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06.29.11

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Phaedra

Trees of Life

Napa tree farm returns to its food-producing roots

By Juliane Poirier


One of the most beautiful carbon-storing small businesses (and well-kept secrets) in Napa is a by-appointment tree farm where past and future meet under a canopy so lush and wide you'll forget you're downtown and suspect you're in a Napa of long ago.

And you would be. These three wooded acres off Beard Road where Jean Wheeler and Mike Gleason grow and sell native trees is a remnant of the original Beard family ranch. There, they've preserved some of the original fruit trees—persimmons, prunes, figs and pomegranates between 50 and 100 years old—only now, there's also a forest of oaks. When Wheeler took over the site 20 years ago, she began planting acorns from native species in a labyrinth pattern. The trees flourished, and many of the oaks found homes in environmental restoration projects locally and throughout the Bay Area.

The oaks are still thriving, and now Wheeler and Gleason are harvesting not only from fruit trees they've added in recent years, but also from gardens, which takes a portion of the property back to its food-providing roots. The couple's goal is to meet a growing need for fresh, local food as economic times remain challenging and traditional agribusiness—with its cost, safety and environmental problems—becomes a less attractive source of food.

"People are starting to want to get food from their own backyards again," says Wheeler. "For over 30 years, I've had an interest in this, but now the public is interested. The community is seeing where their food comes from, and that it's not what they thought it was. So many people are looking for local food sources and wanting to make their own backyards more edible."

The garden area at Main Street Trees intrigues the public who come to see trees—and then discover that the Wheeler-Gleason team also has expertise in growing food and raising poultry. "Visitors are curious when they see my worm composting and backyard chicken [hatchery]," says Wheeler. "When I give tours here, I'm pleased at how interested people are in growing food, how surprised they are to see what healthy soil looks like and that a wide range of edible and useful plants can be grown in our nearly perfect climate here in Napa."

Because of the dual residential-agricultural zoning, parking is limited and a visit to Main Street Trees will always be part of a very small tour planned in advance. To schedule, call the farm at 707.257.2783 or visit www.mainstreettrees.com.


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