Wet Season’s Roaring Arrival

-from my weekly blog at Molino Creek Farm

The Landscape Color Deepened a Few Hues: rain soaked Molino Creek Farm, freshened and dust free

Roaring wind and driving rain sent everyone to shelter in their homes Sunday and Monday. The tips of thousands of tree branches now blanket the ground with fresh green mulch. More than five inches of rain wet the soil many feet down- it all soaked into the thirsty soil. But, water rushed down dirt roads moving dirt and gravel, flowing with eroding rivulets, dumping mud into ditches, carving through storm flung debris.

Everything is soaked – mosses and lichens hydrated and springing to life with winter’s fluffy dripping lushness. In the meadow patches around the farm, perennial poppies push up fresh blue-green ferny foliage. Storksbill germinates first with millions of tiny grass seedling spikes shortly behind. The first broad and bumpy primary leaflets of lupines flush from bare brown gopher thrown soil piles. Bunchgrasses push out a half inch of new green blades from the otherwise dry brown leaves from last spring’s growth. In the forest, thick oak leaf mulch is being quickly, hungrily devoured by furiously unfurling mushroom spawn. A month from now, with a bit more rain, we’ll have chanterelles.

Basket Weaver Wisdom

The weekend also delivered us ancient knowledge. Julia Parker and her family graced the farm with a workshop on the traditional basket weaving of the indigenous peoples of central California. Julia has long been demonstrating and teaching basket making in Yosemite Valley. 15 folks learned from 4 generations of her family with people gathered for a campout then retreating indoors when the rain started coming down. We made new friends and are already looking forward to Julia’s family returning when they can. Perhaps we will tend basketry plants as part of our production…a while back we had a troop coppicing willows for just such a purpose.

Julia Parker and Family teaching a workshop on basketry at Molino Creek Farm

Apples and Such

The gala apples are gone (except for the precious remaining ones you might buy at the Food Bin!), now its onto Fujis. Sweet, crunchy Fuji apples with rainbow colors- traditional seasonal salad apples to sweeten the arugula greens. The tomatoes are melting fast from the rains- so, we’re all out there raking them up for the last of the seasons processing- they are still going to market, but you better get them fast! Our Persian limes are swelling and dark green, a good harvest promised for January. Drake’s avocado grafts are taking off with rapid growth, giving us Great Hope in recovering our burnt avocado orchard.

Drake Bialecki Made it Happen: avocado grafts on root sprouts from burned up trees

Wildlife, Including Nut-Eating Corvids

Farm ravens Maw and Caw forage widely across the farm, scavenging farm crops. Their rounds include swoops down the driveways and entry road to see who might have run over a black walnut. These they quickly pounce upon, vigorously pecking at the solidly ensconced nutmeat, so sweet and oily. Sometimes they find a half walnut and retreat to a fence post to work at prying out food.

As hoped, the deer herd has devoured all the wormy castoff apples. In doing so, they have pounded bare the invasive Cape Ivy where we dumped the fruit: weed control while disposing of pests – no wasted fruit there! Mostly, we see deer prints, not the deer themselves, who are mainly hiding somewhere.

The turkeys have also disappeared- not even any prints, anymore.

Bob Brunie has something against chipmunks. Also, his new farm chicken flock complained loudly about the storm. (Yes, we have no squirrels)

Beachtime

This was my post from the highly recommended weekly publication Bratton Online (10/20/21 edition)

People at the Beach

I hop off my bike and lock it to a post at the entrance to the beach. I’m here to meet Juan and Ted and their dog Fluffy for an evening stroll to catch up and get some fresh air. I smile with the transition to the beach, which is a regular way to leave my busy day behind and return me to myself, my normal world and what I want to be – relaxed! Squinting through the reflective brightness off the sparkling water, I spot my friends already down by the water and jog towards them. We exchange hugs and start on our walk. We won’t turn around for a long while…this stretch of sand goes on and on, and we have an hour before we need to head back to our homes. We keep to the wet sand where its easier (and less messy) to walk. Juan uses one of those plastic scoop arms for extra lift to lob a ball for Fluffy. There’s lots to talk about, the light breeze feels invigorating, the sand cool and wet between my toes. For the breeze and noise of the lapping waves, we walk closer than we might otherwise to hear one another better. Fluffy comes crashing into us as she rough houses with another dog, now we are sandy and wet to our waists, laughing, and smiling at another group passing by. The sun is getting lower, and the clouds are turning pastel orange and magenta, a myriad of colors reflected in fractal patterns of swirling sea foam. We’re quiet for a bit, pausing on our walk to watch bottlenose dolphins pass by and to hear the lapping waves. Way down the beach we approach a party – bonfires in big metal bins and chairs around portable tables, musicians setting up for an event that will last into the night. We are at our halfway point, turning around we face into the wind and towards the setting sun. I know from our past walks that we are now each pondering what more we want to ask to make sure we are all caught up on conversations that have lasted years. Our walks are not often enough, this time together is precious. The conversation picks up pace and the walk back seems faster than the way out. We brush off the sand, towel off Fluffy, and say our goodbyes.

Nonhumans at the Beach

In parallel, the nonhuman organisms at the beach were having very different experiences during our visit. Walking in the wet sand, Ted, Juan and I crushed hundreds of living organisms and smashed the structure of the sand where critters had tunneled for breath and to filter feed…contributing to the greatly diminished diversity and abundance of such organisms with increasing recreation on beaches. Fluffy’s cavorting flushed dozens of shorebirds, already exhausted from being frightened over and over by people and their dogs. Those shorebirds also particularly need the wet sand, where they probe for food; they only get a few chances to dart into that feeding zone between the constant parade of walkers. The fires and noise from the beach party will keep nesting beach birds on high alert nearby, as they cuddle their newborn chicks; those families will not be having restful nights and will have a harder time remaining healthy. Next season, maybe they will remember not to make a nest so close to those areas of the beach where parties light up the night, but there isn’t much beach left where they can still find peace.

What Makes a Beach?

There is so much we take for granted about our beaches and few even realize what a natural beach might look like, or how nature maintains and forms it. Our best beaches are sandy, and that sand is constantly on the move, eroding and replenishing with the wind, waves, and tides. Streams and rivers are beachmakers, depositing sand into the ocean. In Santa Cruz County, the sand is driven downshore from the north with the prevailing wind and current. Promontories create sand deposition shadows- rockier areas to the north of most beaches and more sand on the south, including piles of sand up on the bluffs above the beach to the south. Where beaches are wide enough, there are low mounds of sand towards the waves and bigger and bigger dunes further onshore. Typically, the sand blocks most rivers and streams in the summer, creating still water lagoons full of life.

Natural Diversity in the Sand

Our beaches are super-diverse ecosystems, teeming with life wherever we let them thrive. Where we don’t trample them, plants establish close to the sea. Sea rocket, with its pale, simple 4-petaled lavender flowers, is notoriously resilient, establishing from seeds that are constantly floating around the ocean waiting to wash ashore. This plant is cosmopolitan, on beaches around the world. By stabilizing the blowing sand, sea rocket starts formation of the little mounds we call foredunes. Foredunes then become habitat for many other species. Further inland are taller and taller back dunes where waves rarely crash. There can be freshwater ponds in back dunes in the winter. Elephant seals rest there. North facing back dune slopes have ferns and mosses; throughout these taller dunes you can find succulent plants, shrubs flowering year-round, endangered lupines, wallflowers, paintbrush, spineflower, and gilia…as well as many species of songbirds. Around the lagoons and ‘dune slack’ (ponds) ducks breed and red legged frogs, newts, and garter snakes flourish. Raccoons, pond turtles, egrets, herons, and lots more are at home in these wet areas.

Healing Beaches and Dunes

As I mentioned above, we have loved our beaches to death but, in some places, people are trying to establish more of a balance. Across the Monterey Bay, there is just one beach that is off limits to people: Wilder Beach. We set aside this State Park beach to protect nesting endangered snowy plovers. Any regular and observant beach goer will know this story: there are signs and “symbolic” fences on many beaches to remind people not to trample their habitat. Unfortunately, fences and signs are not enough, and the species is struggling to survive in our region. What few snowy plovers are left is because of a team of conservationists associated with the nonprofit Point Blue Conservation Science who monitor the species and work with parks managers to protect them. Without those always underpaid and generous people, there would be no signs and no fences: they serve as the conscience for the species and are supported by grants and donations. Further south, in Santa Barbara County, at Coal Oil Point, a docent program has volunteers standing by the plover fences with signs and binoculars educating visitors and assuring plover safety, a program that is being duplicated elsewhere. Again, generous conservationists coming to the rescue!

Snowy plovers are an indicator species for healthy beaches and dunes, and other programs are working to restore the plants needed to sustain healthy plover habitat. From Seabright Beach through Pacific Grove’s Asilomar State Beach, parks managers and volunteers are controlling invasive species and planting dune plants. Ice plant is the most widespread and pernicious threat. Each year for the rest of eternity, people will have to comb the beaches and dunes to find iceplant and rip it up before it takes over. Thanks to years of this work, we are starting to see the return of dunes and associated vibrant rolling mounds of wildflowers.

Before Our Time

Four hundred years ago…imagine the scene at the beach. Native peoples must have had a common presence on beaches for many reasons: launching boats, fishing, clam digging, tide pool foraging, harvesting of marine algae, leisure, and play. The lowest tides of the Spring and Fall must have drawn many people to the deep rocky intertidal where there were easier to reach larger and more varied shellfish. And there would have been grizzlies, condors, and coyotes sharing that space, feasting on (stinky!) washed up marine mammals. The tiny snowy plover probably had much larger flocks scampering around. Every beach would have had intact dune communities and clean lagoons.

