2020 on the Farm: Growing through adversity

By Mara Friddle, Emily Wittkop, and James McAuliffe

March 2021

Through the tribulations of what has been a harrowing year, we take solace in the ability to overcome and move forward. The 2020 growing season is a reminder that even through personnel changes, historic wildfires, and a global pandemic, our work is important and worth doing. In 2020, the IAE native plant farm overcame many of the challenges and continued its work to plant the seeds for a successful future. In the following blog, we will show some of the challenges bested and successes to celebrate.

The farm did not escape the effects of the pandemic. The threat of our greenhouse facilities at Oregon State University being inaccessible due to the virus prompted the hasty move of thousands of seedlings to our partner facilities at the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Corvallis Plant Materials Center (PMC) to finish growing and prepare them for field planting. Even in the face of a global catastrophe, the plants grow, and the flowers still look to the sky. Thankfully, the farm offers us plenty of space to work while adhering to IAE’s strict Covid-19 safety protocols.

American wild carrot (Daucus pusillus) in production at the Corvallis Plant Materials Center.
The record-shattering wildfires and ensuing abysmal air quality came at a critical time for the harvest of our Madia elegans fields. As soon as the smoke cleared, and thanks to the herculean efforts of an inter-departmental work party lead by Emily Wittkop, the harvest was completed faster than ever before!
IAE staff members Emily Wittkop and Rolando Beorchia rake the common madia (Madia elegans) rows in preparation for the final stage of seed harvest.
Common madia (Madia elegans) in wildfire smoke, September 2020.
IAE bid a fond farewell to our former farm manager, Ian Silvernail, in July. Ian was a prominent player at IAE, both as a restoration ecologist with the Habitat Restoration Program, and as farm manager with our Plant Materials Program. We wish Ian well in his new pursuits at the NRCS Corvallis Plant Materials Center!

Mara Friddle joined the Plant Materials Program as the new farm manager in October. In a funny twist of fate, Mara was the horticulturist at the Corvallis Plant Materials Center before accepting this position. In her role at the Plant Materials Center, Mara cared for IAE’s seedlings during all the Covid-19 chaos, so she was no stranger to IAE’s work.


Former IAE Farm Manager Ian Silvernail hiding in the 2020 barestem biscuitroot (Lomatium nudicaule) harvest.
Mara Friddle planting Tolmie’s star tulip (Calochortus tolmiei) bulbs at the Institute for Applied Ecology’s native plant farm.
Through all these upheavals, we still saw great success on the farm. In 2020, there were a total of 35 species in production on the farm. Almost 22,000 plugs and bulbs were grown for seed amplification fields and for planting at restoration sites, including over 5,000 plugs of threatened and endangered species. The Plant Materials Program collaborated with 57 partnering agencies and 38 private landowners to keep all this important work going (and growing).
Narrowleaf onion (Allium amplectans) in production. Bulbs were initially grown in flats, then transplanted into the ground at the farm last fall.
IAE’s native plant farm in full bloom.
Oregon lupine (Lupinus oreganus) in production at the farm.
The 2020 AmeriCorps team taking a break from thinning coast tarweed (Madia sativa) for a little rainbow photo opportunity.
We were grateful to have socially-distanced collaborations occur in the last year. The farm staff were lucky to have the help of our team of AmeriCorps volunteers in the fall of 2020. These intrepid folks helped the farm crew get all our bulb crops in the ground before the winter rains began. They returned for one more crucial day of thinning the coast tarweed (Madia sativa) seedlings before their time with us was done. Huge thanks to those folks, and here’s hoping your next assignment is a little warmer and a lot dryer!

While 2020 presented us with some truly monumental challenges, the farm keeps us looking to the future as the flowers look to the sun. We are grateful for the Oregon State University Vegetable Farm for the space for our native plant farm, and for help from the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Plant Materials Center. 2021 has us excited about new staff, a production greenhouse full of seedlings and all the new challenges and rewards that come from growing native plants in the Pacific Northwest.