Featured North Bank magazine stories

This category features stories from North Bank magazine.

Theater Academy preps students for ‘the big stage of life’

The Metropolitan Performing Arts Academy took residence at Alki Middle School just over a year-and-a-half ago, and it’s quickly taken a lead role in offering peerless performing arts education and entertainment to the community.

According to creative director Noah Scott, the program fills a need for theater education. Most local organizations focus on productions, where MPAA is teaching fundamentals like breath and pitch control, reading music and understanding choreography.

“We give them the education first, and the show second,” Scott said. “I think some organizations focus on putting shows on, but it takes a special type of person to really teach kids.”

Almost anyone can find a part to play at Metropolitan. Its membership – now totaling more than 100 students – ranges from 6-year-olds to 50-somethings, but is largely comprised of school-aged kids. These are dedicated kids, that come to MPAA from as far as Washougal, Camas and Portland. Beyond ballet, tap and vocal technique lessons, these kids must quickly learn how to balance their classes and homework with six to eight hours of Metropolitan commitments per week.

“There are kids who are serious about this. They give 100 percent,” Scott said. “This is their soccer – their big thing.”

It’s a devotion that shines through in the academy’s productions. Since expanding its mission to include community theater, Metropolitan has been producing well-reviewed classical and pop musicals such as Bye Bye Birdie, Gypsy and My Son Pinocchio.

Between rehearsals, showcases, workshops and full-on productions, Metropolitan has a lot going on. Whether you want to brush up on your karaoke skills with a technique-based singing course, explore musical theater through a three-hour workshop, or go for star status with a premier path; there’s an educational plan for anyone who walks through the door.

Scott said that kids aren’t “picking their noses in the corner” at Metropolitan. Instead, they’re engaged with experienced instructors in classes of about eight students.

“It’s like reading a language,” Scott said. “When you give kids the tools to do a job well, they do a wonderful job.”

This is the big picture of Metropolitan. Scott said the goal is to get kids off couches and give them a reason to do their homework. The structure of goals and expectations instills a work ethic that equips members for the big stage of life according to Scott. He said the result is empowerment, community and confidence.

“That’s the greatest thing – to watch this harmonious, creative environment of people who have never danced before that are just in there going for it together,” Scott said. “It’s amazing to watch how bonded a 6-year-old and a sixteen-year-old can actually be, even though there’s so much difference in where they are in life. It’s like a family.”


1800 N.W. Bliss Road, Vancouver



All tickets available by emailing
info@metropaa.org or online.


Seussical Jr.

Aug. 13

Skyview High School

Meet Me in St. Louis

Oct. 7–14

Washburn Performing Arts Center

Everyone Loves live theater

Converted church in Woodland thrives as an amateur theater with classes for kids

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From murder mystery to Christmas carols, the Loves Street Playhouse offers something for everyone. The Playhouse is a community theater, located in a small church in the middle of a Woodland neighborhood.

About seven years ago, the theater’s owner and artistic director, Melinda Leuthold, purchased the church building with her husband to create a way for local folks to experience live theater on a regular basis. Together, they converted the church into a theater.

“We tore out the pews, used the pulpit as the ticket counter up front, built this wall to hide the bathrooms and renovated the back,” recalled Leuthold. And now, with the stage dominating the room, clouds painted on the ceiling and posters of productions decorating the walls, you know you are in a theater.

In 2007, Leuthold started teaching classes to students and produced “The Emperor’s New Clothes” with them. The classes continue each year.

“This summer we did a two-week theater camp for kids ages 6 to 18,” she said. “We teach them different techniques, theater etiquette and improvisation games.” At the end of the camp, the students have the opportunity to star in a real play, for a real audience.

The classes have been very successful. Leuthold now has about 60 students in different groups; in 2007 there were only 10. Some of the early students have stayed with the theater. “One of them, who was quite young when we started, was just in my last adult show,” said Leuthold. “It’s fun to see them grow, change and then stay to continue learning.”

For regular shows, Leuthold calls for auditions. She advertises in the newspapers, sends out press releases and has 800 people on her mailing list. All of the actors and crew members are volunteers.

“As a community theater I can’t pay – I don’t have that kind of income” said Leuthold. And, she wants to keep the prices down to keep the theater accessible. “If I had $25 tickets, like the larger theaters, I could pay my actors. But right now, what I charge pays for the royalties, the costumes, the lights, the scripts. It’s expensive to put a show on and the income just covers that.”