The Future of Beaches

Can we find a way to conserve beach and dune species for future generations? What would that entail? Biologists suggest we need more control of the main threat: beach visitation – we already have too much. We thank the California Coastal Commission for steadfastly pursuing public access to beaches, a job that never seems to be finished. But we also understand that this agency has a mandate to protect biological diversity, something that they sometimes forget when it comes to beach access. For instance, they recently required the University to provide public access to Younger Lagoon and were surprisingly acquiescent at State Parks providing nearly unregulated and completely unplanned public access to Coast Dairies beaches. The Coastal Commission doesn’t have a plan for beach and dune biological conservation in California despite this being the only ecologically sensitive habitat that is in their jurisdiction statewide! I think almost all of us would like for all the plants and animals to have a place on Earth, even if it means giving up some of our conveniences…including our ability to use every beach or every inch of every beach. We need a comprehensive plan across all California beaches if we are to realize this outcome. And people need to care enough to support parks and the Coastal Commission if they decide to do pursue beach and dune protections. Oh, and it would be good to keep our Fluffy dogs from harassing beach wildlife, our strolls up on the dry sand, and our trajectories steering wide, away from foraging shorebirds.

RAIN

-this from my weekly post for Molino Creek Farm

Tuesday, most of the day, it was sunny but noticeably cooler. There was a breeze and then it started getting colder after noon. It was 1pm and I glanced towards the ocean and was surprised to see thick fog down there. Another look at 3:30 pm- clear at the beach but a deck of clouds suddenly obscured the whole sky. It smelled like rain, but the rain didn’t start for hours. Sometime in the early dark hours of Wednesday morning, I awoke thinking a coyote was lapping water in the birdbath, but it was the pitter patter of rain dripping from my roof into the rainwater catch buckets. It’s been raining on and off all day, raindrops vying to be the teeniest of them all: a small raindrop contest! Mist was so thick it stuck to everything on all sides, wafting in from all directions. Then some bigger drops pelt down for a bit, then misty drippiness returns, again. Everything sparkles with droplets under a silver-gray sky.

This “first significant” rain started a month earlier than the past two years, when the first real rain was at Thanksgiving…following uncomfortable lengthy hot spells. What a welcome difference! Tomorrow, we’ll have petrichor, the smell of the freshly wetted soil, which takes a bit to emerge.

Thus far, Molino Creek Farm might have had a little over a half inch of rain, judging from the rain buckets and the amount of soil wetting. Our soil is ancient- more than 300,000 years old. It is hydrophobic once dry, so wetting it takes some time…droplets scoot down soil pores or sit on the soil surface or reluctantly soak in. Once the soil starts accepting water, it takes 1” of rain to saturate 1 foot of soil. If we get the expected 4” of rain between now and Sunday, the soil will be gushy four feet down!

Ten Pound Mud Boots

As one neighbor remarked, farmers must now reluctantly stop working, though there is much to do. If we steal off to try to harvest something…and there is much to harvest…we’ll end up with “ten pound mud boots.” Farm field mud is so sticky that each step adds more globs onto your shoes, making huge hunks of mess: you are quickly 4 inches taller walking on mud platforms that stick out 3” in every direction. Lifting your feet makes your pant legs muddy, very muddy.

Boots that weigh ten pounds are good if you want to exercise without moving far, but practically speaking, they are an absolute and unarguable hinderance to vegetable harvesting. We must wait for things to dry, and that’s going to be a while. “Luckily” the show goes on…we rushed and harvested enough prior to the rain to go to market, so off to market we go. Boxes and boxes of late season delicious tomatoes, glowing piles of beautiful winter squash, piles of shiny red ripe peppers will soon grace our sales tables.

Two Dog Farm’s Beautiful and Even More Tasty Red Kuri Squah

The rain has put a stopwatch to the end of the tomato season. The wetness means melt down. Already, a wave of russet mites seriously damaged the Molino Creek Farm plants. Patches of plants started turning a characteristic russetty-brown that you can see half a mile away…the patches spread quickly in all directions, vibrant deep green healthy plants folding over to this vicious pest. And now, the rain. Thousands of tomatoes remain on the plants…

Molino Creek Farm’s Dry Farmed Tomatoes…nearly end of the season

Ravens Back to Normal…and other birds

With the advent of the rainy season, Maw and Caw are back to their normal selves. Everyday inspections of the farm reveal just these two Farm Ravens without their rowdy children or their rowdy children’s proud new mates. Once this past week there were three other ravens, Maw and Caw talking loudly to them, spinning up to meet them high above the farm. Do our two friends feel they must chase away their kids to protect their territory, now? Are the playful windy days of spring the only days they feel comfortable to reunion with their more extended families? Oh, to know the dynamics of Raven Society. I love these two, they are such good friends, and I’m so happy to see them each and every time (especially when they are hopping up and down with their characteristic wing flicks).

We have a kestrel back on the farm and a (single!) sapsucker returned. The kestrel seems to be scooping up Jerusalem crickets these days, sometimes with a few accidental grass stalks. Its plumage is particularly vibrant and so seems very healthy. Why do we only ever get one individual kestrel…and only once did another show for just one week…?? Speaking of pairs, there is, once again, only one sapsucker. So, this second widow(er?) will linger how many winters in this territory before we get another year or so with none and then a pair shows again- that seems to be our story. This got me to thinking that sapsuckers might not have that large of populations…how well are they doing?

At dusk…gliding, prowling, and perching…great horned owls: easy to see around the farm right now.

No Till Orchard Crops

Back to the mud boots…are lack thereof. As we do not till our orchards, we can walk in those, still, to harvest and to harvest some more. We are 1,000 pounds into our expected 4,000 pound harvest. Almost all we have been harvesting has been Gala apples- the old trees our forebearers planted in 1998. They were laden with the most beautiful glowing red fruit, now all boxed up or as fermenting juice for next year’s cider.

You, yes YOU can get these incredibly sweet, crunchy, and beautiful Gala apples at the Food Bin, right on the main drag…Mission Street (and Laurel) in Santa Cruz. Support us Community Orchardists and go buy a bag of these gems. An apple a day….does what? (and have you done it?)

Next up…Fuji apples. In fact, we are sending Fuji, Mutsu, Gala, and Golden Delicious apples with Judy to the Palo Alto market this Saturday. So, if you are over that way…more diversity, more deliciousness. Plus, this is the run up to the last tomatoes of the season- we might not be at markets after another 3 weeks (or sooner for the mud boots).

For internal use only, us Community Orchardists are sharing the prized quince fruits. The legendary addition to apple sauce…the quince jam…the quince juice…the smell and beauty of this novel and ancient fruit. The test this year: do we need to plant more, or is 4 bush/trees enough for our needs? Already, people are suggesting we plant more, but they sit at the markets, unmoving.

Quince! Beautiful.

Stream Walks

another reprint from my weekly column for Bruce Bratton’s stupendous weekly.

The tinkling, gurgling, and bubbling sounds of local streams are especially relaxing around now, the driest part of our dry season. It is normal that it has been six months since we had any rain at all. It may be another month before storm fronts sweep from the North, drenching the parched ground for several days with an inch or more of rainfall. At present, though, streams are at their annual lowest flows. But, because our community has been generous, creeks remain flowing with clear, clean, cool water. Taking a leisurely and observant stroll along one of our many creeks will help to clear your mind and relaxed observation of streamside life can lead to delightful discoveries.

Fish, amphibians, and birds are easy to encounter with a brief streamside pause. We tend to hustle along trails, distracted in conversation or deep in thought. But you might want to stop, take a few deep breaths, listen for water sounds, smell cooler, moist air…and wait to see what happens. Ripples form where a fish captures a bug from the water’s surface. Focus your eyes down into the water, and you might glimpse a fish. It will probably be a young steelhead or maybe a coho salmon – two very rare fish that live among the stream’s cobbles, riffles and pools eating invertebrates and shining their beautiful scales in the occasional sunbeam-lit water. Creek pools may have newts or salamanders. With their yellow bellies and brown bumpy backs, two newt species (rough skinned or California) use their ‘tail fins’ to swim away if you get too close. Harder to see, the gray-silver and more uncommon California giant salamander is mostly hidden under rocks. After getting big enough, these newts and salamanders crawl out of the stream to wander the rainy winter landscape, gobbling up prey in the leaf litter or deep inside gopher burrows. These amphibians are super toxic – a single newt has enough poison in its skin to kill many people – so the they are brave and easy to find wandering trails or crossing roads near streams and rivers in the early winter. Crowds of newts make nighttime mass migrations after the first couple of rains have moistened the landscape. If you can plan not to drive at night during the second through fourth rainstorms, you’ll be saving gas, contributing to climate change solutions, be physically much safer, and potentially save many salamander lives. Encourage your friends to do the same! Post ‘newt crossing’ signs on your road. Drive slowly and avoid the many difficult to see newts.

My favorite creek birds are kingfishers and dippers (also known as ouzels). Kingfishers use their big sharp bills to spear fish. Ouzels dive into stream pools to eat underwater insects. Kingfishers are noisy, dippers silent…so, non-birders are more likely to see the kingfishers which have distinct flights and calls as well illustrated in this beautifully produced linked video. Kingfishers like to nest in holes in the soil of steep banks – they are burrow-birds! And its not easy to find that kind of habitat, but one roadcut near Elkhorn Slough is a go-to spot to see their nests. Dippers are not common in Santa Cruz County, and are elusive even where you might count on seeing them. I know they are about when there is ‘white wash’ on perching rocks midstream.

