Natural habitat is an essential component of a healthy farm. We have been working since 2001 to conserve and restore habitat, and educate the community about farming and the environment. Through this work we have reduced erosion to our fields, seen our natural pollinators increase, and the wildlife diversify. Our soil and crops are healthier, and we are helping improve the water quality in a major salmon bearing river.
In the spring of 2013, we added a major component to conservation efforts with a new native plant program. The Oxbow Native Plant Nursery, in partnership with the University of Idaho Center for Forest Nursery and Seedling Research is a production, research and education facility. We are producing plants native to western Washington from local plant material, to be used for restoration and landscaping. Our work focuses on developing sustainable and organic growing practices for our plants, such as using compost produced from farm waste, creating irrigation systems that conserve water, and developing the least harmful pest management systems. Each season we host graduate students from the U of I, who conduct formal research on native plant production. We aim to grow the highest quality native plants, using ecologically sound practices, and become a facility fostering research and education that contributes to the restoration and nursery-growing community.
If a plant has been in an area historically and was not introduced by human means it is considered to be a native plant. Often the question is posed why are natives “better” than non-natives? Simply put, natives have evolved with the climate and the other native species, and are thus more adept at sustaining themselves and growing in harmony with other plants and animals in their environment. The result is diverse vegetation that requires minimal, if any, resources to maintain, and supports a wider range of wildlife and insects species. Many non-native plants, often called “invasive” plants, will out-compete other species and create a mono-culture (one specie) stand that does not provide diverse habitat for the local wildlife. A limited selection of insects and other wildlife results in a weakened system that is more vulnerable to negative impacts. One of the benefits of having native vegetation around a farm is that you increase your pollinator species while also increasing the predator species of natural agricultural pests. In the floodplain where Oxbow farm is located well-established native plants also act as a stronger buffer to hold the river bank in place when a flood comes, which protects our soil from unnecessary erosion.
Many people wonder what wildlife has to do with agriculture. In the past farmers and wildlife have seemingly been in opposition with one another. The natural world has been drastically altered and reduced in the past century, and as a result many of its benefits, once offered abundantly, have been reduced or even lost. We believe that our farm is benefitted by a healthy wildlife population. Beavers for example build dams that provide habitat and water storage. Coyotes, bobcats, snakes, raptors and other birds eat the farm’s pests. Plants and animals that do not have a direct function for the farm often go unappreciated, but there is a balance that must be maintained to ensure the health of place. There are many natural players who work in unison to keep soil strong and vibrant, and the water clean and clear. If we remove one, the effects are often drastic. Here at Oxbow we have encouraged an environment that is home to wild animals. Do they all help us grow vegetables? Indirectly, yes and we know that as long as we provide them a home, they will provide us a healthy foundation to grow from.
Clean healthy water is one of the fundamentals for growing good healthy food; as such it is imperative that we, as land stewards, care for our water sources. Development, agriculture, forestry and other human activities all have the potential to negatively impact our water. A forest floor is perhaps the best retainer for rain water, when the forest becomes a parking lot, a house or even a field of grass, the natural hydrology of an area changes. Often the water that would have soaked into soil runs across the top of the earth and becomes “run-off” that flows directly into a river. This run-off gathers soil, silt, chemicals, and other unwanted passengers on its journey, negatively impacting the water source that it drains in to. Additionally, stores of water that were once held by the earth flush out to sea causing lower water depths in drier seasons.
Our cover crops work to hold soil in place when heavy rains come. The buffers that we have planted on the river bank edge slow the water flows down before they reach the river. This gives the water time to filter down into the ground so that only the clean water enters the river. Keeping excessive run-off out of the water system is an invaluable service and ensures healthy water ways and fish populations. As part of our Salmon Safe certification we also manage the amount of water we use to help temper seasonal water fluctuations and make sure there is enough water for everyone in the valley.
Their mission is to help landowners preserve the environment. In the Snoqualmie Valley they work to maintain the economic viability of farms and forestland, while helping landowners restore fish and wildlife habitat.
Oregon-based Salmon-Safe certification program to recognize farm operations who adopt conservation practices that help restore native salmon habitat in Pacific Northwest rivers and streams. Salmon-Safe farms protect water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and overall watershed health. The independent eco-label is gaining national recognition and appears on a variety of products including wine, dairy, produce, and fruit.
Wild Fish Conservancy
A nonprofit conservation organization headquartered in Duvall Washington, Wild Fish Conservancy is dedicated to the recovery and conservation of the region’s wild-fish ecosystems. Through science, education, and advocacy, WFC promotes technically and socially responsible habitat, hatchery and harvest management to better sustain the region’s wild-fish heritage.
Rain gardens are a terrific home project, because they are beautiful landscape features that catch and filter polluted runoff from rooftops, driveways and other hard surfaces. Rain gardens also help reduce flooding on your property and create habitat for birds and butterflies. Stewardship Partners has been working since 1999 to engage homeowners from all over the state to do their part to clean up our waterways.
Five Things You Can Do
- 1. Reduce your commute: As we drive across the top of the pavement, chemicals, and small pieces of our cars weather away and end up in streams. In addition our exhaust lingers on the leaves of plants and with the dew they enter nature's water system.
- 2. Vegetate your yard and Neighborhood: Installing a rain garden and/or replacing the pavement in your area with permeable surfaces will allow for the soil to do its masterful job of holding rain water so that it does not rush down the hill to our streams. If you encourage your neighbors to join you the potential to create permeable space increases!
- 3. Reduce your water consumption: With all the rain we receive we forget how precious water really is. By reducing what you use now, you ensure more for drier times; it's also a good way to practice treading light.
- 4. Establish a chemical free household: Use natural cleaners, even with our improved technologies we cannot remove everything that gets put into water. The more chemicals and nutrients we put into the system the more we have to work to take out. In addition, if you wash your car at home, park on the lawn so the water soaks into the ground instead of into your street drain.
- 5. Take Part in your city council: Let your local representatives know that it is important to you that the earth's natural systems be encouraged to work. If we work to lessen our impacts on these systems we don't have to "fix" them later.