Other income comes from varied local businesses such as the Woodland branch of Columbia Bank, Port of Woodland, Oak Tree Restaurant, Lewis River Golf Course, Woodland Truckline, Columbia River Carbonates and New Phoenix and Last Frontier Casino.

“Business sponsors contribute anywhere from $500 to $2,500. They helps us and I advertise for them – that help us keep our doors open.”

Unlike most community theaters, the Loves Street Playhouse is not a nonprofit organization but a sole proprietorship, meaning that donations are not tax exempt.

“I wanted to maintain control of what … gets put on the stage,” said Leuthold. “Once I turn it over to a board of directors, they may have my vision for a while, but will it always stay that way?”



126 Loves Ave., Woodland



All tickets available online


Urban entrepreneurship

New market creates connections between backyard growers and buyers

story + photos by mary preiser potts

Urban Growers Market
Second Fridays (next one Friday June 10!
2315 Main St., Vancouver
(One World Merchants parking lot)


Embarking on its first year, the Urban Growers Market is an evolution of Craft in the Village, started in 2009 by Chris Stevens of NW Shirts and Liz Halili of One World Merchants. The new market brings together a mix of backyard growers, small farmers and food artisans, as well as artists and crafters. It features a co-op table run by Urban Abundance, a barter table where backyard farmers can swap produce, and a table where fresh eggs and plant starts are offered by Posey Patch.

You may even see a table of budding child gardeners trade and sell their own fresh produce.

A swift outpouring of support got the market off the ground. In just a few days, a Kickstarter campaign raised money for permits and fees. Sponsorships from local businesses followed. Other fundraisers included the Vancouver Vixen (skateboard) Benefit Race sponsored by NW Shirts, as well as a silent auction and concert at the Brickhouse organized by Anni Becker.

“The Urban Growers Market has been fully funded by the community, 100 percent,” Halili said.

The local food movement in Vancouver is already strong. As the UGM founders see it, the more options there are for buying local, the better, especially as people become increasingly concerned about their food sources. This is evidenced by the proliferation of community-supported agriculture farms and farmers markets in recent years.

“All of the neighborhoods around here are very interested in buying local. It’s just giving them another option for a local, community, family event,” said Sunrise O’Mahoney, a co-founder of the Urban Growers Market, alongside Halili and Stevens.

Bigger than the sum of its parts, the market aims to serve as a community gathering place. In a city with low walkability in many areas, the founders hope to provide people with a reason to get outside, walk around and get to know their neighbors.

“This is just something that oil has done away with. People don’t know their neighbors…. I would just like for people to see how closely tied we are,” Stevens said.

A backyard grower and mother of three, Erica Barnes-Davis sells produce via the Urban Abundance co-op table. She thought participating in the market would be a good way to educate her children about where their food comes from.

“It’s so hard for kids to know about seasons for foods,” she said, “since we can get anything anytime from some part of the world.”

The ‘wow’ factor

Artistic Home and Garden makes DIY concrete projects simple and satisfying

Artistic Home and Garden
421 N.E. Cedar St., Camas

In a time of slumped home prices and a still-sludgy real estate market, homeowners are looking to create a “wow” factor in their yards and gardens. Artistic Home and Garden has been providing that wow factor for more than 14 years. Warehoused in Camas, the business that Tammy Ramadan and her husband Farouk started in 1997 has grown exponentially over the years and has garnered customers and fans all over the world, said Tammy Ramadan. “For some reason,” she laughed, “Norway loves us!”

Artistic Home and Garden specializes in molds for concrete items such as stepping stones, benches, birdbaths and fountains.

The company has recently carved out a niche creating architectural-style molds for concrete balusters, railings and structural columns. Farouk Ramadan is an architect and the designer of the company’s 50 unique molds, while Tammy Ramadan is a history buff and offers, as she puts it, the average homeowner perspective. Each mold tends to convey some historical reference or significance, particularly to the Northwest.

The company manufactures its molds in Washington using Pillar Plastics in Washougal for its injection molded designs and Accel in Seattle, previously contracted with a company located in the Orchards area of Clark County.

“We’ve had the opportunity to make [our molds] overseas, but we are keeping jobs here,” said Tammy Ramadan.