At the beginning of the essay, why do you think I said streams flow because of our generosity? Primarily I say that because we are a democracy: from the springs to the ocean, free-flowing water is publicly owned (except in the rare cases where a portion of the flow has been legally ‘allocated’ for human use). At the local level, Santa Cruzans value letting streams flow and have worked hard to protect enough land around streams so that they continue to flow. San Lorenzo Valley Water District and the City of Santa Cruz manage and protect lands to assure drinking water security. Bond funding to protect watersheds purchased the Pogonip Green Belt property near the City. Many places we could put dams to capture more water, we chosen not to. And so, we have many free-flowing streams without dams. These streams recharge groundwater, and not so many wells have run dry as they have elsewhere in the state. More than anything, it seems to me that our community’s conservation of streams and the forests around them has been instinctually generous, a big-heartedness that understands the inherent value of such things. I am so very pleased to be part of a community that acts on those values.

While we have protected many streams, the streams we have need restoration and management. Natural dams were once common- trees fell from old age and trunks floated downstream and occasionally jammed up flow, creating pools and fish and frog habitat. With forestry practices and our habit of keeping things ‘neat,’ there are fewer logs in streams (but, after the CZU fire, it looks like we might get a new wave of logs). So, in a few streams around our area, restorationists have placed big logs and boulders to help restore ‘complexity’ in streams. Also, in the past few years, there’s been a new movement to bring back beavers. Downtown Santa Cruz is built on what was most likely prior beaver ground. Beavers contributed to the creation of the deep, fertile soils of the Pajaro Valley. Wherever they could find a place, beavers would have made ponds along our streams, carefully weaving together branches into logs until they backed up water into a big pool. These pools would have been great habitat for our amphibians and would have helped recharge groundwater. These dams were porous and ephemeral enough to allow occasional salmon migration. But, beaver pelts were worth money, and trappers killed all the beavers a long time ago. When will beavers return- on their own…or with a little help from restorationists? The closest places to see beavers is just north, in Pescadero Creek, or just south, in the Salinas River…neither are that far from us, as the beaver swims. Maybe a generation or two from now will get to experience a ‘tail slap’ somewhere close by.

Getting back to the subject of streamside strolling during this dry fall…I advise taking some time to watch reflected sunlight as it sparkles and shines off of a stream. Under-lit from reflected sunshine, the normally shaded streamside tree trunks glow and rocky outcrops shine with unexpected color. Reflected light from creek ripples makes the otherwise still leaves and needles overhead seem to dance and move in fascinating patterns. If you take some time to gaze into the water, your eyes will relax your mind with the constantly changing liquid patterns: forming and collapsing pillows, effervescence bubbles flow swirling out into pools, slow eddies creating many unfolding patterns, forming and dissipating into one another, making sense, but at the same time fascinatingly unpredictable.

Streams are quieter now that the neotropical migratory songbirds flew south, but their noise will change with the coming rains. Soon, the quietest of streams will make louder sounds. Areas downstream of our pavement, roads and ditches will “flash” with higher flows and become muddy. Creeks protected by the right amount of well-managed uphill lands will rush and roar and, even after big storms, maintain clear water, pulsing after downpours and gradually flowing higher with the progressing rainy season. Through the cool, rainy winter, chickadees will miss their bright yellow and orange warbler friends but will greet and welcome them when they return next spring.

Before the rains come, you might notice branches and debris high above the water along the banks or even hanging many feet above, tangled high in the trees and bushes. That stuff tells you how the water may soon get, having been deposited there in prior years. If you take a photo or a video now of a favorite stretch of stream, think how much fun it will be to compare that with what you might record mid-winter. Creek habitats are the most obviously and dynamically changing of any of our natural areas, helping us to better plug into the changing seasons. At this point in the year, you might find a walk along a stream to be a revitalizing reprieve from the otherwise dusty and dry landscape.

Fall Schlogg

from my blog for Molino Creek Farm…

“How’s it going?” I ask my neighbors. The answer, ‘busy,’ is common. Everyone, especially since last year’s fire says just that. But this past week people answered ‘busy’ with a more heavy seriousness. For emphasis, one person shook their tense and invisibly full upward turned hands – exasperatingly exhaling ‘BUSY!’

With that answer, there are smiles. And humor. But our eyes are lined and worn. People move more slowly, a little more bent. Farmers are midway through the peak harvest, 6 weeks to go. Sharon our midwife neighbor just managed an unusually intense spate of births. Mark and Bob, furniture makers, are stretched with work. In two days, Ian will hit the second of the year’s tax deadlines. Family matters, health recovery, fire rebuilds, community business, job tasks…so much going on! And, household chores never go away: chopping, splitting, stacking, and covering the heating wood piles is a urgent priority. We all heat with wood and want warm winters.

Apple Toting Time

Orchardists are toting apples. 800 pounds picked and processed so far this season. We haul heavy shoulder-slung picking bags up the steep orchard hill. We climb carefully down tall ladders, lopsidedly laden and awkward. We roll apples from bags into sorting bins with a familiar, distinct soft percussive sound. Skilled hand-eye expertise helps dartingly sorting apples by size and condition. Only perfect apples for market. Small apples gifted to children. Blemished apples to ‘sweat’ in boxes for cider pressing.

Starting last year, Davenport neighbors and core community orchardists Mike and Charity have been taking our apples to schoolchildren. Emelia Miguel uses these and other donations, orchestrating nutritious delicious meals for the Pacific School in Davenport. Providing electric Tesla transport and endless labor, Mike and Charity have thus far this year gifted over 150 pounds (more coming!) of community orchard produced apples. Emelia’s crew cooked oodles of applesauce and packed pounds of “lunchbox” sized beautiful peak flavored Gala apples for the young down the hill in our greater community.

Putting Food Up

Industrious orchardists recently preserved a boat load of quinces, liberated from a wind- broken limb. Now there’s quince jam! Blemished apples are processed into dehydraters (schnitz!). Jacob, Eva, and John Brunie toiled last Friday to make a cider pressing…120 pounds of fruit to juice, including a bunch that turned out light yellow from quince…used to spice up the otherwise non-complex Gala juice in hard cider. I dried 30 pounds of seckel pears- after days of tending. Dried tomatoes, canned tomatoes, too!  Most recently we’re picking walnuts, keeping them tumble turned in open baskets for drying. Also, I collected the first small bowl of a mixed variety of hazelnuts, all shed this last week from bushes onto the ground; there will be many more next year as the bushes are getting big.

Squawking with Beak Full

While tending trees, I was attracted to a California scrub jay making the oddest squawk. Jays are known vocal tricksters, mimicking other birds, especially hawks. This vocalization was nasal and muted, but otherwise a normal alarm call. I searched about and finally spotted it: bobbing proudly up and down with each call from the top of an apple tree. Its beak was full of acorn! Like all those jays, once spotted with their catch, it ducked away. If they see you watching them bury their acorn, they dig it up and move it where you can’t see, always nervous about any others stealing their cache.

Other Birds

Our winter-only bird flocks continue to settle in. Thirty meadowlarks flush along our entrance road, down by the coast, if we startle them driving by. Sixty or so tricolor blackbirds are also flocking among the grazing cows down there. The nasal “squee” of the sapsucker is now common up here in our orchard- it is opening up rows of pecked ‘wells’ in the tree bark, again. The tally of band tailed pigeons: 14 in the farm flock. Hundreds of golden crowned sparrows and goldfinches still abound. Jen was delighted to encounter part of our flock of western bluebirds in her yard recently.

Morning Rainbow, offshore rain

Offshore Rain, North Wind and Sickle Moon

Rain skipped us again this past week, it is so very dry. Many people remarked about the offshore rainbows first thing one morning. That day it smelled like rain and looked like rain, but it didn’t rain. Then it blew, blew, and blew. For more than a day, wind shook our homes. Harvesting apples high int eh trees on ladders was difficult. We watched more soil blow away, our roads swept clean of any loose material. The walnut trees to show early yellow fall color were blown to bare branches. Overseeing the squalls and wind, low in the sky, a beautiful golden sickle-shaped moon was surrounded by bright fields of silver stars. The evenings darken early and the winter wet season looms.

Fall Redwood Ecosystem Notes

From Bruce Bratton’s Weekely 10/6/2021

Taking good care of yourself means getting out of doors, and the redwood forest is a good place to do that at this time of year. Our conservation history has focused on setting aside redwood forests around the Santa Cruz Mountains, so there are lots of parks beckoning for your next walk. Here are some things to look for and think about when you next visit those majestic trees.

The presence of redwood trees signals a lot more is going on. You can predictably find certain animals in your redwood forest excursions, if you take the time to look. Banana slugs are perhaps the easiest to find redwood wildlife. To find them this time of year, you’ll have to visit the low elevation redwood forests when the fog is so thick it drips. Redwood trees soak up fog directly through their needles, and the fog they don’t capture directly drips down through the canopy, moistening the ground. Those giant yellow slugs like the moisture, cruising around to munch leaves and fungi. I’ve seen slug evidence in the tracks they’ve left cleaning windows otherwise covered in dirt and algae in redwood shade. But, I haven’t seen slugs lowering themselves from the canopy on slime threads- have you? Its easier to see slugs than other redwood animal associates- marbled murrelets are one of the hardest. But, this year after the catastrophic fires in Big Basin State Park, Frans Lanting and Chris Eckstrom captured the first film of one of those elusive birds fledging! You might be more familiar with seeing Steller’s jays in the redwood forest- magnificent ‘blue jays’ with a pointy black crest on their heads and loud squawking alarm calls. Steller’s jay populations go way up around people because people are messy, leaving food out (pet food, picnic crumbs, garbage, compost, farm/garden crops) which makes it possible for these smart birds to raise more young. Artificially high jay populations are a major problem for other wildlife- they have a proclivity to being nest robbers- including eating marbled murrelet chicks. I saw the carnage of jays this spring when they raided house finch nests I was monitoring. Jays pecked to death and then ate 4 just hatched finches in one nest and, in a nest of older chicks ate one and pecked the other 3 to pulp and left them there. We need to be more ‘crumb free’ to keep our redwood forests more naturally in balance with the jays.

