EcoStewards – Journal of the World Stewardship Institute
Volume 3, #1 Winter/Spring 1999
By Sarah Nossaman
WSI is happy to announce that we have completed our first local educational tree planting project. This unique project combined sustainable agriculture, reforestation, native species reintroduction, and education, with plans for future interpretive tours. Sponsored by the Biodiversity Program of WSI, this work was made possible with funding from the Sonoma County Community Foundation (in the form of a Schulz mini-grant) and from the Sonoma County Fish and Wildlife Advisory Board.
The tree planting took place at Taylor Maid Farms, in the coastal hills of the Salmon Creek watershed in Occidental, Sonoma County. Taylor Maid Farms is a family-owned organic farm, specializing in herbal teas and cut flowers, with approximately 80 acres of mixed conifer/hardwood forest and 20 acres of pasture being converted into perennial herbs, fruits, and vines. We were blessed in discovering this site, as the caretaker of the farm, Michael Presley, and owner Chris Martin, shared our aspirations for improving the health of the watershed and for using this project as a future vehicle of stewardship education. Though Taylor Maid practices only sustainable methods of agriculture, proximity to the coast and the angle of the hillside made deforested areas particularly vulnerable to erosion by harsh coastal winds. For this reason, trees planted here could function as much-needed windbreaks. Some additional factors made this farm an ideal site for the twofold project we had planned. First of all, the upper 20-acre portion of the land was already fenced off from deer and other potential seedling browsers. Also, the planting sites had existing drip irrigation or could be provided with such. Finally, farm personnel would provide all future maintenance for the trees.
The first stage of the project consisted of bringing local school children in to plant 220 Douglas fir seedlings around the crop area and along the bare southern border of the property. These fir trees, hardy natives which flourish in this microclimate, will not only provide soil protection and serve as habitat, but will act as windbreaks and as buffers from chemicals used on the surrounding vineyards.
As it happened, 31 seventh graders from Salmon Creek Middle School, along with their science teacher Mike Heffernan, made up a merry and enthusiastic group of tree planters on the morning of November 16th. Ten SRJC students from Ed Castellini’s English class also joined us. They listened to a short lesson on trees, soil, wind, and erosion presented by Lisa Gonzales and myself, as we are the Project Coordinators for this event. This was then followed by Michael’s eloquent ecological overview of the land, its function in the watershed, and our place as humans in the watershed. After learning proper planting techniques, children shouldered tools and happily dirtied their hands planting Douglas firs in their new home of fine humus.
This scenario was virtually duplicated on December 9th when Mike Heffernan brought another 30 students out to the site. As you know, seventh graders have a lot of energy, and this bunch was particularly enthusiastic. When I told them that a twelve-year old child can counterbalance the amount of carbon they are responsible for releasing into the atmosphere throughout their entire life by planting and maintaining a mere 60 trees (Miller, 1997), they could hardly wait to get started. These two groups of students will be returning with Mike next year to monitor the growth of the trees.
The second part of the Taylor Maid project consisted of planting a small interpretive conifer forest in an open pasture on the upper portion of the farm. This “Sonoma County conifer forest” includes all of the non-pine conifers native to the county (other than Pacific Yew, which could not be located for planting). These six species include McNab cypress, Sargeant cypress, California nutmeg, western hemlock, grand fir and coast redwood. Other than the redwood, these tree species could only be found at one nursery in all of California. Perhaps lack of propagation of these species explains why most of them now only occur in small numbers throughout the county. Apparently, they are not being regularly planted here, as redwood, fir, and other species are.
So, on December 18th, Lisa and myself joined with farm workers to plant this small forest of 36 trees, 1 to 5 gallons in size. Interpretive plaques are being made to accompany each tree species. It is our vision that, when the trees become established, this forest can be used to educate visitors from schools and local communities on native plant species and sustainable forest harvest methods, such as using forest materials for wreath-making and other economically viable purposes that promote alternatives to timber harvest.
Naturally, the role of Taylor Maid Farms as stewards of this plan is imperative, and the situation here is once again ideal. Currently, the farm provides monthly tours to the public, including local schools, clubs and classes. They offer their site as a teaching model for public and private schools. During 1998, over 2,000 people visited, toured and volunteered on the farm. Classes offered there include herbal crafting, forestry, permaculture, vermiculture, organic gardening, seed saving, basketry, and earth-building techniques. Once it has become established, WSI’s interpretive forest will be incorporated into the tours and classes, as a step towards enhancing stewardship education in our local communities.
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