While the majority of Artistic Home and Garden customers are do-it-yourselfers, a fast-growing number are contractors who have made finished products from the molds part of their product offering. For the relatively low price of an injection mold, the contractor can make up to 100 reproductions of any one item before the mold begins to wear out. In the residential line, molds can last up to 50 reproductions, inspiring ubiquitous garden art projects and gift items.

Tammy Ramadan has a great rapport with her customers. They call and email to ask about products, double check instructions, offer feedback on their projects and, best of all, send photos of beloved finished works. Tammy said a lot of her ideas for molds come directly from customers, such as the balusters which are the company’s second biggest seller.

Quite a lot of customer interaction happens through the company’s website, which includes instruction downloads and videos. Customers are “really into home improvement, into nesting and making their homes beautiful,” said Tammy Ramadan. “They have the tactile experience of making their [item] on their own and they are so surprised and happy.”

–Jessica Swanson

SW WA foreclosure resources

In the summer edition of North Bank Magazine, which will be released on Friday, there is a story about the continuing problem of foreclosures in Southwest Washington by writer Jodie Gilmore. Many local resources are available for those facing foreclosure, as well as the Foreclosure Fairness Act, a Washington bill that was signed into law on April 14. If you or someone you know is considering foreclosure, read on….

Foreclosure Fairness Act

The Foreclosure Fairness Act attempts to reduce much of the frustration experienced by homeowners trying to communicate with their banks about mortgage modifications and foreclosure procedures. Its aim is to stem the flow of foreclosures in the state.

“Right now, communication isn’t happening on both sides,” said Alex Kamaunu, executive director and counselor at the Family Financial Resource Center (FFRC) in Longview, which helps Cowlitz and neighboring county residents with mortgage default issues.

Advocates of the bill, said Kamaunu, simply want lenders to take Washington state homeowners and their problems seriously.

Among other things, the law:

  • Requires lenders to communicate early in the foreclosure process to give homeowners the best opportunities to get help from a HUD-approved foreclosure counseling agency.
  • Outlines a mediation process.
  • Establishes a $250 fee on each notice of default, payable by the lender. The fee will primarily fund more housing counselors.

Community resources

HUD-approved foreclosure counseling agencies:

  • Community Housing Resource Center (Vancouver) – serves Clark County and northwest Oregon. 360-690-449
  • Family Finance Resource Center (Longview) – serves several counties, including Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, and Pacific. 360-423-9197

The following organizations can help with other financial issues, such as credit counseling, utility bill vouchers, home repairs, etc.

  • Financial Independence Center (Longview) — serves Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties. 360-425-343
  • Clark County Community Action Program (Vancouver) — serves Clark county. 360-397-2130
  • Washington Gorge Action Programs. Serves counties in the Columbia Gorge. 509-493-2662
  • Coastal Community Action Program. Serves counties on the Pacific coast. 800-828-4883

On the web





Friday Fiver: Applewood!

Erika Albright won $5 to spend at Applewood Restaurant and Bar in last week's Friday Fiver giveaway!

Applewood is located at 2005 S.E 192nd Avenue in between Vancouver and Camas. The amazing "Chef Peter" and the story of his globetrotting inspiration will be featured in the next North Bank Magazine coming out in May! Applewood is a full restaurant, bar and well-loved catering service focused on Northwest flavors. Find Applewood on Facebook.


Early Intervention Resources

Contact Information for Birth-to-Three Early Childhood Intervention Programs in Southwest Washington

Educational Opportunities for & Family
Vancouver, WA

Cowlitz & Wahkiakum                                                          
Progress Center Inc.   
Longview, WA

Lori Carpenter
Longview School District

ESD 112                                             
Vancouver, WA                                              

Rosanne McPhail
ESD 112

ESD 112                                             
Vancouver, WA                                              

Hillary Brunton
White Salmon, WA

Or check out this page of the Washington State Early Support for Infants & Toddlers Contact Directory: http://www.del.wa.gov/publications/esit/docs/ContactsDirectory.pdf

Helpful Websites

The Progress Center in Longview, Washington—serves Cowlitz & Wahkiakum counties

Educational Opportunities for Children & Families (EOCF)—serves Clark County

Educational Service District #112—serves Clark, Pacific, Wahkiakum, Cowlitz, Skamania and Klickitat counties

National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center—has lots of helpful links and information

