Meet Farmer Daniel
5 Things to Know About Daniel Johnson
- He comes to us from North Carolina with deep roots in farming and a passion for animals, education and outdoor exploration…and lots of love for his dog, Sky Blue.
- Daniel kept 24-hour watch during the fires and brought our animals to the
fresh air and safety of West Marin for a mini retreat.
- In his first 30 days, he hit the ground running by helping Connolly Ranch receive the highest camp accreditation through the American Camp Association!
- Just like Farmer Thom, he’s already a favorite with the kids who are eager to help
him with farm chores, and he is equally eager to help build forts and dig for worms.
- In addition to his experience in farming, animal husbandry and risk management, Daniel holds a master’s degree in Agritourism – making him the perfect host for our new immersive farm-day experiences for families and private groups!
Board Member and Farm-to-Community Advocate
Farm-to-table was a way of life long before it was a social movement: eating fresh, seasonal, home-grown food that was harvested, prepared and served on the kitchen or dining-room table to the farmer’s family and workers was as natural as getting outside early in the morning. One of the reasons Elizabeth Healy, a member of our Board of Directors for nearly three years, was attracted to Connolly Ranch is its understanding and promotion of a farm-to-table connection to nature that enriched her childhood and is important to her family today.
Elizabeth was first introduced to the ranch by Leona Egeland Rice, a longtime supporter and former board member, who works at The Doctors Company, the nation’s largest physician-owned medical liability insurer. Elizabeth currently is Assistant Vice-President of Government and Community Relations, and she is also responsible for corporate charitable giving. When Elizabeth first arrived at The Doctors Company, Leona invited her out to the ranch. Leona says, “I knew Elizabeth would be the perfect person to carry on the tradition of The Doctors Company support for Connolly Ranch.” Leona gave her a wonderful tour and it was love at first sight.
Elizabeth and her husband, Tom Spaulding, were new to Napa. On their first visit to Connolly Ranch, Elizabeth says, “I saw what was happening on the ranch, and what a great place it is, and wanted to be a part of it.” They soon had a little girl, Sierra, and joined Fun Family Fridays, which was their first time connecting with other parents in Napa, and they “made several good friends who are close to us today. Since then, some of our kids have gone through preschool together. Earlier this year, several of our families had a wonderful time at the Starbright camp-out at the ranch.
“Because the ranch is part of her life, Sierra knows how to climb trees to reach the fruit, swing on a tire swing, get dirty, splash in mud-puddles, and gently interact with animals, make fresh goat’s milk cheese, and most importantly – knows that food first comes from the earth, sunshine, water, and someone’s labor before it reaches the grocery store.
“I grew up in Mendocino County, and for a time I lived on a ranch much like Connolly Ranch,” Elizabeth explains. Her mother was a single parent, raising three children, and “she was always finding ways to support us and keep a roof over our heads. One of the things we did was live on this amazing historic ranch in the attic. The view from my bedroom window out onto the barn was much like the view from Peggy Connolly’s farmhouse. Each of us contributed by working on the farm, in the vineyards, and in the house in exchange for housing and food.”
When Elizabeth was eight years old, she was put “in charge of taking care of all the farm animals on the ranch: pigs, chickens, turkeys, a donkey, rabbits and barn cats and a couple of dogs. The butcher came out to the ranch. All of the food we ate during those years was produced on the farm or exchanged with other farmers. My mother had a half acre year-round organic vegetable garden. There were all kinds of fruit trees, and she canned and froze what we grew. I certainly understood about food and its connection to the seasons and me.”
Her husband, Elizabeth notes, “grew up in Montana, which you may think of as country, but he lived in the suburbs of the largest city in the state. Spending time at Connolly Ranch with our daughter really helped my husband learn about produce seasonality – which has really improved his cooking! The other night he made this amazing salad with fresh in-season peaches and goat cheese with a balsamic reduction. It was fantastic! When I was a kid, I also lived in a couple of different communes where organic agriculture was part of the ethos. I grew up on ‘Farm to Table’ long before it became hipster cool. The food and being under the stars was amazing. We want my daughter to have experiences like those.”
What would Elizabeth like to see Connolly Ranch offer other families in the next five years? “Jennifer as Executive Director, and her team, have been transformational,” she says. “I want to see the Ranch continue to expand its fantastic programs be able to offer program and camp scholarships to more kids. I love our camps and am excited about having so many different experiences to offer. I especially love watching people get excited the first time they actually see how food grows and pluck something yummy right out of the garden in all of its seasonal glory. I would like to see more people in our community able to experience the whole life cycle from planting, to harvesting from the earth and the trees, and then bringing it all together to the new outdoor kitchen. I would like to have more cooking classes for whole families, and help each family enjoy and understand where our food comes from, how it’s grown, and how to nurture themselves and their families with good food.
“Bringing in additional programs for older children, teens, and adults, is exciting, too. I love the family-based approach we have at the ranch. Something for everybody creates community. And when we raise the money to complete a covered outdoor kitchen area, we can offer more to visitors rain or shine.”
This year, the Dinner at the Ranch fundraiser “is especially exciting because Executive Chef Stephen Barber from Farmstead, which exemplifies farm-to-table food at its best, is using our produce and Long Meadow Ranch produce to help create an amazing meal. Plus, it’s fun to benefit the ranch’s 9,000 yearly visitors, participate in silent and live auctions, and dance in such a unique, special setting. And this year, Dinner at the Ranch is family-style dining, which will bring us all together at the table in a place that embodies what it means to be connected to nature.”
We are honored that Elizabeth Healy brings her expertise, experiences, and insights to Connolly Ranch’s table, and helps make a difference in the lives of children and adults.
Inside to Outside at Connolly Ranch
As an undergraduate at the University of California, Davis, Mark Haley thought being a high-school agricultural-education teacher would allow him to share his knowledge with young people; but after graduating, he discovered that being a teacher in the classroom was not where he wanted to be. As he explains, it was “too much inside for me.” Previously, Mark was a licensed general, electrical, and tile and stone contractor and a certified structural steel welder. But it was with his daughter, Fiona, visiting at Connolly Ranch three years ago, that he connected with the right place.
Mark began as the ranch’s new Facilities’ Manager in June, working closely with our beloved Farmer Thom, and he has “tremendous enthusiasm” for “fostering what I believe in” with someone whom he admires, in part because Farmer Thom has “grown the ranch tremendously.” (Farmer Thom and Mark have both been teachers, which is a bonus for visitors and the ranch as a whole). Mark’s lifelong love of the outdoors began when he was growing up in Anaheim in Orange County where “orange groves and catching tadpoles” were part of his boyhood. His grandparents were farmers in Bakersfield, and visits to their farm provided further impetus to become an “outdoors person.”
