Based in Oroville, CA Woodleaf Farm has been growing organic food since 1980. Over the last 30 years Carl Rosato and Helen Atthowe have been recognized as leaders in farm design that suppresses pests and soil management practices that improve plant health. In 2014 they received a $2,252 grant from The FruitGuys Community Fund to document the biological and economic sustainability of agro-ecosystem farming techniques.
Building Healthy Natural Soil
Carl and Helen used the grant to look further into building healthy natural soil to create a truly organic farming system. For more information on their findings, you can view their recorded webinar on Building Pest-Suppressive Organic Farms, or watch a video explaining Woodleaf’s ecological design.
When we spoke to Woodleaf Farms about how they used their grant, she had the following to say:
“We have a unique low-input nitrogen cycling and mineral balancing soil management system. This system works in a synergistic manner with the farm’s biological control pest management system and mimics nutrient cycling in a natural forest. With help from a The FruitGuys Community Fund Grant in 2014, we looked more closely at yield, fruit quality, leaf nutrition, and soil health interactions in combination with weekly insect monitoring to evaluate whether or not this unique system is ecologically and economically sustainable. The data collected in 2014 supports our premise: this system with low nitrogen and low organic spray material inputs has resulted in good yields of high-quality fruit with acceptable (less than 10 percent) pest damage and lower labor costs.” -– Helen Atthowe, Woodleaf Farm co-owner
The short-term impact on their farm, outside of creating the research findings, is related to pest control. Throughout 2015 and 2016 they have not needed to spray against any insect pests while maintaining a strong yield and crop quality, effectively proving the validity of their original hypothesis.
Woodleaf Farm Is Looking to the Future
Helen and Carl are now helping a young couple take over Woodleaf Farm, teaching them how to use their soil and insect ecological system. Now in semi retirement, Carl and Helen have moved to a smaller farm in Oregon. They will use the same techniques they developed to build a smaller orchard and vegetable garden. Their aim is to continue farm technique experimentation in order to provide enough food to support themselves as well as sell to one farmers market per week.
Helen’s advice to other independent farmers looking to apply for a FruitGuys Community fund grant? Keep detailed records of everything that happens to your farm. Doing so helps determine what’s really on in your farm’s unique ecosystem.