by Emily Wheeler, Program Director - June 14, 2016

In April of 2012, I returned to Woolman for the first time since my Community Internship ended two years prior. I am not a Quaker and I rarely attended the Sunday Meeting during my time as an intern, but when Sunday arrived, I decided to go. I will never forget this Meeting, as I sat sandwiched between two women in their 90’s whom I will forever consider my elders and mentors: Lynne Henderson and Mary Jorgenson. Mary was undoubtedly wearing pink, the brightest shade of it, or perhaps that is just how she is permanently held in my memory. In the 60’s, Mary had been part of a group of activists who moved to Nevada City, California with the vision of creating a residential program for young people to commit to and grapple with their commitment to the values of peace, justice and sustainability – the vision of Woolman.

During Worship that Sunday, Mary stood to share about her value of non-violence. She began by reflecting on her history of organizing for racial justice and her many experiences being arrested while participating in peaceful demonstrations during the civil rights era – a time that people often recall when speaking about Mary’s life – but the ministry that day was not about her past, it was about her present. She spoke of non-violence and how difficult it is for her to truly live non-violently, to do so in her thoughts, words and actions. She noticed this most acutely, she said, in her own home, with her husband and family. Her ability to self-examine and self-reflect was inspiring and I believe her willingness to do so and share with others was one of Mary’s greatest gifts.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet up with the Director of my graduate program at Goddard College – another small academic institution, much like Woolman, working for peace, justice and sustainability. We met up for a walk along the Cape Cod National Seashore, where I am currently visiting old friends, and immediately started sharing about the past year, both at Woolman and Goddard. “It’s really hard work”, she stated, “to be constantly walking the line between our values and our actions”.

To this day, these values are central to the Woolman community: they adorn our marketing materials and the banners that we hang on stage at Graduation, but more importantly, the values guide our curriculum, they are the underpinning of our restorative practices and they inspire our commitment to land stewardship, producing organic food and providing high-quality, nutrient dense foods for all diets present at any given meal. These are just a few of the manifestations of peace, justice and sustainability on our campus.

This year, to a greater extent than I’d seen before, Woolman’s core values came under scrutiny. And the examination came from within our own community – staff, interns, students – with a strong critique of the ways our institution is not living up to its own vision for world based on principles of equity and social justice. Questions were asked: How can our campus become safer for marginalized identities? How can our staff and board explore topics of oppression and privilege to the extent that our students do in their classes? How can we become more comfortable addressing microaggressions in the moment and fostering dialogue that is both calling out and calling in when members of our community unconsciously perpetuate forms of oppression? We seek answers to these questions in order move through our challenges and into a more just, equitable and peaceful coexistence where all members of the community can thrive.

Throughout the Spring, I had been keeping up with some of the conversations happening on college campuses like Yale and Middlebury, and most recently a more nuanced illustration of this dialogue was published in the New Yorker about Oberlin College highlighting the paradox of institutions that are both welcoming (if not trailblazing) conversations around the greatest injustices of humanity today while simultaneously not fully acknowledging the manifestation of those injustices throughout the campus community. Upon reading this, I realized that I had been so immersed in the lives of the 50 some-odd individuals on the Woolman campus, that I had not paused to see where the conversations at Woolman were located in the larger context of activism in 2016. With a little space and time for my own reflection, it all makes a lot more sense to me now.

When I come back to the message that Mary shared that day back in 2012, I feel gratitude for the Woolman community, for the people who have created and will continue to create a space for deep reflection and discernment around our values. And whether the dialogue continues in Quaker schools, high school semester programs, liberal arts college campuses or even in our own families, I feel confident that the collective consciousness is shifting. “Student movements have an odd habit of ending up on the right side of history,” writes Nathan Heller in his article about activism at Oberlin, and this, I believe, no matter how difficult or painful the work is in the moment, is reason to continue.

