“A Growing Future” in Suisun City

One private yard in Suisun City has been selected for the installation of a demonstration food forest garden as part of Sustainable Solano’s Sustainable Backyard program offering informative workshops and inspiring talks on sustainable landscape design, community resilience, permaculture, and local food systems. The first of three public installation workshops will be held on Saturday, April 7th, at a private Suisun residence, where community members can help create the foundation of an edible ecosystem fed by secondary water sources such as greywater (laundry-to-landscape system) and roofwater. This workshop will focus on digging swales, making birms, diverting roofwater and planting fruit trees to increase water-holding capacity and building healthy soil in the garden.

Selected homeowner, Cassandra, a resident of Suisun City for over 21 years and passionate about growing food and healthy eating, was looking to replace her lawn with a more sustainable landscape that her family could eat from. This led her to apply to have her yard transformed into a steady, water-retaining food source that would not only increase resilience but catch the attention of lawn owners lining her neighborhood streets. “This project will help secure a source of local food for my family with a surplus to share with the community”, Cassandra said. The family has named the garden, “A Growing Future”.

Through this project, she will be joining a growing family of “food forest keepers” in Solano County that have committed to opening their demonstration food forest gardens for the public to learn about simple sustainable landscape techniques and ways to use water more wisely to grow food.

Her yard was selected among four other Suisun City homeowner applicants. The selection process for these sites are based on criteria such as yard access, greywater feasibility and sun orientation. Sites are assessed and selected by Sustainable Solano’s Sustainable Landscaping Advisory Board made up of dedicated Solano County residents aiming to raise sustainability awareness in Solano County.

The garden will take three full days to complete and all installation events are free and open to the community. There will be yearly ongoing workshops and tours of these demonstration food forest gardens on private and public land in each city.  This project is made possible by funding and support of the Solano County Water Agency.

Registration is required for these FREE hands-on workshops. Visit our calendar to register.

 The Sustainable Backyard and Conversations program will expand to Vacaville in the fall of 2018.  Visit www.sustainablesolano.org and www.facebook.com/sustainablesolano for updates and details about this expansion.

 

Warming Water and What Can be Done

On March 21st, The League of Women Voters hosted a panel discussion on climate change, rising sea level, water shortages and increased water cost in Benicia. The panel consisted of three key Solano County residents. Jerry Potter, a Nasa Climate Scientist, spoke about climate models used to predict global warming and shared overwhelming data regarding increasing temperatures on earth. Not one person in the room argued against the evidence.  He emphasized that storms  and drought will be more intense as temperatures increase.

Andy Florendo, from the Solano County Water Agency covered the history of Lake Berryessa, Lake Oroville and our Solano County water shed.  He stressed the disturbing fact that California water shortages will remain chronic and if do do not begin using water more efficiently.  Mayor Elizabeth Patterson talked about integrated water management and  highlighted the importance of working together as a County to be more efficient with our use of water in our Mediterranean climate.

During the Q&A session, one main concern voiced from a woman on a fixed income was the high cost of water in Benicia.  From the shakiness in her voice, the room could sense how deeply increasing water costs were impacting the financial health of her household. She was making significant changes to conserve water in her household yet her water bill remained a financial burden. This is a problem with no real easy solution. The cost to treat poor water quality is a major component to why bills are so high.

Mayor Patterson was kind enough to listen to my question after the allotted time for Q&A. I asked, “What incentives are being done to motivate Benicia residents to install laundry-to-landscape greywater systems?”  Residents are washing their clothes weekly, so why not recycle this water to irrigate the landscape?  Using secondary water sources such water from your washing machine is a steady water source during the summer and can be used to water fruit trees, berry shrubs and many other plants.

Mayor Patterson commented that would like to hear from the Benicia community about ways to come together to conserve more water.  Show up to the next town hall meeting and collaborate with the community for creative solutions to use water more wisely.  The next city council meeting is Tuesday, April 3 at 7:00pm held in the Council Chamber at City Hall. Hope to see you there!

 

“Greyhawk Grove” Demonstration Food Forest: Third Year Anniversary Reflections

 

In 2015, Benicia residents, Rob and Nam, submitted an application to have their yard transformed into a demonstration food forest garden, fed by secondary water (laundry-to-landcape greywater system & roofwater). This edible ecosystem would serve as a sustainable food source for their family and an educational platform for the community to learn about sustainable landscape design and wise water practices as part of the Benicia Sustainable Backyard program. This March marked the third anniversary of the installation of “Greyhawk Grove” garden. Below is a beautiful account from the homeowner of the journey and recent reflections of her family’s interaction with their food forest garden.

