Nourish, Recover, and Rebuild.
Like everyone else in Sonoma County, I was impacted by the devastating North Bay fires. On October 8, just before 11pm, I ran out of my house in Santa Rosa’s West End neighborhood to the horrifying sight of a wall of fire in a nearby field, whipped by strong winds. My
neighbor’s house was burning. I ran back inside to check on my daughter and my dog, both sleeping, grabbing laptop, wallet, and shoes along the way. Luckily, within minutes, our street was flooded with firefighters and police. The next day I learned that a brave group of neighbors to the west were using buckets and hoses to put out spot fires along the Santa Rosa Creek before the winds could send them into surrounding houses. Thanks to our courageous and efficient first responders, the fire was under control within a couple of hours, but tragically my neighbors lost their home. Yet, the nightmare was far from over. Cued by the sound of endless sirens flying down the 101 in the middle of the night, we realized this was only the beginning. By dawn, my mother-in-law had evacuated to our house from her place less than a mile from Coffey Park and the texts and calls were flying in from friends who had escaped to Petaluma, Forestville, and beyond.
The northern half of Santa Rosa was on fire—along with parts of Sonoma, Glen Ellen, Calistoga, Kenwood, and Napa—and life as we knew it would never be the same. As I write this letter, one week after the fires started, flames continue to threaten parts of Sonoma County: containment (and rain) are hopefully on the horizon. In Sonoma County, some 6,700 structures have been destroyed, including Santa Rosa’s Round Barn, built by Japanese winemaker Kanaye Nagasawa 118 years ago. Thousands of homes and jobs are gone, seemingly in the blink of an eye. And 23 people, at press time, had lost their lives to the fire, which appears to have started around Tubbs Lane in Calistoga before it eventually barreled into Santa Rosa’s suburban Fountaingrove and Coffey Park neighborhoods. The Nuns fire did similar damage to the south. Along the way, homes, farms, and businesses were destroyed—many that have been covered before in this magazine. And one featured in this issue is What’s Up Farm, on the campus of Redwood Adventist Academy in Larkfield. But the school community has vowed to rebuild. We’d like the feature story by Christina Mueller to function as a tribute to farmer and teacher Joby Oft and the work he’s done to kickstart a working farm and agriculture curriculum for kids, and we look forward to seeing What’s Up Farm rise again.
As we’ve seen many times before, in the midst of this unprecedented disaster, food became a unifying force and a light in the darkness, even as we heard new stories every day of loss and destruction. Ceres Community Project as well as Sonoma Family Meal immediately jumped into action, transforming donations of produce from small local farms into healthy, whole foods-based meals for thousands of evacuees and first responders. Dozens more local chefs and restaurants went into overdrive, preparing meals for evacuation centers across the county so that people wouldn’t have to survive on canned goods. F.E.E.D. Sonoma transported produce from donors to kitchens to evacuees. Individual volunteers traversed the county getting meals to those who needed them. Honestly, if we tried to list all of the Bay Area farms, markets, and restaurants that donated food, it would take up most of the space in this issue. Amazing, right? The generosity, compassion, and kindness in our community runs deep and reminds me of why I love my adopted home with all of my heart. We are Sonoma Strong. Do you have a story to share about the fires, a small victory, or our resilient local food system? Please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.
Leilani Clark| EDITOR