Recently, after eight years running his own contracting business and the birth of his daughter, Mark was a stay-at-home Dad. He has “utmost respect for single Moms” and “anyone raising a child.” His wife, Allison, Chief Deputy District Attorney of Napa County, and Mark have lived in Napa for twelve years. Fiona first visited the ranch at age one, and she, too, “immediately fell in love with the place.” She has been a camper and part-time preschool student for years, and she “loves to get dirty.” In his new position, Mark now sees many children on the ranch “love it instantly” as well.
The “huge draw” visitors have to the ranch is because, as Mark says, it is such “an exciting place.” He explains, “While I have a lot of intellectual knowledge of farm animals, I lack the necessary hands-on experience, and I look forward expanding my skillset. I identify with a child who has never seen a chicken before. The interaction between children and farm animals is something I will never take for granted. The fascination I saw in my own daughter, that I love, I see in so many other children.” He is an avid organic gardener, a beginning beekeeper, and he is looking forward to “working in the gardens next.” Mark is glad that “managing the facility means I get to see so much of what goes on.”
All that is part of life on the ranch delights Mark: Dinner at the Ranch is “a fantastic event my wife and I really enjoyed, “ and he looks forward to being behind the scenes helping make this year’s event in September even more successful. The children’s and adult programs are “fantastic.” Fiona is one of our summer campers, and “the diversity in the week’s activities mean she has never been bored.”
We’re sure that Mark will never have “too much outdoors” at Connolly Ranch. When you visit, please join us in welcoming him to our terrific community!
Meet Amelia Gardner
When your favorite word is “everything” said with a smile, your excitement and joy is infectious. At the age of eight, Amelia Gardner is a veteran of Connolly Ranch and her affection for the farm, farm animals, children, adults and staff is a topic she is ready to expand on: “I love everything at the ranch!” she exclaims. “Running around with the goats” and coming to “camp at the ranch this summer”. You guessed it: “Yes, I love all of it.”
At our recent Earth Night event, Amelia was caught on camera explaining her belief that “Mother Nature is the most important thing to all of us, and we have to take good care of her. The earth is valuable.” Her mother, Rhonda, who was born and raised in Napa, intends to “make sure Amelia is part of the ranch forever.” Rhonda and her husband, Gregory, are supporters of the ranch committed to “giving back” and Amelia shares their giving philosophy.
Amelia has been a donor since she was four years old to help support a girl in Columbia. She sponsors children in Katmandu and donates to Lilliput Children’s Services in Napa, a domestic adoption agency supporting foster adoptions. Lilliput is a special connection because Amelia is adopted, of Native American heritage by birth, and she is determined to share so other children can be happy, too. She also spreads her enthusiasm among the members of Brownie Troop 11025.
What is it about Connolly Ranch that makes Rhonda describe it as “a very important part of Amelia’s life? From that first amazing moment of walking onto the ranch, that fresh-air smell, the feeling of being free and forgetting about everything else,” she explains, “we were hooked. The time outside, getting back to nature, the most important root to our existence and our world, is important for all of us no matter our age,” Rhonda observes. “The connections Connolly Ranch has to offer, to family, community, new friends, are helping Amelia blossom, and a break from electronics is very welcome, especially today.”
In this family’s busy life, Rhonda is a costume jewelry designer, “The Godmother of Bling,” and she and Gregory recently launched a mobile photography venture among other activities, they keep their eye on the future, too. “Connolly Ranch is going to be a part of Amelia’s life for a long time. It helps keep her focused on what’s important, on good values such as family and nature.”
Amelia says she has “more fun” at the ranch than anywhere else, and. she also brings a special joy and energy to anyone who encounters her. Connolly Ranch is grateful that Amelia and her family broadcast their spirit and dedication at the ranch.
Holly Krassner Dawson says the “best decision I ever made” was to stay in Napa and begin her journey as a wife, mother and one of Napa’s—and Connolly Ranch’s— leading boosters. In 2000, when she moved to Napa for a job, she already had nearly two decades of experience in marketing and communications in the Bay Area. Her work had honed her skill as a particular kind of storyteller—someone who spreads the word about what is valuable in a product, program or person. When she made Napa her home, Holly turned that gift to use in boosting the organizations and people who make this community so special.
Soon after her move to Napa, Holly was invited to join a community advisory board for Connolly Ranch when it was part of the Land Trust of Napa County. “Even though I didn’t have a child at that time and had not utilized the ranch, I could see that it is a rare gem in this community,” she says. Serving on the board and seeing a working farm right in town offering hands-on experiences to children and families inspired her, and laid the groundwork for her commitment to helping Connolly Ranch expand its offerings and reach more visitors.
Holly first moved to Napa to serve as the opening marketing director for Copia, having previously spent six years working for KQED public television and radio, three years in the arts and several years in politics in San Francisco. Following Copia, she worked as marketing director for Diablo Publications in the East Bay, but her heart remained in Napa. In 2009, she opened her consulting business, Connecting the Dots, here offering marketing and communications assistance to numerous nonprofit and community-based organizations, including First 5 Napa County, Oxbow Public Market, Queen of the Valley Foundation and Sustainable Napa County.
When Executive Director Jennifer Fotherby joined the ranch’s staff in 2013, she brought Holly on board as a consultant. Holly describes the consultancy as “a great experience working with Jennifer’s expertise and vision for the ranch.” She describes her role as “creating communication tools that didn’t exist before to tell the ranch’s story to a wider world.” Under her guidance, Connolly Ranch expanded its presences with a new website, newsletter and collateral materials.
Today, Holly’s family includes her husband, Dan, longtime owner of Back Room Wines in downtown Napa, and 4-year old Talia. It seems inevitable that Holly’s talents, experiences, life as Talia’s mother, and her conviction that Napa is a wonderful place to raise a child would inspire her to find a unique and practical way to give back to the Napa Valley. This month she is launching her much-anticipated new website for parents and caregivers, the NapaValleyKid.com, the one-stop location for discovering countywide activities for children that makes choosing what to do almost as much fun for parents as actually dancing, singing, playing music or walking with friends on the ranch is for their kids.
NapaValleyKid.com’s advisory council is composed of leaders in the community with a commitment to children and education; it includes Community Resources for Children Executive Director Erika Lubensky, Napa County Superintendent of Schools Barbara Nemko, and First 5 Napa County Executive Director Sally Sheehan-Brown. The site’s first guide is to local summer camps (including Connolly Ranch’s, of course), which demonstrates what Holly says about Napa: “People don’t know and need to know what a wealth of resources we have for kids in the Wine Country.”
Holly has another vision, too, of “a very bright future for Connolly Ranch, another of our extraordinary resources. The opportunity for the ranch to grow is exciting. The staff is terrific, and can make anything happen. The new outdoor kitchen, for instance, offers a chance for children and adults to literally bring food from the farm to the table. I look forward to classes in the kitchen for children and adults, too.” She is heartened by the recent investment by the community in the new barn and kitchen, and hopes that through them more people learn about and support the ranch.
“Holly is part of the Connolly Ranch family,” says Jennifer Fotherby. And the sentiment is echoed by the many other organizations with which she has shared her gifts. Holly has herself become part of the story, and one of Napa’s notable assets.
