Snow!

14 inches and counting! We are so blessed to be getting an abundant snow producing storm this week. The creek is finally flowing, and the snow is piling up. The above view is of the upper meadow at the Farm – thinned in 2010 to enhance a white oak/manzanita savanna ecosystem. This type of drought tolerant ridge-top ecosystem provides great habitat for many species. Tracks observed in the snow today include: bobcat, deer, skunk and jackrabbit.

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The Native Nursery

A Beaver Pond along Neil Creek in Ashland at a Freshwater Trust restoration site.

By Nicole Kraft – Nursery Crew Leader

2021 marks the third year of White Oak’s Native Plant Nursery, and a successful one at that. This year we grew and distributed over 30,000 native trees and shrubs of 18 different species for the purpose of riparian restoration throughout Southern Oregon. 

These trees and shrubs were grown from hand-collected seed and cuttings, which all require specific treatments and stratification to mimic nature’s processes. In early spring as the seedlings emerged from their peat-filled trays, we individually potted them up into soil-filled nursery containers.  Next, we sorted and spaced the plants in order for them to size-up and grow in good form. We watered, loved, and fed them compost tea through the very hot and dry summer months.  When Fall arrived and the cool temperatures brought the beginnings of dormancy, we started bundling the plants by species and quantity, preparing them for their final destinations.  The cycle continues with new seed collected in late summer put into stratification, plant deliveries, cleaning and organizing the greenhouses, and preparing for winter cuttings.

Riparian zones are the land areas along waterways, streams, and other bodies of water, such as a streambank or a flood plain. They provide critical habitat for diverse fish and wildlife species and important ecosystem services that relate to hydrology, such as water filtration and groundwater recharge. Native plants fill specific roles in the riparian ecosystem, providing canopy and food security for hundreds of species, erosion control and stabilization of stream banks, improved water quality and temperature modulation, and greater resistance and resilience to wildfire. 

It will come as no surprise that humans have severely degraded riparian zones- with development, human-constructed dams and removal of the beaver, agricultural run-off and overgrazing, and the list goes on. Exotic plant populations, wildfires, and climate change are also on the growing list of impacts. 

It turns out that nursery-grown native plants can be hard to find, especially in significant quantities for larger scale restoration projects. White Oak sees an opportunity in this challenge, and we will continue to do our best to provide healthy native plant species for the important work of restoring the riparian habitat in our Southern Oregon communities.

As always, a huge part of our success comes from our partnerships, mentors, and community support.  We have learned from and worked with James Kraemer of Silver Springs Nursery over the last three seasons. He has imparted a great deal of knowledge and wisdom, as well as a passion for plants that is infectious. The majority of our nursery stock is purchased by The Freshwater Trust, a Pacific Northwest-based restoration organization.  For the past 8 years TFT has been working on restoration and conservation projects in the Rogue Basin of Southern Oregon, with 30 current restoration sites. We collaborate with the Rogue Native Plant Partnership on native seed sourcing and discussions about the future of restoration. We also work with local landowners and host on-site native plant sales to encourage the education and planting of native riparian plants. Thank you to all who support us and these efforts, and feel free to reach out with any questions about incorporating native plants into your own life!

Fall Colors in the Nursery. Douglas Hawthorn is the bright red species in the foreground.
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2021 Year in Review

Fall colors on the Farm

Restoration

By Taylor Starr, Director

Given the challenges facing the world these days, it is easy to be pessimistic and even despondent about our future.  The smoke and fires start earlier every summer and last later into the fall. Drought conditions are worsening, and the pandemic and political polarization seem to continue unabated.  And yet each fall with the return of the rains, the growth of newly planted cover crops, the arrival of school groups, and the planting of young trees, hope is renewed and anything again seems possible.

Fall is truly the season of rebirth in our Mediterranean climate.  This October we were blessed with abundant rains, and seemingly overnight, smoky skies became clear, leaves turned their most vivid colors, and robins descended on the madrone berry crop in numbers not seen in decades. Now even in late November as I write, their songs reverberate through the forest as they feast.  I am heartened by their joy and their numbers, and reminded that despite the challenges our community and our world face, there is good work to be done, and it is best done with a song of joy.

