Restoration Oaks Ranch was one of the first 99 farms in California to receive an incentive through the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Healthy Soils Program (HSP). The HSP Incentives Program provides financial assistance for implementation of conservation management practices that improve soil health, sequester carbon, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With this incentive, the Ranch created 11 oak tree planting sites to restore oak grasslands on the 955-acre property and layered compost on a 20-acre plot of blueberries.
After seeing the positive impacts composting had on the quality of the soil and the health of the plants, Restoration Oaks Ranch owner and Wild Farmland Foundation Executive Director Ed Seaman decided to delve deeper into different types of compost. Through his research, he discovered vermicastVermicast: The product of the decomposition process using various species of worms, usually red wigglers, white worms, and other earthworms, to create a mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, bedding materials, and vermicast. – the “black gold” of compost – and was inspired to launch his own worm farm to be able to create this nutrient-rich soil amendment.
The Wild Farmlands Foundation applied for and secured a Worm Farm Project grant from the Gaviota Coast Conservancy to research how the application of vermicast could benefit the Ranch’s blueberry farm.
With their partners the Community Environmental Council (CEC), Santa Barbara Blueberries, Santa Barbara City College (SBCC), and New Frontiers Market, the Wild Farmlands Foundation developed a pilot production vermicast system to document and demonstrate the benefits of earthworm vermicast, vermicast teas, and extracts on ecosystems and food-producing lands.
By partnering with New Frontiers Market in Solvang, Restoration Oaks Ranch is able to source food scraps for their three species of worms that work together to transform this waste that would otherwise go to the landfill into nutrient-rich organic matter that regenerates the soil and draws down carbon from the atmosphere.
The worms are so productive that 70 pounds of food waste will transform into 40-50 pounds of vermicast in a matter of days.
In order to scale up production and expand the application of vermicast from one blueberry field to a total of 16 acres, Restoration Oaks Ranch invested in two additional worm bins and a compost teaCompost Tea: Compost tea takes finished compost and turns it into a liquid from of compost that can be applied at larger scales. It is a mixture of nutrients and oxygen-loving (aerobic) bacteria, fungi, nematodes and other microbes that live in finished compost. It takes time to separate these organisms from compost, which is why compost tea is made by steeping compost in water for a day or more. brewer. The brewer oxygenates the vermicast so that it can be applied via a drip system, which is much more efficient and less labor intensive than manual application.
In collaboration with research partners from Tri-Tech Ag Products, Inc., CEC, and the SBCC Environmental Horticulture Program, Restoration Oaks Ranch developed a baseline soil assessment and ongoing monitoring plan to be able to evaluate the results of applying vermicast. Through this data collection, they are able to monitor plant health and study the nutrient load, pathogen load, and biological activity of the vermicast. View their results to date.
Restoration Oaks Ranch has hosted several field days and site visits, and developed accessible documentation and materials for local farmers and ranchers so that they have the tools to implement a similar program. By demonstrating the implementation and benefits of vermicast application, this project is increasing regional knowledge of carbon farming and soil health for the public and the agricultural community.
In the spring of 2022, the Santa Barbara County Food Action Network connected Restoration Oaks to California Grown for an interview and storytelling video. California Grown is an organization supported by the state and federal governments that connects people with the farmers and farmworkers that produce over 50% of the fresh produce in the United States. This video helped raise more awareness about the critical work the ranch is doing to restore soil health. Watch the full video below to learn more about farmer Ed Seaman.
“Vermicast is a living microbial community that you introduce to your farm. This living ecosystem builds better, healthier plants that can uptake nutrients more efficiently.”
– Ed Seaman
Future Plans for Activation: A Replicable Model and Resource for Local Farmers and Ranchers:
Restoration Oaks Ranch seeks to provide a toolkit for developing a vermicast system and sharing best practices, creating a model that local farmers and ranchers can easily and affordably replicate.
- “We’re doing a proof of concept so that we can demonstrate that by using existing commercially available equipment on an existing berry farm, it is feasible to transition plants to organic fertilizers.”
- “This pilot project is reducing food waste, supporting ranch economics, and promoting holistic land stewardship”
- “We are assisting Santa Barbara County in reaching greenhouse gas emissions and food waste diversion goals. With vermicast you are rebuilding the soil and increasing the organic matter thereby increasing the soil’s capacity to draw down carbon from the atmosphere.”
- “We built Santa Barbara Blueberries with the intention of the farm being a part of the ecosystem. Vermicast is one of the agroecology techniques we are implementing to support the health of the land so that it can produce nutrient-rich food for our community.”
– from a conversation with Ed Seaman,
Wild Farmlands Foundation,
Restoration Oaks Ranch,
and Santa Barbara Blueberries