The City of San Buenaventura (commonly known as simply Ventura) may well be Southern California's best-kept secret. An incredibly livable city with a population of just over 100,000, Ventura offers plentiful surf breaks, beaches, hiking trails, and sailing routes for outdoor enthusiasts, along with a satisfying crop of Main Street shops, restaurants, tattoo parlors, and thrift stores for culture lovers. Rent and real estate prices are even fairly reasonable, at least by SoCal beach town standards.
Sure, the city could do with a few more sharing-minded folks, but the ones who are here are making the best of it. Case in point: Ventura is home to the corporate headquarters of Patagonia, a company lauded globally for intiatives such as Common Threads and Worn Wear, and appreciated locally for events like free community yoga classes and environmental documentary screenings.
To paint the picture, below are interviews and snapshots illustrating the shareable wonders from in and around the city:
Totally Local Ventura County's Kat Merrick keeps the public apprised of, that's right, all things local – reminding and encouraging everyone to support locally owned businesses, community events, artists, and the farmers' market.
The Ventura coastline. Keep your money where your house is. Photo credit: West Cooke - TotallylocalVC.com. Used under Creative Commons license.
What made you start TLVC?
Having worked with large corporate structure, small businesses, and start-ups — as well as owning and operating my own retail and wholesales businesses – I have seen most of the angles and players in the business world from small to large, and learned quickly that the playing field is not level for small business owners. I wanted to find a way to help change this. I also wanted to create something that would have a positive impact on our community. When I looked at the positive impact small business has on our country and each city, town, and community, I decided I needed to create this program. I have always had the “Support Local” mentality and, as my children say, the soap box is pretty worn.
About five years ago, I started formulating a plan for a Support Local program. I visited several cities that had Shop Local programs, looked at the criteria of farmers' markets and other related programs. What I saw as I looked at other Shop Local-type programs was the need for them to be more interactive with the community and a bit more dimensional. Totally Local VC blossomed out from this. Totally Local VC is dedicated to promoting the importance and success of independently owned businesses, agriculture, music, and the arts in our Ventura County community. Working in partnership with local business owners, farmers, musicians, artists, and like-minded organizations in our community, we are committed to building a vibrant, local economy. We believe that we can build a stronger economy and sustainable future together.
Can you share a personal experience that sort of sums up what the initiative is all about?
There is no one experience; it is instead a multitude of them. From spending time working on a family friend's farm each summer growing up and understanding the importance of agriculture, to seeing the effects firsthand of outsourcing manufacturing out of our county — watching our economy crash and understanding that, if we had been putting more of our support and dollars into our locally owned small businesses, we would have weathered that storm stronger.
I think that most people want to support our local businesses and community. We find that people just need the education aspect on how and why it is important and how they can support and shop local.
What do you see for the future?
We have a lot of growth coming this year and all the way into 2014 — from children's education programs, the new county-wide events calender, podcasts, and expansion of our Farm Tours, radio spots, speaking engagements, a taste of Local event. And we continue to grow our partnerships with local businesses, organizations, and the community. As Totally Local VC grows, so do the programs that we offer.
Rio Gozo Farm
From their organic farm in nearby Ojai, Rio Gozo's Elizabeth Del Negro and Johnny Fonteyn are well-known in these parts. The delicious produce they grow is available through a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program and a weekly farm stand.
Curated by Lynne Okun, the Artbarn hosts a creative arts program for kids every Saturday, along with other community gatherings.
The Artbarn offers a creative home for kids and community members. Photo credit: Kids Art Ventura. Used under Creative Commons license.
What was the inspiration for the Artbarn?