by Sophia Mueller, Fall '15 student - December 21, 2015
I frequently hear people complaining about their work. Many people don’t want to work or dread having to. However, imagine work being inspiring for you. Fun. Creative. Something you are crazily passionate about. As I write this essay I am in residence at The Woolman Semester School where the mission is “to steward diverse learning communities and educational programs that weave together spirituality, peace, sustainability and social action.” One way these important themes are woven together is through our requirement to participate in shared work. A lot needs to be done around campus; whether it is gardening, stacking firewood, or cooking, there are always opportunities to help out.
Shared work is one of my favorite parts of Woolman because I usually get to work outside in the garden. I love to work closely with the earth. I also love shared work because the whole Woolman community works together to make a comfortable, sustainable, and happy home for us all. There is something powerful about working with other people: I get energy from their motivation, and I can inspire them to keep working by sharing my enthusiasm. When many people work together to do something they care about, it becomes even more meaningful.
I find shared work to be very satisfying. I get to see the results of my work. No, it is not instant gratification, but I can see that what I do matters and has a positive effect. I remember planting radishes one day. Each time I revisited I noticed them getting bigger and heartier, eventually becoming ready to provide us with healthy nutrition. Sure this was more work than going to the supermarket and buying vegetables straight from the shelves, but it was important. We all worked together and had a direct relationship with the earth and our food. Shared effort makes work more meaningful. It connects and motivates people. When I feel deeply inspired to serve a purpose, and when I experience the power of people achieving something important together, work means a lot to me. 
by Charlotte Lippincott, Farm to Table Intern '15-'16 - December 20, 2015
The garden doesn’t lie, but it is especially honest in winter. The dense foliage that a few months ago dressed the earth with life has since receded, revealing the backbone--its essential form. The hedgerows that teemed with colorful perennial flowers and their loyal pollinators when I arrived in August are now pruned back, focusing their energies inward as they bear down for winter. The last of the fall plot gleams each morning with frost, and the sturdy, determined garlic push their bright green sprouts upward. 
My first week working in the Woolman garden, when this whole place was still unfamiliar territory, I cleaned tomatoes with the renowned farm apprentice Brianna. I remember us slogging through the thick forest of tomato vines, cutting off the discolored sunburnt ones and piling them into our wheelbarrows in the sweltering afternoon sun. Sweat streaked through the substantial film of dirt that comfortably clung to my entire body. But Brianna and I fell into conversation easily, bringing a lightness that made the hours pass more quickly. By the time we finished, we were itchy, sticky, scratched up, exhausted, and satisfied. 
Now staring at the same field, unassuming cover crop grows where those proud tomatoes once reigned. Bri has since gone on to Portland, to do amazing and important things. August in my memory feels distant, because of the abundance of experiences that have happened, and continue to unfold each day. I am constantly learning from the garden and the connections that are made within its fences. I covet the hours spent by myself rocking back and forth on a broadfork, exploring my thoughts and admiring the subtle, graceful systems happening below my feet. I am equally, forever grateful for the mornings spent with the intern work crews, cleaning carrots and picking beets and spilling our souls to each other, or reframing my entire worldview with Maggie as we bunch chard.  The garden extends an invitation to embrace change, and seek continuity and meaning within these cycles of growth. It is not hard to find metaphors that apply to your own life.
As the semester draws to a close, the air is heavy with nostalgia for the present moment, while stirring with anticipation for a winter of rest, reflection and going home. It feels fitting that the garden is slowing down, drawing itself inward, as if to mirror this introspection and reconnection with roots. I hope this winter presents for us all an opportunity to rest, heal and reflect with honesty, and prepare for another vibrant season. 
by Gray Horwitz, Head of School - December 12, 2015

I am consistently amazed each semester by the creativity and effort that students put into their projects. After so many years of projects, it seems like they might all have been done, but students always find a new topic or a unique angle to examine.

This semester, Lena delved into where our food comes from and how much food we compost/waste. Many of our vegan products come from far away, bringing into question the environmentalism of being vegan (at least at Woolman, where most of our other products are as local as possible). Sophia studied paper waste at Woolman, taking on several small projects. Below, she is displaying a “How Paper is Made” poster, collaged from junk mail collected over the course of her project. Adrian, Lee, and Brian worked on fixing up bikes to provide a sustainable method of transportation. Sophie researched screen use, interviewing folks from different generations and perspectives.


There were a couple more projects on the tour — Cleaning trash off Woolman trails and researching the intersection of Quakerism and Sustainability. It was a wonderful showcase of student work, and we hope you can join in person next time!

by Hilary Ellis-Lavigne, NVC Teacher & Restorative Practices Coordinator - September 24, 2015
Each semester, we invite students to intentionally create the community that they want to live in, and, most importantly, to create a system to respond to any conflict or feelings of disconnection that might arise within the community. To start the Fall semester, students were asked to reflect on and draw pictures of communities and systems that they have already experienced prior to coming to Woolman and to describe what worked and what didn’t. The result was an expression of dissatisfaction and images of triangles depicting hierarchy or scales tipped only one way. Then students were asked to envision what they wanted instead and what that might look like; we saw circles and most notably spirals, to represent open communication and understanding spiraling back into the community, thus “The Spiral System” was born. Last week at Community Meeting “The Spiral System” was presented by Jhanna and was accepted and endorsed by the community.
The work that we are doing now in the Nonviolent Communication class directly relates to and supports the creation and implementation of “The Spiral System”. It is a weekly opportunity to remind ourselves of what really matters to us. Together we learn important and necessary skills which provide opportunities for us to show up in ways that will allow the shared vision of our “perfect community” to emerge. We have been looking at why, even though we have amazing values at the core of our beings, we often make choices that are not in line with those values.
  • We have been asking: What happens if we call ourselves or each other wrong and bad when we do this?
  • We have been exploring what it means to listen to our feelings, name them and use them as guides to connect to what we are deeply caring about.
  • We have been practicing how to hear the feelings and needs of another person no matter what they are saying or how they are saying it, and in doing so to recognize and connect to the beautiful universal human needs behind every “should or shouldn't" thought that we might be having.
This is radical work, the ownership that the students are taking of their own experiences here, is palpable. I am excited and curious to see how this semester will unfold as we individually and collectively continue to live into our Quaker testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality/Equity and Sustainability, at the same time living more and more deeply into the beliefs that are the underpinnings of Quaker faith and practice: that there is that of Truth in us all, that we all have direct access to this Truth, that it continually reveals itself to us and that in coming together in community we may come to understand a greater, deeper Truth. 
by Emily Wheeler, Admissions and Outreach Director - September 21, 2015

