Brentwood photographer Doreen Forlow teamed with biographer Gail Wadsworth to create “Shifting Perception on the Urban Edge,” an exhibit chronicling the lives of 14 farming families as they continue to work in the rapidly expanding city of Brentwood. The stories are displayed on 18 six-foot banners that line the center’s second floor.
“It (the exhibit) is really to promote awareness,” Forlow said. “People think it is OK to just keep building houses, but this is still a farming community.”
At the time the display debuted at the county offices in 2008, the population of the 180-year-old agricultural area surrounding Brentwood had jumped from 7,500 to 47,000 in 15 years.
The consequence of that growth is displayed in photographs of farmers busy at work at the edge of housing developments. “I like this photo,” Forlow said as she viewed the banner profiling the Stonebarger family. The banner depicts a farmer working against the backdrop of houses. “Here is the dust, here are the houses.”
To preserve the authenticity of the stories, Wadsworth printed the families’ statements without editing. The stories paint pictures of a rich agricultural past but an uncertain future.
“My hope is that people would stop coming to California, and that it would stabilize,” reads a statement on the banner displaying the story of Mary and Howard Lentzner. “You can’t live in a place where there is just wall-to-wall houses.”
As the area around the farming families has changed, so have those families’ tactics for survival, which Forlow feels is another overriding message of the exhibit. “It’s important to highlight that we have a unique situation here. Farmers have had to change their perspective and market themselves in another manner. They have learned to prosper through things like farmers’ markets.”
Raised on an apricot and walnut farm on Lone Tree Way in Brentwood, Forlow was steadfast in her determination to create the exhibit. It took her hundreds of hours over three years, but it was time well spent. Since its debut in 2008, it has been displayed at Los Medanos College, the CornFest and the state fair, and after Assemblyman Jim Frazier helped her assemble the exhibit in Brentwood, she got the idea to bring it to the state capital.
“I want to promote awareness,” she said.
The exhibit, on display until March 24, has drawn a large crowd, according to Linda Stadlbauer, who works at the community center. “It is beautifully done,” she said. “I think it reminds you how lucky we are to have them (farmers) in the area. I’ve always heard those names, but it’s nice to be able to put a name to a face.”
Forlow would like to create other exhibits, including one highlighting the history of farmers along Lone Tree Way. “We have to educate,” she said. “People come to Brentwood for its allure, but I want to keep walking on dirt instead of somebody’s lawn.”