Originally published by  Oregon Family Farmer

Originally published by Oregon Family Farmer

Farming in the Pink

(writing for a local magazine in Oregon)


For Volcano Veggies, a warehouse protects their plants from the frigid air and searing heat. Shannon Sbarra, with her husband Jimmy, co-owners of Volcano Veggies, took a uniquely innovative approach to farming called aquaponics, a system using the waste from farmed fish to provide nutrients for the plants. After plants are watered, the drained moisture is filtered to aerate the fish tanks.

“We’re creating our own ecosystem,” says Jimmy. “It’s not a magical growing solution. Just like typical farming it’s hard, difficult and challenging. You’re trying to keep three things very happy that don’t necessarily want to go together.”

Volcano Veggies’ process allows plants to be grown organically and pesticide free. Inside the warehouse, nutrient-rich water from large fish tanks feeds the roots of the plants. After the water seeps through the soil, this organic hydroponic solution is directed back to aerate the fish tanks. Grow lights allow for the consistent “daylight.” Everything has a purpose in this closed environment.


“[I’m] solving the world’s problems in my hometown,” says Shannon. “You don’t have to go across the world to make the world a better place. We found a way to follow our dreams, do something that was meaningful and have a significant impact, while creating a sustainable business model and supporting our community.”

This husband-wife dynamo has worked together since they were first married. Their first business focused on programming and graphic design. Jimmy’s skills as a programmer and Shannon’s administration and accounting talents came together to create a thriving business. Although they found success in their first business, they wanted to make a more tangible difference in the environment by providing quality, holistically produced food.

“At the end of the day, when we turned the computer screen off, our hard work was gone. We just wanted something more physical and real,” says Jimmy. “In here, it’s very real. We’re making food for people.”

The Sbarras applied their knowledge of computer software and artistic minds to monitor their growing process. Jimmy’s unique skill as a programmer allowed him to create software to control the temperature of the warehouse, lighting and harvesting time to create the best produce possible.

Shannon works full-time for Volcano Veggies and helps raise two kids at home. She knows their business is making her family stronger and growing them closer.

“It’s something we believe in, trying to make the world a better place and set a good example for our kids,” says Shannon. “By working together, we’ve carved out a way to be on the same team and be involved in each other’s lives and operate as a family unit.”

Shannon was on track after college to venture into climate change policies, but she wanted to concentrate on making a difference in her hometown. Her knowledge about climate change gives her an educated voice in Volcano Veggies’ business practices.

“There is a lot of emphasis on environmental sustainability and not business sustainability,” says Shannon.


Despite the challenges of being parents, paying fair wages to their employees, and growing organic vegetables indoors, the Sbarras find their work satisfying and essential. They know their produce is making a difference in their family and in the lives of their customers.

“We have parents who say their kids won’t eat any other lettuce but ours,” says Jimmy. “That’s just awesome! If we’re getting kids to eat it, then we’re doing something right.”

They first began delivering their produce to the local Newport Avenue Market. Customers could taste the difference from traditionally grown produce and began asking for more. Since they began in 2013, Volcano Veggies has expanded sales into Whole Foods, Safeway, Market of Choice, and other local retailers. Their innovative growing technique took the stage at the Bend Venture Conference in 2014 and won the Bend Broadband prize of $10,000 and the $1,500 Palo Alto LivePlan Software award. The next step for the Sbarras is to bring Volcano Veggies to other locations with cold climates.

“We hope to take aquaponics to skiing towns,” says Jimmy. “We want to bring fresh vegetables to places that wouldn’t get fresh produce for over half of the year. We’re growing predictable food in unpredictable places.”

Originally published by  Tigard Life

Originally published by Tigard Life

World’s Fastest Pumpkin Carver at the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta

(writing for a local newspaper in Oregon)

Tim Pate stands by his large carved pumpkin at the 2018 West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Tualatin, Oregon.

Tim Pate stands by his large carved pumpkin at the 2018 West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Tualatin, Oregon.

