Carl Rosato, 62, of Richland, died Nov. 24, 2019, at his home with his wife at his side.
Carl grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, with 11 other siblings. At 15, he took a road trip with his 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 every season for five years.
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 out, he began to save money for his own farm, picking fruit, planting trees for the Hoedads in Washington, and grafting.
Carl met his first wife, Rael Reif, in 1979. They bought 10 acres in the Sierra foothills near Oroville, California, in 1980. Carl began building the poor soil on their hilly land with compost and cover crops and planted 1,000 peach trees and 40 mandarin orange trees.
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 four years at a local lumber mill. While the fruit trees matured, he grew flowers and sold them on street corners for the five 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 2,000 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 shiitake mushrooms.
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
He developed a strong farmer’s market clientele selling at six 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 three 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 2004 to 2010, Carl helped to direct, design and run the CCOF Foundation grant-funded Going Organic Project. From 1994 to 2011, Carl taught four organic farming courses at Butte Community College in California.
Carl was also the president of the North Valley California chapter of CCOF and served as a CCOF state board member (2005-2012) and a Community Alliance with Family Farmers board member (2000-2005). Carl was a volunteer every year at Full Belly Farm’s Hoes Down Festival where he also presented workshops.
During the winters, Carl traveled extensively in Central and South America and eventually bought land in Ecuador to save endangered primary native tropical forest. On the unforested 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 DGiulia, 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 U.S. 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 met his last wife, Helen Atthowe, at the 2011 EcoFarm conference where they were both presenting about ecological soil and pest strategies using reduced tillage and living mulches.
In February 2012, Carl was recognized with a Steward of Sustainable Agriculture Award, at the 32nd Ecofarm Conference. Later that year Helen sold her Montana farm and 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 Farm’s disease and insect suppression and soil management system, and a 2013 grant from The FruitGuys to study Woodleaf’s insect suppression strategies.
Carl and Helen did presentations and workshops together and published the results of their research at https://eorganic.org/node/14129. Carl and Helen also created educational videos presented at https://www.youtube.com/user/AgrarianDreams/videos. In the winter they hiked and camped in the desert and backpacked in warmer climates.
After four bountiful and lucrative years farming in California, Carl and Helen had enough saved to “semi-retire.” In December 2015, they bought 211 acres in Northeastern 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 their favorite Woodleaf Farm peaches. They built a greenhouse and a high tunnel for vegetable production and experimented with further reducing tillage and growing their own fertilizer 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, the Wild Farm Alliance, or Organic Farming Research Foundation through Tami’s Pine Valley Funeral Home & Cremation Services, P.O. Box 543, Halfway, OR 97834. Online condolences may be made at www.tamispinevalleyfuneralhome.com