Landscaper & Assistant Nursery Manager
Nicolas Whitaker is a restoration ecologist, land steward, and landscape designer deeply steeped in the wildlands of the West Coast. Following an upbringing surrounded by the rich biological diversity of Northern California, he pursued a course of study in Restoration Ecology, graduating from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2010. His interest in working at the intersection of human communities and the wild world inspired him to align with organizations committed to connection and regeneration; he has worked in local food system sustainability, led youth groups into deep nature connection, and helped design & implement restoration efforts across thousands of acres of wildlands.
On Staff Since: 2023 Email >
In Their Own Words
My work at OAEC:
I am honored to be the Assistant Nursery Manager and Landscaper at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, where I get to work with a wide range of both native and cultivated plants. In my landscape management role, I tend to the places between human and wild: the borders, beds, boundaries; the edges- bringing nature back in. My goal is to create inviting and natural-feeling spaces with the wide range of textures, colors, tastes and smells the plant kingdom so generously offers. As the Assistant Nursery Manager, I grow and care for an amazing assortment of plants from around the world, many of which are of deep cultural significance as foods, medicines, and materials to the peoples with which they have co-evolved. I am honored to be in relationship with these plants, and have the opportunity to share their gifts with our broader community through the seasonal nursery days.
Why my work matters:
My work serves to dissolve the imagined gap between the human and wild worlds. Tending our ecological and cultural landscape is caring for our hearts- and it is the interplay between these forces that makes us human. Restoring our relationship with the land is the shortest path back home.
What gives me hope:
The continued resurgence of wild spaces is what gives me the most hope looking forward right now. I find renewed inspiration in examples of this wild reclamation, such as the return of wolves to California and the removal of the dams on the Klamath (and the conversations around the rewilding of other species and other rivers). Ecological systems are resilient by nature, and I see these victories as both an acknowledgment of this inherent potential, and as a glimmer of hope for a more symbiotic human relationship with the earth’s natural systems.
Wild spaces, creating beauty, music, and my sweet family.
I grew up immersed in the wild beauty of West Sonoma County, and from an early age developed a strong love of exploring the rugged expanse of its forests, valleys and coastline. It became clear to me early on that I would commit my life’s work to stewarding the places that helped shape my sense of self and my love for our shared planet. This journey has taken me many places. After graduating from UCSC, I worked toward sustainability in local food systems, and spent time working with a social justice organization in the highlands of Southern Mexico. In 2012, I found myself in New York State on a sailboat, the Sloop Clearwater, teaching ecology and playing music on the Hudson River. A few years later, I returned to Sonoma County and began working with a local nonprofit to coordinate stewardship and educational programs. This position enabled me to tend and build relationships with many diverse and beautiful wildspaces throughout the county. In recent years, I have been working as a landscape designer, utilizing my experience in ecological restoration to create landscapes meant to honor the rich biodiversity of California’s wildplaces, while also incorporating sustainable food production, and systems such as rainwater capture. In every shape my work takes, I strive to surround myself with beauty and creativity, hoping for my life to reflect the richness of the people and places that have helped make me who I am today.
I have had the privilege of working with and learning from so many people truly driven by a passion to restore ecological vitality and our sense of belonging in the wild world. In their hard work, successes, and infectious optimism, I find hope that we can collectively make the shift toward regeneration in time to restore balance in a teetering planet.
My favorite resiliency resource:
I think everyone should take the time to read Tending the Wild by M. Kat Anderson, the most amazing collection of the traditional ecological knowledge of native California.