Roll and stroll through Hercules, CA

A couple of friends and I have a joke about how you can take San Pablo Avenue all the way to Los Angeles.  Of course in truth it starts at the top of Contra Costa County and runs through all the cities along the San Pablo Bay, ending just a few blocks west of Lake Merritt in Oakland.  That’s two counties anyway, and an impressive stretch of boulevard connecting our historic Bayfront towns. For driving north

Blend of old and new architecture

Blend of old and new architecture

and south, I’m using San Pablo Avenue more often, rather than put up with the massive transit on Interstate 80.  Along the way I’ve discovered how this thoroughfare, which in fact is the historic and scenic Highway 40, is evolving with its well-defined bike lane, offering alternatives to being caged in our cars.

Along San Pablo Avenue in the city of Hercules, there are signs naming the bike lane, the “I-80 Bikeway”.  I love how that label seems to give more credibility to this alternative to commute transportation.  And the bike path through Hercules is safe and scenic; getting to school or work, or running simple errands can be pretty convenient throughout this city.  The Contra Costa Transit Authority has released a draft update of the Contra Costa Countywide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.  Public workshops were held in June to engage the community in expanding the opportunities of bicycle transportation throughout the county.  More information is available on the City of Hercules website:  http://www.ci.hercules.ca.us/index.aspx.  As stated on the site, “If you are interested in the process and would like to read the draft plan or the previous Issues and Options Report, visit the Contra Costa Transit Authority website on the update to the Countywide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan at: http://www.ccta.net/EN/main/bike/cbpp.html.”

I have to say that the urban design of Hercules has made this city very bike and walking friendly; eco-friendly indeed!  When it’s time for a leisurely bike ride or stroll I recommend exploring the up and coming Sycamore Downtown district. At the junction of Sycamore and Railroad Avenues you’ll find a charismatic blend of old and new architecture.  From Railroad Avenue turn onto Santa Fe Avenue where the newer neighborhoods circle around to embrace the historic homes of Bay Avenue, Pinole Street and Talley Way.  Throughout the Sycamore area, the new architecture purposely invokes the feel of “small town America” with the inviting porches and “gingerbread” décor of over a century ago.   The urban design of connecting neighborhoods encourages people to walk about to shops and restaurants and enjoy the wide-open view of the San Pablo Bay.  While exploring on a weekday I saw several people walking their dogs, or on lunch-hour jogs, and kids making their way back home off the big boulevards through paved pathways into their neighborhoods.  Off the concrete sidewalks, you can make your way along the more rustic Railroad Avenue path all the way to neighboring Pinole with a continuous view of the San Pablo Regional Shoreline.

Parks and open space take up about one-third of the terrain in the city of Hercules; a generous portion to consider if the urban sprawl of the Bay Area has one concerned.  In the middle of Hercules is one of the prettiest city parks I’ve had the pleasure to dwell in:  Refugio Valley Park, located at junction of Refugio Valley Road and Sycamore Street.  With over sixty six acres, the park beckons with spacious lawns, unique and captivating sculpture gardens, sparkling water fountains and a calming lake complete with lazy swans a-swimming.  It’s the perfect place to get away on your lunch hour; but beware, I’m sure it’s going to be hard to return to the office!

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I may see a Tarantula and I have to get shots.

In the past I’ve talked about being in my prime; that at 55, I am in my own personal Prime Time. Prime Time is for all of us between the age of 50 and 70 (and beyond! who knows?). We’ve got so many strange and wonderful experiences behind us and we have EARNED our wisdom. (see my post from January) So, with all those happy and motivational thoughts, the next thing I came upon is CHANGE. Ohhh; with all this knowledge and ability to choose wisely, now I realize that many decisions will require a change in myself. You see, I am accutely aware of what and how I did things before…how I handled relationships, obligations, commitments, goals, obstacles and on and on. About 35 years, a entire lifetime, of gettin’ it all together. Now, in my prime I know that to move forward I may…most likely…certainly will, have to change: me. I have been embarking on new work/career/income/creative projects for about two years now; navigating the prime of my life. Today I can tell you that when you make changes, big changes, changes to your environment, body, home, relationships, hair, shoes (whatever!) you will be immediately presented with the big, fat fears that have kept you from even considering these wonderful adventures in the first place! In 2006 I had the amazing opportunity to travel to East Africa. It would be in the category of “humanitarian” trip, visiting projects for clean water, schools, and micro-business being developed in Kenya and Tanzania. And it would include 3-4 days of awesome safari. I jumped at the chance! I was elevated, like feet barely touching the ground at the prospect of me going to Africa! Yes! Yes! Yes!…what? inoculations? how many? five?! shots? needles? oh. And my phantom phobia of big, hairy spiders!! jungle! banana trees! wide-open landscapes! they are everywhere! I just know it! Continue reading

