All posts by Sally Ooms

About Sally Ooms

ally Ooms has been a print journalist for 30 years—a reporter, correspondent and editor for publications in Oregon, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Missouri and Kansas. She has covered spot news, government, education issues, the arts, mental and other health concerns, business, sports and local crises during times of war, and has written hundreds of feature articles and investigative reports. Among the publications she has worked for are: the Sacramento Bee, the Las Vegas Daily Optic, the Albuquerque Journal, the Santa Fe New Mexican, New Mexico Business Weekly, Springs Magazine (Colorado Springs), the Kansas City Star and The Sun newspaper (Johnson County, KS).

Wrong Hand Art = A good time!

I broke my painting wrist and decided to keep painting with my “wrong” hand (non-dominant) hand.  The results became the theme of the gallery re-opening event and my birthday party.  Art + Friends new and old + fried chicken and local craft beer made for a great birthday party!

See all of the photos on the Gallery Website. 

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Parade / Bomb Day Honor Chinese

BokKai_3The town of Marysville, CA, north of Sacramento, hosts a parade each year honoring the Bok Kai Temple and the Chinese-American descendants of people who came to the town in the 1880s. Seminar-goers from the Temples and Museums Conference got to watch the parade down the main street, a spectacle that included their beloved and extremely long Chinese dragon (I counted at least 35 pairs of legs propping him up), martial arts clubs, high school bands, the de rigueur politicians in vintage cars, lads popping fire crackers along the street, and fire trucks old and new.

The day after the town celebrated “Bomb Day.” The event begins with a procession through town. Participants carry plaques with the names of various Buddhist deities. Thousands of firecrackers explode, turning the street a bright pink with their detritus. Eighteen handmade bombs stuffed with gunpowder are set off near the temple. A ring atop each cylinder bomb blasts into the air while young men below scurry to catch it and learn the lucky number it bears.

This was the 136th year of the Bok Kai Festival. Bok Kai is a protective god. The temple bears his name and is one of oldest Taoist temples in the country. The celebration happens in the second month of each Chinese New Year.

Northern California Rich in Chinese Temples

BokKai_4

Friends of Marysville (California) Bok Kai Temple spearheaded a “Temples and Museums: Managing and Interpreting Historic Cultural Assets,” conference March 12 and 13. The Chinese American Museum of Chicago put on the event. I attended as a member of the Brannan Island-Isleton Historical Society board and learned that we in Isleton are lucky to have a tong building (Chinese gathering place and temple) that is under restoration. The Bing Kong Tong will have its many artifacts replaced and be ready for public viewing by about April of 2017.

But I learned that many towns’ and cities’ Chinese temples have gone under the wrecking ball, usually to make way for freeways and other roads. Their artifacts have been carried off as well.

Presenters shared their difficulties in preserving Chinese temples and their original contents. They were from Singapore, Victoria, Idaho, New Hampshire, Oregon, and other parts of the United States, along with a number of places in California.

Marysville organizers said their town has a long history of Chinese integration into the community and that they have been valued community members. Chinese descendants and non-Chinese members of town attested to that and urged participants to see the Bok Kai Temple in town. The temple was built in 1865, destroyed by fire the next year and rebuilt. Renovated in 1880, the temple saw 1,500 Chinese and other citizens at its grand opening. It is the oldest continually operating temple in Northern California.

Bok Kai was known as Ruler of the North. He vanquished the Demon King and is known for his ability to bring order out of chaos. He also is considered a water god, providing protection from both flood and drought.

We then adjourned to the Chinese temple in the town of Oroville where the restorer’s daughter gave us a tour of their extensive museum and still-active temple. The temple was built in 1863 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Conference organizers said that they want to keep the momentum of preservation going and will pass the baton to San Jose and Isleton to host the next two seminars.

Iditarod Volunteering Doggone Cool

I packed my four layers of clothing and new sub-zero rated snow boots—all from the San Francisco REI sale—and headed to Alaska. I have been to Alaska four times now, but this was the first in winter. I was told that to volunteer for the Iditarod I would need to bring a base layer, a second insulating layer, a third extra-insulating layer and a fourth wind- protection layer. Then there were indoor boots and buffs and hand warmers and toe warmers and a skinny layer of socks and heavy socks and hats and inner gloves and outer gloves and…Yep, it fit in my big yellow suitcase. Barely.

