn maze, or demonstrations of wool being handspun the old-fashioned way. Of course, the truly organized might realize the opportunity to pick up Christmas gifts hand-crafted by local artists.

For those who have attended previously and would like to visit a new site, McIntosh says there are three must-see additions.

“The first is the Old School House in Loyalton, home to our new stained-glass windows by local Paiute artist Marjorie Voorhees, who also owns the Sattley Cash Store, which is also a site,” says McIntosh. “Our second addition is the Goodwin Ranch, an oldie but goodie that has not been on the trail for three years. And our third new site is HOBO Ranch located in Sierraville, which is a working flower and produce farm owned by Bespoke owners Heather and Brian Hess.”


Fuel for the Fun

After visiting some of the sites, you’ll likely work up an appetite. One option is the Plumas-Sierra Cattlemen’s Association lunch in Loyalton, where tri-tip sandwiches are on the menu.

“It’s quality beef, and gives some credence to what we do,” says Sierra County supervisor and agricultural businessman Paul Roen, who oversees the Cattlemen’s Lunch. 

Other food options include Sierra Valley Farms, where Gary Romano’s farmers market offers local produce and prepared meals, as well as the grange in Vinton, which serves soup and pie, and Lil’Megs Pumpkin Patch, which sells hot dogs and pastries.   

“If you are curious about what we do, Art + Ag is a perfect opportunity to learn the benefits of agriculture. It all comes from somewhere,” says Roen.

For those seeking a deeper connection than the event can provide, private tours of operational ranches are available by appointment.

Author Tim Hauserman is a lifelong Tahoe resident who enjoys escaping to the peaceful Sierra Valley whenever possible. 

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