Eco Travel In Our Own Hometown

When talking about ecotourism, I don’t think many people envision the Napa Valley, California and its infamous Wine Country. I live here, in Napa, California and in 2006 when I returned from an inspiring trip to Kenya and Tanzania my head and heart were full of the concept of responsible travel. I had seen the vast beauty of the Rift Valley and I became aware of how our Earth is actually the same no matter if it is the wide open landscapes of the Rift Valley or the concrete freeways throughout California. It is our home and here we are, all of us, all over the globe, digging and toiling in our Earth; completely dependent on our planet. In addition to this, I believe that deep within each of us is an inherent commitment to care for our planet, our home. Africa raised my environmental consciousness and now I view my own tromping around quite differently. I started to think about other “eco-travelers”, travelers who want to be responsible wherever they go and I began to perceive that ecotourism has more than one issue to it; that we can support others in making choices for responsible travel whether on a short road trip in our own region or traveling around the world. I presumed that those who travel responsibly, “eco travelers”, are not exclusively planning adventure excursions in the wild. They may be from the Bay Area, perhaps statewide or international and they may want to visit the illustrious “Wine Country”. In addition to enjoying beautiful scenery and warm, seductive weather, they also love wine-tasting, fine restaurants and plush accommodations. And they will want to know they are being responsible and respectful of the destination they are visiting. Napa Valley is just about 30 miles from end to end and about five miles across at the widest and we have nearly 5 million people visiting here each year! So, I began to research the possibilities of finding tours, attractions, accommodations and restaurants that support the eco traveler in matching their values and commitments when traveling. It wasn’t easy to uncover, but the good news is that during 2007 the county government and the people of the community strengthened their commitment to be environmentally responsible. Throughout the Napa Valley there are tours, attractions, accommodations and restaurants that strive to be environmentally responsible and raise awareness of ecology and conservation. The Napa Chamber of Commerce now lists businesses that have become “Green Certified”, a business that has been certified through the Bay Area Green Business Program (www.greenbiz.ca.gov) and other acknowledged certification programs and “green-minded” businesses that are taking steps to conserve natural resources and prevent pollution, such as using more efficient lighting, purchasing in bulk, watering landscapes efficiently, recycling cardboard, using less toxic products, etc.

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ and it is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. In November of 2006, the Gaia Hotel (www.gaiahotelnapavalley.com) opened in the Napa Valley, setting precedence in accommodations as a LEED certified “green” hotel. Along with this positive movement, a limousine and tour company, California Wine Tours, has introduced its “Green Fleet” of “luxury hybrid vehicles”, giving tourists the alternative to the dreaded Hummer. This is brand new green but there has also been devotion to the Napa Valley landscape and the major trade it yields for many years. The winemaker that first catapulted Napa Valley wines to world renown with his highest scoring chardonnay in the Paris Tasting of 1976 went on to develop Grgich Hills Winery, one of the valley’s foremost vineyards that are certified organic using biodynamic farming. This holistic farming practice uses the earth’s natural cycles and organic preparations to grow balanced, healthy vines without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or fungicides. In 2006, Grgich Hills switched the winery to solar power.

I think the more we know of our own regions and what is being done to further our sustainability and environmental protection, the more we can encourage others to seek out eco friendly choices for our local recreation and leisure activities. I hope to venture out to as many wonderful places around the world as time and money will allow and I also hope to call myself an “eco traveler” in my own hometown.

Zawadi African Tea

Sometimes shopping for Fair Trade items takes more time and effort. But there is way more satisfaction in knowing that your dollars are making a difference worldwide. Our dollars can be a gift – a gift with purchase! There’s something for everyone. I am so glad to have discovered this tea and its founder, Robert Kihanya. Please read on to learn more about this great venture, Zawadi African Tea.

