When I was a child my Grandma took me to Natural Bridges State Beach outside of Santa Cruz where the ocean waves had carved unusual arches in the cliffs. When her father had taken her to that beach in 1905 there had been more “natural bridges” than there are now. Several of the sandstone “bridge spans” had been washed away, and now only their pillars remain as islands. Even rocks don’t last forever.
It wasn’t until 1933 that the State of California bought the land and made a park at Natural Bridges so that future generations, like mine, could enjoy the beauty of the scenery there. Today Santa Cruz has grown up around Natural Bridges and the park is no longer “outside” of Santa Cruz. But even without all of its iconic, wave-washed arches the park means more now to the community than it ever has; not only as a refuge for us from the noise and bustle of town, but as a Monarch Butterfly sanctuary and wetlands for frogs and waterfowl.
When I was growing up my parents took me camping and hiking all over the Monterey Bay Area and I learned to love this whole region as my home. Today my horizon is still framed by the mountains that surround the Monterey Bay. This is where I’m raising my children and where I farm my vegetables. I’ve enjoyed taking my kids to the beaches and forests that I enjoyed getting to know when I was young. It came as a pleasant surprise when I looked up from my work and realized that there are actually more lands set aside for recreation than there were when I was their age.
As I thought about it I realized a deeper transformation is at work than an incremental spread of a few parks. Society used to be enchanted with the “Monumental.” Beautiful, dramatic spots like Natural Bridges were once seen worthy of preservation for their scenic value. But now, as a society, we’re beginning to see the inter-connectivity and interdependence of all life- and to act on it. We now understand that landscapes and watersheds must be protected even where they’re not obviously “Monumental” in nature.
We humans are not the only players on this stage. We depend on a web of relationships to sustain us. The landscape we inhabit here on the central coast may be dramatic, but the less obvious relationship between healthy soil, clean water, biodiversity, unpolluted air, and open space is what makes our lives here sustainable and enjoyable. So I chose to support the Big Sur Land Trust.
The Big Sur Land Trust (BSLT) buys or helps other groups to buy lands that serve as critical habitat for plants and animals and parklands and watersheds for people. Palo Corona Regional Park in Carmel and the Marks Ranch (photo right) addition to Toro Regional Park near Salinas are two examples of the BSLT’s work. But our local, state and Federal Governments can’t afford to buy or maintain the whole landscape in parks. And I’m a farmer; I know we need to produce food somewhere. My family has lived in this area for over a hundred years; I know we need to build houses somewhere. Besides, the Government is hard pressed right now to care for the land it already controls.
The Big Sur Land Trust also buys or creates conservation and scenic easements that act to preserve the scenic integrity of the landscape, conserve resources, and maintain the agricultural economy for all of us while sustaining the working character of the lands. The Dorrance Ranch atop Mt. Toro and the Violini Ranch on Tularcitos Ridge are two salient examples of conservation easements at work that everybody who lives in view of these mountains enjoys, even if they don’t know about the BSLT. All totaled, in an arc that stretches from the southern Big Sur Coast down by Lucia all the way to Monterey Bay and then down the Salinas Valley all the way the way to Arroyo Seco, the BSLT has created over 50 conservation easements.
To complement these conservation easements and to encourage our economy towards a more environmentally sustainable path, the Big Sur Land Trust has taken on the goal of encouraging the public to support the local farms and businesses that manage the land and depend on it. I can get behind that! Last year I joined the Board of Trustees of the Big Sur Land Trust. The organization is hoping I can add a farmer’s perspective to the board’s deliberations. I’m looking forward to an opportunity to give something back to this community that has supported me and I want to start with a benefit dinner March 16th and 17th at Happy Girl Kitchen in Pacific Grove. You’re invited.
Why Happy Girl Kitchen? Well, Todd and Jordan asked me to help them host a dinner there, for one thing. Then too, Todd and Jordan are once-upon-a time employees (Jordan was our first CSA driver) and they’re good friends of ours. I have enjoyed watching their business grow. The Happy Girl Kitchen is precisely the type of sustainable, locally-based business that the farmers and consumers in this area need. Plus Todd and Jordan and their staff at Happy Girl Kitchen have created a great little restaurant.
So what’s the benefit for? I’m hoping to raise a thousand dollars for the Big Sur Land Trust to have on hand to help school districts and youth groups transport kids to visit these properties for outdoor education. It’s not enough for us to buy land for parks, or pay for scenic easements, or preserve our watersheds and farm lands through conservation easements. If future generations of kids coming up here don’t have a sense of connection to the lands that sustain them, if they don’t learn to feel a sense of community with the plants and animals of the land, if they feel no kinship or interdependence with the farmers and ranchers and foresters that maintain the land, then our future is in jeopardy. There are a lot of children who don’t have an opportunity to visit parks and farms and ranches. Schools are in trouble and they can’t afford field trips. The Big Sur Land Trust is acting to span that gap between our social needs and our public resources. Help be a bridge.
Besides, it’ll be a good meal. Here are the details:
- The vegetarian meal will be prepared at Happy Girl Kitchen in Pacific Grove by John Madriaga. John is a Manresa alum, who has worked at the world-renown Noma, in Copenhagen, and he is currently sous chef at Spruce in San Francisco.
- Happy Girl Kitchen is charging $55 dollars for the meal. I’m asking for an extra $20 per plate as the benefit contribution to the Big Sur Land Trust. I’m donating all the produce from my farm for the event. Carmel Valley’s Heller Estate winery will be pairing wines for each course for an extra $20 dollars.
- You can sign up for the meal at Happy Girl Kitchen. Dinner dates are Friday, March 16th OR Saturday, March 17th.
- Inform yourself about the Big Sur Land Trust and its mission.
- Here’s a link to a story about one of the youth groups the BSLT has hosted on the land at Glen Deven Ranch.
- Take a look at some of the pictures I’ve taken on the Big Sur Land Trust properties at the I-Heart-Big-Sur-Land-Trust Facebook page.
- If you can’t make the meal, consider making a contribution anyway and write a check to the Big Sur Land Trust and send it Shelley at Mariquita Farm, P.O. Box 2065, Watsonville CA, 95076, and we’ll see that it gets bundled with all the other donations from the meal and delivered to the Trust.
Article & Photos by Andy Griffin.