SELF—a network of resources to serve the needs of children aged birth to 5, families, providers, and the community at large

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)—a federal program for low-income women, and children up to age five who are at nutritional risk

Lincoln’s Gallery is fresh and laid back

lincolnsgalleryBy Jessica Swanson
Photo by Todd Gunderson

Last September, an art gallery Vancouver was looking for opened on West Ninth Street. Lincoln’s Gallery, born by local alternative folk band Lincoln’s Beard, is fresh and laid back. You won’t find framing or art supplies here – you may not even find the doors open, but when they are, feel free to sit on the couch, nurse a bottle of water and soak up the Renaissance aesthetic of its owners, Tyler Morgan, Kris Chrisopulos and Dwayne Spence.

Kris is an art teacher at Prairie High School, while Tyler teaches history in Camas. Dwayne is long a music promoter in the Vancouver area and an artist who has shown in other venues. In the band, Tyler plays trumpet, keys, glockenspiel, mandolin and sings; Kris plays guitar and sings; and Dwayne plays bass, banjo and sings back-up. The band has one full-length record, Our American Cousin, and will soon be releasing another.

“There aren’t too many relationships you have where you can do something like this,” said Tyler.

Tyler and Kris have no experience running a gallery and say they had no loftier intentions than creating a space where they could play, practice and hang friends’ art, as well as their own. But they are already booking months out and have shown local artists such as Reid Trevarthen, Selfless Creations, Anni Becker, Mitch Tarbutton and James Jacob. While Tyler said most of the off-the-street inquiries are about the coin shop next door, the first opening was shoulder-to-shoulder people. The band plays at each opening and uses the space primarily to practice.

Kris said the concept for the gallery came together organically, and stays together because people keep supporting them. He said it was something “I’d like to see in the place where I live.”

Artists and friends sometimes volunteer to keep open hours for the gallery – otherwise it’s open on First Fridays, other Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and by appointment.

The gallery fronts a space leased by fellow artist Brian Ripp, owner of Divergent Clothing.

“Brian has been a great influence,” said Kris, who collaborates with him on artwork. Kris said running a gallery and working with other artists inspires him to stay in the studio.

“From the art standpoint, I have produced more art than I ever have,” said Kris. And he added, “if somebody backs out, it’s up to you to fill the wall.”

Lincoln’s Gallery
106/108 W. Ninth St., Vancouver

Businesses support the 3/50 Project

VintageBooksBy Jessica Swanson
Photos by Todd Gunderson

The 3/50 Project, launched a year ago by a Minneapolis retail consultant and former shopkeeper, has inspired thousands of businesses across the country to educate their customers on the importance of shopping locally. The reason it worked? It gives customers specific instructions and retailers simple tools.

Donna Jensen popped 3/50 Project flyers into her customers’ bags whenever they bought something at her Washougal yarn shop, It’s a Crewel World Yarn and Stitchery Shop. She printed up the flyer offered at www.the350project.net. It explains the simple concept: choose three independently owned brick-and-mortar businesses and spend $50 at them each month.

Donna, who sold her business after 24 years to Washougal resident and longtime customer Jennifer Powell in April, felt it was her job to educate her customers about how crucial it is to shop locally.

“I don’t think they have a clue,” she said. “I think they will go where they can best spend their money, and they spend $10 in gas to save a buck.”

The flyers spell out the benefits of shopping locally in black and white: “If just half the employed U.S. population spent $50 each month in independently owned businesses,” it reads, “their purchases would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue. For every $100 spent in independently owned stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home.”

Donna said her customers would come in and show her yarn they bought on the Internet, or look at her yarn and then go find a better deal online.

“They tell me they didn’t have to pay tax and all this,” she said, “but the shipping is more than the tax would be and (shopping locally would) keep the tax dollars at home.”

Jennifer is going to support local spending in new ways when she takes over the business. She will feature yarn from Clark County alpaca and sheep, and she plans to connect those learning to knit with local designers who can help them bring their visions to life for a small fee.

Becky Milner has owned a “bricks-and-mortar” business in Vancouver for 35 years, Vintage Books. She learned about The 3/50 Project from one of the booksellers associations she belongs to. She keeps the 3/50 poster in her window and makes a point of thanking customers for shopping in the store, tailoring merchandise to regulars’ taste and frequenting other independent businesses.