Tim Pate featured two of his large pumpkin carvings at the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta at the Tualatin Commons on Oct. 20. Pate has been pumpkin carving professionally for 19 years. Children swirled around Pate’s large carving of Frankenstein as they eagerly asked about his pumpkins.

“It is a real pumpkin and weighs about 250 pounds,” said Pate. “You can do it too!”

Pate has been attending the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta for 14 years. His designs are have been featured in Culture Magazine and Portland Mercury. Pate’s legacy began at a young age as his great grandfather taught him the art of carving before delving into his own glass blowing studio and pumpkin carving. His eyes danced as he peered over his glasses and explained how his pumpkin carving obsession began.

“It started with wood carving. I’m a seventh generation carver,” said Pate. “I learned how from my great grandfather. When I was 14 years old and he was 85, I asked him to teach me. He said there was only one rule, ‘If you’re in a hurry, you’re doing it wrong.’”

Even though Pate is not featured as a Guinness World Record holder, he by far surpassed the current quickest pumpkin carving record.

“I have the fastest time to carve one ton of pumpkin. The old record was 4 hours 17 minutes and 26 seconds to carve one ton of pumpkin. I did it in 19 minutes and 24 seconds,” said Pate.

Pate is retired and lives in Netarts, Oregon, and enjoys relaxing days off by going fishing. However, he enthusiastically attends many events like Sauvie Island’s annual pumpkin patch.

“Do your very best every chance you get,” explained Pate. “If they want me to do a Picasso give me 15 minutes, and if they want me to do a Michelangelo give me a couple of hours.”

tim pate's pumpkin closeup.PNG

Pate has watched the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta expand and grow over the past 14 years. The event has grown to include more people, events, sponsors, and booths. The Regatta includes what Pate would say are the “wackiest races” as people climb inside giant pumpkins to race across the lake. Pumpkin racing is a large draw for the crowd along with pie eating contests, pumpkin golfing, clown shows, live music, and food booths.

Pate points back to his pumpkin in amazement as people continue to flood around his work.

“That’s just a pumpkin,” laughs Pate. “I love the kids! I try to bring my best every time I’m in public. That’s my job is to make myself and everybody happy. It’s a blast for me.”

The West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta is hosted annually at the Tualatin Commons at 8325 SW Nyberg St., Tualatin, Oregon. Catch the show next year as the 1,000 pound pumpkins race around the lake.

Originally published by  Tigard Life

Originally published by Tigard Life

Stur-dy Woodworking: Cindy Seger shares the story behind her home woodworking shop

(writing for a local newspaper in Oregon)

Cindy Seger sketches a new drawing of her next wood creation in her home woodworking studio in Tigard, Oregon.

Cindy Seger sketches a new drawing of her next wood creation in her home woodworking studio in Tigard, Oregon.

Cindy Seger built her in-home woodworking studio, Stur-dy Custom Craft, out of her garage located at 12825 SW Grant Ave. in Tigard, OR. All of her pieces are custom made and carefully crafted. Over the past two months, she remodeled the inside of her space to fit her growing woodworking demands. Seger would call her woodworking a hobby, but it may soon evolve into a full-time career.

“I go to work with perfect french tip nails. Then I come home from work, and put my bandana on,” explained Seger. “I did everything from ground up here. I named my business Stur-dy, because my work is built sturdy just like me. It’s like heaven in my shop, and my woman cave.”

Growing up, Seger was always sketching and reinventing how to arrange a space. At age 13, Seger was shaping how her mother’s garden would look.

“I told my mom our yard was so boring. I grabbed a piece of paper and started designing the whole yard space,” said Seger.

Seger’s passion for woodworking started at a young age by watching her father.

“My dad worked in the lumber field forever,” added Seger. “I feel closer to my dad when I work out here. I lose myself. It’s the best therapy ever.”

