Gifts from the Forest

Gratitude to those who planted and cared for this tree many years ago.

These delicious mini persimmons are one of our favorite snacks this time of year at Big Oak Canyon. If you like wild greens, those are popping up as well. But this persimmon steals the show.


Photo: Ron Plomell

The tree grows in the forest between pines, majestic oak trees and a wood rats nest. Poison oak, English ivy and Matilija poppy are close by. Birds of prey nest on a neighboring tree: excrement and leftover scraps of bone and fur drop to the forest floor daily. I imagine the boost of nutrients it’s roots receive from that wood rats nest. In this forest, nutrients cycle continually and will for as long as there is Big Oak Canyon.

When the persimmon fruit is orange, it is bitter and hard to eat. As it ripens and turns brown and then purple, the flavor sweetens and the fruit begins to shrivel. I’ve been managing Big Oak Canyon for 7 years and I have not seen anyone water it, even once.

Intercropping cultivated foods in the woods is looked down by conservationists who want to conserve as much native habitat as possible, and popular by those wanting to live off the land and keep forests from being cleared for mono-crop agriculture.

Making our backyards work more like a forest gives us all who live in town a way to benefit from the concepts of food forests. You don’t need to put a rats nest in your back yard and crane in an 80-year-old oak tree… but you can use these 5 simple strategies to create a more holistic way for nutrients to cycle in your yard.

1. Plant species of various heights and various fruiting seasons.

2. Create earthen sponges to receive more water by covering the ground with leaves and mulch. If you do nothing else, this simple act will give the currently established trees more water by holding more moisture in the ground and extending access to moist soil until later in the dry season.

3. Feed the soil by composting your excess food scraps and manures. Without nourishment, soils and plants wither away. Compost replenishes the soil. It can be as complex or simple as you make it.

4. Use the energies moving through your space more intentionally. Wind, sun and human presence have an impact. Situate activity zones, plants and walkways in a way that allows for the most benefit from the various energy sources.

4. Plant species that provide native wildlife with food and shelter.

5. Share gratitude and give back to the earth whatever you can.

Stay tuned to the first newsletter in 2019 when we announce upcoming programs on tending the forest with Shane Brown at Big Oak Canyon.

Ecological Literacy Training

Jodi Levine-Wright spent years exploring the state of California as a teacher with Naturalists at Large before returning to her hometown of Orange County to begin new adventures as the founder of Earthroots Field School. Jodi was steeped in a community of young environmental educators brimming with energy to share what they knew.

This past spring, Earthroots instructors spent 3 days with Naturalists at Large educators right here in OC. Thirty five Naturalists from all over the state experienced the beauty of Big Oak while being immersed in ecological literacy training hosted by Earthroots.

“It feels like a completion of the circle to be able to host current Naturalists at Large educators at Big Oak Canyon and share what we are passionate about at Earthroots”, says Jodi of the training.

The training included hands on instruction on Bird Language, Habitat Restoration, Native Plants as Food & Medicine, Composting, Organic Farming and Natural Building and was funded in part by a grant from the Nature Connection Mentoring Foundation.

The next Ecological Literacy Trainings will be Spring 2018. Teachers, parents and administrators, please inquire for future dates info@earthrootsfieldschool.org

Photo: Naturalist At Large educator tending Wild Hyacinth at Big Oak Canyon during the Habitat Restoration program.

Bring the Future Into Balance

End of year blog by Jodi Levine-Wright

Every one of us understands that our personal health is directly connected to the health of our planet, the health of our ecosystems and the health of our organizations and communities. Feel yourselves be a part of something that’s transformative.

~John D. Spengler

This OC Register article was written by a participant in a recent Bird Language course held at Big Oak Canyon, Earthroots’ 39-acre property. Since the article came out last month, I’ve heard from people who are shocked that you can get this kind of deep nature connection experience in Orange County…programs like this area far cry from the mainstream reputation of our OC.

Forest Kindergarten-Thurs-Web-19I smile inward thinking about that because we have been doing this work for 10 years unnoticed by many, yet those who we have mentored are forever transformed. Earthroots is not big and flashy, we are slow and steady. We are deeply connected to a path of building authentic relationships to the earth and the natural systems that support healthy individuals and communities.

It is because of you, and others in the Earthroots community that we exist here at all. The transformational life experiences for our scholarship recipients, the 39 acres of wilderness now protected through the purchase of Big Oak Canyon are still intact and more school children attend nature connection field trips because of you. Thank you for your years of support.

It is this time of year that we ask that you continue to give what you can to support the slow and steady ripples that Earthroots creates in Orange County. We are working to #BringTheFutureIntoBalance.

IMG_4807What are the benefits to Earthroots participants? Read a blog by Kristin, who comes to class every week with her two kids, to hear what she has to say. As the founder of Earthroots, having worked with hundreds of students over the years, I see a whole generation transforming. It’s a big claim to say that I see people taking responsibility for their actions with regard to caring for themselves, the earth and each other, and I see it year after year. People are inspired to make the world a better place once they understand how “what they do” affects the world around them. Earthroots mentors start at the foundation and help participants build relationships of connection that naturally shift how we each live in the world.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.“- Margaret Mead

Please visit our new donate page and contribute today.

IMG_4958In this short video, you can see what we do and hear the kind of impact Earthroots has on today’s participants and future generations. We aim to raise $85,000 to complete the purchase of Big Oak Canyon, continue offering scholarships and expand our programs to give more students in OC life-changing experiences in nature.

You can help facilitate a beautiful change here by supporting Earthroots. Please contribute to our end of year fundraising campaign: www.earthrootsfieldschool.org
Thank you!

Birds of Big Oak Canyon

On December 19, 2011, a group of Earthroots mentors noticed an owl kill site with evidence of two owls. There were feathers from an owlnot often seen in our region, the Long Eared Owl. Nearby, a pellet from a Great Horned Owl was found. One of the Long Eared Owl’s talon was found inside a Great Horned Owl pellet.

This story excites birders.

Evan recently shared this story with Stephen Shunk (Author, Peterson’s Guide to Woodpeckers) and Gillian Martin (Southern California Bluebird Club) who were on a tour of Big Oak Canyon with focused interest on cavities as bird habitat. Cavities are holes in dead standing trees, also known as snags or wildlife trees. Big Oak has many wildlife trees with cavities in use by birds, reptiles, mammals and insects.

One gift that came out of our walk was learning the importance of cavities as habitat. The second gift was making progress on Big Oak Canyon’s Bird List. Third gift was their suggestion to have volunteer birders come once a month to contribute to our bird list by having regular Bird Counts. This documentation will be used to help Earthroots monitor the birds and their important habitat at Big Oak Canyon. There were many other gifts!

This is what Stephen heard or saw during our walk October 14, 2012.

Vaux’s Swift
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall’s Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Hutton’s Vireo
Western Scrub-Jay
Common Raven
Wrentit
Bushtit
Oak Titmouse
Tree Swallow
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
California Thrasher
California Towhee
Spotted Towhee
Dark-eyed Junco
Lesser Goldfinch

And from the photos, we can now add:
Long Eared Owl
Great Horned Owl

Previously recorded birds include:
Red Shoulder Hawk
Red Tail Hawk
Western Screech Owl

Interested birders are welcome to sign up for a monthly bird count starting Spring 2013!