With wildlife and plants, redwood forests aren’t the most diverse of local ecosystems, but they do have some iconic and beautiful understory plants. When I think of redwood forests, I think of huckleberry and ferns. Huckleberries are our native blueberry and, though the fruit is small…it is tasty and one person I know was patient enough to gather so many as to make a huckleberry pie. For even the most amateur of naturalist, I recommend the well-illustrated Plants of the Coast Redwood Region. One thing us botanists are looking for these days are plant associations that are distinct in less disturbed or old growth redwood areas. One plant that might indicate more intact redwood areas is the trillium, with beautiful pink or white or deep purple flowers decorating the middle of three leaves in the spring. So much of our redwood forests have had such extensive disturbance- almost all of them were clear cut in around 1900- that plant indicators of less disturbance may allow us to learn more about the less-disturbed areas and set more meaningful management and restoration targets.

Redwoods are fire adapted and fared okay in the recent fires, except for tragic some old growth loss. People have been asking me about how many redwood trees died from the CZU Lightning Complex Fire. I say none, which shocks even people who are frequent visitors of the fire zone…people “in the know.” I haven’t seen a single redwood tree that isn’t sprouting from its base…aka ‘basal burl.’ What I’ve said is that, fire-wide, we might have lost 10% of redwood stems (trunks). Most of the redwoods are sprouting from their stems and many are sprouting from their branches. Since we will all see redwood trees sprouting from their stems, here’s a term: ‘bottlebrush trees.’ Along the line of logic of how many trees were killed, I point at a tree and ask: ‘how old is that tree?’ Because so many are familiar with the 1900-era clear cutting, if it is a large tree most people say something like “120 years!” I respond provocatively ’Nope, its probably 15,000 years old.’ Redwood trees in the Swanton area arrived around that long ago, according to a record of pollen deep in the stratified sediment of a local lagoon. So, the second generation after the cutting of the old growth might be the grandchildren-sprouts of the original colonizers.

With the global warming associated with climate change, we expect more frequent weather events- intense droughts, summer lightning storms, thunder snow, incredible flooding deluges….etc. Those resilient redwood root systems will be important to hold our hills together, stabilize stream beds, and generally keep the catch basins (‘watersheds’) intact…so we can have drinking water. If we can keep redwood tree canopies from burning through the expected increase in wildfire, the shade of redwoods will keep us cooler throughout the region. The key to that is increasing the amount of prescribed burning in our mountains- clearing the fuel from the redwood forest understory so that fires don’t get too hot, damaging the redwood shade. The best way you can help with our ability to apply prescribed fire is to congratulate and support those who are working on that. The ‘good fire’ people are hampered by public opinion…complaints about smoke or worry about fire. People also worry that even prescribed fire will harm the redwood forests that they care about so much.

I encourage you to visit an area where the fire impacted the redwood forest. Visit soon! Each month after the fire changes so much. This past month, many burned redwood trees broke through their charred bark to show new light brown growth of their trunks. Green needles are erupting from redwood branches and trunks. And, the biggest redwood cones you’ll ever see are weighting down redwood branches, creating a seed crop to take advantage of the rare bare soil that they need to establish seedings. Those redwood seedlings are the key to the next generation. The wood from a redwood seedling, since it is slower growing than a resprout, might be dense and the deepest red- like old growth! I am hoping that together we can support prescribed fire so that these seedlings will someday be giant old trees supporting marbled murrelets for many future generations to enjoy.

Sweater Weather

The fall see-sawing between heat wave and chilliness continues, a pattern we’ve become used to through even the more typically hotter summer. This past week, the farm warmed for a few days into the mid-80s – unusually warm for us – with nights down to the high sixties. During the days, the lush carpet of white flowering clover in the orchard understory folded its leaflets, hiding out until cooler times and the apples rapidly brightened towards ripeness. Cricket song vibrated through the comfy nights. Then, yesterday, high thin clouds blew in, barely obscuring the sun and the temperature dropped – the arrival of fall “sweater weather.” Banter turned to expectations of rain. “I saw the tarantulas come out” I heard someone remark on a visit to San Luis Obispo – people believe this to be a sign of upcoming rain. A Bonny Doon person remarked that ants were moving inside…yet another sign that rain was imminent. No rain around here, though…but, it did rain in northern California a few days ago and there was a good downpour in LA recently. We’re stuck in the dry middle of the state with confused invertebrates feeling the weather fronts that don’t quite get here.

So, for the farm, dust season continues. The natural world looks drier and drier. Our last rain was months ago. Even in the areas that burned in the summer of 2020, the ground is covered by regrowth. Brown, dry thistle heads rattle across the hillsides in afternoon breezes. Resprouting coyotebrush presents deep green patches in the understory of the thistles – it reached a foot or so high this summer and will recover a closed canopy across many hillsides next year. The dust comes from the humans – it blows from our roads and fields in great arcs coating surrounding vegetation…redistributing nutrients across the landscape. It is the same through the more extensive agricultural landscapes – trucks running down dirt roads in the wide Salinas Valley create huge plumes of dust that carry for miles. “There goes our soil!” I’ve tried covering some of our farm roads with hay cut adjacent to the road, and road gets slick, hay quickly ground up by the many farm worker vehicles…maybe it helps? Soil is very, very slow to create and I fear wind and water erosion deepening the road ruts, making for bigger maintenance projects in the future.

Black walnuts are plentiful on our farm, Joe Curry grew these seedlings from our mother tree

 Fall color progresses. The many black walnut trees that dot the farm have yellow leaves, falling. The orchard’s prune trees have yellow-orange leaves starting to turn and the cherry leaves are changing to a distinct orange-red. Across the nearby slopes, poison oak has been turning crimson since August. In the moist canyons below the farm, big leaf maples are turning bright lemon yellow alongside similarly colored hazelnut bushes. During our cool spells, the crisp air smells like dry leaves and clean air from the North.

Lapins cherry trees, survived the fire, starting to drop colorful leaves

On one of my midday work-break irrigation hikes (turning off water, checking that the tanks were filling), I heard a frantic truck horn beeping. Luckily, it wasn’t the three long beeps that signal an outright emergency. Patterns of horn beeping can tell you a lot. It was evidently a less worrisome issue. Judy’s sky-blue Toyota pickup – her commute vehicle – eventually caught up with me. “The foxes are eating the cat food!” she exclaimed.

My farm neighbors have mixed reports about foxes. Some revel in the frequent sightings; for instance, a few neighbors report (with delight!) an adolescent fox at all times of the night at the ‘hairpin’ turn on the road closest to the farm. Others complain…chicken killing, cat food eating, fruit (or sandwich) stealing…etc. I was opposed to the introduction of “barn” cats onto the farm, but one picks one’s battles. People were unwilling to tend traps enough to reduce ‘problem’ rodents in the barn and believed cats would take care of the matter with less human effort. I cite the millions of songbirds needlessly slaughtered by domestic cats across the nation. Now, we have cat problems: how to feed the ‘feral’ cats without feeding the wildlife! The next bit of fun will be getting said cats to the vet for their routine vaccinations. Meanwhile, its foxes vs. cats – the ancient dog vs. cat battle continues on center stage at Molino Creek Farm. There are cat people…and there are dog people…and we’ve got both!

On the avian front, there are two bird songs making a crescendo: male quail calls and golden-crowned sparrows. After tentative quiet half-calls the past two weeks, this year’s new male quails are settling into more certain and loud ‘Chicago!’ calls…repeated all day long from whatever brush areas remain on the farm. They are filling out their puffy bodies, displaying elegant top knots from their heads, strutting and herding their coveys. These wild chickens have had a strong year of increasing their flock size with plenty of seeds to eat. Sprinkled across quail territory, the golden crowned sparrows are dense across the whole farm. It seems they landed just here on our farm two weeks ago as a staging area before moving farther south. Just 2 miles farther on (Back Ranch Road), they haven’t yet arrived. In prior years, it has taken them a month to arrive at the Elkhorn Slough, 25 miles south. Here, it took them a week after arrival (Sept 21) to start singing their characteristic winter song: “poor will-eee!” Now, this is the most constant bird song across the farm. If I had to guess, I’d say we have a thousand of these cute little friends. Another sign of coming winter: our tribe of Brewer’s black birds have returned. I’m saying ‘our tribe’ on suspicion…I don’t know for sure. But, for years they were shy around me and in Spring 2020 I spent some time hanging out with them…talking to them, answering their odd ‘click’ calls, and gradually getting closer and closer to their feeding flock. The flock that returned looks me in the eye and isn’t so quick to flush, so I think they still know me, so I posit this is the same flock.

A bit about the harvest. There are cases and cases of tomatoes ripening in the barn, tags on each stack noting the date of harvest. Two Dog Farm had a great big winter squash harvest, now curing in boxes awaiting sale. As I loaded two boxes of beautiful Gala apples into the van destined for the Santa Cruz farmer’s market, I spied many buckets of beautiful sunflowers. There are onions and peppers, and so much more coming out of the fields with very full tables at all of our markets – this is the season!

