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FUN IN SOFA

What: South of A Street (SOFA) "Winterblast Celebration," with open art studios, live music, food, wine and beer vendors.

When: 5-9 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 15), with parades and 6 and 8 p.m.

Where: South A Street and Sebastopol Avenue, Santa Rosa

Admission: Free

Information: 293-6051, 573 9551, sofasantarosa.com

Not far from downtown Santa Rosa, there’s a portal to another time and place. But it doesn’t look like some mad scientist’s time machine. It looks more like a miniature hometown scene from the last century.

With the Santa Rosa Plaza shopping mall just a block away on one side, and busy Santa Rosa Avenue on the other side, there lies a quaint little town right in the middle of the city of Santa Rosa, next to Juilliard Park.

Loosely gathered around the intersection of South A Street and Sebastopol Avenue, the neighborhood once had a shady reputation, but about a decade ago it began to change, and over those years it emerged as a destination for cuisine and culture.

And it continues to evolve. Today, you’ll find a picturesque cluster of small, independently owned shops, galleries, restaurants and even a live theater company,

“It’s almost like a little separate enclave down here, off the beaten path,” said Kelley Rajala, who has lived and worked in the district for the past four years. “People here really taken advantage of that by working together, instead of struggling alone. That’s how a small town works”.

Rajala and her partner, Eric Robinson, produce organically grown fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers on two plots in the A Street neighborhood and a half-acre in Forestville. They supply food to several nearby restaurants, including the Spinster Sisters, the Naked Pig and Dierk’s Parkside Café.

Jason Sakach and Dalia Martinez opened the Naked Pig, an eclectic farm-to-table restaurant, six months ago at 435 Santa Rosa Ave., on a site that once housed a Greyhound bus station.

“We use produce from Kelley and Eric’s gardens, and local farms and our own garden,” Sakach said. “People in the neighborhood offer us figs and apples from their trees. There is a communal sense of giving here.”

The neighborhood continues to evolve and change for the better. The Spinster Sisters restaurant, which opened two years ago at the corner of Sebastopol Avenue and South A Street, has proved so popular that it plans to expand.

“We have purchased the lot next to the restaurant and we’re planning to open a pantry and takeout counter there,” said Giovanni Cerrone, co-owner of Spinster Sisters. “But we’re looking at a year to a year and half to do that. We want to continue to invest here and serve the local demand.”

Last year Evelyn Cheatham, the founder of the widely respected Worth Our Weight culinary youth training program, bought the area’s favorite longtime diner, the Cook House, up the street from Spinster Sisters. The restaurant remains closed, but Cheatham has announced plans to serve food there and offer advanced culinary experience for students. Cheatham couldn’t be reached for comment.

Earlier this year, Robin and Simmon Factor, former owners of Village Art Supply in Montgomery Village, took over the former Gallery of Sea and Heaven at 312 S. A St., and renamed it the Chroma Gallery.

“After working for so long in a shopping center, where you’re basically selling, I was struck by all the casual, informal collaboration that goes on in this neighborhood,” Simmon Factor said.

His gallery is only one of several in the district, including Gallery 300 and the Backstreet Gallery and Studios on Art Alley, just off A Street. And behind the Chroma Gallery, in the same building, 13 artists maintain eight studios.

WHAT’S LEGAL POT GROWING AND WHAT’S NOT

Here’s a summary. For full legal information for Sonoma County, visit sonomacounty.ca.gov/Cannabis/Personal-Use-and-Cultivation/

Who Can Grow?

Medical: Any patient or caregiver with a doctor’s recommendation for medical cannabis. The cannabis cannot be sold or distributed

Recreational: Any adult 21 or older. The cannabis cannot be sold

Size of plants: Up to 100 square feet of grow area per residence

Medical amount: There’s no limit on the number of plants for medical use

Recreational amount: No more than 6 plants

Where: Cultivation must take place at the person’s full-time residence

Outdoor: Plants cannot be located in the front or side yard setback areas and cannot be visible from public streets or walkways. Outdoor growing is not allowed in multi-family units or in the medium or high-density residential zones (R2 and R3).

Indoor: Indoor grows must be in an accessory structure, like a greenhouse or garage. Growing inside a residential structure is not allowed, unless there is no feasible alternative.

WHERE DO I GET PLANTS OR SEEDS?

You can get seeds from suppliers on the internet. The Gage Green Group (gagegreen.org) is a reputable company selling organically grown seeds for medicinal or recreational grows. Close to home, The Cali Connection (thecaliconnection.com) is a website to look into. Farther afield, in Amsterdam in fact, is a fine company called Sensi Seeds (senjsiseeds.com) that sells medicinal, recreational and feminized seeds.

If you want to do more research, here are other seed suppliers to Google: Brothers Grimm Seeds, Swamp Boys Seeds, BC Bud Depot, MTG Seeds, DNA Genetics, TGA Genetics, Green House Seeds, Archive Seed Bank, Aficionado Seeds, Amsterdam Genetics and The British Seed Company.

You can also stop by the Emerald Cup at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in December. An Early Bird Weekend Pass is on sale now for $120 plus $12.74 fee, no babies in arms and no strollers. You probably don’t want to take the kids to this event anyway. For tickets, visit theemeraldcup.com/tickets/

For starter plants, talk to a growe.r

Identifying gender of cannabis plants

If you let the male plants spread pollen among the females, you’ll ruin your crop, unless your aim is to grow and harvest seeds. If pollinated, the females will put their energy into ripening seeds, not producing big kolas of flowers.

Male and female marijuana plants are identical for the first six weeks of life. After June 20, they will start to differentiate by gender. If you’re serious about growing quality plants, you must remove all male plants and get them off the property or bury them as soon as you can tell their gender.

Use a magnifying glass to look at the joints on the stalk where the branches meet the main stalk. At first both males and females will have small clusters of ball-like bulbs there, but soon small, hairy, translucent filaments will emerge from the female bulbs. When many of the female bulbs show these filaments, it’s time to remove the male plants, which will still not have filaments but will soon shower the patch with pollen. Pull them out and get rid of them asap.

For more information and pictures, visit wikihow.com/Identify-Female-and-Male-Marijuana-Plants

Painter Max Dubois, who has her studio there, is optimistic about the rising public profile of the district, and winces a bit at the traditional description of the area as “off the beaten path.”

“Our goal is to get on the path,” she said. “This has become home base for a lot of people.”

Art is on display everywhere throughout the neighborhood, from the lobby of the Imaginists Theater on Sebastopol Avenue to James Podchernikoff’s Atlas Coffee, which has a new kitchen and will start serving breakfast and lunch in January.

It’s typical of the district’s ongoing collaboration that the Imaginists Theater serves coffee from Podchernikoff’s and treats from the Criminal Baking Co. & Undercover Noshery, almost next door on Sebastopol Avenue.

Amy Pinto, co-founder of the Imaginists Theater, believes it’s the people who live and work there who give the A Street neighborhood its distinctive character.

“Yes, the arts are here, and yes, there are cool restaurants, but the people who live here have been such amazing supporters of the crazy things that go on here,” Pinto said.

For a good example of the area’s benign craziness, you need only wait a week. The South of A Street district neighborhood, dubbed “SOFA” by locals, will celebrate its independence, and interdependence, with its 10th annual “Winterblast” street fair Saturday, complete with two parades of artistically decorated sofas equipped with wheels.

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com.

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