Wolfgang Rougle is a young woman with a sharp mind, an engaged spirit, a strong work ethic and a big vision. She is also the owner and market-farmer of 20 acres west of Cottonwood, named Twining Tree Farm, which she describes as: “a small farm located in the foothills of the Coast Range in the northern Sacramento Valley, at about 700 feet, in a sea of blue oak savannah.” Photo: A fleeting glimpse of Wolfgang Rougle, hard at work on her Twining Tree Farm west of Cottonwood.
A community activist for good locally grown food, and sustainable small farms, Wolfgang is also an eloquent writer and has authored a small book/manifesto entitled “Sacramento Valley Feast: How to find, harvest and cook local, wild food… All Year Long!” as well as being a regular contributor to edible Shasta Butte.
Wolfgang, her farm and her writings all flow from her stated philosophy: “We are determined for small, innovative farmers to succeed and for all people to have access to delicious local food all year round!…Farms are ecosystems, not factories!” As such, Wolfgang believes farms/farmers must work with/and protect their natural resources – including water, soil, wildlife and their human community. “We can feed the world best by modeling our farms on forests, not on factories….in our climate they should be rainfed, polycultural and mostly untilled,” she writes.
Wolfgang first came to northern California in 2000 to study sustainable agriculture at UC Davis. She fell in love (as many of us transplants do) with the area, which she affectionately calls “Lobataland,” or land of the Valley oak (Quercus lobata), and it was during her time in Davis that she wrote (and illustrated) “Sacramento Valley Feast: How to find, harvest and cook local, wild food… All Year Long!” – see photo above. My copy is well-worn and dog-eared to mark pages with edible wild plants I want to try. The book is an adventure in finding and preparing seasonally available wild or foraged edible plants in our region, for instance I spent an day in early April pulling a carpet of oxalis from one of my garden beds and lo and behold, Wolfgang’s book features several ways of preparing this tangy herb in late March.
Wolfgang moved to the North State and founded Twining Tree Farm in 2006. While the entire farm comprises 20 acres of sloping blue oak woodland, her crops are fairly well contained to about 3 acres behind a fairly inconsequential fence: “The deer in my area on the west side of the valley are blessedly small, so they don’t jump it, she says with marked relief.) She began offering a Winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, in which you buy a “share” of a farm’s harvest for a set price over a set amount of time) in the winter of 2008/2009. Photo: Crops at Twining Tree Farm under their trusty floating row covers of agricultural fleece. Wolfgang uses the row covers to protect crops from frost and cold nights as well as to conserve water in the soil from windy sunny days.
On her website, Wolfgang describes her Winter CSA: “In mid-winter, when (Redding) farmers’ market absurdly shuts down, that’s when the Twining Tree Farm CSA kicks into gear. For $25 or less per week, you can pick up a brimming basket of veggies from mid-December to mid-April!! So… a CSA is also called a farmshare or a farm subscription, and it means you sign up for a share of a farm. Each week, you get a share of that week’s harvest! In this case, you’ll get one-fifteenth of the bountiful rainy-season harvest at Twining Tree farm, plus some select goodies (onions, nuts, some squash, and an array of seasonal fruit) passed on to you from other local family farms. Everything will come from within 60 miles of Redding, and as far as I know, the Twining Tree CSA will be the only 100% local CSA in Redding this year. Sorry, no bananas or pineapples! A typical weekly basket might include…Carrots or sunchokes, Kohlrabi, golden turnips, or fennel, Winter squash! Beets, Radishes or salad turnips, Mixed stir-fry greens, Chard or kale, Bok Choy or other hearty Asian veggies, Salad Mix or lettuce, Some type of local fruit, like mandarin oranges, winter apples, dried peaches, sun-dried tomatoes, or persimmons…Fresh herb — parsley, cilantro, or dill, Dried herbal treat — coriander, basil, oregano, sage, rosemary, or herbal tea grown and dried on the farm! Garlic, Onions, scallions or leeks, Pecans or walnuts. All for $25 or less! Not a bad deal! But please know that the above is not a guarantee. When you join any CSA, you are buying a _share_ of the farm, and you get what is available. Sometimes it’s a little meager, sometimes it’s a bonanza, and sometimes it’s a bunch of crazy heirlooms you’ve never even heard of before! That’s the fun of it — it’s a quirky little pie-slice of your local farm landscape. Photo: Brassicas going to seed in March – Wolfgang plucks the flower heads to add to stir fries and salad mixes, as well as letting some of them go to seed, which she then collects for next year’s crops.
