March 2017: Exploring the Natural History of Food

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:

On 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,

Heather

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.

On 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.

In 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.
  • Rotating 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.

In 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,

Heather