This year has presented us ample opportunity here at White Oak Farm to whistle while we work. Children returned for school visits in Spring and Fall, and the education programs in the Williams and Ruch school gardens were expanded and improved in their second years.  We also hosted two weeks of summer farm camps, including the first year of Teen Camp, which was a big success! On the Farm, thanks to generous donations and partnerships with A Greater Applegate, Rogue Valley Farm to School, and the Josephine County Food Bank, we were able to distribute thousands of pounds of fresh organic food to local food banks, schools, and families free of charge.  We also had a great year producing seed crops of sunflowers, zinnias, calendula, winter squash, milkweed, greens, and beans for small farmers and gardeners around the country.  In the Native Nursery we took a big leap this year, producing over 50,000 trees and shrubs for riparian restoration and native landscaping.

Some of our most exciting work in 2021 took place in the forest that covers the steep hillsides behind the Farm.  This year we partnered with the NRCS and local forester Josh Weber to thin 16 acres of mixed conifer and hardwood forest on the western half of the property. These woods were previously so thick with small diameter Douglas Fir and Poison Oak that they were rarely visited.

After a winter of carefully designing a prescription, cutting small trees, piling and burning the branches, and leaving larger wood for firewood, habitat, or to decompose into the soil, the project area is healthier, more fire-safe, and more wildlife friendly.  This work will continue in 2022 on the eastern half of the Farm and into the future with the development of more trails, signage and educational opportunities. 

At the heart of this year of hard work and new programs is our commitment to restoration: repair, renewal, and reinvigoration.  We are focusing our efforts more and more in this vein: restoration of our woods, of local riparian corridors and burn zones, of our soil, and of local pollinator communities, school gardens, and food systems.  These efforts are impactful because their timeline is long. When sprouting thousands of acorns or burning piles of branches in our woods, the payoff is not measured in dollars, but in future cascading positive outcomes. Perhaps an acorn will become an old growth oak someday, shading a stream with healthy salmon runs, providing food for critters and people, and offerings its branches for children to climb.  Restoration is also an act of restitution, an attempt at making good for past actions gone wrong. In riparian restoration work, one of the signs that a project is successful is when beavers move back to an area and do their work. By taking down trees to build their dams beavers provide habitat, recharge water tables, reduce erosion and improve water quality.  There is poetry in this planting of trees to encourage another to cut them down, but it is this very complexity and long-term impact that makes the effort so important and so satisfying.

An example of beaver activity at a restoration site in the Bear Creek Valley. Our partner organization, The Freshwater Trust, plants trees and shrubs grown at White Oak Farm at sites like this around Southern Oregon.
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2020 Year in Review

Practicing Resilience

By Taylor Starr

One great thing about farming is that it prepares you for surprises.  There is always a late frost or a freak thunderstorm or an unexpected pest to throw a farmer a curveball when you least expect it.  Well, 2020 provided us all with surprises just about every day!  Thankfully, we at White Oak Farm were able to adapt and meet the challenges while still providing support to our local community in new and exciting ways.  Between COVID-19 cancelations of school visits and overnight camps; wildfire impacts on farmers markets and air quality; and endless uncertainty, it has been a challenging year to say the least.  Here at the Farm we are extremely privileged to work from home, with a dedicated staff, in our relatively isolated rural community, and to have years of farming successes and failures to help prepare us for resilience in this time of upheaval.

Last spring, as we were gearing up for our biggest season ever of farm field trips and programs in the schools, it quickly became clear that we were going to need a major change of plans due to the escalating pandemic.  In March, we tossed our original schedule out the window and pivoted to new education programs.  This became a theme for the year: seeing opportunities in the chaos, and looking for new ways to do good work whenever possible.  We adapted our School Partnership Program, putting more energy into improving the gardens at our local schools; providing online content for the students that encouraged outdoor adventures, creativity, and healthy eating; offering garden-based education to small groups of students when it was safe to do so; and providing free produce boxes for eligible school families.  We also adapted our summer Farmstay, by dividing the group of twenty campers in two and hosting two weeks of day camp – each with ten students. This allowed the kids to spend time at the Farm (and with each other) in a safe manner for all. 

A free CSA box in August

On the Farm, 2020 provided some exciting opportunities as well.  Demand for our seed crops grew due to the pandemic-inspired interest in gardening. We had already been slowly expanding our seed production, and this year gave us the ability to make a big leap, producing crops of mustard greens, delicata squash, tomatoes, zinnias, nasturtiums, sunflowers, corn, and two species of milkweed.  We also adapted our marketing of produce this year after COVID-19, wildfires and smoke impacted our farmers markets, offering a weekly contactless produce pickup for our loyal customers.  Thanks to funds from the State of Oregon and generous donations from local folks, we greatly expanded our free CSA program to provide weekly produce to 40 school families.  The boxes included recipes and activities and were designed to encourage kids to try new healthy foods.  We were also able to donate thousands of pounds of winter squash, apples, pears, and greens to local schools, food banks, and fire victims this year, doing our small part to provide organic food to the many families struggling to eat in these challenging times.