Her knowledge and love of wild edibles informs Wolfgang’s crops, the produce she takes to the Redding Farmers market and the produce that comes in her Winter CSA shares, which often include wild edible plants many of us think of as “weeds” like miner’s lettuce and chickweed – which is a nutty-tasting mildly bitter green “best in January or February, before it goes to seed and becomes more bitter,” Wolfgang told me as I snacked on the greens while she showed me around Twining Tree Farm. We peeked at the peas coming along and about to be trellised; she pointed out the perennial kale and brassicas and choy’s going to seed, which she will collect and save for next year’s crops; she looked proudly over her rows of garlic – high and strong. While Wolfgang does have irrigation in place for her crops, seasonal rain is the first line of irrigation defense, followed by a rain-fed storage pond, followed finally by a traditional well, which she rarely draws on for her crop irrigation. For feeding her crops, Wolfgang relies on regular applications of compost and composted manure, and she sometimes adds an application of gypsum, potassium and sulphur, which she mixes herself. Soil health and tilth is one of her passions and at least yearly she has a laboratory analysis done of her cultivated soil to stay on top of any imbalances. She also keeps a fairly detailed journal about her crops and seasonal factors from year to year. Photo: Delicious and nutritious winter chickweed.
For Wolfgang and Twining Tree Farm, the idea of the Winter CSA fits in perfectly with her philosophy of working in synch with our climate. It rains in winter, so she plants for winter growth and harvest. “Some people say that here in the warm Sacramento Valley, we have ‘no winter’. Actually, we have a long, harsh winter when all but the hardiest creatures perish without serious coddling. It runs from June to October. Funneling irrigation water from our formerly wild rivers, or pumping groundwater faster than it can be recharged, is not a sustainable way to grow food. Any truly sustainable agriculture for our Valley must eventually be rainfed, or very close to it. To that end, we are trying to re-center our farming on the winter, and letting the land mostly rest in the summer.” Photo: Wolfgang Rougle peeking at her crops under their protective row covers.
Many home gardeners recognize this rhythm intuitively in their own gardens as well and do our most active gardening in autumn and spring when it’s not pouring rain on us or too hot to breathe, and so when I first read this statement by Wolfgang, I felt myself nodding in agreement. And once you acknowledge the summer dormancy, it just makes sense on many levels to increase our attention to winter edible gardening to a level of equal importance to our summer warm-weather crops of edibles. Photo: Garlic rows strong and proud at Twining Tree Farm.
So enjoy your tomatoes, peppers and curcubits in the upcoming hot-weather winter dormancy of the North State – Wolfgang’s Winter CSA comes back on-line in the autumn and information about signing up for it is available by emailing Wolfgang: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until then you can curl up in the shade with a good book like “Sacramento Valley Feast,” available at Lyon Books in Chico, at Discover Earth in Red Bluff, from Wolfgang at the Redding Farmers Market, or by contacting Wolfgang directly: email@example.com.
I am also happy to announce that after many requests from readers and listeners, In a North State Garden’s first of each month segment on what’s happening in the garden and calendar of regional gardening events will now include an edible farm and garden report with recommended tasks for your edible garden from producers around the region. Wolfgang will be a contributor to this report from the Cottonwood area! Photo: Perennial kale, from which Wolfgang harvests leaves all winter – the gnarled stalks summer-over till next year’s season.
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In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In A North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.