I had the pleasure of writing the Santa Barbara Independent special “Schools of Thought Issue once again in fall of 2022. To read the entire issue online, click here. I
Our Annual Edition Dedicated to Ideas and Design, Both Indoor and Out
Welcome to our annual Home & Garden special issue, the edition run each spring where we explore ideas and designs for indoors and out.
In this year’s collection, we feature a new book all about that most iconic of Montecito gardens, Lotusland, and explain how you can create your own sustainable garden in the backyard. Then we turn to a new Home & Design Collective in the downtown Arts District, head to the library to find free decor resources, and take a look at what it takes, and why, to electrify your house.
Destination Downtown for Design: New Santa Barbara Arts District Home & Design Collective Brings Biz to State Street
Home Design Inspiration for All: Free Resources Galore from the Santa Barbara Library
Electrifying Your Home in Santa Barbara: How to Flip the Switch Away From Natural Gas
Sustainable Gardening and Agricultural Best Practices from Santa Barbara’s CEC and Lotusland
The benefits of sustainable gardening and regenerative agriculture took the spotlight at a recent sustainability salon featuring Community Environmental Council (CEC) climate resilience program director Sharyn Main and Lotusland sustainability manager Corey Welles. Here are some of the nuggets they shared at the gathering in Belle Hahn’s beautiful garden on the Upper Eastside.
1) Change Can Happen: After 32 years at Lotusland, Welles certainly has the dirt on the esteemed garden’s best practices in plant healthcare. “Lotusland wasn’t always a perfectly organic operation,” he admitted. “In the very beginning, it was completely conventional, and they used pesticides. If you were an organic farmer walking in, you would have been horrified.” But the will to become more environmentally sound was there, and they worked to find the way.
“We literally cracked the code; we stopped listening to the conventional minds and started listening to biologists,” he said. “Fertilizers caused 80 percent of the diseases at Lotusland. Once we got the pesticides and chemical fertilizers out of there, we never went back. It was a moment of taking responsibility — if something’s wrong, you take responsibility for it.” And it worked. The first year, they had a 70 percent reduction in pests, and it increased from there.
2) More than No Pesticides: A sustainable garden involves more than just getting rid of chemical pesticides. Other key principles include using natural materials such as alfalfa meal, sea kelps, and organic nitrogen sources to feed plants and the soil.
Building up insect ecology is also important. While it may seem counterintuitive, Welles shared that increasing the number and variety of insects in the landscape and providing a habitat for beneficial insects helps control invasions of plant pests. Native plants are especially good for this.
The other key sustainable practice at Lotusland is recycling all of the plant material removed from the garden back in the form of compost teas and mulches that are reused in the garden.
3) Demonstrate the Way: Lotusland wasn’t yet open to the public when Main was a teenager in the 1970s, but she confided that it didn’t stop her from sneaking in to explore. As one of the first wave of environmentalists working for CEC, Main and her colleagues had an organic demonstration garden at the organization’s first offices on the Mesa in one of the earliest green buildings in the country. They had composting toilets (“the cutting edge for energy efficiency”) and a green rooftop with plantings to help cool the building, and they taught people about organic agriculture and gardening while discouraging the use of pesticides. She even co-wrote a book called BUGS (“Beneficial Urban Garden Strategies”), which was published in both English and Spanish.
“That garden was super important to our program,” said Main. “We talked a lot about the value of using native plants to protect biodiversity and improve soil health as part of an organic food garden.”
4) Regenerative Ag: One of the ways CEC is working to reverse the climate threat today is by encouraging regenerative, climate-smart agriculture. “These practices — like applying compost on working lands and planting native plants along edges of fields — can actually help sequester carbon from the atmosphere. By restoring a natural balance in this way, plants respond by pulling more carbon from the air (through photosynthesis) into the ground, where it’s beneficial to the soil and plants,” said Main.
Carbon farming, a land-based, natural solution to climate change, is a way to transfer excess carbon out of the atmosphere — where it is causing a lot of harm — and store it in the soil, where it does a lot of good.
CEC is actively working with ranchers and large landowners, said Main. “If we can apply compost to just 10 percent of our agricultural lands, we could offset the emissions of the entire agriculture sector in Santa Barbara County. So this is doable. This is actually a reasonable thing we can achieve.”
5) Everyone Can Compost: One of the simplest ways for people to help at home is by making and using compost, said Main. Mow or trim weeds instead of pulling them out at their roots, and compost instead of landfilling yard waste and food scraps.