Modeling Family Life Outdoors
When food comes from your backyard, and spending time outdoors playing, growing vegetables and caring for animals characterizes your childhood, chances are you will find ways to stay connected to nature as an adult. Sarah Mitchell Hansen’s adult life is filled with natural bounty and beauty. Growing up in St. Helena in a farmhouse on five-acres was the beginning of a lifelong commitment to bringing the benefits and joys of outdoor life to her family and countless other families in the Napa Valley.
Sarah’s father settled in Napa in the early 1970s after serving in the Marine Corps. He started a construction business focusing on high-end homes, and the family enjoyed life in a farmhouse that centered their activities growing vegetables and raising animals. Sarah’s mother was in the food business when she bought the Model Bakery, which was then located in St. Helena, thirty years ago. The values the family brought to the bakery reflected their own lifestyle: locally sourced fresh ingredients of the best quality they could find. By the time the Model Bakery relocated to Oxbow Market in 2008, they were producing 2,000 of their famous English muffins a day by hand and being showcased on the Food Network. The vegetables grown in her mother’s garden are still being used in the bakery’s bread. The difference now is that the community is enjoying what the family cherishes.
Sarah was attracted to what she says is another “unique place in Napa Valley”. She had experience running auctions for her son Alexander’s school, and she decided to help Connolly Ranch raise funds. At the ranch, she saw “an opportunity for it to grow and offer more programs to kids from all kinds of families.” Sarah believes that “it is really important to stay connected to nature, and to know where food comes from.” The ranch does “an amazing job” and “there isn’t anything like this, and it’s accessible in town.”
During her tenure on the Connolly Ranch board of directors, Sarah has watched programs grow and the ranch expand with the Beckstoffer GRAPEGROWERS Barn, welcomed new programs such as the afterschool program, EPiC, and she is excited about the new outdoor kitchen that is being designed “for kids and adults to have another way to understand the source and value of their food.” At age five, Alexander “fell in love with the outdoor education programs, playing in the Grove and picking food from the garden to cook,” Now, at age eleven, Alexander is among the oldest campers and he “enjoys helping younger kids.”
Nature plays a continuing role in her family’s life. Sarah’s father is an avid fly-fisherman who likes to share his passion with Alexander and his classmates on field trips. Chris, Sarah’s husband, works for a cooperage in Napa and when he is not travelling, he and her father make wine on three and a half of the family’s five acres Sarah grew up on. Four Cairn Wines is a family affair.
When you can take the best you have experienced in your life, and help make sure, as Sarah does, that “every child has a chance at those essential experiences outdoors,” you offer the community a valuable model. We’re grateful for all that Sarah and her family bring to the ranch and our community.
Meet Jennifer Fotherby, Executive Director
Jennifer Fotherby came back to her roots in many ways when she moved to Napa and became the Executive Director of Connolly Ranch Education Center in January 2014. Previously, as the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit, she had relocated from San Francisco to Houston, Texas to take advantage of a partnership they had with NASA Johnson Space Center. The Conrad Foundation, a nonprofit combining education, innovation and entrepreneurship to inspire sustainable solutions, benefitted from this close relationship and within two years the organization grew from serving high schools in five states to serving students in 72 countries. Though she loved the organization, it was time to move back to California with her husband, James, and their daughter, Emma.
“I was ready to reconnect to nature and my family here,” Jennifer explains. “My husband, who is from England, had always gone on and on about how beautiful California is with its beaches, valleys, mountains, vineyards… and though I thought I had appreciated its natural beauty I suddenly felt the same daily excitement – like I was discovering it all over again. Growing up, just like any kid I’ve met, spending time outdoors was what I craved most. I was lucky to have a family that enjoyed camping, hiking, surfing and playing outdoors.” Just as she was considering the move back to the Bay Area, she found the opening at Connolly Ranch, and she describes the find as “serendipitous.” Her friends encouraged her to apply for the job because “there couldn’t be a better fit for you.”
Jennifer agrees: “What we’re doing at Connolly Ranch is so in alignment with my passion and background: connecting people to nature, stimulating a sense of creativity, wonder and scientific curiosity all while fostering environmental stewardship.” When she was a senior in high school, she went on a 36-hour solo survival trip in the Sierra backcountry with only a tarp and a journal. Five years later, she recalls “they mailed me the journal and I discovered I had described wanting to be a place just like the ranch is today.” She entered college as a business major and graduated with a degree in environmental studies, clinical psychology and education. At 21, she had aspirations of starting a nonprofit where children would benefit from exploring nature while also building life-long connections and care for the environment. Her thesis was aptly titled “Cultivating Environmental Stewardship through Childhood Experience in Nature.” She believes a connection to nature is beneficial, if not critical. “For me, I don’t know what’s better than seeing a child playing in nature, picking and eating food from the ground, getting dirty and developing respect for our natural world.”
What is her vision for Connolly Ranch? “I want to see the ranch continue to open to the community, offer field trips for all ages with new hands-on curriculum, offer more scholarships, have times such as Walk-in-Wednesdays and Saturday programs to ensure everyone has the opportunity to benefit from the different nature-based experiences available at Connolly Ranch. Our community partnerships will grow because everyone benefits when we work together to achieve our missions and our facilities will continue to be updated and improved and become more accessible year-round. Ultimately, I’d like people to look at Connolly Ranch as a welcoming place for people to connect to nature and a community asset with opportunities that everyone can benefit from.”
On the personal side, as the mother of four-month old Jack and three-year old Emma, Jennifer feels it’s “wonderful as a mother and Executive Director to see this vision at work and at home.” Emma is in the ranch’s Earthlings program, and “I see her living out exactly what I dreamed of for my kids even before I met my husband. Emma can identify so many different plants, and our staff calls her a goat because she loves food picked directly from the ground sometimes stopping every other step to eat edible weeds along the path.” She is excited to have Jack experience the ranch from all ages as well. Her husband James (whom she had met on a Caribbean island when they were both teaching environmental education and helping to create and build a children’s educational garden) is also in public service as a deputy sheriff in Marin County. They are very happy with their decision to move back to Napa and build strong roots in a community they love.
We’re fortunate that Jennifer landed at Connolly Ranch, and that she shares her vision and energy with each of us.
Meet Chad Robbins
Coming Home on the Ranch
Sometimes if we’re lucky, good memories are triggered that inspire us to look at the world with new and positive energy. When Chad Robbins volunteered for the Creature Comforts’ program at Connolly Ranch and made a weekly commitment to feed the animals, he was also thinking of his then two and a half-year old son, Zane, who “loved being outside and around animals.” To Chad, bringing Zane with him to the ranch was a “natural fit to feed the animals and have Zane explore learning while spending time on the ranch.”
