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Presidio’s largest picnic celebrates diversity, cultural heritage
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San Francisco’s largest free community picnic is back for its 6th annual year at the Presidio with new flavors, food trucks and cultural dances for locals of all ages to participate in activities and, most importantly, enjoy the historical National Park.

This year’s picnic kicked off on March 18 with a magical blessing by the head chief of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe, whose ancestors were the first to settle in the Presidio. The tribe sang to bless the land in their native Chochenyo language and even invited the public to dance to honor mother nature.

Carla Cerda-Ippoliti, granddaughter of the head chief Tony Cerda, said the blessing is a way for people from the Bay Area to learn the traditions of their ancestors, who originally cared for the land. She said their tribe and their ceremonies are to pray for less pollution, filtered water and mother nature.

“I think anytime we come to do a ceremony it’s a good way to start off an event with positivity,” said Cerda-Ippoliti.

Picnics at the Presidio take place every Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm, and will run through October 21, but will feature cultural dance performances to honor diversity, on the fourth sunday of every month. The hope is to make those who attend the picnic regular park visitors.

The Presidio Trust encourages visitors to live the picnic experience as they choose, if it is to bring own food, drinks or to try the food that is offered. The Presidio Picnic started in 2011, a project that originated from making a parking lot and rehabilitating into a lawn space. The park extends from the Pacific Ocean to the San Francisco Bay, naturally it’s open space hosts thousands of people each year to picnic.

Will Cabezas, who attended the picnic with his family, is a regular since the picnic began six years ago, and noticed the event grow. “I think it’s a great way to spend a Sunday morning or afternoon and just have any kind of food you want and hang out with the family,” said Cabezas.

The picnic event starts in March and will run every Sunday through October. Kathryn Inglin, the Presidio Trust’s associate director of strategic affairs, said the picnic is already popular, but their goal is to expand and invite every type of person into the mix to create more diversity and community within the park. “This year we decided to add in a new layer and each month we would celebrate a different heritage and have dance groups from different cultures.”

Inglin said that in addition to having cultural dances, the event will offer activities for every type of picnic goer. The Presidio Trust has partnered with the YMCA to provide free monthly bicycle lessons, in addition to activities like Jenga, bean bag toss, free yoga classes, and arts and crafts.

The picnic also tries to create community and unite people through food, offering 25 different food trucks. The Presidio Trust partnered with event company Off the Grid, which with careful consideration, curated different food trucks to represent a variety of cultural dishes. The event offers spicy food, sweet desserts, fruit stands and cuisines from all over the world.

Hookt Doughnuts is participating in the event for the second year. The owners are honoring their filipino heritage and created a ube donut, which its purple color attracts many of their customers.

Others like Chef Gustavo Garcia, from El Cielito Lindo food truck, said it’s the first time he’s participated in the event and feels it’s a great opportunity for small businesses. He describes his food as “authentically Mexican” and he feels proud to serve traditional dishes. His recipes are handed down by his family and he follows them without modifying, but his food truck includes vegan and vegetarian options.

Besides food, activities and honorary traditions, the Presidio Trust and Off the Grid have also made it a goal to be environmentally friendly. They won an award last year for their waste management and encourage all picnic goers to bring their own water bottles to limit the amount of plastic bottles. They have also created bicycle valet parking and have shuttles to encourage picnic goers to be sustainably conscious. “We have waste education happening live at the event, and [have] banned sale of plastic bottles and straws,” said Allison Stone, Director of Park Programs.

Upcoming events:

April 29: SF Awakkoren Dance Group performs Awa Odori, one of the most well-known Japanese traditional dances with 400 years of history

May 27: Ballet Folklórico México Danza appears in a colorful, high-energy performance J

une 24: Alafia Dance Ensemble demonstrate the beauty of African Haitian dance

July 22: China Dance Theatre celebrates the rich heritage of Chinese ethnic and folk dance

Story by: Vitta Oliveri