All of Seger’s wood carving instruments have their correct place, and even her wood is stacked neatly categorized along the length of her wall. A black walnut, Seger’s favorite, sits right in front of her as she works. The majority of her wood comes from her visits to her seventh grade teacher’s farm. She selects from a variety of cedar, black walnut, ponderosa pine, and maple burl.

“I’ll drive up ten miles into the mountains to Mr. Pender’s property,” said Seger. “For us kids, he was like a father or grandpa you didn’t have. Mr. Pender takes me on his John Deere tractor to select wood, and he says to get whatever I need.”

Although Seger is humble, her work speaks of her talent as she receives high praise from friends and neighbors.

Rick Smith found Seger’s work through a friend and asked for a project crafted by Seger to surprise his wife. “The creativity and craftsmanship I received was honestly shocking. It was beautiful and we absolutely love it,” said Smith.

Seger’s most recent design was a lifesize perfume bottle with shards of glass she hand crushed. Although her designs take some time, Seger savors every moment she gets to spend in her shop.

In two years, she has made over 50 pieces during her evenings and weekends. Seger’s hope is to own her own shop and create an awe factor in her work. Her goal is to make this woodworking hobby a career and work all day in her shop to create wine racks, home decor and more.

For more of Seger’s work, visit: www.Stur-dycustomcraft.com. If you have questions or would like to contact Seger, call: 971-217-4755.


View more of my stories at: tigardlife.com


Symposium Coffee Stories

(these regular customers show the heart of Symposium Coffeehouse as "a gathering place for relationship and conversations")

Cece Dispenza

Cece Dispenza

What do you do for work?

I am a Speech Language Pathologist. I love what I do. It’s very interesting. I think it makes a difference when you pursue what you love, and I can proudly say I did it.

How long have you lived in Tigard?

I’ve lived in Tigard since 1986 when I bought my house. Many years ago I was in this building. This was the feed store and now it’s a coffee shop.

Why do you come to Symposium?

I feel like I belong here. I started coming when they first opened. As time has gone on, I think it’s people who work here who are the draw. The people are very friendly. I see moms and grandmas and little kids just visiting. It’s a really lovely thing. I don’t know any other place you can do that.

What does Symposium mean to you?

It reminds me of the local gathering place from many years ago. It’s not a tavern, and it’s not a church. This is a place you can come and have coffee first thing in the morning. I think it’s brilliant! You feel no trepidation if you have your flip flops on. You feel like you’re coming to a place you know well.

How does Symposium stand out?

If you want something specially made for you and you want good conversation, you come here. No one running around with their head down. It’s the little, tiny gestures that make the difference. Anyone can sell coffee, but not everybody can hire the right people and provide the right environment.

What is your regular drink?

Oh my gosh. I call it my “little addiction.” It’s a 12 ounce mocha, nonfat and no whip cream. I tried to do plain coffee. I can do that at home. When I’m at Symposium, it’s got to be this drink.

John Pettit

John Pettit

Where do you work?

I wish my salon, The Hair Station, was down here. I’ve owned it for eight years. I’ve worked there for thirty something years. So, a long time. It’s been a part of Tigard since the early ’80s.

Do you remember your first time into Symposium?

The first time I walked in was when it was just being built. It’s grown well! I think it’s here to stay for a while. It’s become part of my routine and life. It is something I miss if I don’t stop in every morning. There are a lot of good coffee shops, but this is my coffee shop.

What is your drink of choice?

I used to do mochas and stuff. I just like my coffee strong. Now I drink a shot in the dark (two shots of espresso in drip coffee).

How has Symposium impacted your daily life?

It’s my calm before my storm. I can sit at home and have coffee, but now it’s my routine to come down here and have coffee, read the news and go to work. Take on the storm, and take on people.

What makes Symposium different?

I walk in and see smiling faces, and they know what I want. It’s a great, pleasant community with good coffee. Warm, welcoming, friendly, and comfortable. It is like family.

Jessica Love

Jessica Love

Where do you work?