Chad soon learned that he was being given a gift, too: “I was reliving some memories at Connolly Ranch that were a combination of nature, agriculture, the peace and light from the sunshine I find early Sunday mornings at the ranch. It took me back to growing up.” Being on the land wasn’t new to him: his father was a “gentleman farmer in northern California who raised “a small herd of cattle for fun. I was always happy interacting with the animals. “
On Chad’s mother’s side, his grandfather was a doctor with land on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. “He had lots of animals,” Chad says. “Race horses, sheep and cattle. I would play there in the summers.” When Chad was in college at UC Davis, he “dabbled in agriculture courses” and graduated with a BS in managerial economics. He later became involved in viticulture in a family vineyard in St. Helena, Napa Valley. Chad notes, “The connection between my childhood memories, the classes in agriculture and my love of the outdoors became complete at Connolly Ranch.” He soon realized he wanted Zane to enjoy a similar life experience.
Chad believes, “children need to have balance. They need skills in technology, and they need to play outside. At the ranch, they can really explore their desires, feelings, and instincts outdoors among the animals and nature. It’s a wonderful place for kids to play and grow.” Zane has attended the ranch’s Earthlings program, summer camps, winter break camps, and “at five years old, he has never had a bad day on the ranch.” Zane has a favorite goat named Coca whom he visits. Heidi, Chad’s wife, also comes to feed the animals and she enjoys “watching Zane as he plays on the ranch.”
The future is also on Chad’s mind as he thinks about Connolly Ranch. “I’d like to see a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program there.” This alternative way of producing and distributing food “would mean that every aspect of the community is used on the ranch. It’s another way to educate kids about nature and agriculture. We would have room to do a small community garden and sell the produce.”
Volunteering at Connolly Ranch is a rewarding experience for Chad and for all of us at the ranch. It’s a place where the future blends in positive ways with the past, and touches all who are fortunate enough to explore the land and all it nutures.
At Home Outdoors
Finding yourself in an outdoor education center can be heaven, especially if you believe the “most satisfying experience is to watch something grow.” Joshua Platt is enjoying working with kids and taking care of the land, buildings, equipment and animals at Connolly Ranch because being outdoors is where he finds inspiration and joy.
Joshua had a career in restaurants before he came to the ranch, and he left it behind to buy a bike and travel on a journey that he hoped would take him closer to discovering what makes him happy. When he returned home, he remembered coming to Connolly Ranch as a child on a school field trip. He decided to visit again and inquire about working on the ranch. After volunteering for a few months, Joshua “picked up different tasks:” stepping in as a camp counselor, assisting Thom Arcadi, the Ranch Manager, working with the EPiC afterschool program, doing data-entry and helping post on Facebook. The ranch, he realized, is where he now wants to be.
Born and raised in Napa, he always loved playing outside. His mother gardened, his father hiked in Westwood Hills, and they shared their passions with him. He remembers “making mud cakes in Mom’s garden and rolling in a tub she filled with mud.” Gardening is an early and continuing activity: his first garden was planting twelve sunflower seeds in pots, and “these were the first plants I grew and it led me to plant vegetables that took over the garden bed.” Today he still has a fondness for potted patio plants and has amassed a “collection.”
“I have a need to be outside,” Joshua says. “It’s why I’m here at the ranch, especially because the ranch does exactly what its mission says, connecting kids and families to nature.” When he leads garden tours for kids on field trips, he says, “I love it when they pick a cherry tomato and eat it right there. They understand then, some for the first time, that food doesn’t magically appear on grocery store shelves, and that there’s more to life than the building boxes we live and work and learn in.” He wasn’t a video game player as a child, and today at his family gatherings, “seeing the kids in my family absorbed in screens, their iPods, not going outside, I hear my mother sending us to play outside and I’m so grateful she did. I wish all kids would grow up with that connection to nature.”
“So many opportunities to grow exist on the ranch,” Joshua explains. “I love two major things: working with kids, and putting on headphones while working around the whole ranch. I love fixing what needs it, growing food, doing back-end work, and working with Thom on fence maintenance and digging trenches for the new Beckstoffer GRAPEGROWERS Barn. I’m really looking forward to having Thom train me to use the tractor.”
Joshua also has an interest in the “business side” of the ranch. “I’ve had a ton of fun watching the ranch grow as a business, too. Talking to people at the Napa Farmer’s Market where we set up is exciting. Meeting visitors on Walk-in-Wednesdays is another way to help them understand that all we can see came from the ground at one point, from the earth.” Joshua is looking forward to more adventures, and we’re fortunate that he chose to be at Connolly Ranch.
Tracy McDaniels is a listener, and it’s one of the reasons being the Afternoon Earthlings Playschool teacher makes her and her students happy. A childhood playing in streams, riding her bike, and spending days outside until she was called home attuned her to the sights and sounds that fill the outdoors. “The children have so much to offer,” she explains, “and I pay attention to their instincts, in part because there’s the flexibility to take time and do this at the ranch. To me, the children are the teachers.”
“Today,” she says, “it’s different from when I roamed outside and played. Parks are disappearing, for instance. Connolly Ranch is all some kids have. And it’s such a rich environment. Here we see food at its source, animals, and the plants as they grow and disappear and come back. Rounding up chickens to protect them, all of this is about the life cycle we can only see outdoors. We spend the year outside in the elements, happy to be there. And when it’s cold, we use our large motor skills and explore the ranch’s terrain.”
Why does she love being at the ranch? “I can give kids one on one attention because our classes are smaller than most other preschool-aged programs. I talk to parents daily and it helps create special relationships. When it comes to projects, kids take their focus and take the time to accomplish what they have in mind, too. We can be making zucchini bread from scratch or spontaneously having an egg party where 30 eggs from the henhouse are cracked, scrambled, hard-boiled, and served to each other and the people in the office. “ Tracy loves the freedom to explore that she and the kids enjoy.
Tracy’s path to the ranch took her through almost twenty years of teaching in Napa and she feels she “fell into early childhood,” in part because “my mother ran a day care and I grew up with it.” And being here is generational: Tracy is a single parent, and her daughter, Kamryn, an eighth-grader, has been coming to help for the last five years during the summers. “Being with the kids shows her leadership, she nurtures and loves the kids. Connolly Ranch allows her to be responsible, “ Tracy believes.
At home, Tracy has been a dog rescuer and on her small home farm, she has five dogs, a cat, eight chickens, four birds, a rabbit and a fish. Preschoolers and their families are glad Tracy and her daughter found Connolly Ranch.
Naturally in Nature
What’s nature and natural are often identical to Natalie Knight, one of Connolly Ranch’s outstanding outdoor educators. Whether Natalie finds herself with Earthlings, having fun among Jr. Farmers, creating in our art or seasonal life on the farm camps, cooking farm to table, or helping run the business side of the nonprofit, she feels this variety of activities is “a natural fit that combines my passions.”
Natalie says, “I grew up with outdoor experiences. I have a creek by my house, and my sisters and I would spend hours ‘creek stomping,’ looking for minnows or tadpoles, making tree forts, climbing fig and buck-eye trees, playing games and picking blackberries.” If this sounds familiar to Napa County residents, it may be because Natalie grew up in the Napa Valley, and her father and grandparents grew up in the Browns Valley area.