The Artbarn was born out of part inspiration, part magic, part desperation. The kids' arts program, held every Saturday since 1992 on a shoestring budget, had been operating out of a basement of a church for a couple of years and was not truly able to offer the kind of programming that foster children deserved. We needed a new home, pronto. We had been tabling at conferences next to a fantastic organization, Kids & Families Together, for a while and the Executive Director thought we might try out using his old barn. With a little imagination and a motivated co-conspirator, we set out to find stuff to make this place into a usable haven – or, at least, a safe space to continue to provide free creative arts programs to kids in our community. Soon thereafter, we were lucky to have a group of young, visionary tree-planting folks show up with a bus full of hippies and fruit-bearing trees to share an incredible day of drumming, digging, and planting. From there, propagation of the garden happened, and the Artbarn grew roots. Since then, the Barn has become a haven for sustainable living workshops, multi-media artistic exhibitions, musical extravaganzas, open mic performances, intimate dance parties, massage and flying yoga workshops, provocative erotica, pizza making, and fire circles.... which are my favorite, and combinations of all of the above. We've also hosted WWOOFers from Italy, Germany, China, Canada, Maine, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Virginia, San Francisco, and on and on.
What has been the community's response?
I have kept the Barn under wraps as much as possible, not trying to attract too much attention to something that started innocently, out of need in a structure that was built in the early 1900s. Though it is still relatively unknown, I've heard people speak of the place with gratitude and reverence. People often tell me they feel it's especially healing to discover it, like it's an oasis... something they haven't experienced before. Sometimes people point at me and say, "Aren't you the Artbarn lady?"
What's ahead for the Artbarn?
The Barn is definitely in a transition and really has always been evolving... pollinating, propagating – birds literally helped plant the garden. I've enjoyed the process of stepping away from the Barn a bit, getting in my travel trailer and having a host of house/Barn/cat-sitters... purposely letting it become a quieter place, and the feeling of serenity and sanctuary has been created. On a recent occasion, I helped host my friend's mom's memorial service. My friend poured his mom's ashes into a homemade urn in the art studio and we walked from the Barn down to the pier, all the while playing music and singing "The Ocean Song" (well-known by many in the community and written by a big supporter of the Artbarn who had recently passed). Upon our return, we all ate enchiladas and listened to Tony Bennett around the fire. It felt truly sacred and perhaps a direction the Barn wants to go.
The Bike Depot rents, repairs, and sells all things bicycle. Owned by Shelley Sund, the store is perfectly situated at the mouth of the bike path in West Ventura.
The cargo bike revolution is underway in Ventura. Photo credit: Ventura Bike Depot. Used under Creative Commons license.
How long has the Bike Depot been operating and what is the mission?
I started as purely 100 percent bike rentals and quadricycle importation in 1984. I wanted to keep work close by, since I had grown the chain of locations all over Ventura, Santa Barbara, Solvang, Lake Casitas, and Oxnard. My mission was to dig into one single location on the West side of Ventura – increase the quality (not quantity) of what I was doing, and turn one of the string of outlets called Cycles-4-Rent, Inc. into a full-service bike store near my home. Voila! Ventura Bike Depot, Inc.
This has allowed me to raise my son more effectively and turn on the Cargo Bike "gene" here in Ventura along with the electric bike craze sweeping Europe and now the U.S.
Our mission statement is "Bikes can be and do so much more."
Have you seen an uptick in biking as regular transportation (rather than just hobby or exercise) over the past few years?
It is changing slowly as consumers get tired of watching gas prices rise, but the U.S. still has a startling consensus of something less than one percent of all trips are by bicycle. I guess one could say, "Wow, we have a very big opportunity of growing our industry!" FYI, that is way off from other countries in the world.
Can you share a personal experience that sums up what the biking community in VTA is all about?
Well, I think riding my son to and from school on the back of an electric-assisted cargo bike was so exhilarating for both of us. It was, in many ways, like having a fun time in a parade everyday! I even got another mother to do it, as well. The quality of "getting there" grows by leaps and bounds whenever you get out of the steel box (ie car). At school, it was like having a free hall pass when the big lines were forming of idling automobiles and you just whiz right by them all, winding up in front of the pack every time!
What do you see for the future?
More safe routes to put people's minds at ease about hopping on a bike instead. Plus, a way to carry kids and groceries and still climb a hill. If you have to take a longer trip, rent a car and/or use the train or bus and your bike if you wanted to.
