Nestled in a valley in Irvine lies the Irvine Ranch Conservancy Native Seed Farm, a 14-acre plot of land where native grasses, bushes, and wildflowers are grown to produce seeds that get used to restore and enhance native habitat throughout the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Volunteers who want to give back to nature but aren’t looking to hike out to remote restoration sites in hotter summer temperatures are invited to spend upcoming Wednesday and Saturday mornings harvesting seed at the farm.
The Native Seed Farm is a flat, easy-to-access site where volunteers can enjoy a light breeze, occasional shade covering and on-site restrooms while harvesting seed. The farm harvests as much as 1,000 pounds of seeds per year – enough to fuel projects at sites within the Landmarks' expansive canyons and nature preserves. During the month of August, volunteers will harvest seeds from late summer plants such as mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana), a perennial bush with small yellow-green flowers that hold tiny but powerful seeds. Two aromatic sages – black sage (Salvia mellifera) and white sage (Salvia apiana) – will also be ripe for harvesting, along with California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), a sturdy and productive bush with charming "poof ball" flowers. Later in the summer, volunteers can look forward to harvesting California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), a popular bush that’s also known as “cowboy cologne” due to its pleasing scent.
“Volunteers are crucial to the farm’s seed production bottom-line, but they also bring a sense of wonder to the harvesting process. I’ll see accountants, teenagers, and even repeat volunteers have these moments where they really connect with the land,” Lambert said. “To hear them talk about their experience of giving back to nature is so satisfying. Restoring these beautiful lands with the help of the community makes the process so much more meaningful.”
Using the Native Seed Farm’s homegrown source of seeds creates a self-reliant, cost-effective method to restore and protect the Landmarks. The impact seed distribution has made is visible throughout the lands, spawning growth of wildflowers, grasslands, trees and bushes. Farm volunteers will use simple hands-on techniques to harvest the seeds, including "finger combing," "hand stripping," and shaking seed into buckets. Getting in on the action at the Conservancy's Native Seed Farm offers a behind-the-scenes opportunity to nurture the environment and connect with the Landmarks.
“What I love about this program is that people really have a chance get to know the native plant life,” Lambert said. “They’ll always remember the flower or bush that they harvest seeds from, and many times they’ll hear stories from veteran volunteers about the Landmarks and what makes it so special. It’s beneficial to the land, but it’s also an opportunity to learn while having fun.”
Join Irvine Ranch Conservancy volunteers at the Native Seed Farm for harvesting activities on Wednesday and Saturday mornings by clicking here. All tools and training are provided. No hiking is required and activities are family friendly and free with required pre-registration, which closes at 4 p.m. the day prior to each event. Children 8 years and older are welcome to volunteer on the farm, and must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian. For more details on programs at the Native Seed Farm, click here or visit LetsGoOutside.org/activities.