6) Watch Your Water: Last but not least on the path to sustainable gardening is the importance of carefully managing water use, a key factor that was mentioned by both Welles and Main. Water conservation is made much easier when pests are under control through the promotion of pollinators and beneficial insects, natural materials are used to feed plants and soil, plant materials removed from the garden are recycled into compost or mulch, and native species are primarily what is planted.
Following sustainable practices includes avoiding polluting chemicals, preserving natural resources, and reducing waste whenever possible. Sustainable gardening is not just about growing plants and maintaining a garden; it’s also about growing a greener future. As Welles said, “You don’t have to sacrifice beautiful, breathtaking gardens to be responsible.”
The road to zero carbon is being paved by elected officials, builders, and activists. And an increasingly important part of the journey is getting rid of gas furnaces, water heaters, ranges, and other appliances and replacing them with electric alternatives that make buildings safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly — especially as more renewable power is added to the grid.
Last summer, the Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously to enact a new building ordinance (known as a “reach code”) prohibiting natural gas infrastructure in newly constructed buildings (with the exception of restaurants and applications where there isn’t yet a viable electric alternative to gas). There are also many rebates and incentives available for existing homes to make the switch to electric.
Heat pumps, which control household climates by extracting and moving the heat in the air, are extremely energy-efficient. According to the Department of Energy, installing an air-source heat pump can cut your electric bill in half, and heat pumps are generally considered more comfortable than traditional heating and cooling. “The other big advantage that heat pumps offer in our warming climate is that they can provide both heating and cooling in your home, so they can essentially be used to replace both a furnace and an air conditioner,” said Michael Chiacos, energy and climate program director at CEC.
If you’re considering a new furnace or installing air conditioning in your home, TECH Clean California is currently offering up to $3,000 per unit rebate on central heat pumps or mini-split heat pumps. That same group also has a $1,000-$3,100-per-unit rebate on heat-pump water heaters. Other vendors offer incentives for air sealing, insulation and ductwork, whole house fans, smart thermostats, and electric backup power units (see switchison.org/incentives for more information).
Heat induction cooktops are another innovation that has come a long way in recent years. Unlike traditional electric stoves that heat with coils, induction cooktops use magnets to transfer heat directly to the pan through the process of induction. These ranges heat up faster (they can bring water to a boil in half the time of gas), allow you to cook at very specific temperatures, and are safer. Induction burners only heat the pan and not the cooktop surface, which means the rest of the stove remains cool when it’s on. Without an open flame, people are less likely to burn themselves or accidentally start kitchen fires.
“I am a total covert,” said Dennis Allen, founder of Allen Construction. He’s been cooking on a five-element magnetic induction cooktop for more than a decade. “It is fabulous,” he said. “It’s so responsive, and it is so good for the environment because it’s about double the efficiency of natural gas, because natural gas is heating all of the air around the pot and this power only heats the pot.” He also likes that it’s safer to cook with his granddaughter because she won’t get burned by the cooktop.
If you’re interested in trying before buying, many vendors offer portable models to take home and test. The Santa Barbara Public Library’s Library of Things also has an induction cooktop you can check out.
As more and more information comes out that electric homes are safer and healthier to live in, they are also becoming more practical and affordable, especially with the various incentives. There are some federal incentives for solar installation that are expiring soon, so the time to act is now, said Chiacos.
“Having an all-electric home with solar is definitely the way to go, because then you are using your locally generated sunshine to run your house, and hopefully power your car, too,” he said.
I am the managing editor of a brand new publication, UC Santa Barbara Magazine. A glossy print publication and website offering a birds-eye view of the spectacular seaside university. From the people, programs, scholarly pursuits and trends that make UC Santa Barbara a world-class institution, to the sports, arts and culture, natural environment and vibrant students and vital alumni communities that enrich our campus experiences, UC Santa Barbara Magazine offers insight into the rich complexity of the university and its impact on the larger world around it.
Read the entire magazine online here. In addition, here are links to some of the stories I wrote.
Health-conscious eating meets socially conscious business at Balfour’s Kitchen (balfourskitchen.com), a new plant-based-meal delivery service launching in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties later this year. Taking its name from organic food pioneer Lady Eve Balfour (1898–1990), the new venture will offer a selection of meals in a bowl—such as Cauliflower Shakshuka, Green Pea & Asparagus Soup, and French Ratatouille With Quinoa—which will arrive ready to heat and eat. They’re designed to be mixed and matched to provide what founder Danny Burgner says aims to be,
“the perfect balance of PFF—protein, fat, and fiber—and of course carbs.”
