Volunteer finds her niche at site where famed horticulturist developed thousands of plants

  • Erin Sheffield of the Luther Burbank Gold Ridge Farm in Sebastopol, Wednesday March 6, 2013. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Have you ever been pegged as a groupie? Erin Sheffield has.

"I've been accused of being a Luther Burbank groupie," said Sheffield, the chairwoman of the Luther Burbank Experiment Farm committee. "The more I found out about the man, the more I was interested."

The Sebastopol farm, better known as Gold Ridge, was where Burbank developed thousands of new hybrid plants.

Sheffield, 73, began volunteering with the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa in the spring of 2009. A Sebastopol resident, she discovered Gold Ridge later that year and began volunteering at the farm in the fall.

"I saw there were very few volunteers here (at Gold Ridge), and nobody was doing what I saw needed to be done," Sheffield said. "It took me until my 70s to find my perfect job, but I found it."

She now serves as the liaison between the two Burbank locations, just one of the many hats she wears at the farm.

"I'd always loved gardening, and I have my B.A. from Cal Poly-Pomona in horticulture and landscape architecture," Sheffield said. "My only regret is I don't garden at the farm."

Despite finding little time to garden, Sheffield trains new volunteers, plans events, gives community lectures about the farm and provides public-relations assistance.

"Erin transformed the way the farm was organized almost single-handedly," said Steve Fowler, the former curator of Gold Ridge.

"She brought us into the 21st century," he said.

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