Highlighting Local History Of Apricots

Posted on May 24, 2013 by  
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The apricot is more than just a fruit to Los Altos native Robin Chapman – it is at the center of her fondest childhood memories.

During a golden age in the 1940s and 1950s, Los Altos proved the ideal place for cultivating apricot orchards.

Chapman pays tribute to the apricot and its historical significance to the region in her new book, “California Apricots: The Lost Orchards of Silicon Valley” (History Press, 2013).  Inspiration for the book, Chapman said, came from her parents, who died within six months of each other in 2010.

After a long career in broadcast journalism, working at stations from Oregon to Florida, Chapman returned to her Los Altos home in 2009 to care for her ailing parents. Her father, William Ashley Chapman, was a do-it-yourself engineer and a World War II veteran who built the family’s first home in the 1950s.

Chapman talks with enthusiasm and admiration about her family’s love for apricots, evident in how they cared for the 12 apricot trees on their property.

“It was like Eden,” Chapman said of her formative years, filled with sweet-tasting apricots in the summer and canned apricot jam offseason.

Weaving personal and general history, Chapman’s book reaches back in time to the 18th-century Spaniards who planted the area’s first apricots, and then fast-forwards to the era of post-World War II families who built their homes among the subdivided orchards.

Many early Los Altos residents, she said, prized education for their children, and the fact that Los Altos was close to four universities influenced their decision to move to the area.

“Their children went to these schools,” Chapman said of institutions like Stanford University. “At the same time, (the schools) did research that benefited the orchards.”

Although her book’s title refers to “Lost Orchards,” Chapman said she’s not bitter over their disappearance in the wake of today’s Silicon Valley.

“Look at the things we’ve developed,” she said. “The Valley is remarkable.”

As the richness of technology replaced the richness of the apricot orchards, Chapman noted, “instead of apricots coming off the trees, we have iPhones.”

Her purpose in writing the book, she said, is to educate those living here in the post-apricot era on what initially made this area a great place to live.

“We’ve gained so much, but we’ve lost a little, too,” Chapman said. “So we need to keep what we have left.”

Chapman also has a suggestion for current Los Altos residents: The rich soil is still here, so take advantage of it.

“Everybody should plant their own apricot tree,” she said.

To purchase the book or for more information, visit www.historypress.net and search for “California Apricots.”


Living Classroom Cultivates Gardens & Minds

Posted on May 18, 2013 by  
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Each Los Altos School District campus boasts an edible and native habitat garden tucked into its playground spaces for the Living Classroom Program, which features hands-on science, math and social studies lessons for students in grades K-8.

Curtis Schneider, seventh-grade science teacher at Egan Junior High, said programs like the Living Classroom are especially important in today’s technology-driven world.

“(Students) need balance and also need to base their learning on real-world living things – they need to have connections to nature and understand how amazingly connected we all are to the natural world which sustains all life on the planet,” he said.

Schneider and colleague Julia McFarland collaborated with the Living Classroom staff in the design, use and maintenance of Egan’s garden. In addition to teaching Living Classroom lessons, Schneider and McFarland direct the after-school Garden Club, which oversees upkeep, including care of the native habitat garden and planting, harvesting and eating the produce they grow. Students make the compost and grow seedlings in a greenhouse as well.

Volunteers teach Living Classroom lessons and periodically help maintain the gardens. Local donors fund the program, under the umbrella of the Los Altos Community Foundation.

Mike Sanderson, Living Classroom Program coordinator for the Los Altos School District, said the program – scheduled to present a record-breaking 672 lessons this year – includes 35 volunteer docents, each offering a unique perspective and background. “The community support for Living Classroom continues to astound me,” he said.

Kim Bain’s second-graders at Springer School have received Living Classroom lessons for the past four years.

“My students absolutely love Living Classroom lessons,” she said. “They remember every lesson because they are experiential and relevant to them and they can learn in a beautiful outdoor garden setting.”

Bain said students learn the scientific method by conducting experiments.

“They understand why plants are so crucial to our lives, what a plant life cycle looks like, where food comes from, what decomposition is and looks like, and even why coordinate grids are important in everyday life,” she said. “The lessons are a highlight of the school year for them.”

For more information, call 947-1103 or visit www.living-classroom.org.


City Plans To Temporarily Convert Block

Posted on May 10, 2013 by  
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Downtown Los Altos visitors can see something unusual this summer on State Street – grass, or, more precisely, fake grass.

According to Los Altos Economic Development Manager Kathy Kleinbaum, the city plans to turn the block of State Street between First and Second streets into a temporary public gathering area during First Street streetscape construction this summer.

