So back into the, chronological, swing and here we are again in California…
It was a whirlwind week full of schools, farms and driving.
Thursday: After making it to Santa Rosa last night we woke up to the bright lights of Walmart. We had chosen our spot with a hypocritical mix of fear, cringing and the tourist’s ability to use something previously detested while simultaneously revelling in its bright shiny newness and convenience. I trashily rejoiced in my new ability to shop in nocturnal hours and access a toilet and drinking water at a whim. Love it or loathe it, it’s a symbiotic relationship really – weary travellers get a guaranteed place to sleep that is free and unperturbed by local authority visits, while Walmart gets sales through the sheer convenience of having cheap supplies and food at your feet. We settled in amongst shoppers and RV’s in our, relatively, little tent on wheels – upon a suggestion from our friends back home we had arranged to hire a people-mover type van with the ability to put all the seats flush down in the floor, under the premise that it would act as accommodation where we didn’t have any. To our delight it did the job as hoped, although it took us a few nights to sort out the right combination for a semblance of real comfort – Emma ending up on the back bench seat, Michael on the middle floor with his new $5 walmart blanket and me in the fully reclined and flat passenger seat, having stolen the other sleeping bag.
We packed up in leisurely speed, for once (things had been feeling quite rushed so far in the States), as we were nice and close to our attraction for the day – Summerfield Waldorf School and Farm. We met the ever-smiling and knowledgeable Sallie just after the school’s main lesson – a feature of waldorf education. The main academic lesson happens in the morning when students can best receive it with attention, leaving the rest of the day for other more engaging, physical or creative activities – delightful yet developmental treats like music, hand crafts, arts and outside play. We toured the grounds and classes in the morning, including the end of a ‘farm’ lesson for Class One. They were shelling peas and corn kernels then gathered under the big sitting tree for the customary finishing address. The lower school farm teacher recapped the lesson and cued its end with “thank you and goodbye class one”, followed by gorgeous chiming children in harmonic reply: “thank you and goodbye Farmer Dan”- so so sweet!
We gratefully accepted an offer to stay for the school lunch, which is provided for high school students and staff four days a week. We met Matt and Tom – the joyously proud cooks who made the lunch that was delicious and overflowing with good stuff like lentils, pulled pork, veg and salad greens – even including produce grown at the school. During the refuel, we took an opportunity to talk more closely with the upper school farm teacher, Ronni, about the kind of integration the farm had in syllabus. Using the farm, it’s products and processes to teach life lessons is deeply entrenched in the school – since the beginning in fact, owing to the spirit in which the land is viewed. The school prefers to treat land as something which is stewarded, rather than owned – even entering into a legally binding Land Trust agreement that requires them to protect it as land and wild life refuge in perpetuity. This land was always expected to be a biodynamic farm, in symbiosis with the school – hence, in addition to the usual staff, they have two dedicated farm teachers, a teaching assistant, farm manager and two seasonal interns. That’s quite a crew to bring together all the educational opportunities a farm has to offer – what a wonderful thing to behold!
In the afternoon we walked with the farm manager, Dana, through the 17 acres of farm land (the whole campus measures 38 acres). They use it to grow food (fruit, veg, grains) and keep livestock (cows, sheep, ducks and chickens). Indeed it yields an impressive array of goods for the on-school farm stand – harvested, stocked and open everyday, it sells seasonal fruit and veg along with eggs and yogurt (made by Dana). Students, parents, staff and anyone else so inclined can buy the goods through an honour box. One of Dana’s aims has been to focus on lifting the production of the farm and evidently the sales reflect his success. The funds go back to support the work of the farm. There is also a permaculture garden as part of the high school which students are free to pick from.
After an incredible day, I’m struggling to describe the overall experience as anything other than ‘wholistic’ – it just felt like life and all it’s lessons were so well addressed and showcased here it was hard for me to feel any other way. I certainly came away with the sense that it would be hard to find a school with a better educational program grounded in the earth and its wonders. To be fair though, they have had over 40 years to work and mould it!