But Becky’s business depends on the sales that the store does online, theoretically taking money out of the communities that those online customers live in. Very early in the store’s life, when its focus was automotive manuals and classic car ephemera, Becky offered a mail order catalog. The store started selling online in 1994 and today is considering social media. Without the online traffic, her business may not exist at all.

“The extra 20 to 25 percent (in sales) are really important to us,” she said. “We carry books that our local customers wouldn’t want. It lets us carry a broader selection of books. Technology is always changing, as are the avenues for selling books.”

Wendy Kosloski’s Longview business, Teague’s Interiors, is also a supporter of The 3/50 Project. (Businesses can be listed on the project’s website as “supporters.”) The fact that materials are available make it easy, and she said “it’s nice to see a larger group of people” pushing consumers to shop in their own towns and neighborhoods.

Wendy said the fact that 2009 ended with seven new businesses in downtown Longview is “a sign of the upturn,” but that the downturn may have actually helped some independent businesses stay afloat.

“There are things about the recession, like tightening your belt and watching gas, that helped us,” she said.

Wendy also believes that online shopping has hurt physical shops, but her store is somewhat protected because it is “custom decorating with a galley and boutique,” and her services must be done in person.

Wendy is going far beyond flyers and posters to support local businesses, especially those with a creative angle. The upper floor of her building, the historic Title Building, is now the Working Art Center. Seven connected commercial spaces with access to shared common areas are for lease at $300 a month. They are being marketed to studio artists and small businesses. In the Commerce Building next door, seven studio apartments are for rent, creating a charming and historic live-work environment unique in Longview.

As Wendy sees it, “independent businesses offer knowledge and service close to home and out of the ordinary.” And she, like her indie counterparts in Southwest Washington, continue to educate their customers and support each other.

“When I go into a shop,” said Becky Milner, “I say ‘Thank you for being here. Thank you for being independent.’”

Gardening for life

Urban Farm School teaches people how to love their gardens


Submitted photo


Kendra Pearce and Toree Hiebert met in 2000. As soon as Kendra saw freshly canned foods stacked floor to ceiling in Toree’s house, she knew they were kindred spirits.

Both women moved to large acreages with their families, Toree to La Center and Kendra to Amboy and were farming and gardening for pleasure and food; pretty soon they had partnered up on a little Community Supported Agriculture operation, where they sold small shares of food they were growing. Eventually the two moved back toward the city, Toree to Vancouver and Kendra to downtown Ridgefield, where they continued to raise vegetables and ornamentals.

“We couldn’t give it up,” said Toree. “We had to do what we could in the
space we had.”

Toree worked as an elementary school teacher, while Kendra did environmental education for the Naturally Beautiful Backyards Program at Clark County.

“One day, I approached her and said ‘I had an epiphany,’” said Toree. “I was trying to find a way to bring everything together. I’m a teacher. I’m a mom who likes to grow good food for my kinds. I’m a farm girl at heart.”


Submitted photo

That epiphany is now known as Urban Farm School.

Complementing each other’s styles and interests, the two women have formed a company that capitalizes, if unintentionally, on a back-to-the-land trend among Americans that appears particularly strong in Southwest Washington. UFS offers more than 40 different hands-on workshops throughout the year, including classes on canning, extending the garden harvest, freezing and drying, different kinds of composting, basic garden design, seed saving and converting grass to food production. The classes are nearly all full in the summer and popular year round.

In addition, the women teach a series of family-oriented classes, lead local field trips and organize springtime and harvest sales and
seed exchanges.

Toree offers in-home garden consultations, mainly in the spring. She also offers ongoing tutorials, which begin with a one-hour consultation for $50 and continue weekly at $25 for a half-hour. Toree’s service bridges the gap between self-teaching and hiring a landscape designer, which can be much more costly. That said, the two are thinking about pursuing a landscape design certification for Toree to continue to add value to the company.

