Tuesday Morning Chat

If you’ve ever driven up Rice Road on your way to the OVLC trail heads, you’ve passed his home, roadside retail outlet and concert venue (simultaneously).  He’s H. Scott Smith… or Smitty to those in the know, I think I may just have to call him Leonardo for this chat.  Geologist, international humanitarian activist, native plant entrepreneur, singer, songwriter, musician, local business leader, inventor, raconteur and overall cool dude he’s got quite a busy schedule.   Smitty was generous enough to take time out to share his thoughts with the Ramblers.

1.  Tell us about Euterpe Farms, any current projects you can let us in on? Next plant sale?

We’re providing plants for the native plant restoration project at Matilija Junior High School, and will be supplying the Ojai Museum with natives for their spring sale on April 14th.  Our music events will begin in April…we get a lot of interest in the concerts we do out at the tienda along the road. There’s always a lot of native plant interest from the attendees. We bill Euterpe Farms as “native plants and music.”

2.  Easiest native plants to propagate? Most difficult?

Oh boy…we use the word propagate…and we think that everything is like a Burpee’s bean seed that will germinate in 6-8 days and reach maturity in 48 days. Our Southern CA natives are not like that!  They are ready to expect the unexpected….therefore they don’t meet OUR expectations!

That said…sprinkling CA poppy seeds is easy…collect them in summer and fall as the pods start to pop open, and store in a paper bag until the first good rain in the winter and just sow around.  You’ll do better than just leaving them, because the birds like to gobble them up. If you have non-native grasses…weed around the baby poppies and they’ll be able to hold their own once they’re a little bigger. Another fun and easy one is California sunflower.  The easiest plant to grow by cuttings here in Ojai is mulefat, a wonderful riparian plant that provides nectar and habitat for all kinds of animals and insects, especially in the winter.

Most of the chaparral natives are very finicky about germinating in pots and from cuttings. They are genetically adapted to things like fire and drought and hard-to-duplicate forces of nature. We have had luck with the sages…white, black, hummingbird, chia, and purple…in the greenhouses in flats and regular misting.  Matilija poppies are notoriously hard to propagate. So is Manzanita and Toyon.

3.  Favorite local trails? Longest hike you’ve taken?
I love Wills Canyon….whenever you get in the shadow of a north-sloping canyon in the Transverse Ranges…it’s like walking into another world. Trees, ferns, moss…I like that loop in the Ventura River Preserve. I hiked to the top of Chief Peak on my 40th birthday….that was quite a few years ago!

 4.  Any interesting geological trivia about Ojai?

Hmmm…I’m a geologist by my education and first career, so I’m pretty impressed by stuff that’s pretty boring at first glance.

There’s a place in Matilija Canyon where you can place your hand on the Cretaceous/Tertiary unconformity…that means your hand will cover a span of time where dinosaurs were alive, and then they weren’t. It’s not like you can hear them growling, but it’s cool to do it. It’s right along the road about 2/3rds of the way back into the Valley.

We have one of the highest gradient watersheds in the country. Consider that from the top of the Topa Topas (over 6300’) to the ocean is only about a twelve mile distance as the crow flies. This creates a virtual toilet flush when heavy rains fall, and distributes seeds and seedlings from multiple bio-zones…arid, alpine, forest, chaparral, riparian….all into the Ventura River bottom. That’s what makes the flora there so varied and surprising.

Why is Ojai red? It’s because the Sespe Formation, which is prominent in many outcrops is stained red by iron oxide. Yes, the rocks are rusty. But it’s not do to the action of weathering, the rocks were “rusted” 40 million years ago in the Eocene Epoch, when they were laid down in a non-marine environment. (almost all sedimentary rocks are marine…laid down in the sea). The Sespe was a continental formation, so it was laid down in fresh water onshore, and “rusted” in place when it formed. So the pink moment is brief, but we can thank another pink moment 40 million years ago.

5.  Rock hunting around Ojai, what are you most likely to find?  Anything rare to keep an eye out for?

You’re most likely to find Ojai potatoes…those lovely river rocks that everyone builds stuff with….walls, bbqs, mailboxes….haha. It’s just Matilija Sandstone, but they are pretty cool. I built a patio this summer by just starting to dig, and every time I hit a rock, I dug it up and used it to build a retaining wall, patio, BBQ…didn’t have to bring any fresh material in!

You won’t be finding any gold or silver like Yukon Cornelius in these parts! Or at least, I wouldn’t tell you about it.

6.  What humanitarian projects are you currently involved in?
I continue my work in landmine action. It’s really tragic what war does with unexploded ordnance. It takes land out of use, sometimes for generations and generations. We clean up mine fields and return the land to use. Well, I don’t personally clean it up, but the people I work with do. I sorta try to help with awareness and fundraising, with my music and a little diplomacy.