“As I was growing up,” Natalie explains, “I went to outdoor education programs and Catalina Island Marine Institute. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies and a Minor in Geography and Human Environmental Studies from San Francisco State University. These experiences allowed me to learn in a hands-on way about the natural world and sparked my interest in protecting and respecting it…. After I graduated, I came to Connolly Ranch for the Walk-in-Wednesday program and found that its mission greatly connects my interests.“
At the ranch, Natalie’s most enjoyable experiences come from “witnessing the excitement of a child finding a worm in the compost bin or seeing a child’s face light up when they catch and hold a chicken all by themselves, the pride they have and interest they have to learn and love this animal that produces eggs, that we incorporate into our cooking activities or enjoy at home. “
Because the ranch has so many programs for people of different ages, and new, exciting events and outreach such as the Harvest Festival and working with community partners, Natalie is excited about the future of the ranch and its visitors. Her wish for “children growing up without experiencing nature is to have opportunities like Connolly Ranch to connect at different ages and keep a sense of wonder for the natural world alive.” She envisions a revamping of the duck pond and a wetlands education center on the ranch. “I value environmental stewardship and I make a conscious effort to live an eco-friendly sustainable lifestyle.” Most of all, Natalie says, “I love working with children.” Connolly Ranch is definitely a natural fit for Natalie Knight.
A Napa Valley Grapegrowing Family
With their roots in the soil, and their trellised branches touching each other, even rows of grapevines reflect the care and dedication of the grapegrowers who cultivate the world-class grapes that Napa Valley winemakers transform into wine. Andy Beckstoffer is one of the top twenty largest grapegrowers in California, and the largest seller of premium grapes in Napa and the North Coast. Beckstoffer Vineyards owns and farms over 3,6000 acres of grape-growing land in the Napa Valley, Mendocino County, and the Red Hills of Lake County. Andy sells grapes to wineries such as Schrader Vineyards, including the highly regarded To Kalon grape varieties.
Grape quality and land preservation are important to Andy: he was a Founder and the second President of the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association. Andy and his wife, Betty, were named Citizens of the Year in 2000 for their dedication and active participation in the community. In 2006, Andy was the first to receive the Napa Valley Grapegrowers Grower of the Year Award; in 2007, the Napa County Farm Bureau named Andy Agriculturist of the Year, and he received the first ever U. S. Congressional Wine Caucus Commendation. In March 2010, Andy was inducted into the CIA Vintners Hall of Fame, the first grapegrower to receive this honor. The land, its crops and the people who farm them are trademarks of the Beckstoffer tradition.
Today Andy and Betty are actively committed to children, education, and agricultural preservation. These connections brought Andy to Connolly Ranch Education Center at the invitation of Harold Kelly, a founder of the Land Trust of Napa Valley, where Andy says, as a board member, “I first became familiar with the ranch,” which was once a part of the Land Trust. Andy visited the ranch earlier this year as part of the launch of a new Legacy Fund drive. He “met Jen (Executive Director Jennifer Fotherby), and when I saw a multitude of multi-racial kids playing in the dirt and bugs, having a great time, I knew we had to be involved;” he hopes his donation opens the door for others to support Connolly Ranch’s legacy. Betty remembers that, “Andy came home from the ranch and he was so excited. It’s a wonderful place.”
Connolly Ranch’s Beckstoffer GRAPEGROWERS Barn is a new way the Beckstoffers are honoring grapegrowers. At our recent barn groundbreaking ceremony on a special Walk-in-Wednesday, September 2, and at the fifth annual Dinner at the Ranch on September 19, we were thrilled to celebrate their generosity and the barn’s importance to the community: the barn is dedicated to heritage poultry and education in the Napa Valley. Heritage chickens are in danger of extinction, in part because industrialization of chickens sidelined many breeds in preference for a few fast-growing hybrids. A Heritage Chicken meets strict standards: it is hatched from a heritage egg sired by an American Poultry Association Standard breed established prior to the mid-20th century, is slow growing, and naturally mated. In addition, these heirloom chickens must have the ability to live a long, hardy outdoor life, which they will find on Connolly Ranch, thanks to the Beckstoffer’s gift. At the Beckstoffer’s home, Betty has a chicken coop, and Andy says, “She loves chickens.” Betty agrees, “I do love chickens. Our daughter and her husband build chicken coops. I follow their lead. I have gardens, and I love getting my hands in the dirt.” Their sons are involved in grapegrowing and winemaking.
Agriculture and the people who work on the land have a special place in the Beckstoffer family’s philanthrophy as well as in its business. “In Napa Valley,” Andy says, “vintners give a tremendous amount. The grapegrowers want to do their part as a community.” In “representing grapegrowers as a community,” Andy notes, “we want to make farm workers and their children a part of it and we want to contribute as a family. Farm workers’ children can visit the barn at Connolly Ranch, and see their part in it.” Beckstoffer Vineyards is known for supporting their workers; for example, employees can use the services of a Hispanic human resources manager and college scholarships are available for qualifying children of employees.
Betty believes that, for her children, “Growing up in the Napa Valley and having children, animals and nature together was a great mix. Our children built character here. Connolly Ranch has that same mix of children and nature.” On the ranch, Andy observes, “children see where food comes from. Too many of them believe it comes from Safeway. Developing an attitude of agriculture’s importance in their lives makes them better citizens. Open space, and the production of food and crops, is about growing rather than building.”
Of the eleven vineyards the Beckstoffers farm in the Napa Valley, six are heritage vineyards, that is, as Andy explains, “Land that was planted in grapes in the nineteenth century that have been there since. They’ve been in business and farming for that long. We maintain them and bring modern technology to those vineyards. The best grapes are in those grounds.”
After more than 40 years of growing grapes in the Napa Valley, the Beckstoffer family heritage is among the best gifts their neighbors receive. We hope to complete construction of the barn by early next year, and invite you to explore and enjoy this important landmark.
Meet Gene Kelly
Connolly Ranch Chairman of the Board
Legacy is about continuity. For Gene Kelly, one of Napa’s long-time residents, and President of our Board of Directors, Connolly Ranch Education Center is part of his family’s, as well as the community’s, legacy. As a young boy, he played on its hills and explored its outbuildings when his father, Harold, a Founder of the Napa Land Trust, visited Peggy Connolly, who “trusted” Harold’s advice, part of which was to preserve the ranch for Napa’s future generations, especially for its children.
Kelly’s mother, who grew up on a farm in Minnesota, “was also part of the impetus” for his Dad to talk to Peggy about preserving “that cute little farm”. Gene’s father was his mentor growing up, and a key figure in the preservation of Napa Valley’s agricultural community, who “acts on what he cares about.” Gene’s attachment to Napa grew by hiking the hills of the Valley and being actively involved in organizations in the community. As a teenager he walked with his father throughout the neighborhoods of Napa, distributing political action flyers to reduce suburban sprawl and sharing “an idea of the importance of the past, and preserving the land.” Decades later, with the intentional thought of passing his passion on to the next generation, Gene’s son had his second birthday party at the Connolly Ranch. Jacob Kelly is now in college and will hopefully pass this legacy to his future children.