The company kicked off the test- marketing phase of its charitable model late in 2020 and early this year by donating more than 1,000 meals to Sarah House, a Santa Barbara nonprofit that provides residential housing for low- income individuals receiving hospice care, and the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, which provides meals, shelter, and recovery programs to homeless and addicted individuals. And when Balfour’s Kitchen opens its doors: “For every bowl purchased,” says Burgner, “we’ll give one to a person in need or make the equivalent donation to a food-centered nonprofit.”
Santa Barbara is a great place to live no matter your age, but it takes many people a number of years — and perhaps a successful career or two — to start calling our shoreline home. That means there are plenty of people living their best later lives here, which is why we started our Active Aging Guide in 2018 to help navigate the endless options for staying healthy, striving for wellness, and living even longer.
This is the fourth annual edition of this promotional section, in which sponsors suggested trends, techniques, and talented experts from their organizations to our editorial team. Then Leslie Dinaberg took those nascent ideas, put on her reporter’s cap, and turned
them into engaging articles that cover a wide range of topics, from bone, brain, and sexual health to volunteering, nutrition, and even drum circles.
Read on, and age well.
Providing a voice to the vulnerable is the role of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman representative, a volunteer program of the Family Service Agency (fsacares.org).
Through regular visits to Santa Barbara County’s 14 skilled nursing facilities and 119 assisted-living facilities for the elderly, Ombudsman representatives get to know the residents and advocate to improve their quality of life.
The program covers the entire county, from Carpinteria to Santa Maria, with more than 5,000 people under its watch. “We are the extra pair of eyes and ears who help them and advocate for them,” said Marco Quintanar, who started working in elder care as a kitchen worker in a long-term care facility 30 years ago. Today, he is a leader in senior care and advocacy as the supervisor for the Ombudsman program, visiting facilities himself as well as providing training and support to volunteers.
Retired aerospace engineer Mike Leu would be considered a “super volunteer” by any measure. “I was looking for a way to stay active and reapply my skills to something that was new and useful,” said Leu, who stumbled on a newspaper article about the program
(run by a different agency at the time) about 10 years ago and thought it looked interesting. He reached out, was trained, and jumped right in, enjoying the work so much that he now covers 23 different facilities and puts in about 70-80 hours a month in volunteer time.
But both Ombudsman superstars caution that prospective volunteers should not be intimidated by Leu’s level of work. Volunteers can commit a little time, or a lot, depending on their interest and availability. “Part of the beauty of the Ombudsman program is you can scale it up or you can scale it down pretty much as far as you want,” said Leu. “If you only want to put in a few hours a week at three or four small facilities, you can. And then, if you’re like me and you’re out of control, you put in a lot!”
Today, there are just seven volunteers covering the entire county, so Quintanar hopes to double that number at his next Ombudsman volunteer training this fall. “You have to be wanting to help other people,” said Leu of what they’re looking for in volunteers, which
also includes being self-motivated, comfortable in communicating with people, and then ready to solve problems in complex situations. “The reward in this thing is you’re demonstrably improving somebody’s quality of life.”
In his 30 years, Quintanar has seen a wide range of residents and issues. “Nowadays,
because of the advances in technology and everything, people are living longer,” he said, which means caregivers have to deal not just with aging but with advanced mental illnesses, like someone living for 20 years with Alzheimer’s. “That makes things harder because … they have some behavioral challenges. It is hard on the families, and it is hard on the resident and hard on everybody who is around them. It’s not their fault, but they need care. So that’s why we are there.”
Both men agree that this work is very rewarding. “If you make a difference in the life of someone, even just listening to that person, that makes you feel very good,” said Quintanar. “And you don’t need anybody to say thank you.”
To learn more about becoming a Certified Ombudsman volunteer, or other ways to support Family Service Agency’s programs for seniors, call Marco Quintanar at (805) 922-1236 or visit volunteer4seniors.org.
People of all ages benefit from music therapy, with especially positive changes for people with autism; visual, motor, emotional, hearing, or cognitive disabilities; or high stress levels. With these benefits in mind, the residents and staff at Summer House —which is the memory-care unit at Vista del Monte retirement care community (vistadelmonte.org)
— regularly participate in drum circles.
