Gayle Romasanta slides a knife into a white, plump loaf of fresh-baked bread. The first piece falls against the cutting board, revealing a spiraling ribbon of cinnamon and sugar. She sits, barefoot, at her dining room table and sips from a mug of French-pressed coffee. Her 2-year-old son, Jude, crawls in and out of her lap. And Lukas, her German shepherd, wanders over for an occasional nuzzle.
This time at home, when morning light filters in and makes everything soft and calming, is part of the life she is creating, this homestead she wants and craves.
But there’s another side to this reformed farmgirl, a side of her that thrives on creativity, business and storytelling.
While at home, she delves into the role of wife and mother wholeheartedly. But she is also a businesswoman who is now editor of the new Sacramento magazine, bonnie. What started as a freelance gig while she stepped back to raise her family and brood of chickens has turned into opportunity to spearhead a magazine for local women.
Now, she gets to live in both worlds, still enjoying the nurturing and tilling of soil at the beginning of a planting season, as well as the fast-paced, high-energy job of writing under deadline and following a production schedule.
‘Something about dirt’
Romasanta hasn’t always been the kind of girl who would care for 200 tomato seedlings with fish emulsion, make resolutions about baking every loaf of bread her family would eat for a year or say things like, “There’s just something about dirt.”
Growing up with parents who emigrated from the Philippines to the United States when she was a toddler, Gayle was always surrounded by people who grew what they ate. She spent weekends on her grandparents’ farm on the Delta. Her parents grew vegetables year-round, refused to eat anything processed or dyed, and they even made rice wine that aged in plastic basin under their bed.
Her childhood was unconventional. It wasn’t uncommon for her mother — a doctor to the Marcos presidential family in the Philippines who often did work in leper colonies — to receive letters from former patients. The letters were heartfelt and full of gratitude, but they resulted in her mother yelling, “Don’t touch it!” before frantically running outside to burn the letters before germs from the leper colonies could leach onto her children.
The Tokay student with a dream
Romasanta is thankful she has strong parents who encouraged her and her siblings to pursue their dreams; being an immigrant was never an excuse for not accomplishing a goal. Her parents’ ideas were original and innovative. She says they were growing their own food and making wine before there was a green movement supporting it. Their ideals required more work than her friends in town knew. But it was those lessons and that hard work that also translated to the classroom when Romasanta was a young student.
Romasanta learned about long hours at Tokay High School, where she says she “hands down” earned an education that rivals some of the best in the country. From Tokay teacher Roger Woo, she learned about time deadlines and publication production during late nights spent working on the high school’s newspaper and yearbook. Woo even nominated her for an academic excellence award at the end of her junior year.
She had her own radio show — “Progressive Connection” — on KUOP 93.1 from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. as a high school senior, in addition to writing and announcing their sports news on Thursdays. They wanted to hire her while she was still a student.
“A lot of that really helped shape me,” she says, flipping through the pages of her heavy scrapbook of accomplishments.
One newspaper clipping from Tokay High School tells of how Romasanta created the school’s first-ever Powder Puff football team for girls.
“It all started when senior Gayle Romasanta had a dream,” reads the story written by Matthew Garber, describing the rise of the Tokay Tigress football team. “A dream that men and women were to be equal in every aspect. Including the football field.”
Romasanta excelled in the classroom and in her extracurricular activities throughout high school, though her father remembers Gayle was bright from the time she entered even the elementary school classrooms.
“She was a really smart kid,” Pat Romasanta said. “She was very talented at writing and spelling.”
A proud father, he vividly remembers her spelling trophies and the dedication she always had for school.
In college, Romasanta found her passion for politics, the arts and her heritage. At California State University, Long Beach, she was a voice for students as an Associated Students representative. She created a Filipina sorority, Kappa Psi Epsilon, that is still thriving today, still sharing the motto of “Find Your Inner Strength.”
The year before she graduated, she went to Washington, D.C. on a summer fellowship. She realized she wanted to be in a more politically charged city than Long Beach, and transferred to San Francisco State University to finished her undergraduate degree.
But more than politics, she discovered her love for theater at a Filipino-American theater space in the city — the Bindlestiff Studio. Her volunteerism with the group lead to a 10-year relationship and a position as artistic director, all while she was earning her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. It was on that stage of Bindlestiff Studio that “Love in the Time of Breast Cancer,” written and produced by Romasanta, had its three-week run. Stills from the show are now on kiosks on Market Street as part of a San Francisco Arts Commission revamp.
‘Nothing beats this’
After a decade in the city, something was lacking. Romasanta felt vulnerable and exposed. She craved home.
With her husband, Francis Novero, and young daughter, Ruby, she moved back to Lodi and rooted herself on a farm, where they grow fava beans as green manure and where her dogs thinks that fallen grapefruits on the ground are for playing catch.
“I wanted my kids to know what it is to plant things,” she said. “Nothing beats this. I love it.”
When she first returned to Lodi, she was hired as a grant writer for Lodi Unified School District. It was a job she enjoyed, and it paid well; but soon, she felt another pull. She was about to have another baby, and she wanted to be dedicated more to her family and writing craft.
It was while splitting her time between learning how to hoe a garden, raising two children and helping her husband create their NoveRoma Zinfandel that she decided to fill her longing for writing with freelance writing and editing.
That’s when she started freelancing for Shawn Crary, Big Monkey Group publisher. bonnie magazine — named after his grandmother — was still an idea.
Romasanta freelanced at first, and then became editor as the creation of bonnie became a reality. She liked the vision, the inspiration planned for the pages of the magazine. It was another step in her journey. She accepted the position, which would allow her to seep into both of her worlds — that homestead-loving farm girl, and the thriving writerly business type who thrives on deadlines and a finished product.
The magazine — with 19,000 copies printed monthly and available at 550 Sacramento locations — is meant to inspire real, local women.
“It’s not about being elite. It’s not about unattainable gorgeousness,” Romasanta said. “It’s accessible and has inspiring stories and everyone feels connected, like they have an opportunity.”
Even as editor, Romasanta has found inspiration within the pages of bonnie. For the magazine’s second issue, she was inspired as she interviewed and wrote about Elk Grove mystery writer Allison Brennan, who — with five children and a full-time job — wrote her first novel and became a 19-time best-selling author in five years.
In bonnie, Romasanta puts vulnerability and numbers to the side, and reveals her own body issues as she tracks her journey toward health and weight loss with intense exercise, whole eating and a vegetarian lifestyle. She’s honest with her weight in print and photos, and even tells of a time she fainted while working.
The messages in the magazine are what make her enjoy her work. It’s why she wakes up in the 4 o’clock hour to work out not only herself, but for a magazine feature. It’s why she stays up long hours proofing pages and putting finishing touches on the stories.
“I really want women to be inspired by local woman and women who are creating,” she said.
Romasanta — the mother, the homesteader, the editor — has always trusted her artistic and professional instinct. Success has always come from following her passions and working hard. That’s what she learned along the way.
“You do something for what you love and you hope talent, love and timing are on your side,” she says.
Contact reporter Lauren Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.