Set in California’s great San Joaquin Valley, just west of the rolling foothills of the central Sierra Nevada Mountains, what is now Quaker Oaks Farm was part of the vast grassland and riparian Oak woodlands Native Americans called home. The plants and animals of the valley provided ample food for the Wukchumni tribe who lived here for generations. Located adjacent to the Kaweah Oaks Preserve, the farm continues to provide habitat to a wide variety of plant and animal species. Central to the property is a beautiful huge old Valley Oak tree.
Bill and Beth Lovett and their 6 children moved to California in 1966 when Bill began work for Self Help Enterprises, a program initiated by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to help farm worker families build their own homes. Beth was a teacher and volunteer in the classrooms of her children until the youngest was in school, and then began work teaching preschool for Head Start in Goshen, a very low income farm labor community. In addition Bill and Beth provided foster care to a number of children over the years.
They were founding members of Visalia Friends Meeting, joining the small worship group when they arrived in Visalia. The group met in homes and the Lovetts welcomed Friends into their home twice a month for many years. Much of life for the Lovett family revolved around Friends Meeting activities and the peace and social justice values held by Friends.
Bill served for many years on the Tulare County Peace Committee, including being chairman during the Vietnam War period. He also served on the American Friends Service Committee Farm Labor committee, which worked closely with the United Farm Workers movement in the 70’s. For Bill putting one’s faith into action was central to his life.
The 25 acre farm was purchased by Bill and Beth Lovett in 1979. At that time there were no buildings on the property. About one acre was planted in heirloom varietal walnuts (Franquette and Hartley), and 5 acres were wetland where the Tule reeds and cattails grew abundantly. About 1/3 of the property was suitable for farming and 2/3 was considered wetlands and riparian Oak woodlands. The Lovetts moved a mobile home on to the property and began to build their home. With them were their two youngest children, Amy and Borton. The older four girls, Linn, Jane, Sarah and Melissa were all in college or starting families of their own at that time. Amy’s suggestion of the name Quaker Oaks Farm celebrating the huge old valley oak at the center of the property stuck. One of the first projects was planting lawn under the mighty oak for Quakers to gather in worship.
Martha Tapleras, a leader in the local Native American community, approached Bill shortly after they purchased the property, and told him this land had been part of their ancestral gathering grounds. The Lovetts agreed to the Wukchumni tribe meeting on the land for gatherings and ceremonies and it has been used in that way ever since.
Initially Bill and Beth focused on building their home, landscaping, and planting Christmas trees for a cut your own tree farm. While the trees were maturing they experimented with producing organic vegetables which they sold at the farmers market and to local restaurants, as well as establishing a great variety of fruit trees and kiwis.
Bill’s plan was to build a passive solar home that would serve them the rest of their lives, and could also house Borton in a separate apartment downstairs. Borton had learning challenges that made academics difficult, but he thrived doing the hands on work of farming and Bill and Beth anticipated he would take over the farm when they were ready to “retire”. Tragically, Borton was killed by a drunk driver in his senior year of high school in November of 1983.
Bill designed his home and built much of it from repurposed materials. The solar mass for the home was obtained from 3 8×42 foot double T concrete bridge beams. The beams were designed to have a camber to shed water and be level with the weight of a road, so he poured concrete floor over the beams to level them. The upstairs is post and beam construction with a solarium. Bill’s design worked quite well, with only a woodstove needed to warm the home in winter and the downstairs remained naturally cool in summer. They moved into the new home April 18, 1985. Also completed in 1985 was the Sanger House, built for Beth’s father Ernest Sanger as he relocated from Quakertown, New Jersey. Bill designed this home to meet Ernest’s specifications.
In 1984 they started selling Christmas trees. This cut your own tree farm was a delight to many families as they returned each year to see farm animals, the teddy bear Christmas tree, and a Crèche scene. In 1996 they sold 1,223 trees and 300 pounds of walnuts for a total farm income of $32,203. Pine beetle blight made it increasing difficult to grow trees and gradually, reluctantly, the Lovetts laid the Christmas Tree Farm to rest in 2008.
The Visalia Friends Meeting (VFM), always a central part of life for the Lovetts, had no regular meeting place. In 1991 Bill donated two acre of the farm for the Visalia Friends to build a meeting house, while Ernest Sanger donated the funds necessary for construction. The beautiful meeting house you see today was designed by Bill and built by Rex Caudle of VFM.
In 2001 Bill and Beth offered the property to Quakers of Pacific Yearly Meeting to develop into a permanent meeting site for Pacific Yearly Meeting, and a place for Quaker values of peace, social justice and sustainable living to take root in the valley. Extensive work was done with the Pacific Friends Outreach Society (PFOS), the Yearly Meeting’s committee authorized to work toward a permanent site. During the time the plans were being developed, the political winds changed in the valley, and the local planning commission denied their request for a zoning change that would allow the conference center.
This was a disappointment, but Bill and Beth determined a Quaker presence was still in great need in the valley and offered the property to Visalia Friend Meeting to administer as a center for Peace, Justice and Environmental Sustainability work. Quaker Oaks Farm nonprofit was established in 2007 as a non-religious educational corporation to work toward that end. In 2015 the land was officially transferred to the care of Visalia Friends Meeting and the management of the land and the Lovett’s vision was entrusted to Quaker Oaks Farm.
Sadly, Bill and Beth Lovett passed in the summer of 2018. We are inspired to live up to the vision they shared when Quaker Oaks Farm was established as a public benefit (501c3) corporation in 2007, to create a place “Where good things happen”. When the mighty Valley Oak, for which the farm is named, fell in the spring of 2018 we were reminded that care of the land is central to our purpose and that we must think in terms of generations rather than years. We are all connected. We care for each other and the earth, and we will in turn be cared for. Please join us in caring for this very special place. Help make good things happen with a donation today.