“The sound waves and the sound of the drums and the feel of the drums are very
powerful for those who have cognitive issues,” said Helene Hellstern, the life
enrichment director for Vista del Monte, where residents gather in a common area called The Alcove every Tuesday and Thursday. “When we tell people we are doing a drum circle, they are very willing to come to that activity, and we typically have at least a dozen
people if not more.”
First are exercises to warm up their hands and get energized. Then Hellstern uses a 70-inch computer screen to broadcast images of nature or from a particular country or culture that’s especially stimulating. “Then we start the drumming,” she said, explaining that groups are typically led by Karen Rojas. “We’ll just do different rhythms, and we’ll have the residents repeat those. And we always incorporate having the residents do their own little rhythm, and so it’s just one person doing their rhythm, and we all repeat it.”
The music, the exposure to community, and the physical activity are all beneficial. “A lot of our residents have mobility issues or are non-ambulatory, so we tend to just use hand movements — although if people want to tap their feet, that’s definitely encouraged,” said Hellstern. “The movement of the arms or the drumming itself is a really good movement. It energizes the whole body and the sound waves, because the drum is on their body—they really feel it as well as hear it.”
And there’s science as to how this helps people with memory issues. “They have
determined that music in particular sets off most areas of the brain,” she said. “And not just drumming, but other music often triggers their long-term memory.”
The drums have become a therapy tool beyond the circles as well. “Sometimes, we will just get the drums out if whatever we have planned isn’t quite working — everyone responds really well to that,” she said. “A truly holistic healing approach, group drumming breaks down social barriers, promotes freedom of expression, nonverbal communication,
unity, and cooperation.”
The concept of helping patients get the services, assistance, and equipment they need during an illness or injury is so simple. But as anyone who’s ever navigated our health-care system can tell you, the reality can be incredibly complex and frustrating.
The Loan Closet — owned and operated by VNA Health (vna.health) and serving Santa Barbara County since 1908 — is the exact opposite of most health-care hassles. Staffed
by David Moorman and Megan Cameron, with support from VNA’s COO Dusty Keegan and administrative assistant Susi Torres-Cruz, this warm and welcoming crew serves more than 4,000 residents each year with free short-term loans of basic medical equipment such as wheelchairs, crutches, knee scooters, walkers, shower seats, and more.
While appointments are preferred, Moorman explained, “We welcome walk-ins. You never
know when trauma is going to occur. We never turn anyone away. If someone shows up with a broken ankle, we try to help them. We take care of everyone. The benefit of an appointment is that we can make sure we have the equipment that they’re looking for
and have it ready for them.”
Getting things ready includes sanitizing and repairing an impressive array of equipment to make sure it’s all in tip-top shape to be ready to loan out. “We really try to make sure that when people get equipment that it’s up to snuff,” said Moorman, who does most of the
repairs himself. “They’re not just feeling like they’re coming down here and getting something for free and it’s junky. We actually take time and put a lot of money into our supplies to make sure that the things are refurbished.”
Fitting the equipment and training people on how to use it — including sending them home with written instructions — is also an important part of the service, which is
completely supported through private donations and contributions.
In fact, people don’t always know exactly what they need until they come in, like understanding the difference between wheelchairs and transport chairs. “You can
be pushed in either, but wheelchairs are for people that are strong enough to be independently mobile and are much heavier to move in and out of cars,” said Cameron. “It’s 20 pounds versus 50 pounds.”
That means asking the right questions. “There’s not one cookie-cutter answer for everyone, so we try to nail that down and get to the bottom of it,” said Moorman. Added
Cameron, “Often we have them try out what’s going to work at home, and they can see all the different shower chairs and benches and work with the walker and be able to figure out what really works before they purchase it later on.”
As a free community service, the Loan Closet is open for anyone. “We get Hope Ranch; we get Montecito; we get the Eastside; we get the Westside; we get the entire community,” said Moorman. “We try to take care of everyone to the best of our ability.”
Fun Facts about the Loan Closet
Most commonly borrowed items: commodes, shower seats, and walkers
Most surprisingly useful items: grabbers, sock aids, and leg lifters
Hardest to come by and often requested item: “Bed rails are gold.”
Unusual items: Hoyer Lifts, which help those with mobility challenges get out of bed or the bath without the assistance of another person; and U-Step walking stabilizers, which are designed to prevent falls for neurological conditions like Parkinson’s
Surprising item that’s always needed: tennis balls, to put on the bottoms of walkers.