Spotlight on Healthy Soils: Quaker Oaks Farm
Thanks to special guest author Shulamit Shroder for a glance at a Healthy Soils Program grant in action. Shulamit is Kern County's UCCE climate smart agriculture specialist.
Quaker Oaks Farm is a small nonprofit farm in Tulare County, near Visalia. About half of its 21 acres are devoted to restoring and maintaining a native wetland and riparian oak forest area. The rest is a diverse organic farming operation, with areas devoted to annual vegetable crops, grazed grasslands, and a small orchard.
As farm manager, Steven Lee applied for and received a Healthy Soils grant in 2017 to plant cover crops and hedgerows, apply compost and mulch, and establish a silvopasture area.
He believes that this investment in the farm's soil will pay off in the long term, so that the next generation can continue to enjoy the services provided by the nonprofit's complex landscape.
Between March 2018 and March 2021, the farm plans to:
- Plant cover crops on 4.5 acres
- Plant hedgerows on 0.3 acres
- Establish a 2.5 acre silvopasture area
- Apply mulch to 2 acres
- Apply compost to 6 acres
Water usage: Dr. Lee reported that the mulch has helped keep young plants from wilting in the hot sun and that their overall water usage has decreased.
Energy usage: They have reduced their tillage operations, which has decreased their energy use and their carbon footprint.
Pests: Dr. Lee has witnessed an increase in beneficial insects since the start of the project, especially ladybugs. In 2018, the ladybugs did not migrate away from the farm during the hottest part of the summer like they had in previous years. The farm also did not have to spray organic pesticides in 2018, unlike in 2017. In addition, the increase in native pollinators should help to pollinate the fruit tree orchard, since the farm does not have its own beehive.
Labor: Implementing these practices takes time, and Dr. Lee does most of the on-farm labor himself. He ended up prioritizing the Healthy Soils project over production during the past year, since the grant has offset his labor costs.
Learning curve: Determining optimal timing has been the steepest learning curve so far, such as figuring out when to plant the native hedgerow plants and when to replace the ones that died.
Climate smart agriculture encompasses management practices that increase soil carbon sequestration, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve yields and efficiencies, and promotes climate resilience. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) supports three funding opportunities in climate smart agriculture: the Healthy Soils Program, the State Water Efficiency & Enhancement Program, and the Alternative Manure Management Program.
In a collaborative partnership, CDFA and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources have teamed up to support 10 community education specialists throughout the state to provide technical assistance and outreach for the climate smart agriculture programs. As one of these technical assistance providers, my role is to promote and support the adoption of these programs in Ventura County. If you are interested in working with me, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.