This agroforestry project of the South Whidbey Tilth seeks to address the problem of degrading native forest lands, often caused by well-intentioned landowners logging, bulldozing and burning forest tracts believing their actions improve the land’s agricultural potential. The project team is creating a demonstration project on 6 acres of degraded forest land described as a “parked out” stand of sparse Douglas fir trees with nonnative grasses and blackberry brambles beneath.
The fruits of this demonstration project will evolve for years to come. For example, substantial walnut yields will take decades to achieve, while other plants are already producing. Project coordinator Michael Seraphinoff says the plant capillary beds, 4-acre woodlot and an acre of mulched intensive native garden support an abundance of native bryophytes, lichens, fungi, plants, shrubs and small trees. Among these are edible mushroom varieties and certain native plants and trees that can be sold at the Tilth market in the current season.
“What we have discovered in the course of this project is that there is a growing interest in the use of native plants for medicinal, culinary and ornamental uses and in the creation of environmentally friendly landscapes that improve wildlife habitat and enhance native biological diversity,” Seraphinoff says in the project’s final report.
He adds that public interest in the South Whidbey Tilth forest restoration project, participation in two Tilth-sponsored educational programs and purchases at the native plant sale at the Tilth Farmers Market last fall all suggest the potential for sustainable wildcrafted products to bolster family farms.
South Whidbey Tilth, a sustainable agriculture chapter of the Washington Tilth Association, was formed in 1982 and now has about 90 member households, most of whom have small organic farms of 5 to 100 acres on southern Whidbey Island. The members have sold their produce through chapter-sponsored farmers markets, community supported agriculture and local food markets or restaurants. The farmers market now operates on 11 acres of tilth-owned land adjoining the major highway that traverses the long narrow island of 70,000 people. In addition to hosting the market with 25 vendors and $75,000 in sales, the property is planned as a demonstration site to test and promote sustainable agriculture.
This SARE-funded project, the second for South Whidbey Tilth, began in May 2001 with clearing blackberry and thistle undergrowth from 5 acres. A portion of the open land was tilled and planted in September to rye to discourage revegetation by nonnative plants. In addition, two capillary beds, 16 feet by 4 feet, were created in the garden as was a 20- by 40-foot bed for propagation of native plants that could be potted and sold or planted in the demonstration site.
Through the fall and winter, selected native forest understory plants salvaged from construction sites were transplanted, and several varieties of trees were planted in a 1-acre clearing at the site. Desired plants not easily transplanted were grown from seed. In November 2002, after continued clearing of nonnative plants and after fall rains, selected plants stored in beds were planted on the site.
The project team also established selected edible mushroom varieties by sowing mycological substrate in large woody debris placed in the forest. Oyster mushrooms have been added so far, and other varieties will follow.
Detailed records are being kept of all plantings and the development of the trees as well. In May 2002, the project began keeping records of wildcrafted forest products sold through the farmers market.
Technical advisor Elliott Menashe has consulted on site preparation, transplantation and harvesting, a role he will continue.
“In addition to advising them on this newest project, their intensive demonstration native understory garden, I will be advising them on the further work of planting, maintaining and harvesting forest understory of the original project,” says Menashe of Greenbelt Consulting.
In addition, Marianne Edain and Steve Erickson, specialists in the identification, propagation, values and uses of native plants, advised on creating the capillary beds. Fran Abel, a local landscape designer, helped design the intensive 1-acre site for the restoration project, including a site map and planting list showing 49 varieties of trees, shrubs and understory plants native to the Puget Sound trough.
The project has initiated collaboration with the Washington Department of Transportation and the Island County Public Works Department to create a salvage plant facility on the South Whidbey Tilth property. The parties will coordinate to salvage native plants in areas scheduled for road work or construction.
At the same time, the project is demonstrating to visitors the value of restoring degraded forest lands and harvesting value from native plants. Each Saturday during the 2001 and 2002 market season, May through October, at least four or five customers and a couple of vendors at the farmers market hiked the hill above the market to the restoration site.
“We can expect an increasing number of visitors from among the hundreds who visit the farmers market as the project develops and evolves and the site becomes more interesting to visit,” says project coordinator Seraphinoff.
DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS
Information about the project was disseminated through the South Whidbey Tilth Newsletter and project brochure. In addition, the project held three workshops in fall 2002:
· Oct. 12, Native Plants Focus Day; the project distributed several hundred plants of 25 native species for a small donation. The plants came from salvage, and the donations were used to promote the SARE-funded forest restoration project and the values of native plants.
· Oct. 19, Elliot Menashe presented a workshop on native plants and why they should be preserved and promoted.
· Nov. 23, Fran Abel presented a workshop on the use of native plants in landscape designs.
The final report of the SARE project was to be published in the spring 2003 issue of the South Whidbey Tilth Newsletter, distributed to more than 100 farmer or gardener households on Whidbey Island.