Best of Green & Natural
Best backyard chicken activist
Tom Sumpter’s backyard was the last stop on this year’s Oak Park Crop Swap Garden Tour. The theme of the afternoon was “whimsy,” and his plot personified it. Vines crawled up makeshift trellises of iron gates, and birdcages hung from trees. Objects of all kinds transformed themselves into found art among the rosemary and roses—a set of a Cadillac hubcaps, an old chair.
Sumpter’s yard is a familiar, happy space for a lot of Oak Park residents. And for me especially. I used to rent the house perpendicular to Sumpter’s, with the enormous and fantastic yard on a shared corner lot in between. There’d be movie nights and drum circles and pumpkin patches for the neighborhood kids.
Back then, there were no chicks in the yard. These days, you can find at least one at any given time, bathing in the sun near the grapevine arbor. Until recently, these girls were jailbait—now, let’s call them barely legal.
The chicks are a pair of Rhode Island Reds, hens appropriately named Bonnie and Clydette for their former outlaw status (though both chickens have recently flown the coop). Last month, the Sacramento City Council overwhelmingly passed the ordinance Sumpter and the rest of the Citizens for the Legalization of Urban Chicken Keeping (a.k.a. CLUCK) have been advocating for the last two years. The law will allow the Sacramento city populace to raise up to three hens in their yards beginning this November, pending a small registration and an annual per-chicken fee. “With just a couple of chickens and a garden, a family of four can eat very well,” Sumpter said.
It’s another of his efforts toward bettering the Oak Park community, where he’s lived for more than two decades. He worked to establish the Oak Park Drug Free Zone, serving as president of the council. He set up Cops and Coffee, meetings created to foster a better relationship between the neighborhood residents and the Sacramento Police Department. And he’s eternally present at city council meetings, representing the concerns of one of Sacramento’s oldest neighborhoods. “In the old days, I remember, we’d take boards with condoms and syringes we found in the alleyways tacked on, and bring them with us to council meetings,” Sumpter said. “We wanted them to know exactly what was outside our doors.”
In the 20-plus years of Sumpter’s activism, Oak Park has seen a lot of change. Broadway boasts new restaurants and coffee shops. McClatchy Park features a crop swap for the backyard gardens of the area, and a farm stand gave root to a full-blown farmers market. The revitalization continues at a quick pace, and the energy is catching.
Sumpter will continue to be a part of it, through support and activism—and occasional civil disobedience. He makes no bones about calling attention to things he considers important. In fact, he invited the city’s media to his house for an official coming out party when he first acquired the girls. The authorities? They never said peep. “They’re too chicken,” said Sumpter.
Best city politician for urban gardening
We might be able to find something to disagree with Jay Schenirer about when it comes to politics—it’s a rare thing when we can’t be disagreeable—but he’s off on the right foot in his first city council term when it comes to urban gardening. Schenirer has teamed with fellow Councilman Rob Fong and the Sacramento Area Community Garden Coalition to bring community gardening to the inner city, including in Schenirer’s Oak Park district. A coalition of groups under the banner Growing Together—with plenty of help and sweat equity from Schenirer—kicked off the first community-gardening education project in Oak Park last May.
On the drawing board are front and backyard gardens, a gardening-tool lending library and a teaching garden where neophytes can learn from Master Gardeners. “We want to make sure that everyone who wants to participate in the community-gardening program has the opportunity to do so,” Schenirer says.
The project is also surveying the Oak Park district for possible garden lots. The city is in the process of trying to change the law about gardening on privately owned land. Schenirer’s district will be ready to go once the change is through.
“We sent out letters to everyone who owned a vacant lot [in the district] to see if they’d be interested in a garden,” Schenirer says. The plan is to create a base of available spaces and match those with would-be gardeners.
Schenirer hopes to take a holistic approach to improving his district—including working with developers and nonprofit organizations on a housing initiative to increase homeownership. “We’re moving toward a more comprehensive community development,” he says, pointing to weaving together housing, sustainable food sources and employment. “Singular pieces are good, but we think that a more comprehensive approach is the way to go.”
That’s a great—and green—example for the rest of the city to follow.
Best international water law expert/local farmer
Stephen McCaffrey is the world’s pre-eminent expert on international water law, but whether he’s loading horses into trucks or repairing broken-down tractors, this Sacramento native is just as comfortable tending to his farm in Winters as he is representing India before the International Court of Arbitration.
Negotiations between that nation and Pakistan over water rights to the Indus Valley rivers are set to begin in the coming months. “Each dispute [I’ve litigated] is different, and that’s what makes these cases so interesting,” McCaffrey says.
Mark Twain once said, “Whiskey’s for drinkin’ and water’s for fightin’ over.” Not much has changed since the late 1800s when Twain uttered those words during the days of the California Water Wars. The battle for “blue gold” has only shifted to the global sphere, and as McCaffrey prepares for Kashmir, he holds steadfast to the principle of neutrality.
McCaffrey, who also teaches at University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, has traveled to some of the world’s most politically charged countries to take legal action on behalf of the environment as an impartial negotiator. He’s served as legal adviser to the Nile River Basin. He was the special reporter on the International Law Commission of the United Nations from 1982 to 1991, where he helped draft the only treaty governing shared freshwater resources.
In this era of growing water scarcity, there is critical need for the protection and preservation of international watercourses.
“I think because of the challenges that we’re going to face in this century relating to freshwater, we have to attack the problem on all levels,” McCaffrey explains. “I have to conserve as a farmer, and as an individual. We all have to do our part.”