Apples! Ah yes…it is almost peak harvest time. The early apples, Galas, are at the height of their ripeness. We were debating the color of the flesh at last Saturday’s working bee: is the flesh a pure white…or is it creamy white…or….?? Please weigh in on this important debate. The skin of our Gala apples is red-streaked with a peachy yellow background with a bush of russeting. Our team also debated ripeness of other varieties. What appeared to be ripe with tasting suggests another week or so…we await Mutsu, Braeburn and Jonagold. Fuji apples are far behind. The slow ripening and benign weather is allowing us a great non-hectic prolonged harvest season. If you want a whole-case discount (~20lbs/25$) of almost perfect apples, let us know…we were eating schnitz for a year and suggest you consider making those – an excellent snack and easy to rehydrate for cooking.

Community Orchardists have well stewarded these gorgeous gala apples

Welcome to Santa Cruz – A Natural Perspective

This is a post that I contributed to Bruce Bratton’s online weekly on 9/28/2021

Think about our area…

Whether you are new, visiting, or have long lived in this area, how you are growing to appreciate the nature of this place to its deserving depths? Nature inspires, heals, and supports us all, and the land around Santa Cruz is a as special as nature gets. And yet, I find few people prepared to describe that richness in the ways that they more easily describe the culture, the recreational opportunities, or the human history. Will you take some time with me over the coming year to grow our appreciation of nature together, to be better able to describe this wonderful place?

I will be writing a series for Bruce’s weekly, and through this writing I hope to inspire you to appreciate our place in the world more deeply, so that you will feel more comfortable describing our ecological wealth to others. Over th longer term, I hope we can help to improve more broadly our cultural relationship to the natural world and work to restore the web of life. That way, many generations in the future, people will be proud of of our stewardship culture and benefit from the richness that we co-create. The alternative is horrifying to those of us who see the trend and love what is left of nature.

I can describe some of our natural wealth, but I encourage you to invest some time to get to know it more closely, through personal experience, and to enter into more discussions about what’s going on around us. For instance, I can describe the incredible biological diversity driven by oceanic upwelling and the Grand Canyon depths of the Monterey submarine canyon. This might inspire another trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to learn more…there is always more to learn there. And, maybe during our next visits, we will walk a little slower, look a little more intensely and take time to chat with a knowledgeable volunteer. You might also travel onto the Bay on a whale watching boat to experience firsthand the teeming of life. Patient walks along the bluffs peering oceanward also reveal hints of the Bay’s diversity. Many of us have done these things…but how often and with how much focus? How often have we tried to inspire and teach others about the Monterey Bay? Conversations can help bring us together, deepen our appreciation, and create a better culture. For nature and ourselves, we cannot do it often enough.

Without majestic whales, a Monterey Bay Terrarium, or (as yet) scientific institutions and economies to train and support land-based eco-tourism, it is not as easy to learn about our terrestrial natural world. And yet, the species diversity and diversity of natural habitats around the Monterey Bay offer endless fascinating experiences. In a very short trek, we can travel from sand dunes through estuaries and lagoons, along rivers and streams, into vast coastal prairies, under the canopies of so many forest types- Monterey pine, redwood, coast live oak, etc- and weaving through sagrebrush scrub and manzanita chaparral. Almost anywhere else in the nation, and even the world, one would travel hundreds of miles to visit this number of varied habitats. Each of these habitats has its own scents, critters, flowers, and seasonal changes.

Each Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer, I have favorite hikes to immerse myself in these various habitats to experience what they have to offer at various times of year. Recently, I walked in the understory of one of our recently burned redwood forests. The scent of charcoal and blackened redwood trunks are relatively new to me, but the ripening acorns, orange-blushed madrone berries and the cooing and loud wing flaps of band tailed pigeons remind me of the fall’s wildland harvest time. Creekside walks are especially nice right now with the sound of water, lush ferns and blossoming monkeyflowers contrasting with so much of the brittle dryness of late summer elsewhere.  Soon, there will be rain, and the manzanitas unfurl clusters of urn-shaped, honey scented flowers. The chaparral is the first habitat to erupt in bouquets with the smell of fresh rain on soil. Bees will bumble and hummingbirds will dart between the many chaparral blossoms. Rehydrated back to fluffy life, lichens and mosses will add depth to the chaparral’s colors and textures, accentuating the change brought by the annual wet season we call winter.

Through the coming months, I will share notes about the places I visit and help connect you with ways to learn more. There are books, interpretive trails, guided field trips, multimedia internet resources, museums, and events that will help us continue to explore this wonderful place. Meanwhile, I hope that you will regularly remind yourself that we are living every day alongside one of the nation’s most densely diverse natural areas and that there are opportunities to explore it, real close by. Experts note that relationships last best between people who remain curious and are willing to stretch and grow; I posit the same is true for our relationship with nature. Remaining experientially and physically engaged with nature, we will be healthier emotionally and physically. Learning more about nature and having more frequent conversations about what we have experienced and learned will help to protect and steward nature.

Each week, I will present a bit of homework for specific direction to go deeper with the concepts I introduce. This week: do some ‘forest bathing’ in the redwood understory or walk near a stream. Read a bit out of Kat Anderson’s Tending the Wild, Burton Gordon’s book Natural History and Cultural Imprints of the Monterey Bay, and Ellen Bakker’s An Island Called California. Visit the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. Talk to someone about your personal experience with the nature around us.

And, each week, I will list a few of the new things I have experienced in nature the past week. This past week, I saw the arrival (from Alaska!) of golden crowned sparrows as well as (from I don’t know where) western meadowlarks; geese flew overhead geese in huge honking V’s; the sun hit its midway point moving south to north- last Wednesday was Equinox – now the nights are longer! Send me a note about something you noticed that is new in nature so that I might add it to this list in future posts.

One Year After Our Big Fire

Since the firestorm of 2020, I’ve witnessed both the rebounding resilience of nature as well as post-fire human responses that have ranged from truly awe-inspiring to bewildering. When the fire first struck, I had a harrowing 10-day amateur-firefighting experience. I well recall the panic – and the portentous moment when toasted tanoak leaves floated down from the smoke-darkened sky. Soon thereafter, the march of head-high flames incinerated everything on our farm that we couldn’t save with just us two people and our heavy fire hoses. After the smoke and flames – and through the entire year since – there’s been so much change.

This story starts last August, when we endured three days of wilting heat. Then, a hurricane hundreds of miles south of us went rogue, splitting in two, half of it raking quickly across the length of California. I woke to that half a hurricane – a massive silver-gray cloud-wall steaming and rolling north along the coast and a 10-minute-long 70-mph wind gust accompanying devilish sheets of whole sky-enveloping lightning and unbroken thunder. Soon, lightning-ignited small fires in too-remote areas joined together into a monstrously huge and fast-moving firestorm. State firefighters could not gather resources quickly enough to fight it and called for evacuations, and all but one person escaped with their lives. Non-humans fared less well. The smoke and flames took a month to dissipate, allowing thousands of evacuees to return to what, if anything, might be left of their homes.

The fire left a landscape of blowing ash and a hundred shades of charcoal gray with sporadic patches of toasted brown vegetation and very few areas of green plants that somehow escaped the flames.

Before the fire, lush redwood forests had dripped fog onto carpets of ferns and sorrel. Under high conifer canopy, Pacific wrens whistled away the days in brilliant, wandering sunrays. Daylight transitioned into forest-hushed nights with owls hooting and woodrats rattling their fleshy tails. Those same forests, after the fire, were spires of high, blackened, tree-trunk pillars with few branches remaining. These towered over ankle-deep, white, fluffy ash and patches of crunchy charcoal. All the animals were gone … many had roasted alive.

Before the fire, the ridgelines above those forests had been dense chaparral. There were millions of 10-foot-tall, lush, green pines erupting through rafts of shorter shrubs – a dazzling array of colors with resinous and sweet scents and a multitude of textures. Eleven years previous, the Lockheed Fire had burned much of this chaparral, and all this life had since rebounded. In the wake of that fire – a timebomb: criss-crossed, 6–12-inch-diameter logs from killed and gradually falling pines piled up hip-high for thousands of acres and miles around. During last year’s firestorm, those logs burned so hot they left impressions criss-crossing the hillsides, each outlined in white ash and vaporizing what little soil there was into red brick. That heat cleared ridge after ridge down to the stone we call “chalk rock,” a fractured mudstone crushing easily or making metallic, pottery-shard noises when you walk across it. For months after the fire, peering closely, nestled in piles of charred rock, you could find little fingers of burned stems and twisted fists of stump-like burls, all black, seemingly lifeless.

Among these forests and in the chaparral, people were living in neighborhoods and rural properties large and small. Since the early 1900s, neighborhoods had gradually developed, woven in between natural areas and parks set aside for redwood conservation and recreation. The fire destroyed the remote Last Chance neighborhood and badly affected other neighborhoods in the hills above Boulder Creek. The fire also tore through the Swanton community and then much of Bonny Doon. These communities contained layers of history. Generations-old families shared this landscape with the newest wave of neighbors from the wealth machine of Silicon Valley. University of California administrators and professors, along with student renters, were living alongside old hippies and back-to-the-landers of all political persuasions. There were also many blue-collar tradespeople, teachers, and retailers. This was a mixing pot of politics, perhaps with more left-leaners, and all united by a love of rural living. They found ways to be good neighbors from sharing news to clearing roads and helping newcomers figure out how to settle in comfortably with the various issues unique to this part of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The fire burned homes new and old, whether they were owned by the super-rich or the very poor. There were dilapidated, barely habitable shacks surrounded by old cars, tattered furniture, and storage sheds with recyclables overflowing into the surrounding forest. And then there were the fancier estates – polished redwood decks, outdoor kitchens with marble countertops and brick pizza ovens, fancy hot tubs, and English gardens with statuary. These varied developments were all mixed up in the matrix of shrubs and trees, chaparral, and forest – one of the two most diverse natural landscapes of North America. The fire made the patches of human stuff into the same types of ash and waste: deep piles of charcoal and blowing nasty ash accented in places by unrecognizable twisted metal and piles of collapsed brick. New cars or old – it was hard to tell from the burned-out, fire-wasted frames. It was impossible to tell where the landscaping stopped, and the wild places began.

