Science Education

Author: Milo (Page 2 of 12)

Mind of a Scientist

Mind of a Scientist is a partnership with the Sonoma County Library and librarian Rosalie Abbott. The program features live presentations with scientists and engineers each week.

Here’s our page on the Sonoma Library site with all our videos, worksheets and answer keys:

We have featured Sonoma State, UC Davis, Sonoma Water, Dow Labs, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Bodega Bay Marine Lab, plus Medtronic and Keysight engineers.

Recently we’ve had climate scientists Rob Nelson and Katherine Wentz (From NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Remote Sensing Systems respectively). NOAA marine biologist Steven McKagan Zoomed in from Saipan. Laguna Foundation wildlife biologist Shelly Spriggs presented as well as data scientist Shawn Boye and NOAA meteorologist Zach Tolby.

I’m grateful for the support of the Sierra Avalanche Center and the Shasta Avalanche Center for our series on snow science.

Roblox engineer and Orchard View alumni Alex Katz gave a fascinating talk, followed by Jacob Aman from Lawrence Livermore.

Recently, I have been creating decision making scenarios with our speakers for students to work on. Here are a few examples:

Conservation Biology Scenario: Imagine you are an environmental scientist developing a conservation plan for a preserve on a North Coast estuary. You have been asked for your expert opinion on the best approach to trail access along the estuary and how to minimize impacts to natural resources. State which option you recommend and why, and identify one method of minimizing – or mitigating for – that option’s impacts on wetlands  or wildlife.

OptionImpacts. Cost Connectivity to Other Trails.
1. Build a short boardwalk
to a wildlife viewing platform.
2.Build a long boardwalk
that provides a full trail connection along the river to the north.
3. No boardwalk; instead,
work with other agencies to build a paved trail along the highway – a long-term project.
Moderate -HighHighHigh

Electric Motor Scenario: Imagine you are a car company executive in charge of launching a new line of electric trucks. You must choose a motor that will please customers as well as be practical and efficient. It’s important that a lot of people buy the truck, but you also face fierce competition from other exciting models. After discussing, choose which type of motor to use in this new truck.  

Type of Motor: Pros:    Cons:
1) High torque, lower
Good for
Heavier  $$
2) Low torque, high speed Faster, more
efficient $
Poor tow rating, more maintenance 
3) Medium torque, medium speed   All around
performance $   
Less exciting

New Garden Area at Orchard View School

Summer vegetables growing in the newly rebuilt raised beds.

We recently rennovated our vegetable garden at Orchard View. After new cobblestones were installed, agro-ecology students have been working on rebuilding the raised beds along with benches and trellising.

This is what the garden looked like before the renovation. Bermuda grass had swallowed our entire garden.

Bermuda grass remains a formidable foe, but the cobblestone patio now prevents it from spreading from the nearby field in the beds from below. Bermuda is still trying to creep in, so it still needs to be managed.

This year, we will be adding several new raised beds on either side of the picnic table pictured above. Right now we have cover crops of favas beans, crimson clover and mustard growing in the beds.

Serving up Squash at Local High Schools

I recently helped CAFF (Community Alliance with Family Farmers) stage a Farm Invasion at Analy High School in Sebastopol to raise awareness about the importance of healthy local food in schools. Katina Connaughton and her husband Kyle (owners of Single Thread restaurant) generously donated their time to help me prepare roasted squash for the event. After an initial roasting, and adding butter, brown sugar and toasted pecans, Kyle used a torch to brulee the tops and create a caramelized crust. My sister Sarah and her boyfriend Ty grew the Delicata (which they donated to the event) at their farm in Sebastopol.



Our table in the Analy Quad.

When we got to Analy, I joined Heather, Susan and Danielle from the Sebastopol CAFF office, and Gayle Dyer, director of food service at all three West County high schools and we handed out samples of the roasted Delicata during school lunch. The roasted Delicata turned out to be a hit with staff and students alike. The kitchen manager liked the dish so much that she decided to put it on Analy’s menu for next week and I made my first delivery of Delicata to her the next day.

On Tuesday, we staged similar Farm Invasions at Laguna and El Molino high schools. For these events we added sliced Fuyu persimmons from Rancho Pillow.

New Zazu Beds at the Barlow


Max and Katina thin beets in the new Zazu beds. Behind them is Webb’s Wonderful lettuce, and Kosta Browne winery is in the background.

