Hedgerows are plantings of diverse shrubs, trees or other native plants along field and fence rows or other non-cropped areas on farms or on grazing land. Established hedgerows increase on-farm biodiversity while enriching long-term sustainability and economic viability of agricultural operations. Hedgerows are also a key climate change mitigation strategy, as they draw down carbon into the woody plant materials and soil.
Hedgerows provide a myriad of benefits for farmers, ranchers and agricultural communities. They can improve air quality by catching pesticide drift and dust from neighboring operations. The dense plantings enhance water quality and boost healthy soils by reducing runoff, preventing erosion and increasing water infiltration through extensive root structures. Hedgerows provide habitat for beneficial insects and other wildlife that can enhance pollination and natural pest control, while also outcompeting weeds. Because of this, establishing hedgerows can often reduce reliance on bee hives or insecticides and pesticides. The economic benefits of hedgerows are not only due to reducing input costs, but also can come from additional income when planting specific plants, like elderberries, lavender and many more.
-Jo Ann Baumgartner, Executive Director, Wild Farm Alliance
Frank Olagaray farms over 1,500 acres of organic almonds, walnuts and olives and conventional wine grapes in Thorton, northwest of Lodi. Frank became interested in hedgerows because he learned they would bring in natural pollinators. He first established hedgerows of native plants on the borders of his orchards and applied for a Healthy Soils Program grant to continue planting hedgerows throughout his farm, with the support of the Wild Farm Alliance. The hedgerows create habitat for beneficial insects such as honey bees and natural predators that control pests, block pesticide drift from a neighboring farm, and sequester carbon on his farm.
White Buffalo Land Trust is a non-profit stewardship organization, transforming a legacy 12- acre avocado farm into an integrated, biodiverse farm system on the Central Coast. They provide education and training on watershed health, holistic managed grazing, carbon sequestration and more. They received a Healthy Soils Program demonstration grant to support mulching in addition to hedgerow plantings along field borders to attract pollinators and sequester carbon in the woody plants and soil. Jesse Smith, Director of Land Stewardship, told us, “We want the demonstration site to show that each and every farm and ranch operation has the opportunity to leverage this funding for soil health building purposes. This grant provides a jumping off point to realize our vision of an integrated agricultural system.”
Sandi McGinnis-Garcia grew up helping on the farm that her dad started in 1968, but she didn’t expect to become a farmer herself. When her dad retired in 2015, she and her niece Sara partnered to take over the farm, where they grow mixed vegetables, flowers, strawberries, and cane berries. With the support of the Santa Cruz Resource Conservation District, they secured a Healthy Soils grant to add compost to all of their fields and plant a diversity of cover crops to build the soil so it better holds onto nutrients and water. They planted a hedgerow along field borders to attract more pollinators to their fields, provide wildlife habitat, and serve as a windbreak. Sandi sees all three soil-building techniques as important for sequestering carbon and reducing their long-term dependence on costly amendments.
You can learn more about hedgerows’ extensive benefits and how to get them established with this thorough handbook from the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF). Find resources and support to get hedgerows established from Hedgerows Unlimited or a Resource Conservation District in your area. Be sure to also check out Wild Farm Alliance’s webinar “Hedgerows to the Moon and Back” as they work to increase the mileage of hedgerows throughout California.