The wonga wonga (Pandorea pandorana) is blooming again, which reminds me that it is about this time three years ago that strangers descended upon our home and gifted us the most wonderful gift–that of time. Their time. Our time. The recognition of time. Of change. Of seasons and impermanence. If there is anything that can encapsulate year three at Greyhawk Grove, I think it would be the birds. Rick and Chris came over last year to paint the garden and Chris mentioned that the first thing she noticed upon pulling up was a whole bunch of birds taking to flight. There were always birds, but year three is when they have claimed the garden as their own. It may have helped that we put in a bird feeder. It may have helped that we put in a small bird bath, but I think as the progression of things go, they just realized that this year, the garden is perfectly suited to them. Who knows what it will be suited for next year, or the year after that. What we’ve learned is that the garden is constantly changing and growing, as are we.

The birds have taken to hanging out in the almond tree, the grapevines, the plum tree, the wonga wonga…the bean tent…everywhere. They sing. They bathe. The hummingbirds (same ones as last year? their kids?) are so comfortable around the garden and its inhabitants that I’ve spotted them hovering to peer at what the boys are up to while they are puttering. Of course the little brown birds have also eaten almost every seedling that has sprouted up. 

But as always, with a host of kids and cats tromping through the yard, it’s always been survival of the fittest around here–apparently the fittest seedlings are sweet peas–which the birds have left alone. They are twisting and curling from the ground, and our resident green thumb Perry is impatiently waiting for his corn to come so they can climb them. When told that it’s not corn season he ignores mama, because after all, he knows plants best (as he has proven over and over again). 

Perry’s white and orange poppies are in their third generation, resisting birds, weeds, and anything else that gets in their way. The paperwhites gifted to us from a Vallejo garden last year are sprouting up again. His cat garden not only overwintered, but like everything Perry touches, is the most vibrant part of the garden. His cat mints (two types), cat thyme, echinacea, chamomile, and cat grass lures a steady supply of cats, who have somehow worked out a detente with the birds, who have in tern worked out a timeshare with the bird bath between them, cats, and, curiously enough, honeybees. It’s like a miniature watering hole  And the water, of course, is studiously refilled daily by very enthusiastic young boys who water it, themselves, and others at the same time. 

As much as Perry cares about his cats and his bees (“Mama, I will plant a cat and bee garden, and they will come.”), Graham cares about his stomach. The garlics he has dotted throughout the garden are growing well. He checks the berry vines daily, wonders when the grapes will come, picks kumquats, points out the growing avocado, the oranges, tangerines, and peers at the blooming blueberry flowers to see if any are becoming blueberries. He reports regularly on the status of the strawberries (there are flowers! there are little berries! they are bigger today! they are not red yet!), and grins when he sees the tiny stevia leaves sprouting from last year’s stems (“Stevia is the only vegetable I like. But mama, you can eat that chard over there.”)

As for Rob and I, the garden provided something else aside from birds, bees, cats, flowers, fruits and vegetables. It provided to both of us peace, an escape, a meditation garden, space in an often difficult environment. We’ve had a lot of turbulence this year and with it came hard earned wisdom. Looming change in the future. But we know that the garden will continue doing what it does. In the coming and going through our door, the garden is always present. A buffer. A transition space. A place to just be. Be present. In the here and now.  

Thank you again, and continually, for this, the garden, your warmth and community. As always, our gate is always open. There’s always a ready chair and a pot of tea on the ready.

Much love and thanks,

Nam, Rob, Perry, Graham, Oliver (resident cat) & a flock of chickens (bawk, bawk)

Are you interested in learning more about our Sustainable Backyard program and seeing what a thriving food forest looks like? Join us on Saturday, April 28th and Sunday, April 29th for our 2nd Annual Benicia/Vallejo Food Forest Tours! Do not miss out on the chance to tour “Greyhawk Grove” and nine other demonstration edible gardens, all fed by secondary water (roofwater and/or laundry-to-landscape greywater system).

Come see how rainwater retention in the ground and drip irrigation can work with various plants selected for their high-yield, food- producing capacity to create a vibrant, varied, wise water garden! Ask our food forest keepers questions, enjoy the gardens, be inspired and get ideas on how you can work these design principles into your own yard!

Register here.

 

Eatwell Farm

By Elena Karoulina, Executive Director

It’s a crisp, breezy morning in March, and I am walking the fields of the Eatwell Farm with the farm manager, Cameron Ottens. It’s a fascinating place – I fell under its spell from the first minutes I saw the earth-sheltered farmhouse with a living green roof and walls.

