Stone Farm is a 112 acres, separated into 5 separate fields. Approximately 80 acres is irrigated. It is currently leased to a dairy producer who pastures heifers and an organic fruit and vegetable producer. Both lessees use recycled water for their operations. Stone Farm, also known as the Miller Ranch, was purchased by the City of Santa Rosa in 1984. The Sonoma County Historical Society researched this site and found it contained significant historical value. In October 1988, Stone Farm structures received the designation of a historic landmark from the Cultural Heritage Board of the City of Santa Rosa. The farmhouse, most likely built in 1872, is an excellent example of the simplified Greek Revival (aka Homestead) style of architecture. In addition, the property contains two historic outbuildings. The large two-storey barn has mortise and tenon joinery and square hand-forged nails, indicating early construction (prior to 1900). The smaller barn is of more recent construction (ca 1940) and is included as part of the farm complex named in the historic designation. Click here for full time line. In addition to its historical value Stone Farm is rich in natural resources. Irwin Creek flows from the northeast corner of the property into the Laguna de Santa Rosa. The western edge of the property borders the Laguna. The western edge of Stone Farm borders the Laguna de Santa Rosa. This area is fenced to exclude livestock and is referred to as the Laguna Wetland Reserve. A number of special management projects have occurred in both non-farmed areas, as well as throughout the greater farm.
Laguna Wetlands Reserve
The western edge of the property borders the Laguna. Near the confluence of the Laguna and Irwin Creek is an unusually dense and old ash grove. In 1993 the City of Santa Rosa placed an easement on the western portion of the property, including a finger surrounding Irwin Creek to the Sanford Road bridge with fencing to exclude livestock grazing. The land under this easement is referred to as the Laguna Wetland Reserve.
In 1994 Irwin Creek was fenced on both sides with a minimum 20 foot setback and revegetation of native species occurred in 1994 and 1996 with good survival. Approximately 700 native trees and shrubs planted at Irwin Creek, including valley oak, ash, hawthorn, elderberry, snowberry and wild grape. Riparian vegetation provides important food, shelter and shade for both aquatic and terrestrial wildlife. The corridor furnishes animals with a route to migrate or disperse under cover. Riparian and in-stream habitats support each other, providing necessary resources. Stream-side vegetation is rooted in rich soil, obtaining growth nutrients. The roots of trees and shrubs help hold the soil in place, preventing erosion. Leaves drop into the water, supplying food for aquatic microorganisms and insects. Insects and other invertebrates are consumed by fish that are in turn consumed by other animals. Organic matter is broken down by decomposers and returned to replenish the soil. Dense riparian canopy shades the water, preventing exposure to the sun, and resulting in a significantly lower water temperature. Many organisms have a narrow range of tolerance for temperature. Colder water holds more dissolved oxygen, a critical factor for many animals, especially certain species of fish.
Several hedgerows have established on Stone Farm. Some are along the main roads, protected from livestock. The latest installation required exclusionary fencing (567 feet) to protect the hedgerow from grazing. Over 500 trees, shrubs, forbs and vines have been planted. Varieties were selected based on their value to beneficial insects, pollinators and other wildlife. Nearly all plants are native to the region. Drip irrigation was installed and monitored throughout the dry season. The hedgerows were regularly mowed and weeded and received a heavy mulching prior to the winter.
Stone Farm Valley Oak Regeneration
Young valley oaks on the farm are protected from grazing and many additional trees have been planted along Irwin Creek and the ungrazed borders of the property. Oaks play an important role in the Laguna ecosystem. The valley oak is the most abundant oak species in the Laguna. They are found as a dominant tree in both the riparian and upland communities. Oaks form the foundation of an intricate food web where herbivores consume acorns, leaves, twigs, sap, roots, flowers and pollen. Because oaks have a diversity of food to offer, they support many types of organisms that use different resources from the same tree. Valley oaks provide shelter to many organisms. Every part of an oak from treetops to root tips is utilized. In the leaf canopy the wind, light and temperature are moderated. Birds take advantage of this protection to build nests and insects deposit eggs. Cavities in the limbs and trunks provide nesting and hiding opportunities even long after the tree has died. A standing dead tree is referred to as a snag. Often snags are removed and with them a potential home to animals using the cavities or living under the bark. Snags also serve as perches, used by birds of prey as they hunt. The leaf litter under the tree is a moist, nutrient-rich location where many invertebrates and microorganisms live. The soil below the rich litter, surrounding the roots, is home to many arthropods, protists, fungi and bacteria.
Invasive species have the ability to thrive and spread aggressively outside of their natural range. Plants imported to new habitats have the ecological advantage of being introduced without their natural predators. The insects, diseases, parasites and foraging animals that prey on them are no longer present. Weed management requires multiple tools including, removal by hand, repeated mowing, grazing, burning and herbicide. All these management strategies have been employed on Brown Farm. The species of special concern include perennial pepperweed (Lepidium latifolia), dallies grass (Paspalum dilatatum), yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis), artichoke thistle (Cynara cardunculus) and bristly ox tongue (Picris echioides).
The Laguna Learning Center at Stone Farm
The Laguna de Santa Rosa, a non-profit with the mission “to preserve restore and enhance the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and to inspire greater public understanding and appreciation of this magnificent natural area” has leased the historic buildings at Stone Farm. The Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation will rehabilitate and manage the historic buildings on Stone Farm property, believed to include the oldest surviving farmhouse in Sonoma County still in its original farm setting. The Foundation will restore these buildings and construct a new exhibit center to create The Laguna Learning Center, an interpretive center to educate the public about the Laguna’s natural, agricultural and Native American cultural history. For more information visit http://www.lagunadesantarosa.org/