Under the Oak Farm is located just north of Duncan, BC, on 25 acres and farmed by Heather Young. Since 2015 they have continued to establish agroforestry practices, and develop a food forest, orchards, herb gardens, pastures and a no-till market garden. They have hugelkultur wrapped around their commercial production beds which are multi-species, and permanent perennial beds that include asparagus, strawberries, saffron, and rotating alliums. They have pollinator beds to attract beneficial insects and plan to graze cattle in their forest and chickens in their orchard to maintain a balanced farm. Young describes their farm as a “restorative agricultural farm.”
I am a firm believer that if we change parts of how we live, our emissions will decrease. A big part of how we live is choosing better agricultural practices. – Heather Young
Operating as restorative agriculture, Young implements many climate-friendly practices around the farm, viewing the space as a balanced ecosystem. They bring in compost, rotten hay, straw and the ingredients for their homemade probiotics however don’t use any herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, or chemical fertilizers. Lime is sometimes applied to assist in changing pH in the pasture areas. For Young, water conservation is a key concern of future climate variability. She says, “My biggest concern is moisture in the future. Being on the island and North of California, I’m very concerned about how dry it might be in the future.” Climate change is disrupting usual weather patterns, resulting in higher temperatures and less rain fall, creating worries for farmers around water sources and soil moisture. With these concerns, they have several strategies to adapt to and mitigate climate change.
Young uses permaculture techniques to slow and hold water on the property. Having their forests intact and utilizing the benefits of trees gives them massive water holding capacity on their farm. The surrounding, untouched forest increases the dew and moisture on the property and holds water after a rain event. Any trees that need to be cleared are turned into mulch which is applied to the rest of their growing areas. The mulch acts like a sponge, helping the soil retain moisture during dry periods. These strategies are helpful for the farm business and growth success rate, but Young also credits their permanent plants and trees as huge sequesters of carbon. Young says, “Our ability as agriculture to sequester carbon is more far-reaching than any technology we have so far.”
Young believes that applying lessons learned from nature is the best way to reduce emissions. She says, “I am a firm believer that if we change parts of how we live, our emissions will decrease. A big part of how we live is choosing better agricultural practices.” Young follows an agroforestry model on the farm and mimics the relationship between trees and other plants in nature. She says, “In nature, trees grow with an understory of plants. If we reproduce that and let nature do its thing, it makes our life easier. We don’t have to weed as much, we don’t need to use nitrogen fertilizer, especially if you have nitrogen fixers. And, the trees provide habitat for birds that will eat your bugs.” By mimicking natural systems, Under the Oak has natural weed suppression, natural fertilizer, and wildlife pest control.
Trees are an important part of a balanced system and can be applied to any agricultural business. Young says, “I think it’s important to include more trees on farms. They increase the moisture level on the farm, bringing in your beneficial [insects] and wildlife that help your farm. The healthier your ecosystem, the healthier your farm, the healthier your plants.” Including trees in their system, maintaining existing trees and planting new ones, has benefitted their farm greatly. Additionally, trees and permanent plantings sequester carbon. Agroforestry models are a positive way to bring balance to the farm ecosystem and reduce emissions.
Applying an agroforestry model isn’t easy; it takes finances and a long-term plan. Young suggests, “Start small, have a plan.” She recommends starting a food forest first to secure a wider variety of products for yourself. She says, “Get wholesale from tree companies so you aren’t paying full price and then you can put in way more. Do the edges of your field because it’s cheap and easy and learn about no-till growing techniques.” Work with and learn from other farmers who adopt agroforestry to find out what works and what doesn’t. There is strength in being a part of a network of farmers dedicated to reducing emissions and farming in a climate-friendly way.