Once again the rains have returned to the hills and valleys of southern Oregon, blessing us with crystal clear air, vibrant fall colors and trickling springs and streams. Perhaps due to my northwest roots, I never lose appreciation for a comforting blanket of morning clouds or the sound of pounding rain on the barnâ€™s metal roof. The rains nourish the soil and plants, and at the same time renew our own spirits for the beginning of another year and exciting new projects to come!
2015 was a year of great challenges, and yet due to an extremely positive and productive crew and supportive community the Farm had its best year yet. For the third year running, southern Oregon was hit with extreme drought and heat, leading to our most limited irrigation season ever, and several weeks of wildfire smoke in August. In addition, our local water official informed us that our decades-old pond was never properly permitted by previous owners of the property and thus requires over $1,000 in fees and permits. Finally, our summer intern was forced to cancel her internship on day one due to family problems.
In response to these challenges, we have renewed our dedication to drought-proofing the Farm and sharing these techniques through several new adult workshops next year. Additionally, our tireless crew of Brian Geier, McKenzie Woolley, Stephanie Magoon, Sarah Shea, Casey Wright and Nicole Kraft more than made up for any labor shortage by going above and beyond in their dedication to the Farmâ€™s many programs! Thanks to the crew, abundant sunshine, and well-metered irrigation, the farming season was extremely productive, with great harvests for the Farmerâ€™s Market, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, seed contracts, and our local food bank.
Our childrenâ€™s education programs were also very successful, as highlighted by our growing partnership with College Dreams (see page 3). Education Coordinator Brian Geier oversaw an expanded preschool and overnight school-visit program that allowed more youngsters to spend quality time at the Farm. One highlight of the season was an overnight visit from the third grade class at Medfordâ€™s Madrone Trail Charter School in May. Twenty-five students spent their time harvesting and cooking from the garden, exploring the forest, tending the chickens and goats, and sleeping out in our new wall tents. Summer Farm Camps were again a big hit with participants, and Spring and Fall school visits were offered to twenty classes from throughout the Rogue Valley thanks to our partnership with Rogue Valley Farm to School. Overall our childrenâ€™s education programs continue to be the heart of our mission at White Oak Farm, and we are always gratified by the smiles, laughter and insight that children bring to the Farm each day.
As the farming and education seasons come to a close, I find myself extremely excited thinking about the year to come and the great things in store for 2016. Thanks to several unexpected grants and donations and an energized staff, we are embarking on an ambitious program for next year. First, with the help of our former intern and local forester Josh Weber, we have begun a maintenance, bridge building, and signage project for our trail system. We are also planning to improve our education infrastructure by constructing covered outdoor eating and classroom spaces partially from poles harvested as part of the trail project. Our drought-proofing efforts will also continue with the installation of several new water storage systems and efficiency measures. Finally, we are developing several new adult education programs, including a 12 day Permaculture Design Course in late March, and a sustainable living skills series to be offered throughout the year. Check out our website for updates on these exciting new programs!