During the month of October 2023, CURes staff participated in a series of premier events hosted by Taft Gardens and Nature Preserve in Ojai, California. Known for their magnificent oak trees found in the 15 acres of curated gardens and over 200 acres of protected open space, Jaide Whitman, President and CEO of the non-profit Conservation Endowment Fund (CEF), called together a strategic group of like-minded folks in August to brainstorm on establishing a month-long extravaganza of oak-related celebrations on the property.
Dr. David White, oak expert and Program Director for the local non-profit Once Upon a Watershed had introduced the concept of “Oaktoberfest” to Ventura County a few years ago, after hearing about it at a conference. Quoted in the Ojai Valley News, David shared about the importance of oaks:
“Oaks are referred to as a keystone species, because they anchor and support the ecosystem in so many different ways,” said White. “They provide food, in their acorns, for so many organisms.” Oaks provide habitat and food for hundreds of species of insects, which then support bird life. They clean the air and water, sequester atmospheric carbon and buffer climate extremes, according to White. “The way I like to refer to them is as our true elders, in that they have been around for thousands of years,” he said.
That was enough to inspire Jaide to call in other experts, and Dr. Eric Strauss and Environmental Fellow Lisa Fimiani were treated to a month-long celebration of these amazing trees.
Local certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, Elena Rios; Melina Sempill Watts, author of “Tree”; Jaide Whitman, Pres and CEO of CEF, Dr. David White, Program Director of Once Upon a Watershed; and Lisa Fimiani, Drollinger Environmental Fellow in the Center for Urban Resilience at LMU.
On October 6, 2023, festivities were kicked off with a rousing party as the sun was setting in a golden hue behind the Van Allen Twins performing live music in the Taft amphitheater in front of over a hundred guests. Local crafted beer and wine was enjoyed while folks milled about tables loaded with Native American Indian jewelry crafted by prominent Chumash Elder Julie Tumamait-Stenslie and assisted by Nature Guide Elena Rios, herbal books by Naturalist Lanny Kaufer and “Tree” author Melina Sempill Watts – all of whom were going to lead upcoming events throughout the month of October.
On October 9, 2023, Julie Tumamait-Stenslie led a wonderful workshop on how to create acorn necklaces. Everyone had so much fun! Julie enriched the experience by telling Chumash stories that seemed to make the forest come alive. We were also treated to a family of Western Bluebirds who kept coming around to see what we were doing along with other birds serenading us as we assembled our necklaces.
On October 14, 2023, Elena Rios led a group of visitors through the oak woodland at Taft during the regularly scheduled Nature Immersion walks she is so famous for. During the walk we experienced the partial solar eclipse, and the shadows of the eclipse coming through the tree canopies on the ground below was an amazing sight! We were all treated to Hummingbird Sage Tea and Acorn cookies at the conclusion – a perfect end to a magical walk where folks became one with their favorite oak!
Not on the Taft Oaktoberfest schedule – but definitely part of the month’s festivities, on October 20 Lisa Fimiani and Elena Rios attended the debut of a local musical starring Jaide Whitman to support the Ojai Youth Entertainer Studios’ Help a Child Fund. As if Jaide didn’t have enough to do during the month of October! It was great seeing John Taft, his daughter Julia, and granddaughter Jaide, all together, along with Lanny and Rondia Kaufer cheering Jaide on.
On October 21, 2023, David White and Melina Watts lead us through the oaks and Melina read excerpts from her book “Tree.” Elena opened with a Chumash blessing, and we were spellbound by a herd of deer foraging nearby and birds singing in the oaks. Everyone was touched by their experiences with nature and grateful for the live reading of Melina’s book.
On October 26, 2023, Lisa attended a marvelous presentation by local oak expert Dave Muffly at the Museum of Ventura County, hosted by Ventura Land Trust. We were all amazed at the success this arborist has had in the state of California, establishing nearly 4,000 oaks at Stanford University and in the Bay area. His Oaktopia website is a treasure-trove of information about nothing else but – oaks!
On October 28, 2023, Lanny Kaufer took us on a natural history walk to conclude the Oaktoberfest activities at Taft. Local resident and friend Mike Swimmer joined the walk with Lisa Fimiani, and once again we experienced the beauty and magnificence of the area, as described by Lanny, the local Naturalist and expert on herbal medicine. While this was the last planned event during Oaktoberfest, Lanny reminded the visitors that the 3rd annual Ojai Herbal Symposium was right around the corner, the weekend of November 10, 2023 – November 12, 2023. Something to look forward to!
So grateful for the efforts of Jaide, Alexandra, David, Lanny, Elena, Julie and Melina for making Oaktoberfest at Taft Gardens so memorable!
Whats Next!? Our Center has been engaging with Taft Gardens on many projects that will lead to more exciting news in the coming years. Stay tuned!