By Jan Siegel
It has been a very hot summer. But there are two gems in our town you might have missed visiting during our heat wave.
The Ecology Center on Alipaz is truly a gem. It is their motto. Their mantra is Grow, Eat and Make.
Grow means creating gardens, resources and community to make spaces out of vacant pieces with thriving ecosystems that nourish the land.
Eat means creating a food culture through chefs and farmers.
Make means supporting local artists and artisans by working with the past but looking forward to the future. GEM!
All these gems can be experienced by the public. Fifteen years ago, Evan Marks had a vision for building on the organic farm located in the middle of San Juan Capistrano. And today, that vision is a reality.
In 1990, the City of San Juan Capistrano, with proceeds from the Open Space Bond Issue approved by the citizens, was able to purchase the land including the farm and the Congdon farmhouse.
When Marks arrived, he leased the Congdon House and one acre of land to begin his journey. He later leased all 28 acres of land and had the area zoned “permanent agricultural.” This enables The Ecology Center to continue the legacy of farming in Orange County. The Congdon House serves as the Center headquarters and exhibition rooms.
The Center has tours, classes, exhibits, and demonstrations. The latest endeavor is a restaurant. One can order breakfast and lunch items that a few hours earlier were in the ground of the farm.
This makes farm-to-table a true reality. Of course, you can still buy locally grown produce on site every day. For hours of all these offerings and more information, contact theecologycenter.org.
Another hidden treasure in our town is in Serra Plaza located behind the bank building off Paseo Adelanto.
In the courtyard of Serra Plaza, there are 18 watercolor studies created to tell the story of St. Junipero Serra from his childhood in Mallorca, Spain through his founding of the Missions in California.
The artist was Barbara Beale. Louisa Cooper did the research for the narratives that are part of each panel. Cooper wrote the narratives and then commissioned Beale to do the watercolors. This was done in 1981, when Cooper lived in San Juan Capistrano.
Cooper gifted the original tiles to the Alliance for San Juan Art in 2021. The Mission digitized them and is keeping them under climate control protection.
According to Rich Heimann, president of the Alliance, both the Mission and the Alliance have the right to retrieve and use these studies for future display. Now, the panels are in the courtyard of Serra Plaza for your viewing pleasure.
The Alliance also has a book based on these images, Who Was Junipero Serra? An Artistic Journey.
You can spend a “Moment in Time” off the beaten path in San Juan Capistrano and enjoy the outdoors and our unique history during this very hot summer.
Jan Siegel was a 33-year resident of San Juan Capistrano and now resides in the neighboring town of Rancho Mission Viejo. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years, has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 26 years and is currently the museum curator for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.