When a child is asked where their food comes from and the answer is "Albertsons," Explore Ecology knows it needs to step in.

The nonprofit environmental education organization runs school garden programs at three Santa Ynez Valley schools. That made them the ideal beneficiary for the first Rockin' Our Roots event at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard on Saturday, July 22.

Two local bands put on a concert that had the crowd of nearly 200 attendees up and dancing. Although the temperature was in the 90s, a cool breeze provided a natural air conditioning that kept everyone comfortable in lawn chairs and on blankets in front of the bandstand.

Buttonwood poured its wine, guests brought picnic lunches or purchased tacos or ice cream from the food trucks on site. And at the Explore Ecology booth, attendees could make key chains from scrap and learn about Explore Ecology's many programs for kids and adults.

Los Olivos Elementary School alumna, Caydi Dommeyer, is a garden educator with Explore Ecology's education division. She's worked with Oak Valley Elementary School, Santa Ynez Valley Charter School and Los Olivos Elementary School.

"I maintain and run garden education classes with students from pre-school to 6th grade. We teach kids where food comes from and how to grow food," she explained.

"For me, it's all about fostering a connection with nature and our food system. When I start, I ask the kids 'where does your food come from?' and they say, 'the grocery store' or Albertsons'. That's when I ask, 'what about before that?'"

Making the connection between food and soil is often taught via a game Explore Ecology educators call Dirt Made My Lunch.

"We prepare food from the garden, we've made pesto. When the tomatoes are at the end of the season, we do friend green tomatoes. We've done a garden stir fry. We have tea parties," Dommeyer said. 

Dommeyer takes her Dirt Made My Lunch example even to cheese. 

"Cheese comes from milk. Milk comes from cows. Cows eat grass. Grass grows in the ground," she said with enthusiasm.

It's that sort of basic understanding of the earth and food that attracted Buttonwood Farm to make Explore Ecology the beneficiary of their first Rockin' Our Roots event.

"They are a wonderful organization and fit so perfectly with what our practices are here at Buttonwood," said winemaker Karen Steinwachs.

Buttonwood is a working farm, growing organic tomatoes, onions, peppers, lettuces, and much more in Solvang. Co-owner and artist Seyburn Zorthian oversees the herb garden with its basil, fennel, dill, etc. and makes her own spice blends. The 250-tree orchard is most famous for its peaches.

Thirty-nine of Buttonwood's 106 acres are planted in vineyard. Sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and grenache are a few of the varietals that were the backdrop for the Rockin' Our Roots crowd.

It was a largely local affair. The Soul Cats and the Crown City Bombers played many of the most popular rock 'n' roll tunes from the '60s, '70s, and '80s to the delight of many in attendance who danced away the afternoon.

An afternoon in a Valley vineyard was an attraction not to be missed for a few tourists as well, including Alvaro Garcia, Laura Prada Errecart, and their three-year-old son, Lautaro, visiting from Argentina. On vacation and driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles, they decided to spend the weekend in the Santa Ynez Valley and looked for a winery event they could attend as a family.

"This was just perfect," said Garcia, as little Lautaro danced to The Soul Cats. "Everyone is so friendly. I'd like to get some of the wine shipped home to Buenos Aires."

Buttonwood Farm donated $5 from each ticket to Explore Ecology. Fifty percent of the proceeds from food and ice cream sales also went to the organization. In addition to the school garden program, they run a popular Art from Scrap studio, and organize monthly beach clean-ups.

For more information on Explore Ecology, visit exploreecology.org.

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Mary Ann Norbom is Lifestyle Editor at the Santa Ynez Valley News. She writes about wine, music, theater, art, and all of the things that make the Santa Ynez Valley home. Follow her on Twitter @MANorbomSYVNews

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