To Keep a Promise

To Keep a Promise

A walk with the Land Steward

White Oak Farm and Education Center  is a conserved property located in the Williams Creek Valley.

“What’s happened on your land since we visited last year? Have there been any new wildlife sightings? Seen any interesting plants,” Karen Hussey asks Taylor Starr, the Executive Director of White Oak Farm & Education Center, a non-profit in Williams, and a conservation landowner. As the Land Steward with the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, Karen has a unique relationship with Taylor.

Karen started with us this year to add to our land stewardship team. She is responsible for keeping a promise we have to the landowners who placed a conservation easement on their land, and to the greater community: a promise to uphold the conservation values of the protected properties placed in our trust. The legal agreement with White Oak Farm include protecting the farmland from subdivision and other non-farm development and the forest from being clear cut. Part of our role, as the organization that holds and enforces the conservation agreement, is that we visit the property every year.

Karen and Taylor go over the layout and details of the farm and forest.

Karen chats with Taylor about life on the farm. They discuss any struggles with farm and land management as well as plans for the year ahead. “Are you planning to sell your property, update your forest management plan, or build additional structures?” Karen asks. She also inquires if there are any conservation issues we could help with. As a local land trust, we provide resources to landowners such as project funding suggestions, biological and cultural surveys, or extra hands for managing the land for forest health, native wildlife and plants, and control of invasive species. If we cannot directly provide assistance, we recommend other organizations that might be able to help.

Looking at a map together, Taylor points to various areas of interest — the upland forest where they have been thinning trees for forest health, the organic farmland with greenhouses and goats, and the irrigation ponds and residential area. He suggests a good walking route for the monitoring visit, covering the changing landscape from farm to forest. With a GPS unit clipped on, a camera in her pocket, and a notepad in her hand, Karen’s eyes and ears are wide open as they walk the property. Monitoring our 63 conserved properties is an important part of what we do, and why many people support our mission. Land protected through this legal agreement between a landowner and the land trust is a useful tool. This partnership is key in protecting our communities’ interest in saving farmland, forests and open spaces, adding not only to the conservation values of an area, but also the economic values.

Karen notices a couple claw marks on a madrone tree in the forestland above the farm.

Karen walks through the gardens and grazing pastures noting the buzzing bees in the field of seed crops, the rich soil being cared for, the children enjoying freshly picked cherries, and the clean water flowing out of the intact forest above the farmland. After a mile and a half loop, Karen packs up her gear, pops a few juicy berries in her mouth and waves goodbye to Taylor. She reflects on her new role as Land Steward. “I’ve been a biologist in many capacities in my life, but what has struck me as special about my work with the Land Conservancy is the people aspect. The landowners are each unique, each with a different story, and each worthy of their own article in our eNews. They have different backgrounds, beliefs, and ways of doing things. And yet they all share a love for the land. I find that inspiring. ” Karen’s appreciation for the landowners, and the land, is what helps us keep the promise we’ve made to each and every one.

Interested in conserving your land? Tell us a little info about your property by filling out our online form or give us a call at our office. 

We’re delighted to work with Taylor and the White Oak Board of Directors in conserving their farm legacy. White Oak Farm and Education Center is a small, non-profit farm-based education center. Each year they host a variety of programs, including internships, school visits, preschool, and summer camps for children. The public can enjoy their produce through the Siskiyou Co-op CSA. Find out more about their products and programs at www.whiteoakfarmcsa.org/.