Brian Gil-Rios is currently a senior at Big Picture Learning’s MetWest High School in Oakland, California. He is spending the fall semester at the Woolman Semester School, where students from high schools across the United States study social justice and environmental sustainability together while living on a farm in a residential community in Nevada City, California. We sat down with Brian to learn more about what it’s like to transition from the hustle of a metropolitan learning environment to one which, as Brian admits, benefits from a certain level of calmness.

1.   If you had one word to describe Woolman, what would it be?

Relaxing. I come from a city, Oakland, where there is constant noise from cars, construction and people. In Oakland there is never time where it's totally quiet, no silence. You can’t just go sit under a tree or walk through the forest. At Woolman, like in silent meeting, I can really focus on myself and that helps me not feel stressed. I see that I don’t have to worry too much. Plus, there are hammocks around!

2.   What has been most surprising for you at Woolman?

The people. Before I came, I was thinking okay – 15 students, interns, staff – I never thought I’d connect. I’m from Oakland, they won’t understand. But we’ve actually had similar experiences and I’m learning different things from everyone. We’re interacting from different backgrounds. When I visited Woolman before this semester, I saw the community interact, everyone seemed really close. Now I see that process working, people are getting closer.

3.   Do you have a favorite memory so far?

Finding the Crystal Tree [a famous but secretive spot on campus]. I explore the woods here two or three times a week, sometimes just for 15 minutes and sometimes longer. Literally, yesterday, I found it. I wish I could have just stumbled upon it myself, but there were some other people there and I could hear them so that’s how I found it. There are other places I might find myself, like the old structures that students have built. But you know, it’s like that phrase, “it’s about the journey, not the destination”.

4.   How would you describe the Woolman community?

As a whole it seems like Woolman functions because each individual is a part of what makes it whole. If you miss something, like Shared Work, we might actually have trouble filling that hole. And if someone is having a hard time, we communicate with each other – we’re united. And it is united, we have meetings to talk about our ideas or to work things out. Everyone has a voice and the community will try to meet their needs as well as the community needs.

5.   How do you see yourself in that community?

If something arises that I’m passionate about, I’ll speak about it. For the most part, I agree with the things that are happening, so I don’t always speak. My nature is to be quiet. I know it might sound like I’m contradicting what I just said about community, but I think my voice feels represented here and if it doesn’t, then I share.

6.   Can you talk a little bit about the classes at Woolman?

I came to Woolman already knowing about types of oppression. But here I’m able to go deeper, share what I know and help facilitate. In Peace Studies, I facilitated an activity from my organization Bay Peace, and students asked where I had learned that; which was cool! Peace Studies is helping me think about justice and injustices. The homework is hard, some of it is grad school level! That on top of SAT’s, math, work from MetWest – juggling all of it has been a challenge. But I’m not stressed about it because I’m here.

7.   Have you learned any concepts that give you a new perspective?

My Global Thinking class has really opened my eyes to recent events. In each class, one person is asked to give an explanation of a current event with three sources. It’s the same issue, but from different sides. You really see how media portrays different things to make it look good or bad depending on what they want to show. You really see the bigger picture. The issues feel far away, but it’s good to have the knowledge of what’s happening all over the world.

In the first two weeks [of Global Thinking], our homework was to trace our clothes – how many miles they had come – and it was crazy to see how every part of our clothes comes from a different place. The zipper might be from Texas, the cloth from India or Bangladesh, then it might be assembled in China and finally shipped to the store where you buy it. You really see how the world is connected through one piece of clothing.

We’re also really connected through technology. You can literally talk with someone anywhere in the world through a screen. When I think about it, it’s cool but crazy.

8.   Why do you think doing a semester program is a valuable experience?

The reason I came out here to Woolman is that I wanted to be away. I’m not running away from Oakland or my problems, but I want to be independent. I want to be myself. Here everyone looks out for each other. It’s a different lifestyle. I never thought I’d be eating different kinds of food every night. We’ve only been here a month and it’s amazing to see that I’ve actually adapted to being here! I think it’s important to have an open mind and to live differently in terms of your daily routine. I came here thinking, “Okay, it’s going to be different”, and that mentality, being open, that was really important. I might have been shy at first, but I was just getting used to everything. I wouldn't say I changed myself to be at Woolman. I just got used to the change.

