Spring Minestrone


1 t. coriander seeds
1 t. fennel seeds
½ t. black peppercorns
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or 1 heaping Tablespoon minced green garlic (white part only)
6 scallions or 1 spring onion, chopped
½ serrano chile, thinly sliced (optional)
2 strips lemon zest, about 2 inches x 1 inch long
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts, sliced
1 fennel bulb, halved lengthwise and sliced, fronds chopped
6 cups water
1 can (15.5 oz.) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
5 oz. sugar snap peas, thinly sliced
2 cups baby spinach
1 cup shelled fresh English peas (from about 1 lb. pods) or frozen peas
1 T. white miso
Kosher salt, to taste

Coarsely grind coriander seeds, fennel seeds and peppercorns in a spice grinder, or with a mortar and pestle. Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add garlic and spices and cook over medium heat, stirring often until fragrant and garlic is softened, about 2 minutes.

Add scallions/spring onion, leeks, fennel, serrano chile and lemon zest. Cook on medium-high heat, until vegetables begin to get charred and carmelized , 5-7 minutes. (Let veggies sit and only stir a couple of times.)

Add 6 cups water to the pan, increase to high and bring to a simmer. If using frozen peas, add them now and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add cannellini beans, snap peas and English peas (if using) to the pot.

Remove a couple Tablespoons of soup liquid and whisk together with the miso, then add back to the pot. Add baby spinach and stir just until spinach is wilted, about 20 seconds.

Adjust seasonings with salt. Divide among soup bowls, top with fennel fronds and serve.

Serves 4-6.

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

Download a printable version of the recipe here.

Learn how to make this recipe by watching the cooking class below

Quick-Pickled Vegetables


Brine & Vegetables:
1 cup rice vinegar
1 cup water
1/3 cup white wine vinegar (6% acidity, if possible)
3 T. sugar or other sweetener (honey, maple syrup)
2 t. Koser salt
1 – 1 ½ lbs. vegetables, cut into uniform pieces

Optional flavorings:
Red pepper flakes
Mustard seeds
Fennel seeds
Garlic cloves
Coriander seeds

Place veggies in a non-reactive bowl or jar (i.e. glass) and set aside.

Place all brine ingredients (rice vinegar through salt) in a nonreactive saucepan. Add any additional flavorings, if desired. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Pour over vegetables in bowl/jar, submerging them with the brine. Let cool to room temperature.

Cover and refrigerate overnight. Veggies will keep at least 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Recipe from Cook’s Illustrated

Download a printable version of the recipe here.

Learn how to make this recipe by watching the cooking class below


Learn How to Plant Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables in New Video Tutorials

By Gabriela Estrada, Solano Gardens Program Manager

Scott Dodson of Scotty’s Organic Gardening covers spring garden basics from prepping to planting

This spring, interest in gardening has surged with so many people staying at home. We wanted to help with what to do to get the most out of your seasonal garden beds.

Sustainable Solano has re-envisioned a lot of our programs to fit the current stay-at-home guidelines under COVID-19. We wanted this new vision of our programs to be a resource for the community, and we wanted it to be as accessible as possible. With this in mind, all the program managers began to think about tools that we could offer to the greater Solano County community (and possibly beyond).

For Solano Gardens, a program that focuses on food production in urban areas, we’ve created a series of educational videos that could support individuals getting started on their very own vegetable garden either at home or in their nearest community garden! The video tutorials are from Scott Dodson of Scotty’s Organic Gardening. Scott is the designer behind our gardens at Solano County schools, churches and other community sites. These videos focus on supporting beginners who want to grow their own annual fruits and vegetables (tomatoes, peas, watermelons, etc.), but who don’t know how to get started.

The video series begins with spring gardening (the current growing season), but thanks to generous support from Solano County, Scott will continue this video series and offer seasonal tricks and tips for year-round growing.

You can watch the videos on this page, which includes links to other resources, or in the playlist below.


Future video tutorials will include summer, fall and winter gardening, pruning and plant propagation. If you have any topics you think should be included in this video series, be sure to send me an email at gabriela@sustainablesolano.org.

Want to start growing at Swenson Community Garden in Benicia (where these videos are filmed and garden beds are still available)? Learn more about joining Benicia Community Gardens here.

4th Annual Demonstration Food Forest Tour a Reimagined Success

By Nicole Newell, Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

Permaculture expert John Valenzuela shows the roof water outlet at Living & Learning garden in Benicia during the video tour

Our 4th Annual Demonstration Food Forest garden tour was very different this year, but still brought people together in new ways around the concepts of permaculture and creating waterwise, edible gardens. Permaculture expert John Valenzuela gave a talk over Zoom to nearly 100 people that included a Q&A session and a pre-recorded video tour with John in one of our 27 demonstration food forest gardens.