Kleinbaum said the idea resulted from the city’s need to close the intersection of State and First for construction in mid-July, after the Arts & Wine Festival. To prevent motorists from traveling toward the dead end at the closed intersection, the city planned to close the one-block State Street section to traffic anyway, she added.

The city is working out details to convert the block into a temporary social gathering area, with an artificial-turf surface and seating among the amenities, Kleinbaum said. She noted that the city is still finalizing a specific date for opening the temporary park area and is exploring the possibility of the merchants’ sponsoring the project to reduce costs.

“Everything’s still conceptual at this point … but the basic condition (of the State Street block) would be an urban park, a grassy area,” said Kleinbaum, adding that the project is slated to cost less than $10,000.

She said the city is collaborating with merchants to plan a variety of summer events in the urban park, which could include live acoustic music performances, merchant-sponsored speaker presentations and activities for youth, such as a children’s story hour. Last September’s “Groovin’ on the Green” concert, staged on State Street with an artificial-grass surface, drew a large crowd.

“We’re trying to plan events that are low-key,” she said.

On a day-to-day basis, Kleinbaum said, the area could serve as a social gathering spot for downtown visitors and employees during the four to six weeks the intersection is closed for construction. She noted that several State Street merchants have greeted the concept positively, despite the impending construction nearby.

“I can’t imagine any objections to doing something nice like this,” she said of the urban park. “People seem to be very pleased that the city is trying to do something positive during the (intersection) closure.”


Hidden Villa Delivers Local Harvest

Posted on May 3, 2013 by  
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Although residential development replaced most local farm plots and apricot groves decades ago, in one corner of Los Altos Hills, the art of farming persists.

At Hidden Villa, the 600-acre organic farm and nature preserve on Moody Road, farmers and volunteers are not only cultivating crops, but also sustaining a model agricultural community.

“We have a long, rich history in the organic movement,” said agricultural manager Jason Mc- Kenney of Hidden Villa’s roots in community-supported agriculture, established in 1994 when it was certified as Santa Clara County’s fourth organic farm. “We’re one of the most local sources (of farm crops).”

As many businesses and farms strive to expand, Hidden Villa maintains a local focus and invests in the community via donations and educational programs. All of its produce is picked up at the farm or delivered within 10 miles of the site, with 25 percent of the harvest donated to the Community Services Agency in Mountain View for distribution to local residents who may not otherwise be able to afford organic, farm-fresh foods.

Among Hidden Villa’s signature farm initiatives is its community-supported agriculture program, which has grown over the past 20 years. From mid-May to Thanksgiving, 130 members purchase shares of fresh vegetables and fruit delivered in round bushel baskets.

Hidden Villa’s program is unique in that everything found in the baskets is grown in Los Altos Hills. According to McKenney, the content of members’ baskets reflects the “seasonality of our microclimate” and provides a colorful “snapshot of the season.”

Just as the farm has grown to include more than 50 types of crops over the years, so has the popularity of Hidden Villa’s community-supported agriculture program. Only 17 shares remain available for 2013.

In addition to distributing its harvest to community-supported agriculture program members, the farm team hosts a booth at the Los Altos Farmers’ Market, scheduled 4-8 p.m. Thursdays through September on State Street in downtown Los Altos. Hidden Villa will sell salad greens, radishes, herbs, fresh eggs and pork at Thursday’s Farmers’ Market opening.

McKenney noted that Hidden Villa’s booth is easy to spot because of the long line of customers who queue early to ensure that they don’t miss out on the limited supply of fresh eggs and meat from the farm’s pasture-raised pigs and goats.

“It’s good stuff for the grill,” said Blair Thompson, animal husbandry manager, of the pork chops, cowboy steaks and breakfast sausage available for purchase. “It’s high-quality, healthful meat that has a lot of flavor.”

The Hidden Villa team said they anticipate a bountiful season, even if the dry winter presents challenges.

The farm team plans to offer locally adaptable and organic vegetable starts, flower starts and perennials at a plant sale 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at their greenhouse, located at 26870 Moody Road in Los Altos Hills. Members of the California Native Plant Society will be on hand selling plants.


An Oasis In South Los Altos

Posted on May 1, 2013 by  
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1666 Kensington Ave, Los Altos, CA 94024
Listed at $2,748,000 / Sold at $3,050,000
5 Bed / 4 Baths / Home: 4,561 sqft / Lot Size: 20,100 sqft +/-
Single Family Detached
Represented: Buyer