Shortly after my return from East Africa, in 2006, I was doing my usual grocery shopping at Vallergas, a locally owned store in Napa. I was browsing the tea isle with my new awareness of Fair Trade products. In Kenya our group visited the Kimlea School for Girls and I had met these smart, clever, industrious girls and learned that most of their families made a living from picking tea in the Kenya plantations for $3.00 a day. A day.Now, back home in my cool, abundant American grocery store, I looked over all the beautifully colored packages of tea from all over the world. I narrowed my search for Kenya tea, and Fair Trade. On the bottom shelf there was a simple brown box with a black tea leaf and hand logo; Zawadi African Tea. I picked it up and sniffed through the cellophane wrap.
In my mind I was instantly transported back to Kenya – flashes of the dirt roads, the bright cloth, simmering stews, leather and beaded belts, and the wide, wide sky. “Wow!” I thought. “Who makes this? How come it’s so much like Kenya?” On the box I read: Zawadi means Gift in the Swahili language. The box told short stories of “Kenya family farmers” and “The Zawadi Gift” of giving a portion of the proceeds as a donation to the Kenya AIDS Intervention/Prevention Project Group, KAIPPG.org.
I had to know more and researched the company’s website, http://www.zawadiafricantea.com I was delighted to discover that the founder and his company were right here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I wanted to know more about this project and I knew I wanted to contribute to it somehow. Longer story shorter…I am now working with Robert Kihanya and Zawadi African Tea as an Account Manager for Sales and Distribution. Who knew?!

When and why did you create the project of Zawadi African Tea?
I came from Kenya in the mid-1980’s and went to college in Texas. In the summer of 2002, I was visiting Kenya and I saw a lot of kids without a place to stay, orphaned by the AIDs virus. When I got back to the United States I wanted to create something to help. I wanted to create a project where people could buy a product that is essential to them and the proceeds would give back to the community. In Kenya I met a lot of members of the Kamuchege tea co-op. Kamuchege is the village in Kenya where I grew up. They asked for my help to look for a market for their product. Their problem is there are a lot of agents to buy the tea but the system is divided up among so many “hands” that it reduces their profit.

Is it a non-profit project? How is it funded?
Not a non-profit, but part of the proceeds go to the Kenya Aids Intervention/Prevention Project Group (Kaippg.org) to help the orphans. Janet Feldman, Director and Founder of the organization reports to me on what the money is used for; for example, blankets for the children. Zawadi African Tea is a licensed, sole proprietorship and I am the President and Founder. In the beginning I funded the company with a loan from my 401k plan. This went to purchase the tea, shipping and to hire people in Kenya to get the product here. I also needed to fund the website design, packaging and marketing. My former girlfriend worked with me on the marketing and distribution. Now it is myself and two distributors. I also had help from friends and an intern from Golden Gate University majoring in Computer Science and Website Design. By the beginning of 2003 we had the samples and started marketing to stores and restaurants. Our first sale was in June of 2003 to Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco. They are still a steady customer for us.

What is your vision for the Zawadi African Tea business?
The entire project, Zawadi African Tea includes other items such as gift baskets with African art objects. The vision is to promote African products worldwide and for the business to grow and become self-sustaining. My goal is to quit my job and work this full-time, with staffing and partners and that it provides an efficient, sustainable source for the children in Kenya. I envision an annual income that would cover all the expenses and sustain substantial growth. The vision goes beyond the tea. It is to promote all kinds of African products, Fair Trade and organic products to support small farmers and artisans. And I have a vision for a future Zawadi African Tea Shop!

What are your biggest challenges in keeping the project going?
Advertising and sharing the products and getting customers. Tea has become a very competitive product on the shelf; it’s a challenge to stand out. We need to do demonstrations and tell the story. I look for committed partners to run with the project; people who have a passion for the story and the purpose and not just the tea. People who are supporting the project are consumers of Zawadi African Tea as well as well as business partners; not just looking for a job but enrolled in all aspects of the project.

What would be the best support, right away, that someone could do for Zawadi African Tea?
Buy the tea, drink the tea, learn about the story and then contact a store manager and ask them to stock Zawadi African Tea. Be an advocate for the whole project of Zawadi African Tea and Fair Trade and share this with their friends and community. If there is a store or retail outlet that someone has in mind, they can contact us by email: Robert Kihanya, Robert@zawadiafricantea.com; Arvis Northrop, arvis@ecotravelconnections.com

Alrighty then, let’s get started

I was going to call this blog “A Woman of the Middle Ages”, because that would be me and I thought my musings and trips and tumbles now at 50-something would be of infinite interest to many. Maybe…

But mostly I want to keep yakking and prodding about my advocacy for responsible travel and Fair Trade. I’m not perfect, I still shop at a big box now and then; but I spend extra time reading labels and browsing websites of products and companies to make sure I’m not contributing to ugly, unfair practices. And I want to include my brilliant friends and colleagues to contribute their passions and expertise on who knows how many subjects!

So this is the intro post. I haven’t even had breakfast yet; so I’ll be back….
(this is a short post, forget the “read more”…that’s a Blogger thing)