The Barlow decided to convert part of its events lawn across from the Skatepark into a produce garden for Zazu Restaurant, shown above. Katina and Max have helped me direct seed the beds with lettuce, beets, carrots, arugula, and radishes. We used an Earthway Seeder, which worked quite well. We’ve been thinning each week, and bringing the thinnings to the Zazu kitchen for use as microgreens. Its fun and nostalgic working so close to the skate park. When I was a kid, my skate buddies and I worked tirelessly organizing and raising money for a skatepark so we’d have a place to skate legally. We formed the West County Skate Park Association with community leaders like Jeff Weaver, who is now the chief of police, and Star Hergenrather, director of the Analy Drama Department. When my generation of skaters went off to school, my uncle Bill Cole and a few dedicated skate moms picked up the torch and after ten years, the skatepark was finally built.  Before the skatepark was built, that area was an unofficial community garden, and I used to have a plot there during summers home from college. At that time, Taylor Maid was roasting coffee across the street in the old Barlow, where Spiritworks distillery is now. I have so many memories from the Barlow growing up; from climbing on the old stacks of apple boxes, to canoeing through it during a flood. It feels like I’ve already sprouted some roots in the ground we are working.

Zazu Moves to the Barlow


The outdoor seating area at the new restaurant. The foodish boy is planting edible flowers in the background.

The outdoor seating area at the new restaurant. Alex, the Foodish Boy, is working in the background. In the foreground are Padron peppers and heirloom tomatoes. Pictured above is the new dining room and bar.

Zazu is now open for lunch and dinner wednesday through monday in the Barlow, a food and wine center in Sebastopol. The roadhouse on Guerneville Rd. is now closed. The new location will be open for lunch and will have a full bar! We also have a lot more space for food processing and preserving, so we’ll be able to produce a lot more pickles, syrups, jams, etc. Already, the new kitchen has made several batches of pickled Armenian, lemon and puna keena cucumbers. The kitchen will serve food late- till 11pm on fridays and saturdays, and there will be small dishes served at the bar from 3-5pm as well.

Alex Nazaruk, a British food journalist, came and stayed with us as part of his mission to work 52 food related jobs around the world. Alex spent a day cooking at zazu and worked with me for a couple days on the farm.

Signs of Spring

Day old triplets roaming around in the cover crop at Rancho Pillow. A week later, two black lambs were born.

The plum trees and flowering quince are starting to bloom, coastal wildflowers are popping up, and lots of lambs have appeared. While the mushrooms have suffered, our recent spell of dry, warm weather is ushering in an early spring. I wrote a blog back in march of 2010 about some of the wildflowers you find this time of year in Sonoma County: Spring at Last.

Caring for five lambs born in the span of two weeks has been a joy. The lambs are so cute and incredibly fast. Julian and I had to run as fast as we could to catch them for the vet. Even at one week old, they can leap high into the air.

After so many long dark nights and slow to arrive dawns, these early signs of spring are most welcome, but I expect we still have plenty of cold and rainy weather to come.


Preserving the Winter Harvest

I’ve been busy making holiday gifts using what I have growing as much as possible. One of my favorites is pickled beets. To make them you start by roasting the beets. You could just coat them in olive oil and roast them in a foil packet, but I like to add some orange juice, bay leaves, and fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme as well. Next you peel the beets in cold water and slice them thinly and place them in small jars with spices like fennel seeds, coriander seeds and peppercorns. Then boil apple cider vinegar mixed 1:1 with water and pour this over the beets. Seal the jars and place them in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, then put them on a dish towel and do not touch them for 24hrs. You can use this recipe to pickle lots of other stuff from the garden too, like baby carrots and chard stems.

Dried persimmons are not just delicious, they are beautiful.

Another great gift to make is dried Hachiya persimmons. These trees are abundant in Sonoma County and most people don’t know how to eat them. Unlike the squat and crisp Fuyu, the acorn shaped Hachiya are ripe when soft and mushy, and otherwise are very astringent. It turns out that when you dehydrate them, they lose their astringency. So you can slice the Hachiya when they are orange and hard, around a 1/4in thick, and then dry them in a dehydrator or in the oven. They are addictive!