I met my friend Susan in Seattle. It had been her idea to volunteer for the “Last Great Race on Earth” as a 60th birthday venture. And she included me in the plan. I’ll be forever grateful.

Iditarod_5The first morning at the Lakefront Hotel, headquarters for the Iditarod, I awoke to yelping noises below my window. I looked down on top of what I was to learn was a musher’s truck, with double decker crates on the long bed to house the sled dogs. A woman in a pink cap was systematically lifting dogs from each crate opening and hooking him or her to rings on the base of the truck. Sixteen of them to be precise. They were glad to be out of their sleeping quarters, and awaited food—large slabs of chicken for each.

Down in the parking lot, we met Sandra, the pink cap woman, who was happy to introduce her dogs and let us pet them. She is from Norway and is the longtime significant other of Norwegian dog sled racer Tore Albregtsen. Right off the bat, we had someone to cheer for.

The girl dogs were kept on one side of the truck, the boys on the other. All equally loveable, but Sandra said the females were the smart ones and the males had the muscles. No comment. (One of their top females did not compete because she was in heat, which is a whole other complication at the race.)

Iditarod_11The couple was readying for the ceremonial opening of the Iditarod in two days and the real start the next. That night they attended a banquet and drew Bib #52, meaning they would be 52nd to begin the race,  out of 85 teams. Teams are released every two minutes. The mandatory rests along the almost 1,000-mile course are two eight-hour and one 24-hour. Mushers who begin the race early will have a longer layover at a checkpoint to compensate for their starting position. The timing is precise and strict at the 20 checkpoints along the route. Teams can rest and eat at checkpoints but mushers often elect to just pull off the course to sleep and see to their dogs’ comfort.

Susan and I worked in the phone room for our first volunteer job, answering questions from anyone in the world who needed information about the race, from the order of the mushers to past races and stats. Some callers were children who were getting ready to follow the race from their classrooms. Some were older people who didn’t have computers and couldn’t get on Iditarod.com.

The next day we were given arm bands from Iditarod security, and we opened and closed roadways in downtown Anchorage so people could cross in between mushers. All 85 teams paraded for Alaskans and visitors, and honored their sponsors by letting them ride their sleds. The dogs were so excited they were jumping straight up and down in their harnesses. And yelping. And howling. It’s a hullabaloo. But these pups, who love to run, only had 3 miles to complete that day. Because Anchorage had very little snow, the city brought snow from Fairbanks by train to dump on the streets.

The real deal was Sunday, March 6, about 80 miles north of Anchorage. The official start (referred to as the restart) was at 1 p.m. on frozen Willow Lake. Families brought backpacks with food and drink and leaned on the orange crowd-control fencing, while the more macho drove snowmobiles around the lake in dizzying patterns.

All 85 mushers and enthusiastic, if panting, dogs took off without a hitch. The pups were eager for the sun to go down because the day was unseasonably warm at 40 degrees and that is hot weather for a husky type pooch. The sun was getting low as they headed through the woods and across Long Lake bound for Nome, and we took down fences from our security post.

Back in the Anchorage phone room we kept track of the race for callers and recorded fans’ musher-gram messages that would be delivered to checkpoints. Our largest duty was ahead: Dog Drop.

Iditarod_7 In front of the hotel, vets and dog handlers attached dogs who had been dropped from the race to fence posts. The dogs are flown by floatplane from the checkpoint where the mushers drop them off. There are various reasons a musher sends a dog back to home base. Dogs develop sore shoulders or paws. Some overheat because the weather in the daytime is too warm these days. (Mushers prefer to run at night anyway). Dogs who sustain a serious injury are flown to Anchorage Airport where they are taken to a clinic immediately.

The vets we helped looked over each dog carefully, took their temperatures, diagnosed their problems, made sure there was no blood in their urine or stools and handed them over to us. We bedded them down in the straw they are accustomed to, and gave them food and water. We put blankets over them and got to love them up. Oh yeah, and pick up poop.

