Formerly an abandoned, degraded strawberry farm that dumped huge amounts of sediment-laden runoff directly into the Elkhorn Slough, Sand Hill Farm is now a restoration success story, hosting rare native species and a thriving ecosystem. Even more, during the historic rains of winter 2022-23, erosion was nonexistent and runoff was limited to a trickle of clean, clear water.
With support from the California State Coastal Conservancy.
The Sand Hill Story
Restoring a thriving ecosystem on an abandoned strawberry farm.
Protecting the Slough from Ridgeline to Tideline
Sand Hill Farm is one of the prize jewels of ESF’s land holdings, not just for its impressive views and natural beauty, but for what it represents to the organization and its community. Sand Hill Farm shows how quickly hard work, determination, and thoughtful planning can have a positive impact on the slough and its watershed.
Despite setbacks such as abandoned fields, immense hidden trash dumps, atmospheric rivers, and stuck tractors, the property has been completely transformed. Once plastic-filled fields now bloom with California poppies and coast live oaks, deer freely graze, and red-tailed hawks screech overhead. ESF staff and volunteers have planted hundreds of native plants, including endangered maritime chaparral species. Community groups and school field trips utilize the site for environmental education and stewardship activities, marveling at the views of Elkhorn Slough and Monterey Bay from the aptly named Vista Point.
maritime chaparral, oak woodland, willow-riparian forest
Pajaro manzanita, Hooker’s manzanita, brittle-leaf manzanita
Before: An Unsustainable Situation
Cleared for agricultural production in the 1980s, Sand Hill Farm almost immediately began to adversely impact Elkhorn Slough. Its slopes were too steep and soils too erodible to be sustainably managed. During large rain events, extreme amounts of runoff, along with sediments, chemicals, and nutrients, flowed directly into the slough.
In 2016, after years of trying, ESF was finally able to purchase the property and begin cleanup and restoration. Unfortunately, the farm was in extreme disrepair, with drip tape and plastic mulch still in the fields, and multiple large dump sites partially buried at the edges of the natural areas. What’s more, the winter of 2016-17 was shaping up to be an historic rain year for Elkhorn Slough, with multiple atmospheric rivers and extreme precipitation events.
- Huge amounts of erosion and runoff into the slough
- Improper waste management
- Unpermitted dwellings
- Abandoned strawberry fields
After: A Property Transformed
Immediately after purchasing the property, the ESF community kicked into high gear. Staff, volunteers, and hired laborers worked to remove old drip tape and plastic sheeting from fields. Heavy equipment unearthed trash piles and transported it to be recycled or landfilled. Engineers designed water control structures and sediment basins. A cover crop was planted and watered to hold the soil for future habitat restoration.
After a tense first year of setbacks and trials, the landscape stabilized and habitat restoration was able to begin. Hundreds of native trees and shrubs were planted on the steep, upper slopes, and wildflower seeds were spread throughout. Over time, other native plants have propagated naturally, and many animals have returned. Deer, bobcats, coyotes, bluebirds, hawks, and snakes are regularly seen.
Sand Hill Farm now serves as a shining example of the power of our work and a vision of what can be replicated on other similar properties around the slough.
- Restoration of oak woodland and maritime chaparral
- Erosion eliminated
- Runoff nearly eliminated
- Hundreds of tons of trash removed
Photo by Mike Kelly