We invite you to learn more about what makes the Woolman experience special for students like Brian. For more information, please visit

by Red Feola, Maintenance Supervisor - April 19, 2015

I am responsible for taking care of 236 acres, 46 structures, pastures, a-frames, a dining hall, soccer field, bathhouses, 2 ponds, forest…..and I love my job, but when I describe my work to those outside Woolman these are the least of the responsibilities that I speak of.  I am also a teacher, an activist, a mentor, a student, an elder, and a friend. These are the roles that make my job worth it every day, I am the grounds and maintenance supervisor at the Woolman Semester School.

I repair sinks and fix toilets while thinking about systems of oppression and social justice issues, I chop firewood while discussing gender and identity, I work on garden irrigation systems while contemplating the effect of this year’s continued drought in the region, I work throughout the day with my hands, connecting to the land and helping others develop a sense of place, I am the grounds and maintenance supervisor at the Woolman Semester School.

I teach high school aged youth how to utilize a mop while discussing food systems and food choices, I sit every Wedensday, for 30 minutes, in silence with my community and reflect upon the opportunity that we call life, I dig water diversion swales in the afternoon and then at dinner, discuss lucid dreaming during Quantumplation Club. I am a teacher, an activist, a mentor, a student, an elder, and a friend, I am the grounds and maintenance supervisor at the Woolman Semester School and I love my job.


by Gray Horwitz, Environmental Science Teacher - March 7, 2015

For the past two weeks students have been researching different aspects of our campus and looking for ways to reduce our energy consumption. Yesterday students presented their energy audits to the class, and in the coming weeks we will be implementing the changes that they've recommended. The first group looked at our dish sanitizer and alternatives to it.

Based off their research they will be proposing to the community that we save energy by washing dishes by hand for a week. We will see how that method serves or does not serve the community.

The next group — Alex, Pedro, and Wade presented on our wood stoves and their efficiency. 

What was most interesting for them and the class was how inefficient space heaters are and the benefits of EPA certified wood stoves. We have written grants in the past, through the Strawberry Creek Meeting Dime-A-Gallon Grant, to replace old wood stoves with EPA certified ones, and this research supports doing so again.

We then heard about Woolman's vehicle use, and a proposal to buy a two-seater leaf car for short town trips, which we will be looking into. Finally, Lily and Luz presented on cabin lights. They looked into switching them to motion sensing lights and/or timer lights. Their data showed that switching the porch lights of all 8 cabins to motion sensing would cost about $100, but pay for itself in a year. They will be proposing this change to the community next Wednesday.

I am excited for the impact these students will have on the campus and for the understanding that they gained while doing these projects. Their knowledge will transfer to where ever they go when the leave Woolman, and will hopefully have a positive impact on those communities as well.

by Gray Horwitz, Environmental Science Teacher - March 4, 2015

Happy March! It is hard to believe that the semester started almost six weeks ago. We have some updates for you from different aspects of Woolman life, written by various teachers.

Students and interns had a gorgeous 3 days on Staycation last weekend! They headed down the coast to the Big Sur region, camping at Plaskett Creek campground which bore a lovely resemblance to Frodo and Bilbo’s shire. A 6 mile hike up the switchbacks of the Cruickshank Trail was well worth the trek when met with epic oceanic views at the summit and a West Coast sunset at the shore in the evening. Saturday morning started early to get down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. While the tentacle exhibit was incredible, the simple pleasures of double rainbows, tacos, and accoustic melodies of fellow students were a wonderful completion to a weekend away. 

In Peace Studies students just finished a unit on oppression, power, privilege, and allyship. This week they started learning about US empire, militarism and native sovereignty. Here is a link to one of their readings by feminist activist Andrea Smith. In Peace Projects class the students came to a consensus that for their collective action organizing project they want to focus on three issues: Pro-Choice, Immigration Rights and Islamophobia. In groups they have been researching each issue and will present this week on the root causes and effects of injustices and articulate their own visions for social change on their issue. We will then as a class look at the intersectionality of each issue and dream up an action to implement that will address all three.
Woolman’s Technology Committee is organizing Tech Free Day challenges for the campus. These are opportunities for us to explore our relationship to and dependency on the various forms of technology in our lives. All community members will be encouraged to leave their cell phones behind and be intentional about using as little electricity as possible. Our first challenge will take place next Wednesday, March 11 on the five-year anniversary of the tsunami and nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. We will be joining forces with efforts around the world to take a stand for clean, safe, and sustainable power by unplugging from the grid.
The attached pictures show Lily playing with the bluegrass Fruit Jar Pickers in Rough and Ready, CA, gnocchi and quiche meals, students working on EnviSci energy audits, and pruning in the orchard.
by Jena Brooker, student - May 1, 2014