The air was filled with the cry: “Dogs Coming” and a floatplane would crunch to a stop on the icy lake. Inside the plane you could see perked ears, bobbing heads and wagging tails of the dogs coming in. Once they settled down, however, they seemed pretty despondent to be away from their fellows and musher. As though they had failed somehow. We got to sit with them and reassure them they had done well and were good dogs. That wasn’t hard. They are all good dogs!

If their handlers don’t arrive in trucks to pick them up by 8 p.m., the dogs are taken to the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, the women’s prison in town. Women at the facility who have been on best behavior and trained to handle the dogs take them under their wings until they are retrieved.

This year, veteran mushers whooshed into Nome in first and second places, both from the same family. Just as I was cozying up at home with The First Great Race, the book that I had bought at headquarters from author Dan Seavey, his grandson was streaking from Safety Checkpoint to Nome with seven dogs in his team. Dallas Seavey arrived 45 minutes before his father, Mitch. It took him 8 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes to get to Nome.

Grandfather Dan ran in the Iditarod its first year in 1973 and won third place. He completed four other races. Mitch Seavey has run teams in 13 of the last Iditarods except one, and placed first in 2004 and 2013. His son, Dallas, 27, has won the last three consecutive Iditarods and a fourth in 2012.

Aliy Zirkel came into Nome about six and a half hours behind the Seaveys, placing third. Aliy had been in first and second places and was giving the guys a run for their money but was attacked by a snowmachiner between Galena and Nulato checkpoints, about 560 miles from Anchorage. Since the mushers do not carry radios, she was unable to alert anyone that she had fended off an attacker until she got to Nulato and the same man came at veteran musher Jeff King who was next behind her. The snowmachine killed his lead dog, Nash. King had to pick up the dead dog and two more who were severely wounded and carry them in the sled with him to the checkpoint. King managed to come in ninth in the race, but both mushers were handicapped, both physically and emotionally.

Alaskans, so proud of their race, are crying foul. The drunk man has been apprehended and said he was in a blackout state but Alaska people, both Native and non-Native, feel sorrow that the race was tainted by this crime. It is certainly not in the spirit of the race, which honors the 1925 serum run—dubbed the Great Race of Mercy. When a diphtheria epidemic threatened remote Nome, 20 mushers and about 150 dogs blasted to Nome in five and a half days carrying antitoxin.

Here at home, it’s spring. But I am dreaming of next March. I have the bug. No, I am not moving to Alaska to become a musher, although 2016 Iditarod musher Jim Lanier is 75. But just to be around those joyful, energized dogs and their musher owners is revivifying. And it’s great to feel that you are contributing to a splendid event.

Next year I’m trying for a volunteer position with communications at a checkpoint. I’ve heard I’m signing up for sleep deprivation, frigid outhouses and no running water. But what the heck? Then on to Nome. Gotta see those doggies in.

Here is a gallery / slide show of some photos I took during our adventure: 

Until the next…mush on.

 

 

 

 

Historic Town Wins Lawsuit; Preservation Now May Continue in Chinese Delta Town

–For Immediate Release—

Locke, CA — The management association responsible for the maintenance and historical preservation of the Delta town of Locke, California, has won a nearly five- year lawsuit over resident Martha Esch and co-defendant Dona LeBlanc, and will be able to reclaim a historic building in the town for preservation purposes. The Lock Historic District, where the property at issue stands, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990.

On February 19, 2016, the Locke Management Association (LMA) prevailed on summary judgment after being forced to sue and endure five years of litigation to protect its right of first refusal. The suit resulted when Esch bought the historical building at issue from LeBlanc without giving the LMA first right of refusal as required in their bylaws and covenants, conditions, and restrictions.

Chinese workers who were responsible for developing the farmland founded Locke in 1915. The town they established is the only standing rural Chinese town in the United States built exclusively by Chinese people for themselves at the time established. Thousands of visitors come annually to step back in time and walk through a town that looks much like it did 100 years ago.

The judge’s ruling frees the townspeople to continue preserving Locke as an important historic landmark and enables the LMA to buy back the building, which in the peak of Locke’s heyday, was a gambling hall. The years of lawsuits and counter lawsuits have drained the LMA’s pockets and energy. Meanwhile Esch has occupied the building and operated an art gallery on the premises.