I work for the Tigard Chamber of Commerce, and I split between managing the Tigard Farmers Market and Event Coordination for the Tigard Chamber. I opened my own business three years ago, but I’ve been doing event coordination for over ten years now.

How long have you lived in Tigard?

I’ve lived in Tigard my entire life in the same house.

What do you enjoy about Tigard?

There are a lot more people and places to hangout. There is a lot of history and new blood, so it’s a good mixture of people. We were always a happy community, and it’s just getting better with time.

How would you describe Symposium?

Symposium is open to all people, and it fits everyone. It’s the hangout place to come together and enjoy a cup of coffee and meet new people. Symposium is run by great people, so they hire great people. You’re supporting a local family. And, of course, everyone loves coffee.

What is your typical drink?

I used to not drink coffee. That’s changed because of Symposium. I used to get the hot chocolate every day. Now I’m a caramel latte person.

What makes Symposium unique?

My favorite thing about Symposium is walking out and seeing so many people that I know. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I love community. I love Tigard. I’m home.


Earning My Tool belt

(writing for pleasure and commemorating my dad)


I don’t own a tool belt. My dad wore his oil stained, nails-filled belt proudly for years. Growing up, I didn’t relish helping my dad with projects beyond my regular chores. A scattering of conversations about faith, school and dreams have seasoned our relationship. Years have passed since I made time to reconnect with my dad. It’s like we forgot how to speak the same language. On one semi-sunny Saturday morning, I found a new avenue for conversation by talking about tools with my dad.

I walked around to the backyard through the open garage door. My heart pounding as I resolved to surprise my dad with my hands readily gloved. I walked and stumbled into the newly seeded ground right as my dad looked up. “Don’t step…there,” my dad said. It was too late. The green sprigs of grass sunk into the ground with my muddy shoes.

“Surprise!” I blurred out. I felt awkward trying to cover up my mess just like I did when I was a little girl. It was apparent smoothing over the dirt with my hands wouldn’t breathe life back into the buried seeds. “I came to help,” I reassured. My dad’s face softened as he peered back down at the ground. I stepped closer.

He walked with me around the correct side of the yard and began to explain his project of the day. There would be boxes going here and there being filled with all kinds of plants. I felt trusted with my dad’s ideas as he laid out the blueprints to build boxes.

He dug through a bin and found new gloves, ear plugs and an extra pair of protection glasses from his plastic bin of supplies. These would be my honorary tools for the day.

My dad passed over the handmade garden seed spreader made from an old gallon container with holes punctured in the bottom. I was assigned the task of reseeding the yard. I smiled as we both knew why the ground needed help.

I finished in time to begin learning how to build the garden boxes. My dad moved swiftly and mumbled a few numbers as he asked me to do simple math. I was never good at addition. My inner child stuttered, “Three or, wait, two.” Neither were correct. I understood now how my dad was meant to be a math teacher. He even got his degree and was a few months shy of being certified to teach. The demands of providing for his eight kids kept him from fulfilling his dream, but he never stopped teaching.

After we correctly confirmed the measurements, he asked me if I knew how to use a skilsaw. My rusty memory suggested he had once shown me, along with other useful knowledge of how to change a car’s oil and tires.

My dad calmly re-explained step-by-step how to position the saw on the wood, why the wood needed to be propped up and when to turn it on. The blade roared and kicked back at me like a gun being shot. It couldn’t intimidate me, because I had my dad by my side. Just like the dark or riding a bike. His broad, athletic frame and soft tone reassured me. I can do this.

I let the blades spin. I looked up at my dad, and I felt tough. I looked it. Neighbors drove by. I thought, “I’m a woman with a power tool. Yeah, my dad taught me.”

He challenged me to go faster. Six seconds to saw through a board in a straight line. Just like him. I didn’t breathe. I steadied my gaze on the board willing it into submission under my hand. It moved, I pressed down. The small piece fell to the ground. I inhaled the particles swirling past my eyes. My dad handed me a drill, and I began to assemble the boxes.