These four rows will soon become rows of medicinal herbs. For my sustainability project I am working with intern Chloe on planting various herbs and harvesting them to use as teas here at Woolman! In addition, we will create signs to go in the garden along with a book filled with information on which teas to use for different ailments. We have met a couple of times and in that time have decided what information to put on the signs and planned out the beds. Our next step is to purchase the seeds/ transplants. Just some of the herbs we’re planting are: Nettle, Alfalfa, Echinacea, Catnip, Astragalus, Hyssop, Marshmallow, and Valerian. In the last few years I have made the personal decision to stop using prescription and over the counter drugs. I firmly believe in the effectiveness of natural alternatives, and it’s important to me to learn about natural medicine in an applicable way. I’m so excited that I’m going to have firsthand experience in the planting and harvesting of medicinal herbs, and I’m so excited to learn all that Chloe has to teach me!

by Heather Livingston, Community Intern - April 5, 2014

On Friday, March 28, Woolman students, teachers, and interns attended the fourth annual Green Schools National Conference thanks to a generous donation from Conserve, a semester school in beautiful Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin. Although in past years the conference has been in Florida, Colorado, and Minnesota, this year the conference was conveniently located only an hour and a half away from us in the heart of Sacramento. Woolman students and staff were excited to have the chance to sneak away from the woods for the day to learn how corporations, politicians, educators, and students across the nation define what “green” means.

Our students had the opportunity to attend workshops with high school and middle school students from all around the country. Staff and interns also attended a wide variety of workshops that discussed sustainability and wellness in schools. During the breakout sessions all of the Woolman participants scurried back to their table in the main hall to chat it up with prospective students and curious adults.

Sustainability is one of Woolman’s buzzwords. Although we often do use this word in reference to ecological sustainability, we also extend this definition to cover the sustainability of societal, community, and individual prosperity for this generation and generations to come. The conference mainly focused on the ecological aspect, sparking the attention of Woolman students to analyze the pros and cons of this limited definition. After a debrief of the conference, Woolmanites agreed that attending the conference was valuable because it not only gave them an opportunity to talk to other people about their Woolman experience, but also allowed them to witness a range of groups coming together to discuss a single topic that has infinite interpretations. 

Global Issues teacher, Amelia Nebenzal, with S14 students Imani Shirley, Aria Khan, and Jena Brooker wearing their new Woolman sweatshirts at the Green Schools National Conference!

by Miguel Avila-Macias, student - March 31, 2014
When driving down International Boulevard in East Oakland, you will see liquor stores, prostitutes, and dope dealers at just about every intersection. Take a turn up Montclair, and the scene changes entirely. Liquor stores become organic food markets, community organizers replace prostitutes, and the dealers become friendly neighbours. How is it that these communities can reside in the same city, and yet be so different? Part of the answer can be found in the availability of healthy food. Unfortunately, healthier foods come at much higher prices than fast food and other affordable options. In the neighborhoods of East Oakland, where residents live off of an average annual household income of roughly $32,000 (Bass, et, al.), these healthier foods can seem too expensive. Even if the decision to purchase these foods were to be made, finding a market with organic products would be nearly impossible. Instead, neighborhood liquor stores and fast food restaurants litter the streets, where the healthiest choice would be purchasing the baked potato chips over the regular ones. In this paper, I will attempt to illustrate the exact way in which this inequality exists, unveil the history that created it, and propose solutions which, if expanded upon, could quite possibly solve this great dilemma.
The first aspect of the problem is access. In California, a state well known for its vast farmland, one could safely assume that fresh produce would be at everyone's disposal. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As stated above, the poor communities of Oakland do not have access to healthier, organic food. East Oakland resident Gregory Higgins stated, “It’s easier to stay drunk than it is to eat” (Bass et, al.). In communities like these, it is much easier to gain access to drugs and alcohol than a decent meal. Supermarkets here are a rare sight. If a community member wanted to buy healthy food they would have to travel long distances, which would be an additional expense to their already small budget.
The existence of this “food apartheid” (Parame) in Oakland has its roots in a long history of disinvestment from certain parts of the city. As wealthy people began to move out of central areas of Oakland, businesses and supermarkets left with them. Poorer families occupied the remaining homes, causing banks to “redline” these once thriving areas as locations where investment would be risky. Patricia St. Onge, a member of The Hope Collaborative in West Oakland stated, “The effect is that today it’s still easier to get a loan to open a liquor store than a supermarket in low-income neighborhoods of Oakland” (Bass et, al.). Many supermarkets have stated that West Oakland is “a neighborhood that… isn’t able to sustain a full-functioning store” (Field & Bell).
Despite the fact that these corporations and banks have opted to pursue profit, community members and organizations are fighting to bring organic, healthy foods back to East and West Oakland.  The Hope Collaborative is a food policy organization working towards establishing Oakland communities with independent community gardens. Through Hope, many community members have taken action and turned once abandoned lots into thriving community gardens. By doing this, not only will these families have access to healthier food options, but most gardens will give away the produce to those who worked the land (Bell et, al.).  
Another food justice initiative is People’s Grocery, a supermarket with the mission to bring nourishing and delicious food to its community. They were founded with the Black Panther Party’s breakfast programs in the 1960’s and quickly learned that feeding the children is just as important as any revolution. Executive Director Nikki Henderson believes that People’s Grocery is a space “to raise the consciousness about structural racism and the role it has played… in creating and maintaining food deserts” (Field & Bell).
Although these amazing organizations have managed to bring healthy foods back into the poor communities of Oakland, it’s still not enough. For many living there, accessibility is still a great obstacle. The gardens and markets currently in existence don’t even come close to fully meeting the needs of the population of East and West Oakland. However, organizations like The Hope Collaborative and People’s Grocery are taking steps that if expanded upon, could lead us to a more just future.