“After five years, it’s nice to exhale and get back to the work we’ve been waiting to do all this time,” said Russell Ooms, president of the LMA. “The suits cost the town $100,000 — money that could have been spent on upkeep and preservation.” Members of the LMA board, a governmental body set up by the County of Sacramento in 2003, receive no compensation for their long hours of work.

The court ruling states that, without the LMA’s knowledge, the defendants began negotiations for the building around mid-January of 2011, with LeBlanc as the prospective seller of the property. Shortly thereafter Esch signed a formal offer to purchase it. The agreement contained an all cash offer for $21,000, the price Esch paid LeBlanc. But “the contract contained no contingency for the LMA to consider its right of first refusal,” the court ruling said. Defendant Esch was aware of the LMA

right of first refusal “for some time” prior to closing escrow, and admitted to actually reading them prior to closing escrow.

In February of 2011, counsel for LeBlanc notified the LMA too late in the process of the sale. The LMA did vote to exercise its right of first refusal and notified interested parties who had a right to purchase the property, as required in its bylaws and the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions. The lists for notification include former Chinese residents, their descendants and ascendants as well as other interested parties added to the list. The court document shows that Esch, in attendance at that meeting, closed on the sale two weeks later, “with personal knowledge of the LMA’s rights of first refusal….” The judge found that Esch had exercised “willful disregard.”

In public and in the press, Esch has questioned the authenticity of Locke as a Chinese-founded town and belittled the importance of much beloved Chinese elder Connie King, one of the last longtime inhabitants. “Connie King, would be thrilled that Ms. Esch has been put into her rightful place with Sacramento Superior Court Judge David I. Brown’s words,” said resident James Motlow. Motlow spent years recording the last Chinese residents on camera. “The judge said, (The evidence) ‘is insufficient to establish that Esch acted legally or ethically.’ The Locke Management Association has acted legally and ethically and is working everyday to preserve everything that Connie King fought for,” Motlow said.

The ruling said Esch must now let the LMA have the building on the same terms as her initial real estate purchase of $21,000.

Note to Editors: We are happy to provide more information on this lawsuit — elaborate on what impact the Locke Management Association’s success has on the town of Locke and its people, or answer any other questions. Please contact: Gregory P. Wayland, Esq.

gpwayland@bpelaw.com

916-966-2260

The Locke Management Association is a California non-profit mutual benefit corporation. Its purpose as stated in its bylaws is to improve the well-being of Locke, preserve the town’s cultural and historical integrity, and manage the town. Its board members include representatives from government and other agencies and groups, and town building owners, both Chinese and non-Chinese. No board members are compensated.

Throwing Homeless People in Jail Not a Solution

Not counting families and young people, approximately 1,000 individuals are outside in the elements every night in Sacramento. That means 36 percent of the homeless population cannot find shelter due to the woeful lack of shelter beds in the city.

Five city codes criminalize standing, sitting and resting in public places; three criminalize camping and lodging in public places; and three criminalize begging and panhandling.

When homeless people are arrested and put in jail, things happen to exacerbate their homeless situation. Besides the inherent stress of being in jail, they often have the few but essential belongings they are forced to carry with them confiscated. They can permanently lose property, from cars (where they may have been sleeping/living,) and clothing, to tents, stoves or medication they need on a daily basis. They also face fines they cannot pay which put them further into debt.

The Sacramento City Council recently turned down a moratorium that homeless people and advocates had been asking for: to put a hold on its anti-camping ordinance until enough affordable housing units have been created in the region. They also asked for protection of homeless people’s property seized by law enforcement.

The Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness (SRCEH) Civil Rights Committee found inaccuracies in the City’s published justification for its decision to deny the moratorium. In their “Fact Checking the City’s Response to Homeless Protesters” (a protest in front of city hall has been ongoing for months), Bob Erlenbusch, head of SRCEH, said most of the city’s responses contained falsehoods or were, at best, misleading. One such was that Sacramento has “many” rentals in the open market that homeless people can secure. The current vacancy rate is 2 percent in the city. That is considered a “very tight market,” Erlenbusch says.

SRCEH further notes that in September of 2015, 50,000 people applied for a Housing Choice Voucher (formerly known as the federal Section 8 program). Only 8,000, or 16 percent, received vouchers.