People’s responses to the fire were even more varied than their ways of life had been prior to the fire. During the peak of the fire and for the long period of smoldering and even longer evacuation period, the few brave and stalwart worked hard protecting their homes, their neighbors’ homes, their pets, and human friends wherever possible. On the edges of retreating flames, packs of looters swept in, stealing from houses burned and those that were spared. A standoff between the stalwart stay-behinds and looters resulted in a looter getting shot in the leg. Someone who lost nearly everything set aside some mementos at dusk, only to find them gone the next morning. A year later, strangers still lurk around the burned areas looking for stuff to steal. As if the fire itself weren’t enough.

The many who lost their homes were scattered. A few quite visible ones took up trailer homes along the highway in Davenport. Many moved to rentals or into homes with friends, adding to the crowded town. After a few, seemingly long months of waiting, the government-run cleanup started: giant machines scooping and scraping the charred piles of debris into convoys of trucks, hauling the stuff “away.” We were impatient and then happy for the efficiency, strength, and scale of this enterprise. No one asked and there was no news about where that stuff went, what the communities and land think of how we disposed of it, far away from here. After cleanup, some people sold out while others stayed put. It was a sellers’ market, but that meant those selling out faced grim realities for purchasing anything else in the area, and some were forced to leave. Slowly house trailers appeared on wrecked properties. A small fraction found the means to start rebuilding.

Between the remaining homes or the burned-up human stuff, some people (like me) were fascinated and relieved by the resilience of nature, bolstered by its ability to heal and rebound. To others, nature was too slow—they wanted a kind of speed healing and found many ways to apply Band-Aids to cover the fire’s wounds. Some know nature heals but wanted to help it along. Others had no sense of nature and acted like alien gardeners on some other planet. Others were never much at tending the land: they had never been much interested in such things. County-hired contractors hydroseeded burned building sites and surrounded them with straw bundles to contain toxic runoff. RCD employees were heroes, working ceaselessly to help stunned property owners prepare for post-fire rains, erosion, and slope failure. Meanwhile, people were tossing around native wildflower seed mixes to hopefully brighten land. Others, wanting more instant and positively perky landscapes, dug in thousands of roadside daffodil bulbs to persist and spread for centuries, a long-lasting and sad legacy spurred on by a well-meaning community leader.

Along roadsides and powerlines, orange-vested, hard-hatted officials spray-painted numbers on thousands of dead or damaged trees, and then the saws and grinders got going. Months of chainsaws and chippers whined and roared, shaking the earth and sky, filling hundreds and hundreds of trucks, hauling more stuff to yet unknown fates and destinations: “away.” People already traumatized by burn damage faced another shock as workers removed patches of forest in what was left of their yards, forever changing their historic views, removing their remaining privacy … all in the name of road or utility safety … or perhaps liability.

The first spring after the fire, the forest surged with life. Most redwood and oak trees that had burned resprouted. Some sprouted from their charred trunks, while others sprouted only from their bases. Understory herbs filled the spaces between the trees – twining vines, prickly thistles, and carpets of wildflowers. In many places, the forest floor was brighter than we had ever witnessed – dazzling flowers! Splashes of cream or blue iris bloomed profusely alongside extensive rafts of pale pink globe lilies. Animal life returned, too. Hungry deer shortened tanoak sprouts by the mouthful. Fish biologist “snorkel surveys” spotted surprising numbers of steelhead in the burnt and newly sun-brightened streams. Shortly after the fire, great horned owls hooted from recently cooled trees. A few more healing months and then pygmy owls also were cheerfully hooting away from the scorched forest.

The chaparral mostly rebounded, too. First there were many bush poppy sprouts…and many, tiny seedlings. Then, very slowly, the many fewer manzanita burls began pushing up sprouts. Chaparral oaks, madrones, and chinquapin joined the resprouting. In late April, the diverse fire-following flowers were starting their famous post-fire show. Massive patches of whispering bells carpeted hillsides – ferny foliage and pale-yellow bell-shaped flowers along with an odd scent that some people enjoy. An intrepid bunch of botanists I hiked with discovered a new population of small-flowered blazing star. And, we found previously undocumented areas of pink-purple stinging lupine, as well as sweetest-scented, tiny phacelia with yellow and pink flower mounds, and one new patch of the sapphire blue–flowered twining snapdragon. By midsummer, I could still walk easily through extensive areas of chaparral in the bare spots between resprouted 2-foot-tall shrubs and trees. Big patches of bright yellow bush poppies were feeding innumerable bees.

I could find only a very few pine and manzanita seedlings, so the chaparral will look a little different in the wake of this fire compared with the last fire. The cooler burning Lockheed Fire created massive thickets of knobcone pine seedlings – extending for miles outside of the fire footprint, where seeds were blown on the fire wind. With the very dry winter following this more recent fire, along with fewer pine cones and a short-lived seedbank, many fewer knobcone pines may regenerate this time around. With the aforementioned piles of Lockheed Fire–killed knobcone logs, the ground temperature got so hot that many ancient manzanita burls were destroyed. So, now fewer manzanitas and perhaps more open space (more weeds, more grasses or wildflowers?) will characterize the next generation of this chaparral.

Wildlife has recovered in the chaparral areas. The deer were most evident – I found bedding areas nestled into the protective, denser patches of burned-out pine shoots; they had also been browsing off the diversity of resprouting shoots. I was surprised to see gopher mounds – they must have been hungry for a long while awaiting something fresh to eat! Solitary bees were creating patches of burrows in the rare areas with soil, in between the chalk rock. Other pollinators were buzzing busily between the many post-fire wildflowers.

I am wondering now … what will happen next? In the hominid realm, I predict that this fire is in the process of creating a shift in the hill cultures. Cultural shifts occurred in Santa Cruz after the University opened in 1965, then again after the 1989 earthquake, and again after UCSC admissions policy changes in the late 1990s, and yet again with Silicon Valley gentrification accentuated by COVID remote-working policies. And, while the fire changed some minds as to attractiveness of rural living, it also has probably permanently displaced people who were economically marginal before the fire. Like downtown and the University, these rural areas are already taking a giant step towards having less “character” – the numbers of tinkerers, artists, and oddballs will plummet to be replaced by “normal” people of much greater economic means. I hope there will be enough critical mass of those people staying to continue the culture of rural, peaceful living, and cross-cultural welcoming and kindness. Already, I see people helping others in recovery, in bearing through the many jumpy instances – tedious smoke scares, power outages, and road closures. Our farm is so grateful for the outpouring of donations and physical support for recovery; many others have experienced the same generosity.

I predict that the attitude towards nature in general will shift from what has been more natural towards the more manicured, non-native, unnatural landscapes currently found more often in suburban Southern California. This trend started with the mass plantings of “cheerful” daffodils and will continue with greater numbers of fire-proof “garden beds” full of red lava rock gravel, trucked from torn apart hillsides miles away, accented by well-spaced foreign, pink-flowering daisy bushes … trellis arches of bougainvillea pouring over hummingbird feeders by tiled patios with huge propane grills and circles of ornate metal lawn furniture. More of our endangered chaparral will be bulldozed to dirt, forests will be chainsawed farther away from “civilization.” Where once red-trunked manzanitas were festooned by honey-scented clusters of pink flowers through winter, where once there were sprawling, lichen-covered live oaks full of birdsong, there will be lifeless mats of 2-inch weed stubble, the product of three or four times a year of mowing, for fire safety. These weeds will carry fire quickly nevertheless, when comes the day that fire returns.

I find the predictable response of the general population only somewhat offset by a few people with greater things in mind. This past year, I’ve seen signs of more of my community learning to live in this fire-prone place during these increasingly hot and dry times. Friends I visit are doing more safety clearance around their homes. I see Bonny Doon Firesafe Council’s and others’ advertisements of well-attended workshops for “home hardening” – an odd term that means making it harder for fire to burn your house. Across our region, volunteers are training together to use “good fire” to clear fuels that would be more dangerous during uncontrolled wildfire. The Central Coast Prescribed Burn Association has even started burning areas using well-trained volunteers who are gaining more experience. Just this past year it has become common knowledge that the only way to really live in this state is to use prescribed burns over millions of acres, and that’s going to take a lot of work.

Fire is part of ecological restoration in California, but forests that haven’t been tended since Native People’s times require a lot of fuels reduction before “good fire” can hit the ground. Conservation lands managers with the San Vicente Redwoods, State Parks, and Swanton Pacific Ranch have all been awarded State funding to prepare their forests for prescribed burns. In the coming few years, we will be able to witness the largest-scale restoration work our area has experienced in more than 200 years, since the native peoples were forcibly removed from this land.