Many fields are planted with cover crop, nurturing soil, getting ready for the busy summer season. Multi-colored chard, kale and many sorts of cabbages fill the rest of the fields that look like an impressionist painting, with all shades of green and some bright accent colors. Chickens are housed in the mobile coops; they are regularly moved to different locations throughout the farm leaving behind cleaned and fertilized areas. Fruit trees in the nearby orchard are beginning to flower, showing off a pastel-hued rainbow of petals against blue spring sky.

As I am listening to Cameron talking about soil, farm operation, plants, CSA, sustainable farming, local food system, I am reminded again and again about the complexity of the art we call agriculture. Cameron often exclaims: “There is so much to learn!”. The work and learning in the farm are endless….

Eatwell farm was founded by the late Nigel Walker, a leading figure in the Bay Area organic food movement. Beginning with 65 acres near Dixon in 1997, the farm has grown to 105, all organic acres growing hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables to ensure a year-round, diverse supply of the best produce for their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members. Each weekly box comes with recipes and a newsletter from the farm.

CSA members are often invited to the farm for the members-only events like Strawberry Days (You Pick Them), Lavender Harvest and Summer Solstice. You can even have a sleepover on the farm!

There are numerous CSA pick-up locations throughout the Bay Area, including Vallejo, Fairfield and Vacaville in Solano County. There is a waiting list for Benicia too – if you are interested, please contact the farm!

What makes this farm so special is their Care Share Program. Eatwell Farm provides boxes of fresh, organic produce to people who are truly in need of super nutrition, including community members undergoing intense medical treatment. One of the Sustainable Solano partners, Mission Solano, a transitional house for homeless people of Solano County, receives boxes of fresh produce weekly from this generous program.

Just like every holistic, family-owned farm serving local communities, this farm needs all the support from us! Please consider joining Eatwell Community Supported Agriculture program. You will be rewarded by a weekly box of fresh, nutrient-dense organic produce and eggs. To find out more and to sign up: https://www.eatwell.com

P.S. If you would like to hear the founder, Nigel Walker, talk about his farming philosophy beginning with healthy soils – the approach that is still the foundation stone of the farm – watch this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oa9ORY_VXKg

Cameron Ottens, Eatwell Farm manager, will be a part of the post-movie panel discussion, “The Economics of Happiness”, showing in Vallejo on Saturday, March 31 (link). Hope to see you there!

USDA Project Update – Phase 1 Summary

By Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan

                                                                           

Sustainable Solano is nearing completion of Phase 1 of its “Solano Community Food Centers” project, funded by a USDA Local Food Promotion Program planning grant.  The Food Centers are intended to be small-scale, consumer-driven food hubs (including both processed food and raw ingredients), sourced by local farmers, and located in each of Solano County’s seven cities.  In Phase 1, we began conducting a feasibility study to determine the supply of local food in the county, the demand for local food among consumers, and explore ways to distribute this food to the people who want/need it.  The project’s Working Group also analyzed past studies and literature relevant to the project, and began connecting with other regional organizations who are doing similar work in the areas of food systems and sustainability.  The project’s Advisory Board met on Thursday, March 1, 2018, where findings to date were presented by the Working Group (see group lists at the end).

What we have found is that Solano County has a wealth of agriculture, but no organized “local food system.”  Before we get into the findings and data, let’s define what a “local food system” is, within the context of this project.  By “local”, we mean food that is both produced and consumed within Solano County.  A functioning “food system” would refer to farms and ranches earning income through either direct-to-consumer sales, or intermediary marketing channels like schools, grocers, food hubs and the like.  Furthermore, the system as a whole would strengthen Solano County’s rural economy and the environment while at the same time providing access to food (regardless of income/economic status), and nutrition education.

Data from 2015 shows that farm production in Solano County is around $354 million, and Solano County products are exported to 44 countries.  Agriculture creates 4,709 jobs in the County, which accounts for 1.1% of the population.  A 2017 study titled “Economic Effect of Agriculture in Solano County” confirmed that Solano has a thriving food manufacturing industry but nearly all of its raw materials come from elsewhere, and most raw agricultural products leave the county for processing.  The USDA Agricultural Census of 2012 tells us that there are 860 total farms in Solano County, with 70% of them reporting sales under $50,000.  Nearly half of the County’s farms report sales under $10,000.

So, that means Solano County has several smaller farms which might be interested in direct-to-consumer sales.  (These are the folks we are looking for!)  One requirement of the USDA grant is to ultimately increase access to – and consumption of – local food.  After consulting with a variety of County-based organizations, we have identified around 40 small / mid-sized farms in Solano who use sustainable agriculture practices, and who may be interested in partnering with us on the project.  We need more data directly from the farms to estimate sales volumes; this is one of the goals for the second stage of the project.