In addition, Wind Youth Services of Sacramento reported that they had a waiting list of 100 young people for their emergency overnight shelter. While the non-profit Sacramento Steps Forward counted only 240 homeless youth in the city in 2015, Wind Youth Services saw 918 unduplicated young people at their drop-in center last year.

SRCEH also said 12,000 homeless students were identified in the Sacramento Unified School system in 2015.

housing-is-a-right_signThe shortage of low-income housing in the city and region already makes it difficult for homeless individuals, couples, families and young people to find any type of housing. When they are jailed for being outside or committing a minor crime, they emerge with a criminal record. Then it is well nigh impossible for them to find a place to live. A criminal record or tickets for camping make it even harder to access the housing and other programs designed to help them.

In a complaint filed with the Department of Justice, SRCEH asks that the court conduct a full investigation into the “pattern and practice” of harassment of homeless citizens by law enforcement. This includes police, sheriff’s personnel, park rangers, light rail police and private security.

Erlenbusch says it is hoped that the City of Sacramento will come into compliance with the federal Department of Justice ruling that anti-camping ordinances constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” and violate the 8th Amendment of the Constitution.

Sacramento City Councilman Jay Schenirer is going this month with a delegation of homeless advocates to Seattle to hear how that city created a homeless state of emergency while the city assesses the fundamental causes of homelessness such as “low income, funding cuts and institutional racism.”

Schenirer has already told fellow council members that he feels it is time to have an open conversation about the challenge and “to be open to ideas and suggestions that might be politically unpopular.”

For more information and to get involved visit http://www.srceh.org/

Featured image via MeganWilson.com

Guilin a Good Forward to Li River Trip

karst peaks along the Li River
karst peaks along the Li River

Guilin was the beginning of our Li River experience. Chinese travelers packed our plane from Shanghai to this small city of about 1 million in Southeast China. I had read that Chinese people were traveling as tourists in their own country in increasing number. This was nice to see. Everyone seemed in a good mood.

Fascinating scaffolding
Fascinating scaffolding

My companion was impressed with how quickly Chinese air travelers exited the plane. No futzing around. Deplaning was their mission and they got ‘er done. Jan, who has been traveling around lately on U.S. conveyances, marveled at the mass efficiency we witnessed on Air China.

As we both did the driving in crowded cities—and pretty much everywhere is a crowded city. Our car drivers, experts in their field, seemed to manipulate the traffic rather than fall prey to it. Every moment called for attention in the extreme and was spent in what amounted to a contest of wills: cutting in front of, or dodging, all manner of vehicles: from bicycle trailers piled high with produce and three-wheeled trucks carting construction materials, to umbrella’d scooters loaded with whole families. Add to the mix multitudes of necessarily wary pedestrians.

Guilin’s traffic was less tense most of the time, except coming back from a cave walk and tea farm tour when we hit rush hour. (At the tea farm, we were able to try the regional variety made from sweet osmanthus.) Our hotel was surely the finest. Pagoda style, it sat in the center of Seven Star Park. Guests could only approach by staff-driven eight-person carts, luggage and all. They carried you through lush vegetation and grass clearings where people did Tai Chi, children raced around post-picnic, and tired parents relaxed.

Pagoda of Royal Palace Hotel
Pagoda of Royal Palace Hotel

Our second-story room looked out on a central pagoda and a couple of koi ponds. I say koi ponds because the fish dominated, particularly next to the bridge leading to the breakfast room. Children were given little bags of dried food to feed the begging fish, probably to discourage the kids from dropping miscellaneous breakfast items into the pond and to keep the koi on their regular diet. I had a favorite yellow giant but it was impossible to single out any one in the gush of bodies.

A light rain fell both mornings we were there but obligingly lifted as we left the dock on our Li River boat ride. That was fortunate because I didn’t want to miss one peak of the karst mountain ranges along our four-hour ride. We are talking bucket list, here, so I planted myself on deck with binoculars and camera. My friend and Australian tablemates were more comfortable downstairs and the views were good as well, but I somehow wanted to be in the outdoors. It made the mountains more immediate and real. Because one’s first impression of the scenery is, “This is not real.”