We can all take part in this restoration effort. We can volunteer with the Prescribed Burn Association or with invasive plant control teams. Neighbors to wildlands can do their part to protect their homes and to keep fire from spreading from built areas into the wildland while still restoring native species. Through these coming times, if you have the wherewithal, it is important to document what happens. The year before this past fire, I began organizing a “ten-year retrospective” from the Lockheed Fire. I searched to find anyone who could speak to what we had learned or what (even more simply) change they had documented over that decade. I could find no scientific studies, no documentation at all. Jim West took hundreds of photos immediately post-fire in the Swanton area, but no one followed up to see how those scenes changed over time. Without documentation, without trying to learn from our experiences, how can we improve how we live on the land, how we restore nature, or how we respond the next time fire scorches the landscape?

With this fire, though, I know people who have initiated post-fire research. For instance, there are now two studies examining fire effects on our local forest soils. And, mainly because of the Montecito landslides, teams from United States Geological Survey and the California Geologic Survey mobilized quickly, before last winter’s rains, to learn how to better predict slope failure and debris flows. Ongoing marbled murrelet and mountain lion research will no doubt incorporate fire effects into their analyses. The Federal Fish People have been studying how salmonid populations changed after the fire. This post fire report after the fire is all I have seen that analyzes firefighter response; there may be other internal studies.

What’s next with our rebound from the CZU Lightning Complex Fire? Timelines for rebuilding will necessitate a continuation of the housing problems – people in trailers or displaced to rentals while they organize for rebuilding. Hundreds of people who had no prior experience with home building, and all of the permitting involved, will continue their steep learning curves and patience development. They are lucky for the leadership shown by the Community Foundation who sponsored a fire-wide debris flow study, which would have otherwise been burdens on each individual landowner to fund, separately, for each house rebuild. The County has enacted some building review and permit streamlining processes, but experiences have been mixed.

While we really want more rain this winter, we will worry about landslides. The winter rains will bring lush regrowth in the burned areas – any remaining patches left bare by the fire will be covered with luxuriant plants. Rebounding and lush, miles of newly sprouting shrubs mean lots of food for lots more deer … which will be good food for mountain lions. The blue-blossom ceanothus that sprouted from millions of seeds after the fire will bloom this spring, creating drifts of sweet-smelling lilac flowers and clouds of bees. Some woodpecker populations will skyrocket, but acorn woodpeckers will be having a hard time from the loss of all the oaks. With much of the hazardous trees removed along roads and utility lines, that kind of noise will be slowly replaced by hammering and sawing of anything that can be rebuilt.

The future is uncertain. I wish the best for nature and for those who need to heal, to rebuild, to settle into their new communities, to fall in love again with new pets, to learn to live with new neighbors and new landscapes, to learn and grow from past trauma and new fear. I also am so happy to be a part of a community of brave and stalwart protectors, skilled makers, musicians, healers, restorationists, cooks, and land-tenders. I wish my community the best, to live long healthy lives and to stick around, working together to settle into becoming indigenous with this beautiful land.

Note: if you have observations from the post fire Aug 2020-Aug 2021 to share, please leave them as a comment here. I want to collect stories of what we’ve seen.

Pogonip: Imperiled, Once Again

I will post a series of notes here about the quickly emerging proposal to move the Homeless Garden Project to the centerpiece meadow at Pogonip Greenbelt. Their originally designated place, near the entrance to the open space at Golf Club Drive, has lead contamination that the City is going to clean up, at taxpayers’ expense. But, sensing an opportunity to take Center Stage, Homeless Garden proponents and their friends in High Places in the City, are now pushing putting a 10-acre farm, complete with 8′ fences, parking, etc., right smack in the middle of the big meadow, Santa Cruz’ last Big Meadow.


9/29/2021

Thanks to all who have already stepped up to help protect Pogonip’s beautiful Main Meadow. We will need your continued help in the months ahead to protect our Greenbelt. In the few short weeks since the announcement of a proposed plan to locate the Homeless Garden Project on the Main Meadow, much has been accomplished:

Many of you submitted excellent comments in writing and verbally to the Parks and Recreation Commission and City Council raising a wide range of important concerns

Groups including the Sierra Club, the Santa Cruz Bird Club, and the California Native Plants Society, as well as several local scientists, submitted detailed comments citing significant environmental issues·       A new group called Friends of the Greenbelt (FOG) has formed

A land use and CEQA attorney has been retained to ensure a full public environmental review process is conducted if the project moves forward 

As expected, last night the City Council approved the staff recommendation to allocate $100,000 in city budget funds to continue analyzing the potential to develop a 9.5 acre farm in the Main Meadow, including 6000 square feet of buildings, an expanded road, and other infrastructure- all to support a greatly expanded footprint for the Homeless Garden Project. 

The Council directed staff to also continue to assess the feasibility of the Homeless Garden Project moving to its already approved location, the lower meadow site near Golf Club Drive where lead contamination from historic skeet shooting was discovered. Notably, at the Council meeting last night, city staff confirmed that 4.5 acres of the Golf Club Drive site is not contaminated. This represents an area that is an acre larger than the Homeless Garden Project’s current site on the Westside. In other words, the Homeless Garden Project could proceed with plans to move to their already approved site close to Golf Club Drive and still grow the size of their operation. This option would preserve the Main Meadows as required by the Pogonip Master Plan. 

The City plans to host outreach meetings to gather community input in November and January. 

What’s next and how can you help? 

Please join Friends of the Greenbelt! If you want to become a member, just send me a note and I’ll add you to the roster. There’s no additional commitment and we won’t share your name. In the future we will share opportunities for public comment as the process moves forward. We would also like to host field trips, gatherings, and we may share other greenbelt information to share via that group.  

Tell your friends. Everyone in this community supports the mission of the Homeless Garden Project and many may not realize the significance of developing one of our last coastal prairie meadows and ignoring adopted city plans and policies designed to protect habitat and biodiversity. Talk to your friends about why it is so important that the Homeless Garden Project develop on a different site and not in the heart of the Greenbelt. Tell your friends to join Friends of the Greenbelt. 

Talk to city officials and the Homeless Garden Project. Make time to talk as directly as you can to our representatives- the Parks and Recreation Commissioners and the City Council and to the Homeless Garden Project Board of Directors. Share your concerns and urge them to pursue an alternative site to the Main Meadow of Pogonip. 

We have made a big difference already and together will continue building the momentum necessary to give the Upper Main Meadow the strong voice that it needs if it is to remain such a beautiful, wildlife friendly place for future generations.


9/26/21

Hi Friends- Exciting news! Our newly founded Friends of the Greenbelt has retained an attorney to represent us and strengthen our opposition to the Poor Idea to consider placing a 10 acre private farm in the middle of the centerpiece of our beautiful greenbelt.


Letters Needed for Upcoming City Council Meeting (9/28)

Please consider writing a letter/email/note and commit to asking 5-10 others to do the same…before this Friday September 24…to ensure that the letters are read by councilmembers before the meeting. Now is an important time to act.

The City Council will decide at its upcoming September 28th meeting whether or not to move forward with the next step of placing a 10-acre private farm in the middle of the main meadow at Pogonip. Email the Council at: citycouncil@cityofsantacruz.com the meeting is set to begin at 11 a.m. on this coming Tuesday Sept 28, but the agenda has not been posted publicly and would be at this site

Many people do not know…the much-beloved Homeless Garden Project was slated to get tucked into the corner of the Pogonip greenbelt near the entrance to Golf Club Drive (aka “Lower Main Meadow’), but they found lead from a historic skeet shooting range there, so…in a hurry to get the farm moved to the Pogonip from its long-time Westside home (where BTW they are welcome to stay) … instead of waiting for the City to clean up the lead … they are pushing for a short-term solution, and a greatly expanded farm in the middle of the vast and beautiful meadow (aka ‘Upper Main Meadow’) that is the centerpiece of our greenbelt: right in front of the historic clubhouse.

This new 10-acre farm will be fenced- excluding the public and wildlife- and the ancient carbon-rich prairie soils will be tilled, releasing lots carbon to the atmosphere. The road to that part of the greenbelt will be widened, utilities sent up the hill, many buildings constructed, parking lots, lights, increased fire danger and more difficult to protect infrastructure, further into our wildlands.

This wild place, reachable on foot, bike, etc., by many of all ages, incomes, and situations and a place of peaceful solace for humans and non-humans alike, will be forever changed. The view of the meadow is woven into our psyches. It is how we feel home. Others, many generations from now, should be able to experience that feeling. Coyotes and hawks, endangered beetles and bats, they have already lost so many of their places.

Below, I’ve placed some of the talking points others have used. If you think of others, please let me know.
Also, please send me a copy of what you send…if you also give me your permission, I’ll post the letters on a publicly available website to illustrate the breadth, determination, love, and thoughtfulness of the opposition.

We have already made great strides- they thought that this would be easier. Together, we can turn this around…find the Homeless Garden Project a great new home and save the heart of the Pogonip at the same time.

Let me know how I can help. – Grey
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Here are some talking points to make in your note to the City Council:

The process has not been transparent: the public has had insufficient notice of the public process.    Suggestion: better notify the public about this process, give us more time to comment, put up bright flagging and ‘story poles’ for us to see the dimensions of what is being considered.

The City shouldn’t waste funding: there are other priorities for Parks    Suggestion: as outlined in the recent Parks Master Plan, the City should focus on priorities such as more accessible playground for children, addressing trail erosion, creating habitat conservation and restoration plans, restoring habitats and removing invasive species.

The City already spent a lot of time and paid a lot of money to for the Pogonip Master Plan as well as for the public process and environmental review of that Plan. Hundreds wrote to protect this meadow at that time. The environmental review clearly stated that it was infeasible to put the Homeless Garden Project in this location because of many serious constraints. Suggestion: none of the previous constraining conditions of the Upper Main Meadow could have changed; if anything, those constraints have increased with time.