“No Grocery Store in Sight” by Angela Bass, Puck Lo, Diana Montaño.  Oakland North.

“Food for Body, food for Thought, Food for Justice: People’s Grocery In Oakland,California” by Tory Field and Beverly Bell.

“Food Justice In West Oakland” by Parame

by Imani Sherley, student - March 4, 2014

Here at Woolman there is a lot going on in the way of classes and community life, but what really has me excited is my sustainability project! I will be building a miniature house out of pallets, which will then be filled with plants and used for farm education. This week the pallets came! We were lucky enough to get them for free from the guy who delivers our food, which was so cool! I chose this project because I wanted to build something impermanent that could bring long lasting knowledge and experience. I think this project will be a great way of helping people get in touch with the local ecosystem through learning more about soil, plant structure, and living sustainably with nature.


The best thing about this project is that not only will people learn about Woolman’s ecosystem by gaining more knowledge about plant life, but the house itself will interact with the local environment. Some of the flowers I plan to plant (with our garden manager’s help) are favorites of local bees. The house will be a part of their pollination cycle and the more flowers the bees have to pollinate, the better for the bees and for Woolman’s flower population. The house will also be home to tomatoes, strawberries, and various types of tasty herbs, which will be all ready to eat by the summer.


by Gray Horwitz, Environmental Science Teacher - December 1, 2013

For the Environmental Science service project, Chris, Valentine, Lily, and Ethan worked with me to clear a large area of scotch broom.  Although we cleared a sizable area, there is still plenty back there! As we worked, we discussed the right for scotch broom to thrive, as all plants at some point in history are invasive species, vs. the idea that because we have so quickly and vastly changed the world and have taken stewardship over it, humans should keep it in balance as opposed to letting evolution take its course. We also talked about the idea that plants feel pain, which we ignore through antropic bias. Stimulating work & stimulating conversation!

Here is a time lapse video of our restoration work:

by Gray Horwitz, Environmental Science Teacher - September 7, 2013

In Environmental Science, students have been investigating the ingredients in the foods they eat. As Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin famously said: "Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you who you are." However, we have entered an age where we don't know what we're eating. Two students, Kelly Flannery and Emily DePol, created this commercial and poster after finding out what is in their lunchables. Bon appétit!


Video at:

by Charlotte Prud'homme, student Spring 2013 - April 24, 2013

The weeks are flying by, and we are already into the last month of Woolman! The garden is flourishing and harvests are coming in massive amounts daily. With all the interns work, it's no wonder the greens are bumpin'! 

For the past couple of months I've been researching and comparing different types of possible organic certifications for the garden. In the end it was between CCOF, California certification and CNG, Certified Naturally Grown. I ended up choosing CNG for many reasons. One, it was the least costly and seemed to me like the most efficient for the small scale farming/gardening that Woolman does. Secondly, it stood out to me as original and in tune with Woolman's values because it functions mostly on a peer to peer network. That is, fellow CNG farms help you through certification and guide you as a mentor, then peer farmers keep in touch and work together on improving their land. There is a CNG farm nearby in Nevada City and I am hoping to visit it soon! I love the idea of peer to peer networking and think that with time, Woolman will embrace it and take it in exactly the direction we are looking to expand in. 

Certification is important for Woolman not only for "bragging rights" and advertisement, but also for our own peace of mind and pride as a community in our garden. After all, it is a shared space, where little four year old Althea finds 4 inch slugs and eats all the strawberries while still green. It is also a place where we have all gotten the chance to plant our own seeds and see our own plants grow. With this community interest, it is important to be able to trust in organic practices, and knowing that there aren't things like heavy metals in our soil (we are in a mining area) and so on! In addition, researching the organic practices and trying to emulate them for own own sake and peace of mind is more important than the actual achievement of certification, which I love about Woolman because it is another extension of ourselves and the discovery we do outdoors. 

by Lily Bell, Spring 2013 student - April 24, 2013


For my sustainability project I am making a natural dye garden, using a technique called hugelkultur. I chose to make a dye garden on campus because I am passionate about using natural materials to create beautiful art, and I wanted more experience working with plants. The dye garden is about 15x15 feet, with over 10 different types of dye plants in it.