Napa gained a unique resource, and an incredible opportunity when Peggy Connolly donated the ranch property to the Land Trust of Napa County in her will, preserving the entire 12-acre farm from encroaching development. Her only requirement was to ‘do the right thing for the children’. Soon after that Gene helped clean up the grounds and repair buildings at the Ranch so that classes could be held there. Almost 20 years later, Gene decided that he wanted to be an active part of the ranch’s present and future too, so he joined the Board of Directors.
As President of Rotary, he saw a similar need at the Ranch and therefore led the funding and building of the “Rotary Plaza” which includes the kitchen and bathrooms, so that the entire community could benefit from the Plaza and from access to Connolly Ranch.
Today, Gene is the founder and CEO of the president of Accelerated Technical Training Institute (ATTI) a Postsecondary Institute that teaches individuals Trade Skills through an at-home, step-by-step video process he conceptualized, developed, produced and marketed. He is also President of Executive Protection, an international security consulting firm. The Kelly Family Vineyard is another new and exciting venture. Gene is busy, but his passion for Connolly Ranch persists.
Gene sees the ranch as a “perfect environment to discover and learn about what it means to get your hands into the soil and experience self-reliance.” By “tilling the ground, building projects, and developing an appreciation for the earth and for the food it produces,” Gene believes future generations will “see the result of their own personal farming efforts and will better understand that hard work is appreciated and rewarded.” While “farming is a struggle,” it builds “character and an appreciation for what God has given us.” He notes that children on the ranch learn more effectively outside a traditional classroom: “the benefits run deep as they discover nature, move freely-and more than that, they connect directly to the land and what they’ve help build and grow in our programs.”
“Community ownership” is important to Gene. “Connolly Ranch is not elitist. Volunteers have a sense of ownership by painting a fence, feeding the animals or weeding a garden, and vandalism doesn’t exist in an environment like that because there’s a passion for and connection to what is done on the ranch.” A renewed commitment to accessibility and equitability arose two years ago when the Board of Directors met during a ‘Visioning Day’ and “everything changed. We hired our new Executive Director, Jennifer Fotherby,” and soon “the number of kids visiting the ranch grew, the openness to the community was enhanced, new employees came onboard, and almost a doubling of services and new programs were established all to better meet the needs of the entire community. All the time we were focusing on Peggy’s request for us to ‘Do the right thing for the children’ “.
What does Gene see as his personal legacy? He is the first member of Connolly Ranch’s new Legacy Fund, and his family’s donation sets a standard for future donors who will help ensure that future generations of environmental stewards will flourish on the ranch and a stable revenue base will contribute to its growth. In addition, he says, “Establishing an environment where I can be assured that the Connolly Ranch will be here for at least 100 years is important to me. When our systems, fundraising, and programs are sustainable, we can feel successful. Today, Connolly Ranch Education Center is needed more than ever to reconnect people and systems to the land and helping them understand how valuable it is in their personal lives.”
Gene hopes that “subsequent board chairs will understand what and why we’re accomplishing what we do. We must continue to fulfill Peggy Connolly’s wishes: ‘Do the right thing for the children.’” Gene Kelly continues to “do the right thing” as he nurtures Napa’s legacy and future at Connolly Ranch Education Center.
Meet Cowgirl Julie, Farm Educator
This is Julie Araiza’s second year as a camp counselor at Connolly Ranch and she couldn’t be happier. “This wonderful outdoor classroom is an amazing opportunity for kids to get hands-on learning that will undoubtedly enhance their educational careers,” she said. Cowgirl Julie, as she is affectionately known, also has big plans for the ranch’s new after school program, called Ecology Play Club (EPiC) being starting on September 2. “We are going to roll up our sleeves and get into some serious outdoor work/ play – just like in the good old days,” she added.
Julie and her brother became wards of the state when she was just 10 years old. Growing up in an orphanage and numerous foster homes, it is no surprise that she decided on a career in early childhood education, determined to be the role model for young children that she didn’t have herself. Julie understands the importance of developing young minds and preparing them for the future and is committed to making a difference in the lives of young children.
With her own challenging childhood well behind her, Julie feels blessed to be doing what she loves. “Working with kids and critters feeds my soul,” she says. Julie has always been fond of animals, especially horses. “I was an awkward kid — and no animal ever bullied me,” she added.
Certified in early childhood education and with an extensive background in environmental studies, Julie spent 25 years teaching at the Montessori School of Sonoma, situated on three acres in the beautiful Valley of the Moon. There, she incorporated environmental programs into the curriculum and received an environmental award for education in 1991.
Julie also studied with biologists at the Terwiliger Nature Education Center in Marin and spent two years as a docent at the Bouverie Audubon Preserve in Glen Ellen. Her work has influenced thousands of children including her own daughter, who is now 21 and plans to major in environmental studies at the University of Reno.
You will easily recognize Julie on the ranch in her cowgirl hat and boots. She jokes that while she has worked cattle a time or two, “no cowboy has ever been able to teach this southpaw to throw a good rope.” Her guts (along with the hat and boots) are what have earned her the name “cowgirl.” When she’s not learning and laughing with kids, she loves being with horses high on a mountain ridge, hiking and camping – truly a cowgirl at heart.
Meet Karen Kelly, Earthlings Teacher
When Karen Kelly and her family moved to Napa four years ago, she and her two children became “creature comfort” volunteers at Connolly Ranch, volunteering to feed the farm animals each week. It was the highlight of their first year in Napa, so it is no surprise Karen joined the staff as an Earthlings educator in spring 2014. “I love my coworkers, the children, the community,” said Karen. “I love the openness and flexibility. I love being part of a program that is ‘structured for spontaneity’.”
Prior to joining Connolly Ranch, Karen taught 2- and 3-year-olds at the Child Development Center at Napa Valley Community College. The center serves as a lab school for college students pursuing careers in child and family studies and health occupations, and has an emphasis on subsidized care.
Before working with children, Karen had another love — horticulture. She spent a decade after college working in fine gardening, landscaping, farming and eventually in the culinary world. The arrival of her twins in 2007 prompted her to return to school to pursue studies in early childhood education. Working at the ranch ideally combines her two interests, allowing her to work with children in the natural environment. “I love the wildness of the Connolly Ranch garden,” she said. “It’s alive and dynamic, full of surprises and challenges, as any good children’s garden should be.”
Karen received her undergraduate degree in comparative religions at Washington University in St. Louis. At one time she considered taking the vows to become a nun, but instead chose another road to happiness. She fell in love and returned to California to be with the man who is now her husband.
