It has been such a busy week doing various tasks for Puente! And now that I’m commuting back and forth from Palo Alto to Pescadero, I found it difficult to keep up with blogging toward the end of the week. So here’s a little catch up!
Critical Geography and the Cost of Living
First, let’s start with some critical geography. In terms of mileage, the drive from Palo Alto (“over the hill” as it is called by people on the coast) is only about 40 miles to Pescadero. However, due to the primarily two-lane roads that are curvy and winding and climbing up over a “hill” (errrr…we who are from the flatlands refer to these “hills” as mountains), the drive easily can take over an hour. The changes in temperature, population density, and income (though this is beginning to change) as your go from one side of “the hill” to the other are astounding. Regarding temperature, there is a consistent twenty-degree difference as you move from the coast side of “the hill” to the inland side. Rarely have I worn a t-shirt in Pescadero and never have I worn shorts, especially as the sun sets. In terms of population density, obviously the more suburban and urban spaces like Palo Alto, San Mateo, San Jose, and San Francisco are much more densely populated than the rural farmland along the coast. And though there is significant gentrification beginning along the coast, for the most part people with money live in the suburban and urban spaces. What I mean by “gentrification beginning” is that many wealthy people from over “the hill” are beginning to snatch up properties in towns like Pescadero so that they can have weekend get-away homes. There is a small one-bedroom house across the street from Puente in Pescadero. Although the layout is different, it is just about the size of my home in Fountain Square. I asked some of the Puente staff at what price they thought the house was listed. They suspected that house was approximately $750,000. What!?!?! Even in the tiny rural community of Pescadero where the graduating senior class of Pescadero High School this year was all of 23 students houses sell for ¾ million dollars. It is mind blowing, especially considering the nature of the residential housing for the farmworkers merely ten miles or fewer up the road.
In general I am finding the cost of living here to be beyond reason. As I think about making a transition to California at some point in my life, I cannot help buy wonder how someone from the Midwest can actually afford to transition when initially their income is not adjusted for the cost of living (particularly someone in public education who does not have a multinational corporation who will pay for the move). Most people out here that I ask about this issue say the only way to do it is to find a roommate until you can adjust to the cost of living. Geesh.
I really looked forward to Wednesday all week because Wednesday I got to work with the Puente senior group comprised of five soon-to-be high school seniors. Since this is also the age group of students I work with at NHS, I was particularly interested in getting to know these kids. But before the senior group met, I started my morning with a Community Outreach meeting to update the Puente staff on some of the projects I had been working on regarding the 5K such as getting online publicity posted about the event and doing some research about prices for inflatable sky dancers that can be seen from far away to mark an event. At the conclusion of that meeting, I continued my preparations for senior group, and then had lunch with Ben, the Puente staff member who took me to the farms the previous evening. We ate lunch at the taqueria in the gas station again because it’s one of my favorite places to eat Mexican food on the planet now. On the way to lunch we ran an errand at a unique farm that we had not visited the previous evening: The Willow Farm. The Willow Farm is owned by a couple who emigrated from Australia and they are the only known woven willow fence makers in the world. Most people don’t get to see much of their farm/property but because Ben knows the owners and had to drop some things off to some people who live on the farm, I got to sneak a peek. Truthfully, where we went there wasn’t much to see. We passed a few trailers and other small housing units lived in by farmworkers. We also passed a barn inside which Ben explained was living space for animals and also a small studio-like apartment where a woman he knows in Pescadero lives. Truly I continue to be fascinated by the residential spaces around Pescadero. (Keep in mind this farm is probably only 1 to 1.5 miles from the $750,00 one-bedroom house across from Puente. Mind-blowing!) Ben also told me about the farm across Pescadero Road (aka Pescadero Creek Road) from The Willow Farm, which is calledJacobs Farm/Del Cabo. Located in Pescadero with extensions in parts of Mexico, Jacobs Farm takes an organic, sustainable approach to growing produce. Ben explained that they are also an educational farm whose main mission is to teach farmworkers how to grow organic produce to eat and/or sell; they even teach them to do this in their own land. (Fun fact: evidently this farm is the main supplier of mint to the Cheesecake Factory for their famous mojitos.) So Ben and I enjoyed lunch and continued to talk about Pescadero and education. Afterward, I finished prepping for my time with the seniors.
I had an absolute blast with the seniors! They are AMAZING kids. In a message to my boss today I wrote, “Seriously, I wish I could take pictures of where they live and then show you how awesome they are in spite of that.” And it is so true. Only four of the seniors were able to attend this particular meeting, but of the four, 100% of the students are bilingual. They were so open and honest with me about some of their struggles and life challenges, in particular regarding school. Some of them expressed that they wished they had made different choices in high school because they are getting ready for their senior year but have a lot of classes to complete still to graduate. In fact, I think I will get the privilege of helping them with their credit recovery classes next week or during my last week here. Spending time with those four students has been one of the most significant highlights of the trip perhaps second only to visiting the farms and gaining context of these students lives.
I concluded the evening on Wednesday with a late drive to Burlingame, CA to pick up some school supply donations for Puente’s backpack drive. Although I was not able to connect with the individual who was making the donation as originally planned, I got yet another glimpse of a town over “the hill” inland from the coast. Like the other places I had visited thus far, Burlingame, too, was affluent, wealthy, and suburban feeling.
Wednesday was a busy and productive day overall. It reminded me why I am a teacher and what I love so much about my job: the kids.