Hugelkultur is a German word meaning “hill culture”, and is a design system where you plant on top of big mounds of rotting wood, natural materials, and soil. This ensures that you get lots of microbes and nutrients in the soil of the garden bed.

My first step was to dig up all of the sod in the area where I wanted the garden. Next, I brought over lots of rotting willow logs from the woodshed, and laid them out in the shape of garden beds.

My next step was to layer compost, manure, and other waste scraps on top of the wood, creating a “lasagna” with the decaying materials. Finally I put a layer of compost and soil onto the top of everything, making it ready to plant!

The plants I chose for the garden are Madder, Indigo, Lady’s Bedstraw, Fennel, Cosmos, Dyer’s Coreopsis, Yarrow, Comfrey, Tansy, Hopi Sunflowers, and Black Hollyhock. Many of these plants will not be ready to dye with until later this year, so unfortunately I won’t be able to use them. However, most of them are hardy and perennial, so the garden will hopefully be fairly low maintenance.

There are also many natural materials in the woods and around campus that you can use for dye, including oak galls, toyon, lodgepole pine bark, lichens, sagebrush, and black walnut. Also in our food garden there are many plants which also yield dye, including beets, onions, and rhubarb. I am very excited to try experimenting with these types of wild dye plants, as I have never dyed with them before.

So why use natural dyes? Well, all of your clothes have a story, and you get to decide what that story will say. When you use plant dyes for fiber, it connects you to the natural beauty the earth and encourages appreciation of harvesting color. 

by Laura Markstein, Community Intern - April 17, 2013


Check out our Press Release for the upcoming Spring Work Party!

Nevada City (April 15, 2013)- This Saturday, April 20th, students, staff, and community members of the Woolman Semester School support Earth Day by joining together for a day of work on the 230-acre campus. All are invited to come help out!

A semester program for high school juniors, seniors, and gap year students who hail from all over the country, Woolman offers the opportunity to learn first hand about social and environmental justice. Interacting with the land is a crucial component of their time spent at Woolman and has become an even larger part with the introduction of the Farm to Forest educational program in the spring of 2011.

The Farm to Forest program offers a new way of stewarding land. Instead of managing the garden, orchard, pasture, campus, and forest separately, all units are seen as part of the whole environment that we as individuals are constantly impacting with every choice we make. Now, the care for the land is not left to just the maintenance crew but is taught through the academics to the students as well. One of the main ways the students participate in caring for the land is through two-hour bi-weekly shared work crews.

This Saturday will demonstrate this new holistic approach to land stewardship. Similar to shared work there will be work crews in the garden, orchard, and in the forest. The forest crew this year has been working on an exciting new project that was started by the Environmental Studies teacher Jacob Holzberg-Pill.   

This past June Holzberg-Pill received the TogetherGreen Fellowship Grant from the National Audubon Society and Toyota to begin restoring an old mining ditch that circles Woolman’s property. The immediate goal is to create an active swale as well as a road that together will reduce erosion by increasing water recharge into the ground and encourage people to use the forest recreationally. The long-term project will ultimately restore the land damaged by mining.

On Saturday the forest crew will focus on removing Scotch Broom, an invasive species that has spread along the swale. “This day would not be possible without our partnership with the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County, donations from the National Wildlife Federation, and the hard work of our local community members,” says Holzberg-Pill.

Come join the Woolman community this Saturday and see first hand their experiential education at work! Beginning at 9am on the Woolman Campus, located off Jones Bar Road, there will be work crews until noon and all are welcome to stay for lunch! If interested, please RSVP at   

by Yasha Magarik, Community Intern - April 10, 2013

It’s common wisdom that the West lacks water. Droughts are increasingly frequent and every summer fires sweep through California, destroying millions of acres of trees, brush, and homes.

But the truth is more complicated; the Sierra foothills, for instance, receive about sixty inches of rain in an average year. It’s just that this rain arrives in just six months out of the year and rushes right through our property, eroding topsoil and rocketing through the Los Angeles watershed. The other six months we have a dry season, an accompanying fire ban, and a mandate from our local fire board to irrigate at least fifty of our property’s 230 acres.

This imbalance is worsened by the effects of human industry. For years gold miners dug our creeks deeper and narrower, purposely increasing erosion in an effort to extract precious metals. More recently, climate change, by melting the snowpack on nearby mountains to far below average levels, deprives our watershed of an efficient, free, natural method of slow-release water storage; instead of having snow gradually melt throughout the summer, we now get short, enormous bursts of winter rain that our land cannot absorb. Although there are indeed regions of the West with very little water, the problem for many land stewards like us is one of water storage. The solution, then, is to trap more water on our property during the winter months, thereby reducing topsoil erosion, mitigating summer droughts, and encouraging biodiverse riparian zones.