A new and growing aspect of our work on the Farm is our restoration program.  This year we expanded our native plant nursery, growing over 30,000 plants for riparian restoration projects and native landscaping throughout Southern Oregon.  This fall, in partnership with our former Intern Josh Weber and funding from NRCS we are also embarking on 16 acres of restoration for forest health and wildfire safety in our woods.  This work seeks to make the Farm more fire safe in a time of escalating wildfires, and also to develop and demonstrate carbon-friendly forestry techniques and practices.  This is the beginning of a two-year project that will also lead to more trails, signage, and educational opportunities in our woods.

As 2020 comes to an end, we are busy planning for next year’s programs.   We are looking forward to continuing our work in the schools, providing free food to local families, growing seeds and native plants, working to make our woods healthier and more resilient, and hopefully welcoming students back to the Farm for educational programs.  Whatever the new year brings, we are ready to change and adapt!  With the rapidly worsening climate crisis, an ongoing pandemic, and a fractured society, I believe we are living through a period where upheaval will be the norm, and resilience will be the best strategy for coping and even thriving.  Life is not going to be easy, and so we are all going to have to work as hard as possible to approach each new situation with intelligence, flexibility, and compassion.  We are inspired daily by the incredible efforts of young people across the country to stand up and demand racial justice, human rights, and an aggressive response to the climate crisis.  Their example shows us that together, we have the collective ability to create a society that is in balance with nature and that celebrates and values all life.  We continue to be hopeful for this future, and inspired to be a part of doing the work to get there with all of you!

2020 – Year of the New Puppy.
Our farm dog Lucy, here pictured learning to watch the turkeys (without chasing them!)
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Fall Equinox Fundraiser

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Perennials Class April 15th

Join us Saturday, April 15th for the 3rd class in our Sustainable Living Skills Class Series, “Perennial Crop Care” with Taylor Starr and Brian Geier. 9am-1pm, organic snacks provided. Cost is $40. Please pre-register by calling 541 846 0776 or emailing info@whiteoakfarmcsa.org

This hands-on class will explore the world of perennials. Grow food, medicine, teas, fiber, basketry materials and more every year on your homestead with a small amount of maintenance. We will explore different methods of propagation, and participants will be able to bring home cuttings and divisions of plants. Some of the plants folks will be working with and bring home include: valerian, comfrey, lemon balm, basketry willow, flowers, raspberries, strawberries, grapes and more. Learn how to integrate low maintenance and high-bearing perennials into your homestead to feed your body and fuel your soul.

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Natural Building Workshop June 9-11

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2017 Sustainable Living Skills Class Series

class flyer17

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Natural Building Practicum Position Available!

50White Oak Farm is offering a 7 month Natural Building Practicum in 2017 for one qualified builder.  The position will provide the opportunity for an aspiring natural builder with at least one year of experience to practice their craft through the construction of a IMG_6316small cob/straw/light straw clay classroom as well as additional projects including plastering, solar hot water, carpentry, and more.  The builder will work with the Farm staff, interns, workshop participants, volunteers and school groups to implement the projects, providing ample opportunities for creativity, leadership, skill building, and experimentation.

IMG_6359The Natural Building Practicum is designed to provide experience to an individual with an interest in developing their knowledge and skills for a life and career in natural building. The program requires hard work, a good attitude, the ability to live and work with others, and self-motivation. The builder will receive simple housing in their own wall tent, staple foods, farm fruits and vegetables, and access to farm facilities including kitchen, phone, internet, showers, ponds, and a sauna.  There is also a monthly stipend.  Responsibilities of the program include three days per week of building projects as well as one day per week working on the farm, and daily chores.  All Farm residents are also expected to communicate clearly, be self-motivated, and work hard.

The program runs from April 1st to October IMG_293231, with a one month trial period.  Prior experience in natural building is required for participation.  To apply please send a cover letter describing your relevant experiences and interests, along with a resume and references to info@whiteoakfarmcsa.org

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Fourth Annual Fall Fundraiser Sept. 17

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