I’ve also been making syrups with fresh herbs like Pineapple Sage and Lemon Verbena. You simply steep the herbs in a simple syrup of water and sugar 1:1, then water bath can them. Check out this blog friend Amy wrote about making these syrups:

Lastly, I’ve been making hot sauce with a variety of different chiles. For a basic spicy vinegar I de-stem and roughly chop the peppers, then simmer them in vinegar, salt and water for about 10 minutes. Let this cool on the stove then strain it into jars or bottles. I like to buy the Tapatio bottles for 89 cents each and use them.

For hot sauce, I puree the peppers first, then add them to the vinegar. I also add add Xanthan Gum as an emulsifier plus garlic and salt.  I use different types of vinegar depending on how spicy the peppers are and what sort of flavor I’m after. For milder peppers, I use apple cider vinegar. For Thai chiles, I use rice vinegar. If you are making large batches of spicy sauce you may want to blend rice vinegar with distilled grain vinegar to save money.

For more gift ideas such as Limoncello, Quince Paste, Sauerkraut and Strawberry Jam, check out this online show about making edible gifts from Make Magazine: Food Makers

Padron and cayenne peppers for hot sauce. I also use jalapenos and a small fiery chili called Apache. I use a mini Cuisinart to puree the peppers, before straining them into jars or bottles.

Cider, Syrup and other Apple Delights

Over the fast few weeks we’ve been harvesting, pressing and processessing Gravensteins, the sweet and tart apple that made Sebastopol famous. I’ve teamed up with local cider brewer Isaac Alexander to develop several styles of Gravenstein hard cider. Together we have started the Sebastopol Apple Project (SAP), which is dedicated to preserving hertitage apples and apple culture. I’ve also been making lots of apple syrup, delicious on pancakes, ice cream, or in cocktails and smoothies. Our favorite Gravenstein cocktail is the Gravito.

Isaac picking Gravensteins at Felton Acres. This tree had large, beautiful fruit despite no thinning. We realized it is just below where the chickens were processed for 2 years, so it got fertilizer and water every time the chicken processing area was sprayed down.

The easiest way to make syrup is to fill a crock pot with fresh cider, then leave it uncovered on high till it is 1/7th of its original volume. Use a clean ruler to measure the depth of the juice. The syrup can be used instead of cider in cocktails like the gravito. We water bath can this syrup in small jars for use year round.

I picked up a copy of “Cider” by Annie Proulx, which covers both the history and the making of sweet and hard cider. I highly recommend the book. It contains lots of good advice plus amazing facts like this: “John Adams, second president of the United States, drank a tankard of cider every morning before breakfast, and lived to the age of 91.” (Cider,

Zazu on the River

Zazu on the River is our new demonstration farm and lunch destination. A partnership between Davis Family Vineyards and Zazu Restaurant and Farm. There is Bocce Ball, picnic tables, and a large shaded deck surrounded by our raised vegetable beds. Over by the Wine Goddess you’ll find troughs with tricolor amaranth and purple sweet potatoes.

Pete pruning the tomatoes.

Look for these Armenian cucumbers on zazu’s salads and in gazpacho.

Progress on the School Lunch Front

Our Farm to Institution Committee hosted a Farm to School workshop at Santa Rosa City Schools last October. With over 70 food service staff and farmers in attendance the event was a huge success. I harvested kale and winter squash especially for some of the demonstration recipes, which were served for lunch. After a series of talks by leaders in the farm to school movement we had a productive farmer/buyer speed dating session, during which connections and deals were made with school food service. Next week we are hosting a second workshop, where we will hold a series of breakout groups on topics like food safety and distribution.

Our winter squash and new spicy kale being served to workshop participants. Notice that the winter squash is not peeled; when baked, the skin is soft enough to eat.

Over in West County, I’ve been working closely with Analy’s eco action class. The class came out last Fall to harvest corn and plant fava beans on our farm(Three Leaf Farms). The students made pizza for school lunch last winter with Three Leaf Farms produce. Just last week, the students came and harvested the fava beans they planted and we made fava bean hummus.

Since August I have been delivering between 60 and 200lbs of vegetables per week to Santa Rosa City Schools. These include kale, sweet peppers, radishes and squash. We now have written agreements to supply produce next school year.

Analy students making pizza with Three Leaf Farms peppers, squash and tomatoes. Zazu baker Casey (on the left) gave dough forming lessons.


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