Event Committee Co-Chairs Tara Penke, Jonathan DiBenedetto, and Sarah Berkus Gower (also Trustee) | Credit: Gail Arnold

After a two-year COVID hiatus, on April 2, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (SBBG) held its annual Beer Garden fundraiser with 14 breweries and nine food purveyors offering their fare along the Garden’s scenic paths. The pace of ticket sales once again showed the popularity of this event — the 400 tickets were gone in 2.5 days. The event netted more than $100,000 for the Garden’s core programs in environmental education, conservation, research, and native plant horticulture. 

At the pre-event VIP Grand Cru brunch, across the street at the Pritzlaff Conservation Center, guests enjoyed delectable offerings from multiple vendors, including sage-braised Cuyama Valley lamb carnitas from Cuyama Buckhorn, served by Executive Chef Daniel Horn, and beer cocktails concocted by The Good Lion using Cuyama Beverage Co. and brewLAB beer.

Executive Director Steve Windhager thanked guests for helping the Garden support California native plants and habitats around the state, ensuring that the diversity and beauty continues. He explained that the SBBG is all about conserving biodiversity as we face the threats of climate change, a task that is increasingly becoming more important.

In an interview, event Beer Curator and longtime Trustee Jesse Smith shared how breweries and food purveyors enjoy participating in the event because of its uniqueness — the meandering paths in a beautiful environment and the opportunity for expression afforded by incorporating plants grown at the Garden in their offerings. Events and Marketing Coordinator Elizabeth Raffensperger also related the enthusiasm of the brewers and chefs, whom she escorted through the Garden during pre-event tours, advising them on the Garden’s edible offerings to inspire their special creations for the event. 

Standouts included Night Lizard Brewing Company’s Piney Double IPA finished with juniper and redwood, poured by owner John Nasser and Brewer Chip Nasser; Island Brewing’s Island IPA infused with pozo blue sage and California sagebrush poured by Brewer Treven Yothers, and Figueroa Mountain’s Paradise Road Pilsner infused with mugwort, black sage, white sage, and hummingbird sage. Other breweries incorporated wood mint and desert lavender in their brews. Some breweries were picturesquely placed amid ingredients used, like Rincon Brewery’s site on a hilltop knoll surrounded by lavender. The tasting experience was enhanced by live instrumental music — guitar, banjo, and sax players in various gardens.

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On June 6, the Garden will open its four-acre Backcountry, where kids can play and connect with nature. The 10 distinct areas are designed to inspire unstructured, self-directed nature experiences. Board President Valerie Hoffman shared how the Garden saw a need for a space where kids can play in a natural environment rich with resources for learning and enjoyment. Here, children will be able to play in creeks and on logs and climb over stones. Especially in this digital age, Hoffman, added, it’s important to help children learn to love the outdoors and understand the importance of conserving native plants for our future. Children learn best, Hoffman continued, when they are having fun, and this area is intended to provide lots and lots of fun. 

According to Windhager, “getting kids excited about nature isn’t about presenting a set of facts or charts or even cool maps. It’s about connecting with their instinct for story and play, igniting their imaginations, and stimulating their senses.” The $4 million capital campaign, which includes an endowment for nature rangers and other expenses, is about $570,000 shy of its goal.

In July, the Garden will launch a five-week camp program for kids ages 5 to 10, largely in the Backcountry. Through its partnership with Police Activities League, the Garden will provide some scholarships.

On its 78 acres, SBBG has more than five miles of trails surrounded by more than 1,000 different taxa of plants. Its 23-member conservation team is currently working on 70-plus projects from Northern California to Baja. SBBG offers classes for the general public. Memberships provide essential support and come with myriad benefits. The Garden is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., now by reservation only (except for members) because of increased attendance and the county-imposed annual visitor cap.

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Executive Director Steve Windhager and Boardmember Helene Schneider | Credit: Gail Arnold
Event Beer Curator/Trustee Jesse Smith and Good Lion Hospitality co-owner Brandon Ristaino | Credit: Gail Arnold
Nominating Committee Member Angela Antenore and Board President Valerie Hoffman | Credit: Gail Arnold
Rincon Brewery Head Brewer Chas Cloud | Credit: Gail Arnold
Board Treasurer Mark Funk and Boardmember George Leis (also President/COO of lead sponsor Montecito Bank & Trust) | Credit: Gail Arnold
Trustee Ann Steinmetz and The Backcountry Capital Campaign Chair Peter Schuyler | Credit: Gail Arnold


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