7.  Favorite local eateries?
Il Giardino Restaurant…where I play music on Fridays! They use fresh ingredients. It’s family-run. Inexpensive, and big full plates. Gotta like that grub at Papa Lennon’s too. Ordering at the counter and sitting down…it always feels like Italy in there to me. I hate to leave all the others out…Gotta love the Oak View Boccali’s, Ranch House Garden with Alan Thornhill playing guitar in the summer. Can you tell I like music!

8.  You are relatively new to southern California, what brought you to Ojai?  Miss anything about the northeast ?

Originally from Pittsburgh area. Nope. Don’t miss a thing. Spent 15 years in New Orleans. I miss the food, and some great people…but was lucky to get out there before the “creek rose.” Like a lot of people, Ojai found me. Period.

9.  You are quite the crooner, any favorite under the radar singers people should listen to?

I have a group called Ojai Songwriters Anonymous that’s been meeting for about 10 years. There’s some amazing songwriting talent in this Valley, and many of these folks perform. Julija Zonic is my favorite singer…maybe that I ever heard (and I get to hear her right next to me every Friday!) Cindy Kalmenson is fantastic. But they aren’t really under the radar. Richard Kaller is a good singer/songwriter that gets a rare stage appearance. I heard Jodi Farrell…the other night in Ventura. She’s kinda known for her blues band, but she has a new vocal trio called TresCoustics that is really spot-on. Matt Zeltzer is a great, young songwriter. Tony Khalife is known for his new-agey Eastern stuff, but he is a really talented songwriter who writes beautiful Western pop songs in English and great guitar work to go with it. We get him to put away the bongos and play his “Country Eastern” here at Euterpe Farms.

10.  Favorite native wildflower/shrub/tree

Haha….that’s like picking your favorite song! Maybe I’ll take Matilija Poppy, Bush Lupine, and Redbud. But if you like to watch what nature loves…you might just easily pick some suppressed-ego choices: manroot/sagebrush/scrub oak.

11.  What local organizations are you involved in?

I float a bit, but these days the Rotary Club and their youth programs, the Land Conservancy and their restoration projects, and the Theater 150/OYES group. I love the work that Monica Ros School does for performance and youth.

12. If you could play with any musicians past or present who would they be?

Johann Sebastian Bach, George Gershwin, Pink Floyd, Lady Gaga.

13.  What makes Ojai unique in your eyes?

Something attracts creative people here. They talk about spirits and nests and vortexes…but at the end of the day, there are SO many loving and creative people…no matter what their chosen field.

14.  What are the biggest challenges facing Ojai in the near future?

Gosh…you can find problems anywhere if you look for them. Public Education, water, tough market for local businesses, housing for low-income…but if we all just try to live a little below our means, do what we love, care for each other, I think it’ll work out here in Ojai better than many other places. I don’t mean to sound all new-agey, but greed and egos are what create problems, not all the “stuff.”

15.  Other favorite California travel spots?

Meiners Oaks. Mira Monte. Oak View.  Trying to keep it local!

Haha…I love the Sierras…both sides. Sequoia National Forest (not the National Park), John Muir Wilderness. The 405 and the 101 intersection is interesting.

16.  You have quite an interesting plot of land there on Rice Road, what can you tell us about its cultural or historical  significance?

The Chumash used to hang around here. One of the local tribal leaders, Julie Tumamait, told me their encampment was near the intersection of Rice and El Roblar, but the land where Euterpe Farms is located was probably more-sacred hunting grounds….based on the LACK of artifacts here, and the abundance in the surrounding areas. They didn’t “litter” in their holier places.

17.  Plug time, any upcoming, concerts, events, classes you’d like to tell the Ramblers about?

Come to Il Giardino’s on Friday early evenings. Julija and I just released our CD “To Leonard With Love, Seven songs from Leonard Cohen.” A real nice vocal/acoustic presentation that our fans have been asking for. You can find the album around town or at the usual suspects online.  And don’t forget my first foray.. an oldie but goodie, “Your World”

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3 Responses to Tuesday Morning Chat

  1. Suza Francina says:

    Thanks for this great article. Deserves a wide readership. Can you cross post on Ojai Post? Or republish in Ojai Valley News?

  2. Gerry K. Smith says:

    Fascinating interview–from subject to good reporting. I like the Q and A format, which
    restores focus to the subject rather than the interviewer.
    Thanks for the good read. It should put Euterpe Farms on the map–along with Smitty West.
    Gerry K. Smith

    • ojairambler says:

      Thanks Gerry. My favorite interview format especially because I’ve never really done one before this blog. Nice and easy, no transcribing, follow up question etc.

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