March 2017: Exploring the Natural History of Food

Cooking demonstration in the amphitheater

We live in a foodie culture. Intellectual fascination with the ingredients, techniques and traditions surrounding food has exploded in this era of celebrity chefs, farm-to-table restaurants, and highly creative handcrafting of everything from jam to beer. Inspired by this enthusiasm and our regional bounty, the Museum has dedicated public programming in February and March to exploring the natural history of food.

Following February’s Naturalist Night talk on organic farming principles, State Park Ranger Alex Tabone joined Rick Flores, Curator of California Native Plant Collection at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Associate of the Amah Mutsun Land Trust, for a special workshop on native foods and preparations. We were also so grateful to have Chairman Valentin Lopez from the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band honor us with his presence and cultural insights. The engaged audience watched demonstrations of the traditional, indigenous methods of preparing manzanita cider, roasted soaproot, roasted grass seeds, and acorn porridge.

March is equally bubbling over with food-related events. We have two Naturalist Nights this month dedicated to further exploring the natural history of food and how we connect to it:

Roasted coffee beans next to a cup of espressoOn March 21st, the Museum is partnering with Mutari Chocolate, to reveal what it takes to make a delicious cup of the ultimate comfort drink, hot chocolate. During the “Bean to Cup” presentation, Mutari’s owners, Katy Oursler and Stephen Beaumier, will educate us about the origins and history of chocolate making. Then they will lead us in a guided tasting of their delicious sipping chocolate!

Then on March 30rd, the leaders of the Santa Cruz Heritage Food Project — Sierra Ryan, Liz Birnbaum, Jody Biergiel Colclough and Katie Hansen — will bring us up to speed on more than four years of research into the stories behind local foods such as beets, berries and wine grapes. And we’re very excited to welcome the Teen Kitchen Project for a special food demonstration before the talk.

Santa Cruz is synonymous with a menu of culinary delights — from pop-up restaurants to small-batch artisanal foods emphasizing local ingredients. We hope that this month you will join us in connecting to the natural history of some of our favorite foods and seeing them in a whole new way.

Thank you,


Nancy Lenz: Volunteer

Nancy Lenz, champion of Pilkington Creek

Nancy Lenz, champion of Pilkington Creek, is a veteran volunteer with the Museum.

After retiring to Santa Cruz from Berkeley in 1990, Nancy became connected with the Museum, which is near her home in Seabright. For several years, she did Museum publicity as a volunteer before spending countless hours in the gardens encircling the Museum.

Nancy has learned the names and Ohlone uses of plants such as beach strawberry, pink flowering currant and Indian soaproot that surround our historic building. Volunteers under her watch have recorded 1,200 hours since 2010 working on Pilkington Creek, which flanks the east side of Tyrrell Park, to remove non-native plants.

While the creek and gardens around the building are much improved, there is much more planting Nancy would like to do. “Live each day like it was your last, and garden like you’re going to live forever,” she said, quoting William Kent.

During the last several years, Nancy also has been a docent for the Ohlone Program, which teaches students about native peoples. “I like to see the kids light up and I like that moment when you realize you’re getting to the child sitting quietly in the back of the room,” she said. “That is really worthwhile.”

Anyone interested in supporting the efforts to restore Pilkington Creek, to work in the garden around the Museum or to co-lead our Ohlone Programs, please contact the Museum at volunteer@santacruzmuseum.org.