Matt Trask - Dogtown Farm

Healthy Soils Program helps diversify the landscape at a pomegranate farm

Matt Trask stands next to his newly planted hedgerow

Matt Trask, owner of Dogtown Farm, has been growing pomegranates on five acres of land in Capay, California for about 14 years. Over that time, he’s done a lot of experimenting, starting with the pomegranates themselves. When he first started farming, he didn’t know what would grow well in the Capay Valley and tried a variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers. The pomegranates thrived and eventually became his primary crop.

Matt says his goal has always been to improve the property as much as he can. “While I’m here on this earth, let’s make the little five-acre plot as sound environmentally and ecologically as I can.” He’s experimented with growing practices over the years, like incorporating pollinator habitat, looking for ways to grow food most efficiently and most sustainably. “I am also an environmental scientist,” Matt says. “I’m very concerned about sustainability of agriculture and practices that are mutually beneficial for wildlife and native plants.” So when he heard about CDFA’s Healthy Soil’s Program (HSP) from a neighboring farm, he was intrigued.

Wild Farm Alliance's Nick Filannino helped Matt apply for the program and he was eventually funded for a hedgerow and cover crops. WFA then worked with Matt to select the plant species for his hedgerow and to install them. Matt is very happy with the hedgerow, and appreciated learning about the plant species that will provide habitat for beneficial insects and birds.

WFA Grizzlycorps Fellow Tenaya Bearmar shows off the native plants for Matt Trask's hedgerow

Matt has also been pleased with the cover crop success. He and a few of his neighbors use a combination of mowing (at a high level around 8 inches) and rolling in order to keep fire danger low but leave quite a bit of organic material that eventually composts in the field.

The implementation of the HSP projects took several years, due to a delay as Matt worked through some health issues. Matt is grateful for the flexibility he had in incorporating the funded projects.

“I'd have to say that CDFA has been probably the most pleasant and accommodating agency I've ever come across,” he said. As far as the HSP program itself, Matt says he is now an evangelist. “I'm out there preaching and it's not to the choir,” says Matt. “It's definitely to the people that can really benefit by the way it's designed.” He says that getting an advanced payment for purchasing the plants and seeds was a game changer for him. He thinks a lot of people haven't applied because they have the impression that they need to pay for everything up front and then get reimbursed. For a lot of farmers, especially small farmers, that's tough.

Matt hopes more farmers will take advantage of these conservation programs. “I've seen how this valley has changed,” he says. “Some of the old timers talk about how all the creeks that go up into the hills flowed year-round. Now they don’t.” Matt encourages land stewards to implement practices that bring back the benefits of an earlier time–improved drainage, improved biodiversity, and flourishing soil microbes.

Hedgerow Information

Location: Capay, California
Total length of hedgerows: 1,750 ft.
Date planted: March 22, 2024
Goals: Habitat for beneficial insects and birds, as well as revitalization of land
Total plants: 370
Scientific name, common name, and number of plants:
Quercus wizlizenii, Interior Live Oak, 10
Prunus Ilicifolia, Holly-Leaved Cherry, 10
Frangula Californica, Coffeeberry, 20
Frangula Californica "Eve Case," Coffeeberry, 26
Heteromeles arbutifolia, Toyon, 40
Ceanothus Ray Hartman, California Lilac, 40
Rhus Ovata, Sugarbush, 40
Atriplex lentiformis,  Big Saltbush, 30
Fremontodendron californicum, Flannelbush, 20
Baccharis pilularis, Coyote Brush, 46
Ceanothus cuneatus, Buckbrush, 26
Eriodictyon californicum, Yerba Santa, 26
Berberis aquifolium, Oregon Grape, 36