Kendra handles the organization’s outreach, including its website and blog, marketing and administration. For her, it is full-time work from her 100-year-old home and small urban lot in Ridgefield. In her spare time, Kendra cultivates an ever-expanding food garden and has started dabbling in ornamentals, with Toree’s encouragement.toreekendraatcsa

Urban Farm School’s “GardenforLife” parties are a particularly innovative offering. GardenforLife parties are privately commissioned garden parties hosted at a home or other place of the client’s choosing. Kendra and Toree offer activities and teaching on a theme. Friends, family or colleagues are invited to learn a new skill over the space of two hours. Some party themes include Fabulous Fruits, Container Gardening, Healthy Soil, Healthy Food, Preservation Basics and From Lawn to Food: Starting your Vegetable Garden. Hosts are also welcome to come up with their own ideas. Each party costs $200 for a two-hour session that includes instruction, educational materials, door prizes and a host gift, and is limited to 15 guests.

“It’s like a Pampered Chef party without all the crap,” joked Kendra. Instead, she said, it’s about learning a skill with family and friends, “and keeping it for a lifetime.”

Kendra and Toree are passionate about creating a connection between food production and consumption. Too often, they hear kids saying food “comes from the store.” But they don’t bring their politics into the classroom. Kendra said their typical student is a mom who wants to get the most out of a little garden to feed her family, someone who says, “I want to do this, but I don’t know where to start.”

“We see that often this stuff builds community,” said Toree, who watches her students sharing ideas and stories after class. Some of these casual relationships turn into friendships.

Kendra has seen it at work in her own life.

“No one (in my neighborhood) talked to me until I put in the garden,” said Kendra. “Now, I know all my neighbors.”

Urban Farm School recently began offering brown bag lunches and intends to reach out to corporations and other organizations interested in bringing these kinds of skills to their employees. Each of the women is working on building a community garden in a different part of the county, and a dream of theirs is for Urban Farm School to have its own location, with a demonstration garden, classrooms and community space.

Students often wonder where the “school” is, said Toree, “as if they picture a little old one-room schoolhouse.”

She smiles as she says it, as if she can picture it too.


Aaron Baumhackl,
Solstice Wood Fire Café

story + photo By Charity Thompson

Leave it to Aaron Baumhackl to make a sausage-cherry pizza a best-seller.
As chef and co-owner of Solstice Wood Fire Café in Bingen, Aaron specializes in wood-fired pizzas with unique local toppings, such as the cafe favorite with cherries, chorizo sausage, goat cheese and rosemary.

Aaron got his start in restaurants at age 15 in California, first at a Spanish tapas restaurant and later riding the first wave of the California-style pizza trend.

“It drew me in because I like to eat and I like to create,” he said of the industry. “I like to see results fast.”

Along with that background, Solstice’s creative pizzas come from a playful approach among kitchen staff.

Solstice Wood Fire Cafe
415 W. Steuben St. (Highway 14), Bingen

“In the kitchen, everybody has a voice,” he said. “We’ll come up with a dish, plate it and see what other color combinations can go in there to make it (reflect) the season.”

Aaron’s menus change with the seasons. This fall’s menu includes a pizza with local butternut squash, leeks, bacon and blue cheese. He’ll also dish up Siragusa pear salad and pizza, huckleberry crisp and huckleberry pizza with prosciutto, mascarpone and arugula.

He keeps an eye on the local farm scene with his wife and co-owner, Suzanne Wright Baumhackl.

“Literally, we’re surrounded by farms,” Aaron said. “We see a tractor go by with eggplant and say, ‘Eggplant’s in season – what should we do?’”

Solstice has two plots at Bingen’s community garden – one for its kitchen and one for the local food bank.

Its menu also includes foods less common in rural areas, such as sautéed kale and quinoa chowder.

“We’re trying to keep it simple,” he said, “and let the food speak for itself in flavor and nutrients.”

Community garden brings a bit of ‘Sunshine’ to Fruit Valley


Story + Photos by Temple Lentz

Hypothetical question: Say it’s winter 2008-2009. You’ve just bought your first house, you’ve moved across town to a neighborhood where you don’t know anyone, and the economy has tanked. What’s the first thing you do?

For Anna Petruolo and Lisa Robbins, the answer was clear: start a neighborhood garden.

On the surface, the idea is deceptively simple. Their Fruit Valley house in Vancouver has a huge yard, and Lisa and Anna wanted to grow their own food in a garden. When they worked out some numbers, the possibilities were staggering.

Anna Petruolo And Lisa Robbins
Sunshine Garden
Fruit Valley Neighborhood, Vancouver

“It turns out we have about 1,000 square feet of plantable space,” Anna said. “There’s no way the two of us could eat that much food.” Instead of scaling back their ambitions, they started to think even bigger.