My arms grew tired, but my dad kept going. He had always worked hard. My childhood home, playhouse and play structure were his masterpieces. As more kids were born, he added more rooms to our home. Five bathrooms and seven bedrooms made room for my seven older brothers and sisters. I don’t know where he found the energy to build alongside working a full-time job and being a dad. Maybe it’s in his DNA.

My grandfather and great grandfather were farmers. My great grandfather broke his back falling in a shipyard. As the story goes, he was strapped to a board for weeks to let his back heal. My dad said his hands were twice the thickness of his and just as tough. My grandfather climbed ladders, went off-roading and rode tractors until the day he died.

I felt my dad’s hard-working blood flowing in my veins. His thoughts becoming my thoughts. We worked together like aged craftsmen on an assembly line. It rained. We kept sawing, screwing and stacking. The large boxes being piled on top of each other like a collection of books.

My dad and I talked in a different language now. I was understanding what made my dad’s heart beat. He doesn’t like to sit and talk about feelings, unlike his five daughters. He takes action. As we finished, I could see it in his eyes. His face wrinkled to reveal a smile. He was proud of me.

We brushed the dust from our clothes and swept the ground. My ponytail and sweaty shirt were my badge of honor. I was my father’s daughter. This was a moment to treasure. Maybe one day I would wear my own tool belt too.

Multnomah Alumni Logo

A writer is born at multnomah university

(an employee story)

Olivia Lovern, Content Editor and Copywriter at Multnomah University

Olivia Lovern, Content Editor and Copywriter at Multnomah University

Olivia Lovern works as a content editor and copywriter for Multnomah University (MU). A typewriter sits in her office as a nod to her family’s long history of writers. “I would say I feel nostalgic being here. I laugh because I feel like I’ve been here a long time,” Lovern said. “I started going here back in high school and didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

Lovern’s future was decided after hearing one alumni’s story. “On a whim, I was curious and went to the journalism house. An alumni, who was a reporter, sharing about his work,” Lovern said. “One of the things I liked most about journalism was learning new things all of the time.”

Lovern continued at MU as a journalism major. She stayed at MU for the personal touch and individual attention given in her classes. “My professor was very soft spoken and meek. We connected well,” Lovern said. Meeting with professors for feedback was essential to Lovern’s success. “Someone said if you take advantage of what’s available to you, then the world opens up,” Lovern explained.

Since graduating, Lovern was hired at MU as a content editor and copywriter. She sees how her education prepared her for her career. “My boss, when I first started working for Multnomah, worked in the newspaper business for over 20 years,” Lovern said. “Hearing his feedback felt very validating. Little things would pop up that I would remember I used in the journalism program. Sometimes you don’t really know until you’re out there working.”

The college began with a focus solely on ministry and switched to include multiple majors as a certified university. Lovern is excited to be a part of the future of MU. “Now as we move forward, the vision is to keep offering programs students want that will equip them for a career,” Lovern said. “No matter if they’re a biologist or environmental scientist they can learn in this context of Christian education, and it can benefit not only their career but their personal life.”


My Being

(a sample piece from one of my creative sketchbooks)

My passions seep through every pen stroke, click of keys and words uttered. Thoughts are meaningful and inventive. I face risk and beam with courage. Passport in hand, camera around my neck, and muddy boots, I run through life with an even stride. Climbing, sometimes crawling, to the top. A view before me, my work behind, I look up and realize better views are still ahead. So, I walk, I crawl, I go on. A journey of reflection and risk. Above all learning, always learning. 

Manifesto AAA-page-001.jpg

i am a writer

(defining what a writer means to me)

I shoot for the bull’s eye.
I see the red and black center.
I won’t back down.
I will fire, because I am a warrior.
I know my feet are firm.
I know the movements.
I won’t back down.
I will stand, because I am a fighter.
I point straight.
I scribble softly.
I won’t back down.

I will inspire, because I am a writer.