OAEC supports diverse communities to design their own regenerative systems at the regional and local scale.
Our cookbook is a collection of inventive recipes inspired by seasonal eating from our biodiverse Mother Garden, orchards and Wildlands Preserve.
Experience the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center through a video tour and beautiful photographs of our Guest Houses, Meeting Room, Bathhouse, Kitchen & Dining Room, Mother Garden and more.
Our 100% Certified Organic plant nursery specializes in open-pollinated perennials including edible landscaping plants, rare and endangered food crops, drought tolerant ornamentals and habitat plants - all tested in our onsite gardens and appropriate for our bioregion.
OAEC offers the longest consistently running two-week Permaculture Design Certification course in the West. Immerse yourself in information, ideas and inspiration on how to design sustainable, regenerative systems in balance with your home ecosystem.
Our School Garden Teacher Training supports schools to integrate the school garden into multiple subject areas using place-based, experiential learning.
The WATER Institute engages in the following projects and collaborations to empower individuals and communities to become environmental stewards, preserve biodiversity, develop resiliency to climate change and improve watershed health.
Project update 9/28/2016 – After 2 years of negotiations, OAEC is excited to partner with our county and regional agencies with the acquisition of an “Alternate Methods and Materials” research permit to install and trial composting toilet systems in our beautiful new guest accommodations as part of our Conservation Hydrology Demonstration Site. We believe that composting toilets promise an age-old/cutting-edge solution to the most pressing environmental issues of our time including water quality and quantity, peak energy, and soil degradation. We are so thrilled to utilize our site, knowledge and community network to help usher composting toilets into widespread adoption.
The aim of this collaborative project is to work side-by-side with regulators to evaluate this technology for multi-unit and medium-scale commercial facilities, such as hotels and apartment buildings. Since the majority of our growing population lives in dense, urban settings, this is where solutions will have the greatest impact and where research is most needed. With the help of soil scientists from UC Davis and Stanford, the compost will be laboratory tested for pathogens, nutrient content and other contaminants. When research concludes, we will prepare a technical report of findings to present to our Sonoma County partner agencies. We hope to provide the hard data they need to make informed policy decisions that guarantee both public health and ecological integrity.
North American beaver (Castor canadensis) are what biologists call a “keystone species” as the habitat they create benefits many other species. Their dams improve water quantity and quality, increase late season flow and reduce the impacts of flooding. Beaver bank burrows and food caches provide critical habitat for many native and endangered California species. Despite these benefits, current California beaver policy solely focuses on recreational hunting and lethal nuisance management. In response, the WATER Institute has launched a Bring Back the Beaver Campaign to educate citizens about the importance of beaver. In order to improve water supply for humans and the environment and increase resilience to drought and climate change, we are working to integrate their management into California policy and regulation.
For nearly 40 years, OAEC’s 80-acre site of organic gardens, orchards, meadows, and forests has served as an ideal outdoor classroom to teach and model Conservation Hydrology and watershed health. Since 2004, OAEC’s WATER Institute has implemented an on-site Conservation Hydrology Adaptive Management Plan that demonstrates renewable energy technologies and best management and conservation practices for water, and for the energy associated with its use.
These practical solutions include greywater systems, micro-hydro generated electricity, roof water catchment systems, a rainwater harvesting off-stream pond that supplies 100% of our agricultural irrigation needs, a solar thermal hot water system, bio-filtration to improve water quality, and a 10-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system. Installing and studying the efficacy of these techniques over time allows us to improve our designs and speak from experience when educating communities about how to best adapt these practices to their regions.
What is “Conservation Hydrology”?
In 2014, the OAEC WATER Institute, Sierra Watershed Progressive, representatives from regulatory agencies such as Sonoma County PRMD, and others, came together to launch a policy initiative designed to localize California’s waters – The Decentralized Water Policy Council. The Council brought together allies working to increase water efficiency and reuse in commercial and residential settings throughout California. In 2017, the DWPC transitioned to the California Onsite Water Association (COWA).
COWA supports a collaboration of multiple stake-holder water activists, engineers, regulators and practitioners committed to removing barriers to reusing and conserving water onsite in all our land use activities. This coalition convenes the annual Localizing California Waters Conference and creates effective integrated water management strategies through decentralized water projects and working committees that accomplish policy goals.
Legalizing and removing barriers to protect water is one of OAEC’s strategies for change.
A comprehensive study of the Salmon Creek Estuary was completed by the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center’s WATER Institute and Prunuske Chatham Inc. in 2006 with funding from the State Coastal Conservancy. The objective of the study was to assess the factors affecting estuarine function and its value as salmonid habitat.
In the fall of 2011, The WATER Institute collaborated with UC Berkeley Ph.D. candidate Cleo Woefle-Erskine to support his research to investigate whether home-scale rainwater harvesting could put more water back in streams like Salmon Creek. See an intital report on this research entitled, “Do salmon want humans to harvest rain? A GIS exploration.”
The WATER Institute is a founding member of The California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply (CRWFS), a consensus-based forum for thought leaders to uncover obstacles, identify solutions, and take action to enhance water security for agriculture, the public and the environment.
The WATER Institute is a founding steering committee member of this partnership that is developing a systematic approach to improve streamflow and water supply reliability in five Russian River tributaries critical to the recovery of endangered coho salmon. For more information, visit the Russian River Coho Water Resources website.
The WATER Institute is one of several partners who helped conceive of and implement this multi-pronged, community-based program to provide enhanced water security for residents and help restore streamflows in Bodega, California. Read more about this program here (PDF).
The WATER Institute is a founding member of the Salmon Creek Water Conservation Program which has been working in the Salmon Creek watershed to educate residents, landowners and citizen activists about watershed conservation since 2000. Learn more about the Salmon Creek Watershed.
The Salmon Creek Water Conservation Program was developed out of the recognized need to increase dry season instream flows. Successive years of drought and increased water demand pressures are taking a toll on the creeks and on the watershed’s ability to supply sufficient, high quality water. Juvenile salmon and steelhead trout need cold, flowing water to survive the summer. Many stretches of our creeks are going dry and the fish are dying
The Southern Sonoma County Resource Consevation District’s Creek Sign Guide is available online. Download this how-to guide on getting watershed and creek signs installed in your community.
WATER Institute staff in collaboration with the West County Watershed Network, Southern Sonoma RCD and County Supervisors Mike Reilly and Mike Kearns were funded by the California Coastal Conservancy to implement the West & South Sonoma County Watershed and Creek Signage Pilot Project. Numerous signs throughout the western and southern regions of the county were installed in 2006.
In Western Sonoma County, the location of the town of Occidental is unique in that it straddles a saddle between two distinct watersheds, Salmon Creek Watershed and Dutch Bill Creek Watershed, a tributary of the Russian River Basin. The town is bisected by what is called a watershed ridge divide which roughly runs through the south end of town, where the picnic tables sit in front of Howard’s Station.
The opportunity this site presents to educate picnicking visitors and locals about watersheds has not been lost on the dedicated members of the Dutch Bill Creek Watershed Group and the Salmon Creek Watershed Council. In June of 2006 they unveiled the fruits of their hard labor in the form of a watershed literacy interpretive display case.