Good Life Garden

Posted on April 18, 2009 – 8:25 PM | by beckler
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My first introduction to the Good Life Garden was through a listing for an event called, “The California Gold Rush: What We Ate”, which was a benefit for the garden.  That sounded so immediately intriguing that I knew I had to attend.  The setting for dinner was quite dramatic: the high-ceilinged train car display room in the Sacramento Railroad Museum.We suffered as the featured speakers struggled through ear-splitting technical problems and we hungrily gnawed on bread from the Boudin Bakery-a Bay Area business which dates back to 1849.  The wine began to flow freely as we waited for the food, and by the time the food began to come out, I was 1.75 sheets to the wind.  The wine (and the steam beer specially brewed for the event) had the same effect on everyone, fortunately.  We shared stories around the table about our reasons for attending (historical re-creation and train buffs predominated), and I got the increasingly rare pleasure of being the youngest person at the table.  The food itself was mostly good- the acorn and pinenut cakes with huckleberry topping and the Hangtown fry were the standouts- and I biked home tipsy and overstuffed and still curious about the Good Life Garden.  beans

Shortly thereafter, I saw another Good Life Garden Presents event: A Tasty Exploration of The Asian Lunar New Year.  When I searched for someone to email to attempt to get in free (like the spendthrift that I am) I noticed that the event coordinator was Kira O’Donnell, the same Kira O’Donnell of Real Pie Company (RIP) fame.  Now I was doubly intrigued and I had to know more.  I introduced myself to her at the event- which was much more intimate and even more fun than the Gold Rush Dinner- and asked if I could interview her about this new venture.

On a beautiful warm afternoon I met with Kira, and Sal Genito, the director of the grounds division for the entire university.   Sal explained the genesis of the project, which began with a “pretty large gift” (35 million) from Robert Mondavi, which led to both the Mondavi Center and the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.  The institute brings together the programs of Food Science and Technology and Viticulture and Enology under one roof- in Sal’s words, “to bring two strong programs together that had similar focus”.

mondaviUC Davis is in the process of transforming the south entry of the university (near the Mondavi Center) into a vista worthy of one of the top 20 public universities.  Laurie Olin, a lauded landscape architect was hired to, “create a grand entry…reminiscent of a winery in Napa”, says Sal.  The trellises are now in place and it’s starting to shape up beautifully.  The courtyard of the RMIWFS was originally going to be an herb garden in the shape of a cross, “fashioned after monasteries”, but it eventually evolved into an “edible landscape” idea, driven by Olin’s input, and the obvious link to the departments housed in the surrounding buildings.

Genito said that the cost of “maintaining something at that high a level” meant that “there was only one way to make this thing work, by making it an academic tool or feature, and to provide us with an opportunity to do some outreach so we could do some fundraising”.  So Kira was brought in to be the event coordinator for this garden, now christened “The Good Life Garden” after a phrase of which Mondavi was fond.

KiraKira said that she views the project as, “as a portal that allows the public to have access to things on campus that they wouldn’t normally have access to. For instance, we have a port evening coming up with Roger Boulton-who teaches the distilling classes, which are only taught every other year in viticulture and enology-he’s going to teach it with Darrell Corti. Port isn’t something that people know very much about. We’re going to do a cheese seminar with Moshe Rosenberg, a professor in food science and world recognized food expert, which is something that I’m really excited about.  He’s going to be sourcing a lot cheeses internationally for the class that we won’t necessarily be able to get here in this country and that’s happening in October.
I asked a question to clarify where the funds raised through the events were going to go and Sal said, “I hope that we’re so successful that we’re able to fund and maintain the garden operation.  I hope we have enough money left so that the food science programs, the viticulture programs, and the Robert Mondavi Institute can benefit from that…that’s our ultimate goal.”   

In pursuit of that goal, there will be future events such as the ones I attended, and there will be various levels of membership offered for charitable contributions.  The Good Life Garden founding members will receive advance notice of events, discounts, and entrée to special events such as a “good old-fashioned grape stomp”.  After the grapes are crushed, they will be made into wine, and five months later there will be a special dinner paired with the wine.

Kira and Sal both admitted that the Good Life Garden  concept is still gelling, and that they are learning on the job how best to “generate buzz” (his words) and plan events that are both “convivial and comfortable” (her words).  I think that they are off to a wonderful start, and that their events are a welcome addition on the local scene (which also includes Slow Food Sacramento and Yolo) to those of us who are interested in combining the academic and the alimentary.

And how does the physical Good Life Garden look?  Absolutely lovely.  There is a small, dusty olive grove, striking, burgundy-veined chard standing tall, dwarf citrus (I surreptitiously plucked a delicious kumquat), bright flowers, delicate greens, and fragrant herbs.  The courtyard is the best vantage point for the orange-hued and modern RMI building.  There are plans in the works for both a brewery and winery to be constructed as part of this complex.  Robert Mondavi’s generous gift continues to reverberate throughout our community, and the Good Life Garden is an exciting new outgrowth of this gift.

  1. One Response to “Good Life Garden”

  2. avatar

    By margie read on Dec 17, 2010 | Reply

    who may I speak to about a special event in May for pesticide/agriculture regulators throughout the western United States?
    My phone is: 916-445-1707

    margie read, program manager
    CA department of pesticide regulation

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