Of course the combination of Waldorf School and farm existing as one entity was a must-see for us, given our interests. However it also brought to light the potential for Emma’s own Waldorf School back home – the wonderful natural resources they already have, like a biodynamic almond grove, just waiting to be tapped into when the other resources emerge to facilitate it. That would be an exciting project to see.
Friday: While we toured the Summerfield School yesterday, Emma was invited to join Class One for their main lesson this morning – something she decided to do. Kudos to her, little poppet – despite clearly harbouring some nervousness at being the newbie she never asked to back out and apparently warmed up well. So much so in fact, that when we checked back in at recess time, she was keen to stay on for the rest of the day. So she got to spend more time with some new friends, do some hand crafts and help pack up the room in preparation for the next day’s Winter Faire. Bounding out of the class to me down the hill she declared “Mum, I had a GREAT day!”. Well, you can’t ask for more than that, can you?
I continue to be pleased and proud of this little person who could understandably reside permanently in the “this is all too new and too hard corner” but instead chooses to come out often and walk the “try it” path – good on you Em. We spent half the day in the car park (leaving your child in a new place is particularly tricky without being reachable by phone) but it was a great opportunity to read (actually I was very happy about having an excuse to just sit there and read!). However once we knew Em was all good, we ventured out to the local shops for supplies and came on back to our happy child – ahhh, good day…
Saturday: Well, after the tour and Emma’s day at her third school for the year, we went back to Summerfield for the again! (I suspect coming to this school could easily have become a habit). This third day in a row was a Saturday and the school’s once a year big celebration/fundraiser/showcase and more – the Winter Faire!
We wandered around wide eyed while Emma got in a frenzy about all the things she wanted to do and see. We perused the vendors stalls and, amazingly, found an artist there who had hailed from Adelaide and helped found the other Waldorf school in South Australia, (in Mt Barker)! Apparently she came out in need of a reset and tried painting on a whim – she never left. Good thing too, her artwork was beautiful.
After that it was a flurry of cookie decorating, food, craft, food, more craft and and more food! The day was topped off with a circus performance which was neither dinky nor small – this school has a right proper circus tent up for most of the year as an extra building – so you can imagine the quality of their circus program. It was great way to end the day and Em stayed up close, glued to it for the whole show.
Sunday: After taking the leisurely 1 hour drive back to San Fran we let Em in on the secret that we were headed to yet another Waldorf School Fair (that we had by chance found out about from one of the Summerfield Staff). We fit in some work at the laundromat and headed to the San Francisco Waldorf School. Absolutely an inner city school (albeit in a really nice area), it was an interesting contrast to the more rurally set ones we have seen. I think they did a good job with the vertical space they have, although space for outside play is, and always was going to be I guess, fairly small. However the upside of this location is they get to tap into the cultural and natural perks – like some little parks the city has kicking around. Kidding – they have Golden Gate park right nearby which is over 1000 acres in size and encompasses the San Francisco Botanic Garden, California Academy of Sciences, de Young Museum, Conservatory of Flowers and a beautiful massive outdoor music concourse, art studio, lake and even a Dutch Windmill. Phew – imagine having access to all that in just one corner of your area? I don’t think a city school would be right for us but I can certainly appreciate the advantages.
After a lovely day wandering about another school, folding paper stars and dipping beeswax candles, we landed at our new home for the week in Noe Valley – a well-to-do area just south of downtown. We were very grateful to receive a hosting offer from Julia, a member of San Francisco’s Urban Agriculture Alliance Group – a group that just started out with a few people in that area of interest who thought it was a useful idea to try and meet to build a network. I’m not even sure how we found them to be honest – I can’t remember how we got onto it but i’m grateful we did, they are a great example. Later in the week I attended one of their monthly meetings and am glad I did – witnessing one of their meeting later in the week was good learning experience and a chance to meet people doing great things.