Karen has been interested in mediation since her twenties and it remains an important part of her life—although with 7-year-old twins and a full-time job at Connolly Ranch, she doesn’t have much time to spend at retreats. However, the influence of her mediation practice shows in her approach to life. Karen gives off an indescribable sense of calm and centeredness; at the same time, she is fully present in all her interactions.
The Earthlings instructor is passionate about social and emotional life skills and literacy in child development. She is also deeply interested in the spiritual development of children. “If we can raise a generation of children who are connected to each other and to the earth, I think the world will be a better place,” she said.
Karen’s life outside of Connolly Ranch is packed with all the joys and responsibilities of having a family—including two second-graders—and being a member of the Napa community. “I am incredibly blessed,” she said
Meet Kim Duimstra
Earthlings Teacher, Animal Care Coordinator, Farm-to-Table Educator and more…
In 2009, Kim Duimstra saw a job description for an Earthlings teacher position at Connolly Ranch on a community board, and thought, “That job seems like a perfect fit.” Napa Parks & Rec, which managed the ranch’s program at the time, agreed, and hired her as a teacher. A certified early childhood educator since the late 1980s, Kim had plenty of experience teaching in such diverse places as a parent co-op in Beverly Hills and a corporate daycare center.
Today, Kim wears many hats (literally and figuratively) on the ranch. She teaches Earthlings, camps and field trips, including the new afternoon Earthlings class and Second Saturday programs. And she is very excited about the role she will play in Connolly Ranch’s farm-to-table summer camps. Plans include harvesting from the ranch’s own organic garden, working with local farmers for ingredients and a guest chef visit each week. “I love it when children try a new food, when they are fully engaged in cooking and feel satisfaction in what they’ve created,” Kim said. “When we gather eggs from our nesting boxes and milk our goats and gather greens from our garden, kids get a better understanding of their food. There’s no substitute for this direct experience.”
Kim and her husband Marc, a classically trained chef, ran a gourmet food business in Sun Valley, Idaho, together for five years before moving to Napa. “Food is extremely important to us, and a focal point in our lives,” said Kim. She is passionate about fresh, local food – one of the reasons she is happy to take the lead on the farm-to-table summer camps and also to represent the ranch at the Napa Farmer’s Market twice a month.
In addition to serving as a teacher, Kim coordinates the animal care on the farm. As a child, Kim dreamed of being a farmer, but realized that dream only when she became a mother and moved to Napa. A former 4-H mom, she and her family have raised chickens, goats and rabbits. She has always had an interest in animal husbandry and works with farmer Thom and the volunteers to make sure the animals are healthy and well fed. She helps to acquire some of the animals at the farm, like the pigs (her favorite animals because “they are smart and beautiful.”) Kim is a pro at hog calling and they come running from the pasture when she makes the call.
“I come to work, day after day, happy to be here. I enjoy getting to know the kids and their families. In time, they become part of our farm family and when they grow up and go to kindergarten, I am thrilled when they return on field trips and for camps,” said Kim. Her own family has become part of the extended ranch family as well – her kids volunteer regularly and you’ll often find her husband cooking pizza in the adobe oven at special events.
“Magic happens at Connolly Ranch every day,” said Kim. “Animal babies are born, plants produce food, children make friends and immerse themselves in the natural world.” She was right – this job is the perfect fit.
Meet Josh Sietchik, Education Manager
2015 is an exciting year of change for Josh Seitchik and his family. For one thing, Josh is settling into his dream job as education manager at Connolly Ranch. “One of my greatest loves is to connect kids to nature and provide a hands-on experience for them to learn,” he said. “Nature-based education connects us to the environment and organically creates a multi-intelligence classroom in a way that is difficult to replicate indoors.” In addition to his new job, Josh and his wife Julia are about to have another dream fulfilled: they are expecting their first baby—a boy—in May. Click here for Josh’s full profile.
Josh brings more than 15 years of experience in education to Connolly Ranch. Most recently, he was a family advocate for Marin Head Start, where he served as a liaison between preschool teachers and parents. Josh has also worked as a program manager for an art therapy day program for developmentally disabled adults, as a behavioral interventionist for Comprehensive Autism Services & Education, as an after-school enrichment teacher, and as a leader of backcountry camping expeditions for middle and high school students. He began his career at Caritas Creek, where he lived on-site and spent eight years running an environmental education program for schools and a summer camp that together served nearly 5,000 children and youth each year.
Fluent in English and Spanish, Josh studied in Costa Rica and has a small business leading groups through Buenos Aires, Argentina, his mother’s home. A native San Franciscan, he also enjoys being a tour guide in the Bay Area – and now, at Connolly Ranch.
In his new role at the ranch, Josh is responsible for leading, managing and overseeing field trips and seasonal camps. He will design, develop, implement and teach hands-on, interactive, farm-based curriculum that is aligned with Common Core and Next Generation standards. Josh will play a key role on the management team, and collaborate with staff and the board to provide strategic direction to maintain the educational integrity of the ranch’s farm-based educational programming.
Josh loves hiking and biking and all things outdoor. His personal philosophy asserts that all life is connected: specifically, that our connections to self, others, spirit and nature define our wellness in life. He believes one reason many people struggle with taking care of the environment (and taking care of themselves in the environment) is that they do not feel directly connected to it. “How can anyone truly have the empathy or desire to be stewards of the earth if they don’t have a direct connection to it, if they don’t feel that they are a part of it?,” he asks. One of Josh’s favorite responsibilities is meeting with teachers, principals and parents to build excitement about his educational approach.
Josh enjoyed living on the property at his first job at Caritas Creek. But now, as he is preparing to become a father himself, he is thrilled to spend his days at Connolly Ranch working with kids and connecting them to nature — but also happy to be able to return home at night to his soon-to-be growing family.
Meet ‘Farmer’ Thom Arcadi, Ranch Manager
“Farmer Thom, Farmer Thom!” the kids yell in unison any time Thom Arcadi walks — or drives — by on the ranch. And if he’s walking it’s pretty likely the kids will physically attach themselves to him; the affection for Connolly Ranch’s long-time ranch manager is unparalleled. Thom has a big job managing Connolly Ranch’s 12 acres but always makes time to talk to kids, give tractor rides, offer tours and and share his expertise with staff.
It’s no surprise Thom was a teacher for three decades before transitioning into his current role. He worked with the Vallejo City Unified School District from 1971 to 2010. For five years of that time, Thom worked as a special education teacher of severely handicapped students, and also spent three years as a kindergarten teacher at Loma Vista Elementary.
Thom came to realize that a farm setting was one of the best environments in which to teach a wide range of skills to special needs students. He felt that the tasks required around a farm would provide a good stepping-stone toward other areas of learning. He wanted to set up a farm-based school, but didn’t know where to begin. As luck would have it, here was a property close by, and Thom was able to set up a garden with some bunnies and chickens and a few other animals.