The Upper Main Meadow is critical habitat for the Federally endangered Ohlone tiger beetle, habitat for many protected raptors and songbirds, contains rare mima mounds, is covered with threatened coastal terrace prairie, and has extensive wetlands protected by the State and Federal governments. These constraints are insurmountable and damaging these resources is not what Santa Cruzans should do with their greenbelt lands. The City has been unable to mitigate for the damages to endangered species at Arana Gulch, so how do we know they could at this location?

Continuing the process to consider this project will create rifts in our community when we have more constructive things we can do together.

The expansive, open Upper Main Meadow is an important visual resource, with views that define Santa Cruz.

There are no other places for such peaceful passive recreation in close proximity to the City. This meadow is irreplaceable in that way.

This proposal places infrastructure further into the wildlands, increasing fire danger, increasing damage to natural systems from toxic burning buildings, and making it harder for firefighters to protect the lives and property at that location.

Tilling ancient grassland soils irreparably releases greenhouse gasses that cannot be captured in those soils in the original amounts, ever again.

The site would be transferred from current public recreational use to private agriculture use, fenced from the public.  

The funding used to purchase the property was provided by the California Wildlife, Coastal, and Park Land Conservation Act of 1988, allowed State Parks disseminate funding to the City of Santa Cruz with its application. The City’s application asked the state to purchase 614 acres which “consists of six open grass areas” and 60% forest, and including a sycamore riparian forest. This application does not include provision for developing the property into private agricultural endeavors such as the Homeless Garden Project:

We have been provided no evidence that the Homeless Garden Project has to move anywhere, any time soon. We have also seen no evidence that they need more space to serve more homeless people.

There are better, viable alternatives: they aren’t getting ‘kicked off’ of the Natural Bridges location they currently occupy and they might very well negotiate for a very long term mutually beneficial solution at that location with Ron Swenson’s proposed Ecovillage which is still under serious consideration; the Lower Main Meadow (once cleaned up, which the City has committed to doing), and; other sites closer to town that are being redeveloped and/or have abandoned businesses. These alternatives will allow the Homeless Garden Project a quicker solution.

Here’s my letter, sent 9/24:

Dear Council,

I write to urge you to halt the process of funding and analyzing the potential to move the Homeless Garden Project farm, buildings and infrastructure to a new site in and around the Upper Main Meadow in the City’s precious greenbelt public park, the Pogonip.

There are many, many already obvious reasons that the Upper Main Meadow is not suitable for the proposed development, so spending further public resources on this exploration is not a good idea. Recently, the City spent considerable resources writing, reviewing, and gaining public input into a Parks Master Plan, which identifies many pressing priorities for Parks – this proposed relocation was not one of those priorities. In addition, not long ago, the City invested public resources into the Pogonip Master Planning process: after expensive analysis and extensive consideration, the resulting plan clearly states that it was infeasible to place the Homeless Garden Project farm and infrastructure in the Upper Main Meadow. Common sense and an honest conversation with any objective and knowledgeable planner would lead to the conclusion that none of the constraints identified previously would have changed by this time. At time of the Pogonip Master Planning process, the vast majority of the public opposed developing the main meadow. Given the scope and foreseeable impacts of the project, reconsideration for this use of the Upper Main Meadow would most reasonably require analysis, preparation, presentation, and public process of a major amendment to the Pogonip Master Plan, a lengthy and costly proposition that would have little chance of success while spending and very limited and considerable public resources that should be aimed at already defined City priorities. You must ask how to spend resources most wisely to benefit the largest number or most important to serve people.

And yet, you do not have a choice in this matter. The State funding for the purchase of Pogonip requires that the property be used as a public park, maintained as open space for recreation and conservation values. Perhaps because of kindness or oversight, this issue was not publicly- or well-visited during prior consideration of the placement of the Homeless Garden Project at the Pogonip. However, be assured that, should you decide to do anything but stop this process at your 9/28 meeting, the issue will now be expertly explored, which could endanger the currently slated Pogonip location of the Homeless Garden Project while placing the City in a higher level of scrutiny by State oversight overall for its use and management of the property.

The visual and recreational values of the Upper Main Meadow are paramount. This meadow is the core of what is ‘open’ about this open space. The vistas afforded from and across this beautiful meadow have long been important to the people of Santa Cruz and our many guests. The views relax us, nourishing our souls. Many generations have enjoyed these vistas, their eyes wandering across these open spaces, glimpsing pouncing coyotes, following gliding hawks. Such views are becoming scarcer by the decade, and Santa Cruzans fight hard each time one is threatened. Future generations should be able to enjoy the same views, which increase the value of our property. I and many others enjoy passive recreation. As the recent Parks Master Plan documented, walking and hiking are the predominant recreational activities of Santa Cruzans. These activities entail passive, peaceful observation of nature. Developing the proposed 6-city-block-sized farm in the middle of this meadow would irreparably damage core visual and recreational values of the Pogonip. Developing the thousands of square feet of buildings, parking lots, night lighting, and widened roads would destroy the overall feeling of this place, and would markedly reduce the peacefulness that we now enjoy there. Peacefulness, the ability to let our eyes relax across large landscapes, and passive observation of nature – these are well-documented aspects of raising healthy children and leading healthy lives. The ability to pursue such health and well being at the Pogonip, in such close proximity to so many, is critically important for all of Santa Cruz’ citizens. Not all citizens can afford to get in their cars and travel to more distant locations for such healing.

 The natural constraints of the proposed site have been well documented by the City, using public resources, at a prior time – they are considerable. The site is covered by coastal prairie, one of the top 10 most endangered ecosystems in the United States, having been largely destroyed by previous development including much of Santa Cruz. This prairie is habitat for a number of protected animals including the Federally endangered Ohlone tiger beetle, which is critically imperiled and for which the City Parks Department recently declined to cooperate with the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s offer to fund and implement pressing restoration activities. There are also species of protected songbirds, hawks and owls that use the meadow for foraging and may nest in the vicinity of the proposed project. I am trained to recognize such resources, and much of the proposed farm site contains jurisdictional wetlands- wet meadow habitat that meets the criteria under Federal and State protection laws. To effectively delineate the wetlands at this site would require extensive monitoring of the level of soils saturation through ‘normal’ rainfall years: this could take years of monitoring given the current predictions of the continuation of drought this winter. Should the City move forward consideration of converting this site to agriculture, the City would need to demonstrate the feasibility of mitigating impacts to wetlands and coastal prairie habitats. As a professional restoration ecologist familiar with that potential, I am notifying you that I am not aware of appropriate sites for mitigation (replacement in kind at any ratio) of the destruction of coastal prairie wetlands of this sort. And, I am not aware of science that would support the feasibility of coastal prairie restoration. In addition, tilling ancient grasslands, which hold vast quantities of soil carbon, releases much of that carbon into the atmosphere. This impact would require analysis and mitigation; research has demonstrated that it is not feasible to replace that same amount of carbon through restoration.

As decision makers, you are obviously in a difficult situation. The City has a history of poor treatment of the Homeless Garden Project. It first sold the Pelton Street property out from under the HGP for only $2 million, funding long since spent and an amount that pales to what the City and HGP are now spending on this process. That embarrassing situation led to the promises by a small group of powerful decision makers to ‘make good’ for the HGP by promising them City-owned land and a ‘permanent’ home. Even such promises are obviously empty as they can be contested in a democracy with changing popular ideas and rules about sole-source contracting, especially on public trust lands to private organizations. Over the many ensuing years, it is not evident that City planners have worked at all with the property owner and HGP to secure a development plan at the current site that would allow the Project to remain where it is. Most recently, the City agreed to a long-term lease to the Homeless Garden Project at the ‘lower main meadow’ at the Pogonip but discovered it was offering a site with some soil toxicity issues. Santa Cruzans have long supported both the Homeless Garden Project and environmental conservation. We don’t want to have to make a choice between the two. The choice before you allows you to stop the division that will grow and grow quickly in our community about this difficult situation. Already, in opening this process with little and very poor public notification, the City has sown the seeds of unhappiness: we are all torn.

And yet, the choice you are contemplating is unwarranted and unnecessarily dramatic: there is no case for the need and there are clear alternatives. As a professional adult educator, I suggest that we have been presented no evidence of a need to expand the acreage of agriculture for the HGP to meet its mission. Indeed, the kind of help they offer their target populations is not acreage-based; they have long operated with small acreage, as have similar projects around the world. If they have training, therapy, or learning objectives and programs to support larger acreage, the documents to support those are not in public evidence. Moreover, the HGP has presented no evidence of the rumored/suggested pressure from donors for a short-term or Pogonip-based solution. And still, City Parks staff have said the City will clean up the previously slated Pogonip location for the HGP. Even if that site turns out to be infeasible, neither the City nor the HGP  has presented a case supporting the need for the Project to move from the site that they currently occupy; in contrast, the owner actively advertises their desire to have such uses at that site in perpetuity and in close partnership with the eventual homeowners there- guaranteeing the kinds of interactions the HGP advertises as essential to their programs. If none of the aforementioned alternatives work, the need for redevelopment of parcels in and around downtown is increasingly obvious and should be explored as a location for such a farm…on riverine soils in an area that is otherwise unwise to develop housing and businesses due to earthquake liquifaction and periodic flooding concerns.

I urge you to stop this now, for the good of our community and for the wildlife – the non-human creatures that do not have voices that you can hear. Let us work together to find a real solution to help the Homeless Garden Project to meet its goals. And, let us respect our previous processes for planning and funding at the Pogonip. If not, I will do everything in my power to help to rally a growing network of smart and resourceful people to stop this ill-advised scheme.

Many thanks,

Grey

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