Mon: It wasn’t until we had returned our rental car and walked 2 hours home (by choice – we have been enjoying soaking up the different corners of the city by foot) that we first met our host Julia. Generous, trusting and knowledgable, it was a pleasure to spend the day with her. She took us to the local mexican place for a bite to eat which was both delicious and incredibly well priced I have to say (filling, fresh and healthy food for under 5 bucks each). Then we navigated some of the area’s bus lines and made our way to Alemany farm where Julia volunteers every week. Alemany is an interesting place from the perspective that it is city land (which, by the by was previously abandoned, guerrilla gardened, abandoned and gardened again) and run totally by volunteers without any, as far as I can tell, formal organisation. People organise themselves and the most experienced become the natural go-to leaders, who also take on tasks like weighing and recording all food that comes off the site – an uncommonly organised approach to an informal organisation in my mind – impressive. We spent the afternoon chatting to people and shuttling mulch to various areas being eroded by the much wished for rain (seems they are in drought here too). Emma made no hesitation in seizing the opportunity to play sight supervisor, deftly allocating and instructing Michael, myself and our new host! Well, I normally try and curb this kind of thing but it dawned on me that if we can’t practice this freely in childhood – whenever else in life do you get that kind of open, uninhibited opportunity? I sent out a couple of apologetic feelers then deemed it all good – carry on Boss!
After Julia bid us farewell we continued on with some harvesting – what a haul, including lettuce, cabbage, beets, turnips, lemons, ground cherries (gooseberries), a plethora of other greens and the new (for us) yacon which was like many things including crunch lychee or apple-y watermelon. It was an impressive site, apparently they are expecting to pull off about 8 or 9 tones of food from the meandering hilly 3 1/2 acre site this year. What a great effort. It was a pleasure to see this place and hear about the food grown for the community – going to soup kitchens, free food stalls and open pick community days, as well as the volunteers. We hope Alemany Farm powers on 🙂
Tue: Michael’s 33rd birthday! We started the day early with a stealthy effort in getting ready from Emma and I (because of course Michael was up at some baker’s hour before us). We came out to say “Happy Birthday”, then “get ready, we’re leaving”!! Don’t worry – it wasn’t all that brash, hugs were part of the deal 🙂 We ventured out by bus and foot to a little place I found online that described itself as making ‘creative pastries’ – thinking that was sufficiently intriguing and with the promise of good coffee too, it became the destination. They certainly had some very extravagant looking pastries and other foody items. We dined and drank before setting off again for the Ferry Plaza Farmers Markets, on three times a week in the hub that is San Fran’s Embarcardero (the strip of former bay piers turned restaurants and tourist attractions). We were a touch early so decided to walk to see the “famous” lombard/crooked street. Turned out to be a very long, very steep walk punctuated by the excruciating whining of a small child – followed shortly by my own equivalent. Poor Michael – that, I dare say, was the not-so-fun portion of birthday day! Thankfully after more walking we found a park – that’s always a good reset for the family. As for Lombard street itself I have to say I viewed it more as an exersize in physical endurance rather than traveller’s wonder – I marvelled at what attractions make the ‘tourist’ list (and secretly dispised having become one that bought into it). Sure, it’s interesting and pretty but it’s just a very windy, steep street – cool to see I guess but it was more entertaining to see the antics of other tourists. Both hilarious and infuriating – wide eyed tourists, like children who are told that they should be amazed at what they see, stood everywhere to take happy snaps. That included in the middle of the road while poor tourist-plagued-residents were trying to get out of their own driveways! Sigh. That’s why I secretly despised having become a ‘tourist’. Oh well, no getting away from that – perhaps I can just aim to be a responsible tourist…
We found our way back, via China Town and perused the farmers markets. Good looking produce at what seemed (to an Australian) decent prices, it was great to see these markets in such a prominent location. I’m told now that there are many many more local markets about the place too, usually sporting better prices and aimed more at the general, local, public. We stopped inside the Ferry Building where there is a foodies heaven of gourmet and good old fashioned tasty value added foods – the best part of which is they mostly had a foundation and focus in organic, local or responsibly grown items. Michael had previously said he had been given a list of foods we must try while in the State s – we ticked one off with a good ol’ Grilled Cheese – sweet, yummy, filling. Stroll’s along the piers, ice cream and running ensued, followed by the (slightly mortifying) discovery of Pier 39 – I think of it as San Fran’s answer to the Gold Coast (or perhaps it is the other way around?). I would say it is like the trashy american donut our dear Virginian friend explained to us once – so bad yet so good!