A standout on the Li River
A standout on the Li River

You must have to get up earlier than we did or stay out later to see the famed Li River fishermen with their cormorant pets, whom they have taught to catch fish and “hand” them over. But that was a small matter compared to seeing the endless, crazy, pointy mountains lining both sides of the river. I suppose one of the things that makes them remarkable is that they rise from the flat plains. The mountains’ limestone shapes are what one tourist outfit calls “fantastical.” I think that’s about the best adjective I’ve heard. I think I only took a little over 100 photos.

Next: The Chinese tourist town of Yangshuo

Shanghai, a Colorless Entry to China

My view from the Majestic Hotel, Shanghai
My view from the Majestic Hotel, Shanghai

My last day in China, the guide who came to take me to the airport was not the same person who had seen me off to Mongolia 10 days before.  Mr. Wong was again my driver, a friendly non-English speaker who had the smug air of a Chinese gangster one might see in a movie and who gave other drivers hell in Beijing traffic.

This Chinese woman, who mysteriously called herself Cathy, asked if she might sit in back of the van with me instead of up front with Mr. Wong. She talked more intimately about her life than any person I had met in China. She had been a guide for 20 years. She was not married and didn’t particularly want to be. She got to travel within China a lot. She hoped to travel outside China as well. And, she came from a “small village” in the Western part of China near the Russian border.

This last piece of information arose after I told her I live in a small town in California. I asked how many people were in her village and she said, “Only two million.” We laughed when I told her Isleton only claims 847 people. “You mean 847,000,” she asked? No, subtract those zeros. She was shocked.

But her disclosure pretty much sums up my new understanding of China. There are people wherever you travel there. I marveled at how well they seemed to be putting up with one another, although there is plenty of honking in traffic.

Looking down Shanghai from the scary walk-on windows.
Looking down Shanghai from the scary walk-on windows.

When I had arrived in Shanghai two weeks before, I was dumbfounded by the extremely gray trip from the airport to our hotel. (I was with a friend for almost all the trip.) Miles and miles and kilometers of gray and brown high-rise apartment buildings going up—or finished and vacant—“for all the people who are moving to the cities,” our guide explained. People buy their apartments, like condos, but unlike in the U.S., the units are just empty shells. It is up to the new owner of each space to put in the toilet and other bathroom fixtures, cabinetry, etc. All expensive propositions.

The construction had a sameness to it and it reminded me of the grim tenement buildings I had seen in Chicago as a child, although these were not run down. Perhaps because they were so new, there was a lack of landscaping. No green of nature alleviated the neutral tone. The whole look was exacerbated by the visible air, a slightly lighter gray draped among the construction zone buildings like shrouds.

Living wall, Shanghai
Living wall, Shanghai

Once in Shanghai, the Huangpu River and the view of the downtown from the Bund revived my spirits. I think I am a victim of having read too many novels dwelling on the romantic vision of the French, English and American Concessions in bygone days. The Concessions are shrinking into token areas for visitors as building after building meets the wrecking ball.

But, let’s face it: Why would Chinese communists want to celebrate the days of foreign occupation and memorialize that time with preservation? For the descendants of former occupiers to come and relive what China wants to forget?

At the temple Yu Garden, Shanghai. Young people in China love t-shirts with messages in English.
At the temple Yu Garden, Shanghai. Young people in China love t-shirts with messages in English.

No, I understand why these once grand sections of the city are going away. It leaves Shanghai in somewhat of an identity crisis, however. Even the good-spin guide admitted that the food of Shanghai lacks definition. It has not decided what its specialty food is “yet,” he said.

The most enjoyable day in Shanghai, for my companion and me was when we visited the Shanghai Museum where the ancient definitely is treasured. Amazing displays from China’s long history —many civilizations and dynasties—include more than 120,00 pieces of ceramics, bronze, calligraphy, furniture, jade, coins, paintings and sculpture.

Thank you China for preserving these beauties of your past.

Next: Favorite places in China: Guilin and Yangshuo.

And: strange foods sampled and not sampled in China and Mongolia.

Oak Park Sol Community

It’s the first evening of summer, the end of a long, fairly hot day, but the community garden is a welcoming spot. Families, couples and single folks are strolling in for the third in a series of cooking classes at the tables in back of Oak Park Sol Community Garden on Broadway.