Katrina Maksimuk is one of more than 75 artists who have taken up residence at the WAV, a LEED-certified complex that boasts live/work spaces and a community gallery for artists from around the world.
The WAV complex is nestled between Main Street and the beach in downtown Ventura. Photo credit: Schaf Photo. Used under Creative Commons license.
Describe the WAV's mission and how you see it in action.
The WAV was created to make affordable places for artists to live/work. What has evolved during the first three years has been deliciously complex. On the down low, WAV is currently going through a Visioning process with the help of Elena Brokaw of the City of Ventura. We took a community survey to identify strengths and areas of growth needed, as well as common values we share as a community.
What has been your personal experience of living/working there?
A perfect example of the co-creative process is when Stew Birbrower (painter/filmmaker and one of the original "Mad Men") directed a commercial about WAV Artists. We all pulled together to create a vision he had about "Buying art before artists die." It was a great project. We are still hoping to get it on air.
How has your work benefitted from being part of the WAV community?
My work has benefited from being a part of the WAV community because I feel inspired to try new techniques in my work. I also have worked to articulate my visual representations of interpretation the world around me. Since I've been here, I've also had my first large, successful solo show and received the Mayor's Art Award (2012) for Emerging Artist of Ventura.
What do you see for the future?
In WAV's future, I see continued evolution of how we interact internally with the community, as well as how we collaborate with the external community. Also, because this is a live/work space with so many different artists with different schedules, I see us moving to have one big annual event unique to the WAV every year with all studios open. I also would love to see an artist residency program to incorporate cross-cultural communication and collaboration. Ventura is such a beautiful place to live, and the WAV is a few blocks from both the beach and downtown -- it's a truly inspiring place to create art.
Other Community Initiatives in Ventura
VCCool (Ventura Climate Care Options Organized Locally)
VCCool is dedicated to engaging the people of Ventura to reduce greenhouse gases. They strive to influence policy, provide tools and expertise for lifestyle change, support a localized green economy, and foster a grassroots community that supports sustainable living.
Ventura Bike HUB (Helping Urban Bicyclists)
A project of VCCool, the HUB helps everyone have a safe, comfortable bike -- and enjoy Ventura's growing bicycle community by teaching people how to repair their own bikes.
VC COLOR (Community Organized for Liberty, Opportunity, and Respect)
COLOR is an LGBT+ alliance whose mission is to build and serve a community in which all people have the liberty to dream and the opportunity to realize their dreams while earning and maintaining respect. They believe that the only way to end discrimination against LGBT+ people is to show that LGBT+ people are just like anyone else. They aim to show this through providing services that benefit the community as a whole.
COLOR Gardens is a volunteer-staffed farm and community garden organized to donate produce to local food pantries while beautifying downtown Ventura, teach about sustainable, organic gardening practices, and further COLOR's mission. Since planting our first crops in late March of 2010, COLOR Gardens has donated over two tons of organic produce to local food pantries. In early 2013, COLOR and The Housing Authority of the City of Ventura entered into a contract whereby COLOR manages and develop the community garden at their new Encanto del Mar apartment complex in downtown Ventura.
Green Art People
Green Art People is a community art center located on the historic Westside of Ventura. Their programs aim to nurture creativity through art, music, and conservation.
Bell Arts Factory
The vision here is to bring people together to celebrate art, education, and community. Located in West Ventura, Bell Arts hosts movie nights, art exhibitions, classes (for art, music, and movement), summer youth camps, and other community events.
Ventura County Certified Farmers' Markets
Formed as a not-for-profit farmers’ cooperative in 1985, the Ventura County Certified Farmers’ Market Association (VCCFMA) operates four weekly farmers’ markets -- two in Ventura, one in Thousand Oaks, and one in Santa Clarita. Following their mission, the VCCFMA markets offer the freshest local fruits, vegetables, bakery items, eggs, nuts, honey, potted plants, and cut flowers, all at the peak of season and direct from responsible California family farmers.