Especially after Permaculture Design classes on hydrology with Grace, Jacob, and Doug, we have many options for achieving those goals, but the one that we interns have experimented with so far has been building check dams across eroded creek beds. The EPA has this useful definition of check dams on its web site

“Check dams are relatively small, temporary structures constructed across a swale or channel. They are used to slow the velocity of concentrated water flows, a practice that helps reduce erosion. As stormwater runoff flows through the structure, the check dam  catches sediment from the channel itself or from the contributing drainage area.”

First, note that check dams do not attempt to stop water flow---only to slow it. Because when water slows, it spreads, and when it spreads, it sinks. Second, the middle of the dam should remain lower than the sides---to funnel the moving water through the center, and not where it would further erode the banks. And third, check dams are not a solution to all of our water problems---just some.

Yet the EPA also suggests building them out of logs, stones, sandbags, gravel or straw, estimates their installation costs at between $60 and $100, and asserts that they are only temporary flood-control measures. The check dams we’ve been building are nothing like these. They’re made of willow stalks cut from our own trees, stuck into the gravel creek beds and secured with rocks, and with thinner willow branches woven across for support.

They each cost nothing and take only thirty minutes to install. Furthermore, the willows, which have rather high levels of natural rooting hormone, will hopefully root in the creek bed---meaning that not only will the dams require no maintenance; they may grow us the materials for yet more check dams.

A very large storm last week confirmed our wildest hopes. In this picture, you can see the difference between the slow-moving, muddy water before the dam and clearer water trickling out of the dam. And the sediment gradually building up on the dam provides the willows with topsoil. Together with other hydraulic engineering techniques, willow check dams can help us regenerate the land and its water system.


by Yasha Magarik, intern - March 16, 2013

One of my recent projects at Woolman was fig-tending. We have one fully established Kadota fig tree near the dining hall, which I’ve dated back to the early 1960s by counting tree rings. The tree was severely cut back when the dining hall’s solar panels were installed and has been neglected ever since. Like all figs that have lost their central trunks, this one sacrificed numerous dead branches and sprouted dozens of lanky runners from the base, resulting in a fig pandemonium. Both dead and even potentially diseased branches and vibrant new growth crowded the plant, scattering scarce resources and increasing the risk of further disease. Although some faculty remember a time when the golden-green figs were large and delicious, by this summer they had become small and rather tasteless. The tree was clearly stressed out.

My fig project consisted of two parts. First, I collected twenty varieties of fig cuttings from five different sources: my parents’ tree in Brooklyn, two fig trees at Dinner Bell Farm in Grass Valley, a California Rare Fruit Growers’ Association scion exchange at UC Davis, Woolman’s dining hall fig tree, and a random but extremely healthy fig tree in Berkeley that I passed during the Peace Studies Storytelling Trip. (I asked permission of the owner before taking scions.) I potted these cuttings (in total, 144) and am waiting for some of them to root; those that do we can transplant to larger pots and eventually into the ground.

The varieties range from the cold-hardy Brown Turkey (from Brooklyn) to the tiger-striped Panachee candy-like fig (an expensive delicacy in American supermarkets), and include many that no commercial grower would use. As our climate changes in the coming years, it’s important to have as much biodiversity on our land as possible; many species will perish in the new, increasingly volatile climate, but some will thrive.



The second part of the project involved far less rooting hormone and no pots. First, I cut out the dead and possibly diseased branches on the dining hall fig tree, making sure to dispose of them far away from the original. Second, I chose dozens of new spots for fig trees all over campus, prioritizing spaces that might need more organic matter, shade, erosion protection, or other benefits that figs could provide. And I made them all accessible from central campus, ensuring that all who use our land could enjoy them without an arduous trek through the woods.

Some spots are on slopes, consciously mimicking the terraced fig garden of Frederick the Great’s Sanssouci.           

Other spots are near the students’ cabins and community residents’ homes, in the sun-dappled nooks between pine, oak and manzanita; the fungal composition of the soil might help the figs more than the loss of direct sun would hurt them. And still others are along the driveway leading past cow pastures, in the old orchard planted by conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War, and in a dry, otherwise empty yard near the Arbor House that has just become our new classroom. In some cases the figs must take care of themselves; in others, they will link up with students’ current sustainability projects, such as a grey-water system for our Meeting House and an outdoor classroom for the Arbor House and Garden.

The third and most labor-intensive step was replanting all these fig stalks. For some stalks, I clipped as near the main root ball as I could and simply stuck them in shovel-dug holes which I then refilled, trusting to the relatively high levels of natural rooting hormone in fig trees. For other runner-stalks that had rooted along the ground, I dug up as much of the root system as possible without disturbing the main root ball and replanted these, knowing that the success rate for such plants should be very high. To protect the young trees from vast temperature swings, trap moisture in the dry season, suppress rival weeds, and above all, to foster beneficial fungal growth in otherwise bacteria-dominated grassland, I mulched each young tree and the entire original fig tree (for which I also built a retaining stone wall). In all, I planted sixty-two new Kadota fig trees for the campus to enjoy in the years to come.