On the “demand” side of things, we focused on gathering demographic information about Solano County, and also statistics in food purchasing.  Our population of 440,207 people is racially diverse (30% White, 26% Hispanic, 16% Asian, 15% African American, and 4% Other), 50% female, and nearly one-quarter of the population commutes to work outside of their homes in Solano.  We estimated that Solano County residents spend around $1 billion annually on food, with only $2.1 million (0.2%) of those sales going toward Solano-grown products.  About 33% of Solano County has a household income of over $100K, and 26% has an income of under $35K.  There are 113,805 people who are eligible to receive food assistance (SNAP/CalFresh/EBT).  Data from the Ecology Center in Berkeley showed that $52K per year of EBT and Market Match funds are spent at four different farmer’s markets within the County.  However, when taking into consideration that the total amount of available food assistance funding per year is around $170 million, we should certainly expand ways in which residents could channel these funds into local food purchases.

One idea to explore is “Import Substitution.”  In other words, we’d like to substitute non-local food purchases (i.e. purchases at chain grocery stores) with purchases of food grown by Solano County farmers.  If we could replace just 1% of the County’s total food spending, it would keep $10 million within the County’s agriculture system.  Likewise, if applying this same method to food assistance money, 1% of the total funding would generate $1.7 million in the County.  These two sales strategies combined would make $11.7 million available for local farmers (vs. their current estimated $2 million in sales).

Phase 2 of the project (March-June, 2018) includes an exploration of HOW we might accomplish this, as well as the completion of two other objectives:  1) complete a study of relevant, successful business models of local food systems and local food enterprises (Sierra Harvest, Ceres Community Project, Three Stone Hearth, Fresh Approach, etc.), and 2) collect primary data from Solano County’s farmers, via a survey and meetings, so we have a very clear picture of the available supply, opportunities, and barriers to success.  Phase 2 will also include developing a business plan, and then outlining implementation for our next steps, which may be beyond the USDA grant.

As we have delved into this research, major themes have emerged.  We need a systemic, holistic look at Solano County’s Local Food System, and how this system might benefit key stakeholders:  farmers, distributors, processors and community members of all socio-economic backgrounds.  A good local food system should be viable economically (affordable farmland, decent wages, profitability for farms, several outlets for affordable local food), environmentally (healthy soil, safe pesticide use, clean water, reduced food miles) and socially (local food access for everyone, informed consumers, diverse farmers, healthy communities).  Public education on not only the nutritional value of local food, but also the holistic picture will be key.  To create a vision, there will need to be cooperation and dialogue across various stakeholders, agencies and community representatives across the County.  Finally, when it comes to implementation, we will need a managing agent, the capacity to build out the system, and funding.  We are exploring the idea of a Solano County Local Food Summit to begin bringing all these elements together.

Any questions or comments about the project may be directed to Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan at: Stephanie@SustainableSolano.org / 773.960.8061 (mobile).

Advisory Board members:

Solano Farming / Ag community

Simone Hardy, Agricultural Commissioner, Solano County

Denise and Ben Lyons, Farmers, Lockewood Acres Farm

Sarah Hawkins, Solano County Farmbudsman

 

UC Davis

David Campbell, Associate Dean, Social and Human Sciences, UC Davis

Gail Feenstra, Deputy Director SAREP, UC Davis

Kristin Kiesel, Lecturer PSOE, Agricultural & Resource Economics Dept, UC Davis

 

Solano County Health & Social Services, Public Health Division

Robin Cox, Sr. Health Promotion & Community Wellness Bureau Chief

Wendy Loomas, Health Services Manager

Jahniah McGill, Environmental Health Supervisor, Solano County

Mike Ioakimedes, Business Development Manager, Solano County Fairgrounds

Greg Morrison, Treasurer, Board of Directors, Cultivate Community Food Co-Op

Stann Whipple, Treasurer, Board of Directors, Sustainable Solano

 

Legal advisor for the project: Cameron Rhudy, Sustainable Economies Law Center

 

Working Group

Elena Karoulina, Executive Director, Sustainable Solano

Greg Morrison, Treasurer, Board of Directors, Cultivate Community Food Co-Op

Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan, Local Food Program Manager, Sustainable Solano

Sahra Pak, Public Health Nutritionist, Solano County Health & Social Services

Hannah Krovetz, Jada Miller, Ashley Spalding, Project Interns, UC Davis