The sale of the native plant Wintercreek Nursery to the nonprofit Worthy Garden Club this month has many implications for conservation projects throughout the West, as well as for the volunteers and stewards in the art of land restoration.
"The purchase of the nursery is something Roger [Worthington] and I discussed before I took this job about how the mission of the nursery fits in with the mission of the Club," said Rick Martinson, executive director of Worthy Garden Club and co-owner of Wintercreek Nursery, along with his wife, Karen Theodore. "Roger really wanted to expand the Garden Club's capabilities in restoration and conservation."
For years, Roger Worthington, owner of Worthy Brewing Company, had provided funding for organizations involved in conservation work, such as Dr. Bill Ripple from Oregon State University and Dr. Beverly Law.
"One thing we talked about was taking those funds and hiring someone like Evan to run this program and do it all in-house," added Martinson. Evan Heeb, director of the environmental division, started with the Club on the same day the nursery sale went through. He's worked for Wintercreek Nursery and has done restoration work in the Northern Great Basin region. "The way I can make the greatest impact is by doing fieldwork because it doesn't matter if we understand the High Desert down to the molecular level if nobody is going to go back and start to put those pieces back together," said Heeb. His statements echo the WGC mantra of "closing the gap between theory and practice."
One of Heeb's many projects will be refocusing on Operation Appleseed, a Club project with the goal of planting 1 million trees and shrubs to restore lands. "We're currently at 648,000 plants, but after we talked with Roger, we wanted to shift the focus of this project a little and look for restoration or replanting projects specifically in areas that will be excluded from future timber harvests," said Heeb. Several of the areas that have been planted include properties along Ten Mile Creek in the Oregon Coast Range.
"Concurrent with that, we're developing partnerships with OSU-Cascades and National Park Service on what we call the East Cascades Native Plant Hub," added Martinson. "Wintercreek becomes the educational and propagation center for a number of satellite nurseries throughout the West." All of this work is tied in with President Biden's Executive Order 14008 on tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad. Additionally, the U.S. Department of the Interior launched a decade-long challenge known as America the Beautiful which strives to conserve and restore lands through local and volunteer involvement. The WGC goals tie in with this executive order and the order's emphasis on developing the next generation of conservation stewards.
"OSU will be building an additional propagation house out at the nursery as a training facility for students," added Martinson.
With restoration projects lined out in John Day Fossil Beds, Great Basin National Park and Craters of the Moon, as well as several projects on private land in SE Oregon, the focus will be on rewilding sagebrush steppe habitats in those areas. "We have a list of volunteers we inherited and we'll be expanding and reorganizing that list," said Heeb. Those seeking to volunteer with Operation Appleseed can visit that website and sign up to get access to the quarterly newsletter and upcoming events.
In regard to the private property projects, WGC will go out to those areas next spring to take cuttings, bring those back to the nursery to propagate, and then use that material back at the restoration site to maintain genetic specificity.
"We've gotten a lot of good feedback on the sale but the main question we get is: Will the nursery still be open?" said Martinson. "And it is for both wholesale and retail plant sales to the public." Profits from the nursery will help fund the nonprofit Worthy Garden Club.
Other conservation projects under WGC include the Hopservatory, Pollinator Gardens and the Worthy Organic Farm located at the brewery. "We try to coordinate efforts with what the Garden Club provides to the brewery, such as the aesthetics of the farm and the gardens and the observatory," added Martinson. The original intent of the Club was to educate people about gardening and food production, hops research, and astronomy. With the addition of the conservation-focused projects and the purchase of Wintercreek Nursery, the Club's mission is set to blossom again.
Worthy Garden Club