The Fruit Valley neighborhood is unglamorous but charming. The houses are simple and functional, and the population is broadly diverse. One of the reasons the area is affordable for so many people is that it is somewhat cut off from the rest of the city.

“There is no grocery store nearby,” said Anna. “The only place to go is the Chevron station or the Minit Mart.” Urban farms and community gardens are increasingly popular ways for
residents to empower themselves, get healthier, and spend productive time outdoors.

Anna envisions the garden as a loosely organized neighborhood gathering place.

“Come by, help us weed for a little bit, and take home a few tomatoes. Or bring your own seeds and work with us to learn about companion planting and soils.” Toree Hiebert and Kendra Pearce from Urban Farm School helped plan the garden, and are interested in holding classes there. Within three years, Lisa and Anna plan to have vegetables, fruit trees, succulents, flowering annuals, and even an outdoor kitchen. Petruolo, a personal chef, is very excited about this vision.

“We want it to be full circle. You plant and tend it, harvest, and then come right around the corner and I can show you what to do with, say, 10 pounds of carrots.”

A force in the community

WSUV Digital Technology and Culture Program prepares generation 2.0 for local service


Story + Photos By Jessica Swanson

The Washington State University Vancouver Digital Culture and Technology Program is heading into its teen years and growing up fast.
The department is also playing a big part in the success of Clark County nonprofit organizations, businesses and the arts community.

Students concentrate in one of three areas: multimedia authoring, informatics or culture and technology. Many intend to pursue careers or start companies in design, production, music, web analytics and other areas of technology communication. These are student entrepreneurs. Twenty-two-year-old Sarah Richards plans to head into music promotion after graduation. A DJ at KOUG radio, she transferred into the DTC program from Clark College, but said many of her peers are transferring in from other WSU programs.

“I know many people who are switching over to it because it sparked their interest,” she said. “It allows us to be more creative.”

Matthew Wright, 26, wants “to be able to get a good solid job in a technical field,” such as producing music for websites. A former music major at Eastern Washington University and an electronic music junky, DTC is a good fit for his interests. Matthew is heading up a project to create a promotional video for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

“It’s about how orchestral music and community symphony benefit the community,” he said, adding that a perk of the project is spending time with a professional composer and conductor, paths he can also see himself pursuing.

The Vancouver Symphony video is an example of a Senior Seminar project. DTC majors can choose to intern at a for-profit business or be part of a team project for a nonprofit in their senior year. Teams of DTC students have created videos for the Council for the Homeless, Bonneville Lock and Dam, Vida’s Ark and Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington; websites for the Columbia River Economic Development Council, At Home At School, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Living in Southwest Washington; and animations for the Clark County Fire and Rescue.

DTC on the web


The opportunities are many, but Program Director Dene Grigar and Professor John Barber don’t advise students to jump into opportunities before they are ready. They do stay close by in order to push when the time is right.

Matthew’s Vancouver Symphony team was put together in just this way.

“They’ll recommend things to you that are your strengths,” he said, “and help find people to compensate for your weaknesses.”

A force in the community

Dene believes the best way to grow the program – and to get her students the careers they want – is to be a force in the community. She approached Vancouver’s North Bank Artists Gallery because a gallery was an important venue the
program was lacking. It has proven to be a good match. The gallery has hosted events of all sizes there, and at least a dozen students have been accepted into North Bank’s shows, said Gallery Manager Kathy Rick. Kathy, a multimedia artist and photographer, also teaches a class in the DTC program, Digital Diversity and Culture, which deals with cultural issues such as racism, politics and gender and how technology plays into them. Dene invited her to teach the class, and she loves it.

A DTC multimedia forum is scheduled for October at the gallery, and the relationship seems destined to continue for some time.

“I think it’s been an incredible pairing,” said Kathy. “The DTC program is so incredibly vital and exciting, and we
celebrate that with them.”

Dene, who was hired in 2006, has a master plan for the program. She has spent her first three years building the program and making relationships in the community. Now, she is devoting time to formulating a Master’s degree program and would like to see a post doctoral think tank-type of organization housed at the university, an “institute of the future.”

But now, a big focus is on getting her students into the workforce, and started on creating future workforce opportunities – a special challenge in this economy.

“This is what the community needs,” she said. “We want to turn out people who are going to create jobs and create opportunities.”