Then Michael and Emma retired to home (plus a little trip down the street for pizza and ice cream!) while I ventured into the city for the San Fran Urban Agriculture Alliance’s monthly meeting. It proved to be a great example of group sharing to witness as well as an inspiring group of people and projects. So while I’m glad I overcame my reluctance to trek into the city at night, I would probably forgo that ‘adventure’ (ahem) again 🙂 Don’t panic parents and loved one’s, it wasn’t that bad!
Wed: After yesterday’s walking tourist spectacular everyone was pretty pooped so we opted for a quiet day. Michael and Emma did school lessons while I did some much needed photo sorting and writing (in fact i’m hauled up in a starbucks writing this now – tell me, is that cliche tourist or cliche local?). We also ventured out to have our first US postal service experience and patronised a little sweets/gift shop. The incredibly happy shop keeper was overjoyed while Emma slowly selected her little bag of treats – bless her, saying she didn’t want to spend too much money or buy too many treats lol. Ah, self regulation – it does appear now and then 🙂
Thursday: Yes, while including this thursday makes it strictly more than a week, it does close off this part of our trip nicely as it was our last day in San Fran. We were a little unsure about our plans as there were storms forecast for the day and people were sounding really concerned – they even closed the schools in places. It shook us a little like whoa, whats coming, will the buses run, should we stay indoors?? But all we were seeing was rain so we decided to don our rain gear and trek out by bus anyway. Seems like in the end, everyone got a little excited – understandably too. They have been in a big drought here – so much so the preoccupation with the weather, rain and climate was very akin to home. And to be fair things were worse a bit further north, but we did have a giggle when it just turned out to be like a standard rainy day in Adelaide. Score though – we were going to one of the sights of San Fran, the California Academy of Sciences, and along with all the public transport, it was practically empty. We pretty much had whatever we wanted to ourselves – woo!
And so for putting up with a wet rain jacket we were rewarded with a super fun day spent exploring the Cal Academy’s aquarium, planetarium, rainforest and museum – all this stuff intertwined in one place. topped off with a cafeteria showcasing local organic food in a range of styles. We picked from the grill, mexican hall and the sandwich bar – had a great filling feed which was pretty good value. The day was something we hadn’t budgeted for but it was totally worth it, i’m glad we decided to do it. I never, never, get tired of seeing Emma’s little mind blow up in awe and excitement – and this was a full day of it. We viewed sea creatures from all regions of the world up close in the underwater aquarium from tropical fish to jelly fish and big fish that swam over our head… We picked up tickets to a planetarium show and moved on to see penguins feeding while the biologist told us about them. Taking in lifelike antelopes and tigers, we learned about the evolution of humans and our near extinction which left us with todays diminished genetic diversity – apparently we all have 99.9% in common when looking at our DNA. The giant globe housing a rainforest took our fancy and we entered (what is in fact a US containment facility – you must not leave with butterflies! We learnt about the 4 different layers of a rainforest (forest floor, under storey, canopy and emergent for those of you who want to attend the poop quiz later) and admired the beautiful bird and butterflies breezing by. We investigated some more tunnels where we found starfish and sea urchins we could touch. We took in 2 shows at the planetarium – one of which would have justified the entrance price alone. I actually had no idea what a planetarium was before this – good one to see, apparently its the biggest in the world. Think giant, like giant, domed movie screen in front of you and above – I think some people compared it to IMAX but my guess is this was more immersive, in fact one part in particular left us all feeling like we were really flying through the stars. The two shows covered superficial topics like the origin of the universe and lots of perspective building facts on the earth. more so than facts and pictures, they were both really beautiful movies in their own right – they just happen to be true and scientifically accurate.
Thanks California – you were awesome xx