Thursday of this week was not too much unlike the previous Thursday as most of my time was spent helping Charlea, the Puente farmer’s market manager, prepare for the market. We were super efficient this week since I had a better sense of the tasks that needed to be completed in order to properly set up the market. This week I had one additional task, though. Once we had all of the Puente supplies unloaded at the farmer’s market site, I left with Ben to pick up vegetables from another farm in Pescadero: Potrero Nuevo Farm. This farm generously donates crates full of fresh vegetables and herbs to Puente (and other organizations) each week to give to the single farmworker men who attend La Sala and also to the people from Puente who teach the Zumba classes. Since I will be picking up these vegetables and sorting them in bags for the individuals by myself next week, Ben showed me the ropes this week. When we walked into the cooler on the farm where they leave the crated vegetables for Puente, I was immediately overwhelmed by the smell of fresh basil. It was so strong and delicious smelling! In addition to the fresh basil, we picked up huge onions, radishes, fresh lavender, cilantro, rosemary, kale, and more. This was such beautiful produce. We just don’t see the likes of this kind of fresh produce in the Midwest. It kills me! We picked up the crates, headed back to Puente, and divided the lot into twenty bags: ten for the Zumba instructors and ten for the men at La Sala. After dividing up the vegetables, it was back to the farmers market to do whatever needed to be done. Mostly, I got to spend time hanging out with people from Puente and playing with the kids. The children’s activity this week was button making with the Half Moon Bay library. It was the greatest! Pretty sure I’ll be buying one of those machines to save me money every semester on gifts for my students. $200 is a significant up front investment, but the dollars I will save every semester will far surpass that! And it was super fun!
After tearing down the farmer’s market, I went to San Mateo again to have dinner with one of the staff members of Puente. We had fun just getting to know each other and talking about Puente. Jorge’s job at Puente is as a clinical therapist. I got to hear more about what that entails as well as process through (because I AM an external processor) what I was thinking and feeling about all of my experiences so far. Mostly, it was just fun to get to know Jorge as a person. Seriously, some AMAZING people work for Puente. They have hearts of gold!
Friday was sort of like a day off although I did still have some Puente business to take care of. I began Friday by going back to Burlingame to try once again to pick up the school supply donations. This time I was successful. I then went to Reach & Teach, a social justice and equality-oriented store for educators and families, to drop off a box and signs about the Puente school supply drive. The owners of this store also happen to be members of Abby’s congregation, and so they and the church at large try to support Puente in any way they can. Part of the fun of this particular task was getting to shop around at Reach & Teach. Really, it is a very dangerous store for me to walk into because it is FULL of materials and resources that I would use in my classroom. I managed to walk away this time with only 4 books: one for government, two for economics, and one about educational philosophy. As a gift from Reach & Teach for visiting, I got a gift certificate to visit the deli two doors down and get a free drink. The drink I was eligible for was an apple orchard cider made from three different apple put through a juicer. Nothing else. No sugar added. No water. No nothing. Just three apples. It was the most incredible drink I’ve ever had. I also got a chance to talk with the owner about his business and how he liked living in the San Mateo area. Originally he was from southern California, but he seemed to really like the San Mateo area. He asked me a little about my trip and then gave me some great advice for places off the main path in Half Moon Bay to visit when I finally end up there. He told me about this great spot with amazing tide pools and taught me how to check the high and low tide times so that I make sure I can see the tide pools. I think I’m going to have some early mornings in HMB, but it should be totally worth it! I finished my Friday with dinner at a Guatemalan restaurant with the Puente youth who got to go on a fieldtrip to this restaurant in San Mateo after hearing a Guatemalan speaker as part of their summer responsibilities. It was great because three of the seniors were there in addition to several other youth, and I also got to get to know another member of the Puente staff who teaches ESL and works with the youth year-round. It was an absolute blast! It was so funny to hear the kids’ comments on the Guatemalan food, which isn’t that different than Mexican food but different enough that many of them didn’t like it. For example, our first course was Guatemalan tamales con pollo (with chicken). In Mexico, tamales are served with the meat shredded and de-boned. However, Guatemalans serve the chicken bone-in inside the tamale. The Puente kids just could not understand why Guatemalans would do this! Haha! But most of them ate their tamales. Our second course was fried chicken, again bone-in, con arroz, frijoles negros refritos, y crema (with rice, refried black beans, and homemade sour cream). This dish was served with thick corn tortillas on the side. It was delicious! Most of the kids picked at this course but were pretty full from the sizeable tamale. We finished the meal with platanos rellenos, which was my favorite! If you’ve ever had chile relleno at a Mexican restaurant, the concept is similar. Platanos rellenos is a breaded and fried plantain filled with refried black beans and served with the homemade sour cream again. The flavor of the platano is the strongest, so this dish almost tastes like a banana dessert. It isn’t overwhelmingly sweet like it would be had it been a banana, and you really can’t even taste the black beans once you add a dip of the crema. It was so delicious! Most of the kids couldn’t really get over the oddity of a deep fried, black bean stuffed banana-looking thing, so many of them only took a tiny bite, which was so funny to me because what I was eating didn’t seem all that different than some of the best Mexican food I’ve had. But to native Mexicans, these dishes were worlds apart. This was such a wonderful way to end the week because as I said before, my heart is with the kids.
I apologize for the lengthy catch-up post. Weekend post coming tomorrow!