Tyler Wescott, graduate of the Food Literacy Center in Sacramento readies produce for his class at Oak Park Sol Community Gardens' outdoor kitchen.
Tyler Wescott, graduate of the Food Literacy Center in Sacramento readies produce for his class at Oak Park Sol Community Gardens’ outdoor kitchen.

Tyler Wescott, a certified Food Literacy Center “genius,” is dividing up what can only described as beautiful fresh produce among the three tables. On the back, his T-shirt says: “Ask me anything.” So I do. Tonight the recipes adults and children will be learning to make are white bean hummus—with squash, cucumbers and purple carrots cut up to dip into it—and SunButter yogurt parfait with seasonal berries on top. SunButter is a brand made from sunflower oil, cane syrup and salt, to satisfy the “unsaturated rather than saturated fat argument,” Tyler says. A major thrust of the organization is to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables. And to prove to them that those things can taste outstanding. Tyler will be the instructor this evening for this all-volunteer endeavor. His second in command is Tara Martinez who is not yet through the academy but is savvy enough to lend a hand with teaching the creation of parfaits. Tara is working at Whole Foods in Davis but about to transition to a job in Sutter General’s café. TaraFormerly she interacted with an Obama-supported program that introduced a fruit-of-the-day to schoolchildren. At recess, she would hand out, and teach kids how to eat, everything from oranges to papayas. “The kids didn’t know what half the stuff was,” Tara says. “It made me sad.” She discovered that the Food Literacy Center, which just happened to be next door to the restaurant where she was a cook, was hosting a volunteer orientation. She signed up. “I love everything to do with cooking,” she says. She soon added her name to the volunteer list, which is about a hundred strong now. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of good people who intensions are all the same.”

Pat is an Oak Park Sol neighbor who has participated in all the cooking events. She loves seeing kids learn about new foods and how to create with them.
Pat is an Oak Park Sol neighbor who has participated in all the cooking events. She loves seeing kids learn about new foods and how to create with them.

Pat (no last name given) has lived in the neighborhood 33 years and is sitting on a bench waiting for the cooking to begin. She’s glad that children are being given a chance to become familiar with vegetables. “They wash, cut, stir, mix vegetables they normally wouldn’t try,” she says. The last session she attended they shredded beets, carrots and onions and topped the slaw with vinaigrette they fashioned themselves. “They would never have tried any of that before,” she says. She likes to see the teens participating too. “It’s fun to watch them enjoy the results of their cooking. Particularly the veggie wraps they had us make one time.” She has picked up tips too. Last session she learned to cut a green onion and deposit the part in water that you are not using in your dish. “It keeps growing and pretty soon you have your own chives.”

Oak Park Sol Community Garden

Farmers with plots donate some of the produce for the classes although most of it comes from other natural food resources. Today the donor is Heavy Dirt in Davis. Honey used in recipes is local, with the thought that people with allergies to various regional plants will find relief. A crowd of all ages has gathered. There is room for about 10 people per table. Tyler introduces what they will be making today and points to a mouth-watering array on each table. Zucchinis mingle with purple basil. Yellow nectarines, plums and apricots call out to be eaten. Tyler talks about the white cannellini beans that people can find canned if they do not want to cook them themselves and describes them as a fun alternative in hummus.

Baby Gage Jones supervises from his Dad's head while his family makes hummus from fresh produce.
Baby Gage Jones supervises from his Dad’s head while his family makes hummus from fresh produce.

People gather around the tables and begin. Mike Jones, holding baby Gage, looks on while his wife Gina and their other son dig in to help with hummus. The family lives a couple of blocks away across from McClatchy Park and heard about the events at the farmers’ market. Gina is a vegan, Mike says, so these vegetable-oriented foods really appeal to her. While he likes vegan cooking, he says he still likes his meat and dairy. It is the second time for Max and his mother Rochelle. “He is getting more adventurous,” she says with a laugh. “He tried a yellow zucchini and he liked the Asian lettuce wraps and stone fruit salad last time. It is really helping his eating habits with this exposure.” Heather is there with her two sons Elliot and Martin. Her younger son likes to “mix a bunch of foods together,” she says. “He’ll easily mix sweet and sour.” They have been to a few classes at the College Heights Library. Heather looks down at her son after he has sampled the parfait. “Is it amazing?” she asks. “OK, high five.”

