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,


February 2017: Honoring Our Founder and Knowing Our History

Natural history museums are as much about the past as they are about the future.

It’s difficult to fully appreciate the present or contemplate the future without an understanding of our history. That’s one reason among many I was so grateful for the community’s participation in a day of remembrance and service in honor of our founder, lighthouse keeper and naturalist Laura Hecox.

On Sunday, January 29th, on what would have been Laura’s 163rd birthday, two dozen community members and Museum supporters joined Hecox relatives to celebrate her memory by dedicating a new headstone at her final resting place. Bill and Brigid Simpkins of Santa Cruz generously donated the headstone depicting the lighthouse and crashing surf where Laura spent most of her life.

Cynthia Chase honors our founderAt Santa Cruz Memorial Cemetery, Mayor Cynthia Chase read a proclamation from the City of Santa Cruz designating January 29th as Laura Hecox Day. And I had the opportunity to talk about the love Laura had for the natural world, collecting shells, and other specimens and artifacts that formed the basis of our Museum, which opened in 1905 while she was still our city’s lightkeeper. Laura’s life served as inspiration for the Santa Cruz Naturalist exhibit that opened in June 2016, the first new permanent addition to the Museum’s galleries in over 20 years.

Clean-up in Lighthouse FieldAfter the graveside ceremony, the Museum led a clean-up project in Lighthouse Field. Laura moved to Lighthouse Field at age 15 when her father assumed the role of the first lightkeeper of the then-new Santa Cruz Lighthouse. She took over her father’s position after his death and continued in that role through most of her life, living in the original lighthouse. Today, in its place, the Mark Abbott Lighthouse now guides vessels around Lighthouse Point. But the field across from West Cliff Drive remains open space full of opportunities to explore. About three dozen volunteers collected over 100 pounds of trash from the field, which was a particularly fitting way to honor Laura and her commitment to stewarding the natural world.

The curiosity and appreciation of nature that defined Laura’s life also informs our desire to be forward-thinking about the future of our environment. Just 10 days before Laura’s birthday, the Museum was delighted to host a sold-out event at the Rio Theatre featuring renowned UCSC geologist Gary Griggs, whose riveting presentation titled “Perils in Paradise” explored Santa Cruz County’s history of and vulnerability to natural disasters.

Doctor Griggs lectures on the geology of Santa CruzDr. Griggs captivated the 550-member audience with an engaging overview of geological processes and a historical look at the most impactful natural disasters of our region, one where earthquakes, landslides, floods, fires and other calamities are an ever-present danger. As several storms wreaked havoc across the county on local cliffs, tributaries and roads, Dr. Griggs’ presentation served as a timely reminder that landmark events such as the 1955 and 1982 floods, or the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, have long shaped our region and that we cannot control nature. That’s a key reason the Museum exists — to share an understanding of the awesomeness of nature and inspire stewardship of it.

Looking ahead to the spring, we have many opportunities to connect our community to nature in innovative, meaningful ways. In February and March, we will offer several events celebrating the natural history of food. And in April, we will launch our first-ever Spring Camp and welcome back the popular The Art of Nature scientific illustration exhibit. More can be found about our upcoming programming and exhibits on our website.

I hope you will join me at some of these exciting opportunities in the coming months.

Thank you,


January 2017: Reflecting and Looking Forward

As we enter a fresh year, I appreciate this time to reflect on the exciting achievements our Museum has made in 2016. I am also grateful to the many dedicated folks — staff, board members, volunteers and donors — who lent a hand (or two) in our ongoing transformation and evolution as an organization.

January also is a time to look forward to the many initiatives and changes on the horizon. This month, I’m starting a new blog called Contemplate in our monthly newsletter to keep our community up to date on the purposeful work undertaken by our team here to fulfill our mission.

Santa Cruz Museum of natural history sign out frontOn Dec. 20, we unveiled our new entrance sign, which will be seen by the almost 20,000 visitors we welcome through our doors each year. Thousands more will see it as they make their way to nearby Seabright Beach, the Yacht Harbor or the Beach Boardwalk. The metal sign created by Santa Cruz artist Alan Ziegler features our name and logo but represents much more than just a new face to the Museum. It marks a fresh start for this precious place founded 111 years ago as Santa Cruz’s first public museum.

We are very proud of our long history. Established in 1905, our museum lived in several spaces until it moved to its current home here in this lovely Carnegie Library in the 1950s. In 2009, our organization began the large endeavor of transitioning from City ownership to becoming an independent, community-supported nonprofit museum. This included a name change in 2013 to the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. Our new sign showcases that name and reflects the time of revitalization which we are now undertaking.

With the support of our board, donors, neighbors and volunteers, the Museum staff and I have been working hard to make the visitor experience more dynamic and engaging, while ensuring our educational programming and events are reaching new audiences. We continue to strive to connect our community’s members and visitors with our region’s natural and cultural history in personal, meaningful ways.

Toddler examining tide poolIn the past three years, we have seen a 15 percent increase in general admission — this does not include school groups, member visits, or special events — just the folks who popped in to see what we are all about. And I’m also very excited to tell you the number of new memberships rose 13 percent in 2016 year over 2015.

The experiences we offer at the Museum and through our nature-based programs are expanding, and some of the most recent initiatives include:

  • Our Santa Cruz Naturalist exhibit with its interactive intertidal touch pools and naturalist lab, our first new permanent exhibit in over 20 years.
  • Mobile Museum event at Lupulo Craft Beer HouseRotating special exhibits, including two premieres: Photographer Jason Bradley’s “California: At the Water’s Edge” and local historian Frank Perry’s “Big Basin’s Auto Tree: One Tree, Many Stories.” We also had a Mobile Museum event at Lupulo Craft Beer House in October ahead of a special sold-out Museum of the Macabre event at the Museum in celebration of Halloween.
  • Engaging Naturalist talks and special events, such as the fantastic presentation on big cats by Dr. Chris Wilmers in May and the exciting upcoming talk by Dr. Gary Griggs on Jan. 19 about our region’s history and potential for natural disasters, within the larger climate change context.

Lecture at the museumIn the coming year, we also will celebrate the birthday of our founder Laura Hecox on Jan. 29 by honoring a new gravestone marking her final resting place. In April, we will feature the 28th installment of our annual exhibit of scientific illustration as well as a new exhibit created by the Santa Cruz Kids in Nature program. We also will premiere a new book about the history of Seabright here in April and are proud to have been a part of this exciting publication created by the Seabright Neighborhood Association.

This is a wonderful time for our Museum. We have so much to celebrate and there is great work yet to be done. We welcome your involvement and feedback in helping us maintain the Museum’s role as irreplaceable part of our community. And if you are not already a member, we would love to have you join us at santacruzmuseum.org.

Thank you,