Leo Chapman: Decades of Impact and a Regenerative Dream for the Future

By: Dana Frasz

Leo Chapman Local Food Hero

Leo’s earliest memories are of gardening with his parents.  At age 10 he remembers the juicy goodness of his first peach direct from the tree, and in his teenage years, he helped preserve the crops through canning, drying, and freezing.   

Leo and his wife Deb have lived in Nevada City for 35 years and the list of their contributions to the farming community is long.  Leo and Tim Van Wagner started Living Lands Agrarian Network to educate the next generation of farmers; Leo was the inspiration for Sierra Harvest’s farm institute training program that has trained 140 farmers; Leo led the Sierra Gardens program to build backyard gardens and helped launch a program to connect farmers with available land. 

Leo’s vision, values, and work ethic are strong and have left an impact. Without Leo, there may not be any farmer training program locally.

Prior to farming Leo was in construction but realized when his granddaughter arrived that he wanted her to know him as a farmer.  When he thinks about what makes him most proud, he highlights stepping away from a consumptive lifestyle and looks to his grandchildren as a constant source of motivation, inspiration, and pride.

“I wanted my grandchildren to know where their food came from.”  Sure enough, his granddaughter had her first peach ripe from a tree before she was two years old.  Now she studies regenerative agriculture, which Leo reflects on with pride and enthusiasm.

Leo’s granddaughter Kialey harvesting corn in September at Harmony Valley Farm/Chapman Family Farm. She is a junior at Prescott University, in Prescott AZ.  She is studying Environmental Science and Regenerative Agriculture there.

In 2017 Deb and Leo purchased Harmony Valley Farm. Using new regenerative farming techniques such as no till, they cultivated fertility and now have mature fruit trees, happy vegetables, and lots of blueberries, peaches, and grapes!  Leo believes in growing the highest possible quality food he can grow and strives to have extra to share with the neighbors. He walks the talk by “living simply, so others can simply live,” and since he is surrounded by such delicious food, he is often reminded of his childhood that set him on this path.

“That early childhood memory floods back to me every time I bite into one of those fresh peaches right off the tree…That’s one reason why Food Love Farm is so important.”  Those early memories matter and leave a life-long impression.

Leo’s impact has been felt for decades and will be felt for decades to come as dozens of farmers have gained knowledge, land, and connections that facilitate local, wholesome food production for the region.  With love and admiration, Leo acknowledges, “None of this work could have been accomplished without my lifetime partner, Deb.” 

Deb and Leo look forward to passing the torch to the next generation and hope a young farmer will come their way soon to take over where they’ve left off.

Leo and Deb, we thank you and acknowledge you for all you’ve done for the community and farmers!

What challenges me:

Getting older with less energy

Getting people to grow food


Ditch water

What am I most proud of:

Stepping away from a consumptive life style, in general contracting, into a productive life style of farming

Living Lands Agrarian Network

Nevada City Farmers Market

Having my first Granddaughter in college studying regenerative agriculture

What do I hope to accomplish:

Continue developing a regenerative agriculture farm, that displays a system, that can scale up to a living wage for a farmer. 

Get more people to care about the food they eat.

How has my working changed:

When I was younger I could throw everything I had at what I did, now I can work smarter.

I know exactly how to decide what needs to be done now.

No till methods have reduced the physical aspects of growing food.  

As I have gained experience i now have a better grasp at teaching what I know.

Wisdom/advice to want to be farmers:

Take Sierra Harvest farm classes

Embrace no till regenerative agriculture

One partner off the farm, having a money making job.

Grow YOUR food!!!!

Live simply

Give of yourself, share your knowledge, your ideas, and your energy to others. It will come back to you many times over.

Climate change:

I have been aware that climate change has been coming all my life.

Global Living Project

Switching my life around to be a farmer

Living Lands Agrarian Network, support for farmers

Regenerative agriculture…….sequestering carbon

Water, a LOT of California is a desert

How we rely on rain and snow melt

We are just beginning to see the effects of climate change

Extremes in weather

Hotter summers

Dryer trends

Values that drive my work/leadership:

Thinking and following actions that look down the 7 generations principles.

Taking only what you need, and what is your {share}.

Global foot print

Aligning your belief  system to match your actions

Leading with actions

Other ideas:

Sierra Agrarian Institute, education in action

Community gardens, getting more people to grow some of their food.

Community events around food…..Bounty of the county, SH soup nights, come home to eat, type of events, celebrate the farmers in our community.