That was the beginning of Loma Vista Farm, a five-acre outdoor classroom adjacent to Loma Vista Elementary in Vallejo that provides hands-on educational activities involving plants and animals for children of all ages and abilities. Thom started bringing his students there and eventually set up an official program called Project Grow. He eventually began working full-time at the farm and for the next 26 years Farmer Thom, as he affectionately became known, was the administrator of the farm.
Thom traveled throughout the state and conducted in-service trainings on greenhouses and gardening and how to mainstream general education students and special education students with these projects. So when the Land Trust inherited Connolly Ranch in 1991, it is no surprise that they called on Farmer Thom to help them transform it into a center for farm-based environmental education.
During the first six years, Thom’s efforts were focused on cleaning up the ranch to make it a safe place for children and animals, and developing partnerships with other organizations and the Napa Valley Unified School District. Then, as Connolly Ranch grew, more structures and better facilities were needed and it has been a never-ending story. One good project followed by another followed my more great staff and more excited kids.
When Connolly Ranch incorporated as its own nonprofit in 2009, Farmer Thom stayed on as the ranch manager. He has been trying to retire for years, but there are still a lot of projects on his to-do list. “Besides, if I retired I would miss the children so much,” says Thom. “So I think I’ll keep doing this for a while longer. I think I always want to be Farmer Thom.”
Meet Hylah Egeland ~ aka Our “Barn Faerie”, Program Manager
The Barn Faerie, Hylah’s persona at the Ranch, was inspired by a visit to the Oregon Country Fair, a wooded, wonderland of folk music, handmade crafts and costumes—especially wings of all shapes and sizes—she has attended for decades. One day at the fair someone asked her, “What kind of faerie are you?” She looked at her short, red and white striped overalls and braids, and without thinking much about it, answered “A Barn Faerie.” After pondering the idea, Hylah realized why she had always loved barns so much. “They are a place where the animals gather together to get nourished, stay safe and find community,” she says. “It’s the ‘home and hearth’ of the barnyard. These are elements so important to me and I strive to create happy ‘barn’ energy and experiences at work and out in life.”
Hylah first visited Connolly Ranch some 13 years ago for her own daughter’s fifth birthday—a silent auction purchase courtesy of her mom, who lived in Napa. The following year, Hylah and her daughter Xanthia relocated from Marin to provide support for her mother, who was providing full-time care for her ailing husband. This was the beginning of a new chapter in her life, and she wasn’t sure where it would take her until she was offered the opportunity to create and run a new preschool-aged program at Connolly Ranch, operated by the City of Napa Parks and Recreation Department.
For nine years, Hylah ran the program and served as both director and head teacher, combining her diverse academic education and extensive world travels with the life experience of growing up on a farm. When Connolly Ranch incorporated as its own nonprofit in 2009, Hylah helped transition programs to the Ranch.
Hylah’s heart will always be with the Earthlings and she continues to be very involved with curriculum development and still teaches infant and toddler classes. Over the last few years, however, she has been training and supporting other teachers to take on the majority of day-to-day teaching as she has shifted her attention to creating and managing new programs and endeavors. As Connolly Ranch’s program manager, Hylah now brings her creativity and enthusiasm for people, animals and a healthy planet Earth to new weekend, afternoon and evening programs, making the ranch more accessible to working families and the community at large.
With a unique vibrancy, Hylah inspires and cultivates a passion for being a steward or caretaker of this world. Utilizing costumes and characters she has created — like the Barn Faerie and Grandma Luna — she playfully brings an understanding of big concepts such as ecology and sustainability to even the youngest preschool-age students. “People of all ages learn best when they are having fun,” she says. And, in her new role, Hylah’s committed to passing on her experiences of what has worked well over the years, as well as supporting new teachers and educators in cultivating their own individual style of learning through play.
Hylah’s educational background is as varied as her many interests. She has always been involved in educating children and adults, starting as a math tutor at age 12 and continuing into adulthood. In addition to her specialty, early childhood education, she had also taught such varied subjects as anatomy, holistic bodywork, art, movement and dance, horseback riding, animal husbandry and gardening. She studied international relations and Spanish at San Francisco State University and the University of Salamanca (Spain), early childhood education at Napa Valley College and has a BA degree in culture, ecology and sustainable community from New College of California.
Hylah has been a gymnast, a dancer, a basketball player, a capoeiraista (capoeira is a Brazilian martial art) and now an aerialist. She thrives on physical movement and loves learning new ways to move and challenge her body. Most recently, she launched Wine County Aerials, after her daughter fell in love with aerials during her summers at Camp Winnarainbow, a circus and performing arts camp in Mendocino. There were no local classes, so instead of driving elsewhere in the Bay Area, she decided to start a program in Napa.
When she’s not at Connolly Ranch or hanging from silks in the air, Hylah can be found in her garden, riding her 11-year-old mustang mare Lacee, dancing to world music or celebrating and enjoying life with her friends and family.
Meet Emily Newman, Connolly Ranch Farm/Garden Educator and Volunteer Coordinator
Emily Newman is a fourth generation Napan and an avid gardener, cook, crafter and lifelong adventurer. After working at The French Laundry from 2002-2004 she moved to New York City and worked at Per Se restaurant from 2004-2006, before moving on to fulfill a childhood dream of extensive travels abroad through Europe and Africa. Emily spent four years traveling throughout Mediterranean Europe, Morocco and West Africa. She fell in love with Italy and used it as her home base, learning the language, making friends, and working in various capacities throughout the country. During this time, she became interested in sustainable lifestyles, domestic and folkloric arts, and homesteading.
Emily first discovered her passion for children’s outdoor education as a volunteer at Connolly Ranch’s preschool-aged programs in 2010, after attending an event at the Ranch. She then became an Earthlings teacher at the Ranch, and has recently taken on new responsibilities as the Farm and Garden Educator and Volunteer Coordinator. Emily is excited about all the ways Connolly Ranch—the property, plants, animals and programs will grow and improve through volunteer efforts. “There is no shortage of work to do on an 12-acre farm!” she says. But Emily also loves working with kids “They say (and notice) the darndest things,” she says. “I love their sense of wonder, which is so sweetly amplified when around plants and animals. Being with them brings out a lot of playfulness in me, too.” She loves to design structured, hands-on projects where kids get to exercise creativity while at the same time practicing stewardship of the Earth. She can also be sneaky with the kids, adding young, tender greens (baby spinach, young rainbow chard, watercress, kale) into smoothies, for example. “In a banana berry smoothie, kids will never even know the veggies are in there,” she says. ”But when they’re involved in the growing and/or harvesting of those greens, they’ll often willingly put them in the smoothie themselves.”
When she’s not at the Ranch, Emily enjoys spending quite time at her cottage in the woods, sewing, reading (always learning), gardening, cooking and preserving food. She also likes to spend time with friends, especially her mom, and attends music festivals when she can. You also may run into her bike riding or hunting for treasures at garage sales and second hand stores—she loves to “upcycle” her finds to gifts for friends. Once you meet Emily Newman, you’ll never forget that smile.