By Pamela Dozois
Contributing Writer

Jen and Jon Hooten of Los Alamos are building a community of teaching and learning through classes and community events centered on traditional arts, crafts, and cooking for sustainable living.
They call their idea Cal-Folk, short for California Folk School, which is based on the 150-year tradition of folk (people’s) education.

Folk schools, or “schools for life,” are a Danish traditional concept that spread throughout the East Coast and Midwest with the arrival of Danish immigrants. Very few of these schools made it west of the Mississippi River — much less through the Mojave and into California. One notable exception was the Atterdag Folk School in the new settlement of Solvang in the early 20th century, which ran from 1911 to 1957.

Bob Hughes and his wife Sara will be teaching a woodworking class in July.

Classes will held in June and July at different venues in Los Alamos, Solvang and Santa Ynez. Prices vary. Children are welcome to attend with their adults, but each class will have a different age cutoff based on the activity. At least once class this summer will be specifically for kids, making ice cream and cones.

“While we have to charge a fee to pay instructors and cover other costs, the goal is to include anyone interested in learning to join this community, whether or not you can pay the fee,” said Jon Hooten. “Bartering is an option!”
The Hootens moved to Los Alamos in 2014. Midwesterners by birth and Californians by choice, Jen Hooten said, the couple have spent most of their adult lives as administrators of colleges and universities. They started a graduate program at Claremont College centered on the premise that leaders can have the greatest impact when they are more self-aware and empathetic, and treat others as they would want to be treated.

Now they want to gather a community of teachers and eager learners around what they call their “educational campfire.”

“These days you can learn anything on the Internet. But learning together, with other people, problem solving, laughing, sharing that experience together, is a very powerful thing – you can’t do that on your own. Learning takes root when you do it in the company of others,” Hooten added. “All we want to do is set the table for people to come and try something new.”

“Last summer my Dad, who is 84, came for a visit with us and his granddaughter, Nelle. He asked me, ‘Do you want a pizza oven in your back yard?’ I would have said yes to anything he suggested, so we built a pizza oven together,” she recalled.

“We talked about folk schools in North Carolina. I was intrigued by this idea of learning in a community. The quality of any community goes up when we are learning together. There is an intimacy, a closeness, a bond that develops between people who are learning together, which makes for a much richer community,” Jon Hooten said. “It brings neighbors together. It’s important for us to try to make that happen.”

”There is no better feeling than using something that you’ve crafted with your own hands,” said Bob Hughes, who will be teaching a woodworking class with his wife Sara.

“The beauty of making anything is that all you need is desire. Anyone can do it. The reason we are doing this class is to pass on what we know and what we’ve learned over the years about making stuff,” Hughes said.

Jen Hooten related at story about her mother, Barb McLean, who is a quilter.

“My mother took a drawing class when she was 63 and created some beautiful pieces. I told her that she had a gift. My mother replied, ‘I don’t have a gift. All I had to do was show up and be willing to try.’ That’s what we are asking people to do, show up and try,” said Jen.

Some of the classes being offered are woodworking, summer Jams (bring whatever fruit is in your garden for making jam), chicken wrangling (raising chickens for eggs), Sourdough Bread 101; Cooking with Fire; playing blues guitar (some guitar experience is necessary), contemporary embroidery, and soap making.

“When I was asked to teach for Cal-Folk, I immediately thought of the African proverb, ‘Each one teach one.’ Cal-Folk promises to be the embodiment of this generous method of sharing skills throughout a community,” said Pamela Brown, who teaches the class on making sourdough bread. “It’s especially important today to connect to the age-old process of learning at the feet of experienced makers, whether it’s bread, soap, or music. Cal-Folk presents an opportunity to develop a new interest, an old passion or a current whim into a lifelong practice of creation.”
At the end of the series of classes, a “Howdy-Up” party will be planned around music, food, camaraderie and community.

The Hootens also are hoping to have on-stage interviews with old-timers in the community, who can speak about their local history, their likes and dislikes, and where they see their towns going.

“Learning can take place anywhere and everywhere. Too many limitations apply in our traditional education model, so we wanted to open the doors to anyone who wants to learn,” Jon Hooten added. … “The only thing that people need to bring with them is their curiosity and questions and maybe a story to share. We’re passionate about the power and possibilities of community.”

For more information, call 805-635-7315, visit or email