Remembering Carl Rosato

December 6, 2019

On Sunday, November 24, CUESA and the ecological farming community lost a dear friend, Carl Rosato. Carlo was the founder of Woodleaf Farm, a favorite at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market since its early years. 

Now known as Peach Jamboree, the Oroville farm is operated under the loving stewardship of Danny Lazzarini and Andrew Seidman, who took over in 2015 after Carl and his wife, Helen Attowe, moved to Oregon.

Carl was a warm, generous, and visionary farmer with deep and lasting roots in the organic farming community. He mentored countless farmers, championed ecological farming practices and research, and of course grew the most blissfully sweet peaches. 

Upon receiving an EcoFarm Steward of Sustainable Agriculture (“Sustie”) Award in 2012, Carl said, “Learning from the land is an important part of it for me. But it’s also getting the word out that farming is important to keep the world vibrant. For me, that means teaching as well as farming. It means being interested in every direction.” Read more reflections from Carl and the EcoFarm community here.

Carl’s legacy lives on in the bountiful orchards, soil, and lives he touched, and he will be dearly missed by all of us. His wife, Helen, shared this remembrance:

Carl grew up in Phoenix, Arizona with 11 other siblings. Even as a child Carl was independent and always striking out on his own. At 15, he took a road trip with is mom and younger brother to the northwest and visited Tolstoy, an intentional community near Spokane, Washington focused on farming and simple living. Carl left high school and joined Tolstoy later in his 15th year. To support himself, Carl picked apples, peaches, and other tree fruit in Washington state orchards near Lake Chelan every season for 5 years. Carl paid attention to every orchard detail, including which were the best fruit varieties. He worked hard and was known as the fastest and best fruit picker. Carl moved to another back-to-the-land farming intentional community at Wolfe Creek, Oregon and then onto a start-up farm in Washington where he hoped to work his way into cooperative ownership. When that did not work he began to save money for his own farm, picking fruit, planting trees, and grafting.

Carl met his first wife Rael Reif in 1979. They picked apples in Wenatchee, Washington and planted trees for the Hoedads in Washington, where we they experienced Mt. Saint Helen’s erupting while they were planting. Carl and Rael bought 10 acres of land in the Sierra foothills near Oroville, California in 1980. It was hilly, oak and pine covered land with poor soil. Carl began building the soil with compost and cover crops. They planted 1,000 peach trees and 40 mandarin oranges. Carl chose many of the peach and nectarine varieties that had been his favorites while picking fruit in Washington. Carl built a small greenhouse and a one-room home, complete with outhouse, outdoor shower, and solar hot water.

Carl worked for 4 years at a local lumber mill and Rael worked for many years as a special needs teacher. While the fruit trees matured, they grew flowers and sold them on street corners for the 5 major “flower holidays “. Woodleaf Farm was certified organic in 1982 and was the ninth farm in California to be certified by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Carl became very involved with CCOF, as a certifier for other organic farms. He attended the very first EcoFarm conference in 1981. He read everything he could get his hands on about organic soil management and farming and started his enormous book collection. Carl and Rael divorced in 1991.

Carl focused on his farm, diversified, and expanded while purchasing another 16 acres and planting another 2000 fruit trees, adding to the peaches, nectarines, and mandarins with apples, pears, plums, pluots, Asian pears, persimmons, and baby kiwi. He also raised vegetables, including his well-known trellis cucumbers, and shitake mushrooms. Carl became known for his ecological farm methods and great tasting fruit. He developed a strong farmer’s market clientele selling at 6 farmer’s markets per week in the Bay area and one weekly market in Chico, California. Carl’s peaches were renowned for flavor and beauty all over northern California.

Carl was always trying to improve organic farming techniques and understand biological systems with on-farm experiments. In 1992, Carl received the first Organic Farming Research Foundation farmer research grant to study organic methods for peach brown rot management. Carl’s 3 years of experiments helped him to develop his famous “mineral-mix bloom spray” to manage brown rot. Carl used the bloom spray successfully for more than 20 years.