Oak Park Sol Community Garden's worm box.
Oak Park Sol Community Garden’s worm box.

Meanwhile, Randy Stannard is nearby showing people the worm box that Sacramento State Environmental Studies Program has made for the garden. Randy is president of the board at Oak Park Sol and works for Soil Born Farms. Soil Born promotes programs that encourage young people and adults to learn how to produce healthful foods, and it mentors future farmers. The focus also is on teaching people to cook what they and others grow, and transforming urban spaces into community gardens. In general, they focus on green space development, Randy says. “Transitioning vacant lots or any unused spaces—like funny empty corners on a block. We can turn these into productive spaces. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a community garden. Some spaces may be suitable for some sort of housing development. Or maybe a little park instead of dead grass and weeds.” A major focus in the garden is to spread the concept and practice of urban gardening throughout this low-income neighborhood. Individual family plots are 15×10 feet, but all the gardeners take care of other areas of the garden. Within the community space is a kids’ garden, a wheel-chair accessible garden, a shade garden and native bee habitat—to mention a few. A greenhouse on the premises supports native plant growth. The 11,600- foot perimeter is planted with native California shrubs and wildflowers to attract butterflies and native bees. Besides the cooking classes, anyone can come to free composting and gardening classes. Randy and other food activists worked to see an ordinance passed by the City of Sacramento that promotes urban agriculture and is giving access to land for farmers. People with homes of an acre or more can support farmers. The ordinance took effect in April with the “purpose to support production and sale of locally grown foods, build community, increase public health and well being” and provide economic opportunities in areas that have been vacant or underutilized. These types of actions must be a neighborhood-led process, he stresses. “This community garden was started by the residents, spearheaded by Cara Jennifer Solis. Earl Withycombe inherited the land a few years ago. His family had owned the land since the 40s. The house associated with the land had burned down and he wanted to make it into something meaningful.” Randy says that in 2011, dumpsters started removing debris from the area. “It was full of trash and drug paraphernalia. Now people are gardening here year-round.”

A Good Time Had By All – F and Main Gallery

GalleryWindow           My printer asked me, “How grand was your grand opening?” (for F and Main Gallery at 36 Main Street in Isleton, CA). Well, it’s hard to be modest because last Saturday’s event really was pretty grand. The photos and paintings all looked great: art work from Greg Crawford, Keith Palmer, James Motlow and me. About 200 people came through the doors in the three-hour period.

The two tables were groaning with food from the local two groceries and four restaurants. Hahn Winery’s reds and whites were featured. Lots of locals appearing and some not so locals drove from Napa, Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco. A good opportunity to meet art lovers and members of the community, and see them mix.

Rogelio’s restaurant next door brought in a Chinese vase with large white lilies. Friends from Sacramento and Kansas City teamed up to buy an enormous ikebana arrangement of orchids and ginger. My gratitude to all for such a tremendous kick-off. I feel welcomed—and successful already.

Gallery of Artists Work:

Greg Crawford created stunning mixed media pieces on paper that reflected the California Delta “as settled and reshaped by humans. I explored the motifs of mountain, river, levee, labor and fields to examine this archetype,” says Greg. He titled his six-piece work Gum Shan, the Chinese expression for Gold Mountain, in honor of the Chinese laborers who reclaimed the Delta.

Keith Palmer is drawn by patterns that, through his camera lens, abstract everyday images. In his series “Ribbons of Energy,” he invites us to see the commonplace in unexpected ways.

James Motlow, who co-authored the book on the Chinese town of Locke, Bitter Melon, provided black and white photos from that book and newer color prints of the slough area in back of the town.

My acrylic paintings also were a combination of new and old. Many represented my recent time in the Delta, others similar landscapes I’ve traveled through.

F and Main Gallery will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 4 the first weekend in April through the last weekend in October and at Christmastime. Besides art shows, planned are storytelling events, music nights, community benefits, poetry slams and children’s art fairs.

Please drop by and see the new space and find out what’s happening.

Photos from the opening May 16, 2015:  (Click any image to see a slideshow.)