What also made this year unique was it opened up the opportunity for people from all over the country to be able to attend, even people from the UK and Canada! It was comforting to see all of the familiar faces and exciting to see new people as we are all adjusting to this new way of interacting through video conferencing.

We had to rethink the annual tour this year due to the pandemic and social distancing. The big vision is a community day of local people gathering to tour the gardens, get to know each other and learn about permaculture concepts that can be applied to their landscapes. The original plan was to begin the tour at Avant Garden in Benicia with John’s talk and then 14 demonstration food forest gardens would be open in Benicia and Vallejo for a self-guided tour. These gardens are open annually to educate the community on how to create beautiful and productive gardens that build healthy soil and use water wisely.

Knowing we needed to bring the tour to life in a new way this year, our Sustainable Solano team got into solution mindset. We found David Avery, a videographer that made the video of John touring Living & Learning food forest in Benicia. Then on April 25, John gave his live talk over Zoom and answered many questions on plants and fruit trees. For those who couldn’t make the live event, you can view the talk and Q&A in the video below.


View the Living & Learning tour video below.


Stay tuned for more! In May, we will record Lydia Neilsen touring The Ripple Effect and The Enchanted Cottage garden in Vallejo. At a later date, Lydia will present her Rehydrate the Earth talk in a live Zoom call. We are also creating a series of short videos on the elements that go into creating your own food forest garden. To stay on top of the latest, subscribe to our newsletter here.

Sustainable Solano Hosts Virtual Demonstration Food Forest Garden Tour, Talk April 25


Sustainable Solano is bringing its annual Demonstration Food Forest Garden tour online this year as an interactive talk and virtual tour. Due to coronavirus (COVID-19), the nonprofit organization has reimagined the tour in a way that allows participants to join the talk and experience a garden from the comfort of their homes.

About the Tour:

  • Virtual Demonstration Food Forest Garden Tour & Talk
  • 10-11:45 am Saturday, April 25
  • The event will feature a talk by permaculture expert John Valenzuela, followed by a short video tour of one of Sustainable Solano’s demonstration food forest gardens and leaving time for a Q&A session with Valenzuela at the end. The event, hosted on Zoom, will be open to the first 100 people who join that morning. Everyone who registers will also receive a link to the recording of the talk and tour after the live event.
  • Participants must register to get the Zoom link. Register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/virtual-demonstration-food-forest-garden-tour-talk-tickets-90835089197

The live April 25 talk from John Valenzuela of Cornucopia Food Forest Gardens will cover permaculture and explore how permaculture follows nature as a guide in the garden, our communities and beyond. He will plant ideas on what participants can do today to begin a journey into permaculture and bring these concepts into their own gardens. Valenzuela will discuss how to design a tree guild of plants that work together, the elements of a food forest garden, wise sources of water and expanding that vision to create Resilient Neighborhoods. Together, participants will watch a guided virtual video tour of a demonstration food forest garden that shows what can be done to create edible, waterwise landscapes that support communities and provide natural habitat. The tour will show how capturing rainwater, roof water and greywater from weekly laundry can support a garden that works in harmony with nature. There will be time for a question and answer session at the end.

Valenzuela is a horticulturist, consultant and educator. First introduced to the sustainable design theories and methods of permaculture in 1989, he has studied, practiced and taught permaculture in Hawaii, Washington, Costa Rica and throughout California. His special interests are rare fruit, home gardening, trees, traditional agriculture, plant propagation and ethnobotany. 

This talk and the video tour will launch a series of virtual garden tours from Sustainable Solano. The organization will post virtual tours of demonstration food forest gardens throughout the county. Each garden is a unique experience: some are compact front yards, others are on a slope, some share space with animals and small children, some are allowed to grow without restriction, while others are more manicured. They all are lush, food-producing gardens that are fed by secondary water sources (laundry-to-landscape greywater and rainwater) that offer inspiration for home gardens!

John Valenzuela’s talk is sponsored by Republic Services; the tour and Solano Sustainable Backyards program are made possible by the generous support of the Solano County Water Agency


Useful links:

Solano Sustainable Backyards: http://sustainablesolano.org/solano-sustainable-backyard/

John Valenzuela: https://cornucopiafoodforest.wordpress.com/about-2/

Resilient Neighborhoods: http://sustainablesolano.org/resilient-neighborhoods/

About Sustainable Solano

Sustainable Solano is a countywide nonprofit organization that is dedicated to “Nurturing Initiatives for the Good of the Whole.” The organization, now in its second decade, brings together programs that support and sustain one another and the Solano County community. Initiatives include sustainable landscaping, local food, resilient neighborhoods, sustaining conversations and community gardens.