Carl focused on organic soil management and studied with several leaders in soil mineral balancing. He became an organic soil management consultant, working with farmers to balance soil minerals and design/maintain organic orchards. Carl was devoted to education and service. From 20042010, Carl helped to direct, design and run the CCOF Foundation grant-funded Going Organic Project. In 1994–2011, Carl taught four organic farming courses at Butte Community College, California. Carl was also the president of the North Valley California chapter of CCOF and served as a CCOF state board member (20052012) and a Community Alliance with Family Farmers board member (20002005). Carl was a volunteer every year at Full Belly Farm’s Hoes Down festival where he also presented workshops.

Carl traveled extensively in central and South America and eventually bought land in Ecuador to save endangered primary native tropical forest. On the un-forested part of his land in Ecuador, Carl planted cacao trees and learned to make chocolate, that friends and family say was very bitter. He sold the land in Ecuador when he found that spending winters away from his Woodleaf Farm in California got in the way of managing his farm and maintaining the kind of quality Carl insisted upon.

Carl met his second wife, Gina Colombatto at his Marin farmer’s market in 2002 and helped to raise his stepdaughter Lena D’Giulia who was 12 and loved coming to the farm and helping at Carl’s farmer’s markets. Carl and Gina traveled in Europe and explored the east coast of the US. But Carl’s farm always came first and he and Gina divorced in 2008 when Carl lost his entire fruit crop to a spring frost and put all his energy into growing vegetables for the valuable farmers markets he had spent so many years building. Carl turned out to be as good a vegetable grower as he was a fruit grower.

Carl focused on making his Woodleaf Farm ever more sustainable and tied to ecological processes. Carl developed an ecological approach to soil and pest management with reduced tillage and living mulches to help cycle nutrients and provide habitat for beneficial insects. He also devolved a gravity flow irrigation system, 100% solar power for the farm, low energy use buildings, and had cats for gopher control.

Carl met his last wife at the 2011 EcoFarm conference. Helen Atthowe came to Carl’s presentation and got his attention during a discussion of cover crops and living mulches. Carl attended Helen’s presentation the next day and excitedly told her that she managed her Montana farm using the same ecological methods and philosophy he used. Carl visited Helen in Montana for backpacking trips and Helen visited Carl in California and ran one of Carl’s farmer’s markets and joined him for a desert camping/hiking trip.

In February 2012, Carl was recognized with a Steward of Sustainable Agriculture Award, at the 32nd Ecofarm Conference. Later that year Helen moved to California and began to farm with Carl. Carl and Helen also continued to do on-farm research, including a Western Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education grant 2013-2015 to study Woodleaf’s Farm’s Disease and Insect Suppression and Soil Management System, and a 2013 grant from The Fruit Guys to study Woodleaf’s Insect Suppression Strategies. Carl and Helen did presentations and workshops together and published the results of their research here. Carl and Helen also created educational videos.

After four bountiful and lucrative years farming in California, Carl and Helen had enough saved to “semi-retire.” In December 2015, they bought and moved to 211 acres in eastern Oregon at the base of the Wallowa Mountains with 64 irrigated acres along nearly a mile of Eagle Creek. They built deer fence, planted a 400 acre orchard with 85 varieties of fruit, including crosses they had made from Woodleaf, California peaches. They built a greenhouse and a high tunnel for vegetable production and experimented with further reducing tillage in their vegetable fields. Carl built sheds and the shop he had always dreamed of. Helen and Carl continued to travel for presentations and workshops and for camping, backpacking, and snorkeling adventures. They especially enjoyed exploring the Eagle Cap wilderness just up the road from their farm.

Carl redid his Woodleaf Farm website to include all the new ideas and farming methods he and Helen were experimenting with at Woodleaf Farm, Oregon. Carl never stopped learning, changing his ideas, being curious, and seeing with the eyes of wonder and awe. He had a life of passion and purpose and service and has been well-loved by family, friends, students, and all the people he touched with his work. Donations in Carl’s name can be sent to CCOF Foundation, Wild Farm Alliance, or Organic Farming Research Foundation.

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