Avant Garden Scavenger Hunt Offers Fun Outside Activity Amid the Pandemic

By Maggie Kolk, Sustainable Solano board member and Avant Garden coordinator

The premier Kids in the Garden event was a scavenger hunt at Benicia’s Avant Garden, COVID-19 version. It proved to be a super successful, fun, educational and tasty event.

Bright orange ribbons rippled in the morning breeze identifying the ready garden plots as eager young hunters assembled to make their way through maze of Avant Garden. With yellow cards for ticking off their discoveries in one hand and bags to retrieve goodies in the other, 12 masked explorers between the ages of 5 and 11 gathered, in a COVID-19-compliant manner, on a sunny July day to escape the confines of pandemic restrictions and have some plain old outdoor fun. Raised garden beds chockful of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and yellow squash and the larger Avant share plot scattered with Halloween-sized orange pumpkins and red peppers, were fair game for the young hunters.

As Avant Garden coordinator, I organized the scavenger hunt with the help of Raquelmarie Clark of WAHEO: We Always Help Each Other, who recruited the young hunters through her social media connections.

The group met at the big freshly painted picnic tables to collect their hunting tools: lists of garden veggies, pencils and paper collection sacks. With instructions to collect only from the orange ribbon areas, they set out to identify or collect their treasurers. Eleven-year-old Toni, with cell phone in hand, was assigned the role of chief Googler to help with mystery plant identification. Shouts of “I found a tomato!” and “There’s a zucchini!” or “Can I eat this?” could be heard as the girls and boys filled their bags with freshly picked veggies. Mid-scavenger hunt, a dad arrived with arms full of goodies to celebrate the fifth birthday of one the young collectors. The kids gathered around to enjoy juice, cookies and fruit and shower the birthday boy with good wishes.

When time was called, with overfilled bags in hand, the hunters huddled around to share their stories and bounties, which included large pumpkins, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and a few peppers. Zucchini muffins made with zucchini from the garden were enjoyed by everyone before the final project of the morning. Each child was given a pot filled with soil along with seeds for planting marigolds. While planting the seeds, a pop quiz on what plants needs to grow was enthusiastically answered with shouts of “water! … dirt! … sunlight! … and love!”

Everyone, parents and kids alike, left Avant Garden with contented smiles and shouts of appreciation, looking forward to the next Kids in the Garden event, which is planned for Oct. 3. Kids in the Garden events are for kids ages 8-12 (kids under 8 may attend but must be accompanied by an adult over 18).  Attendance is limited to 12. Registration is first come-first served. Register here!

Share Your Inspired Gardens!

By Sustainable Solano

We know that many of you attend our demonstration garden tours, hands-on workshops, talks and classes with your own gardens in mind. Maybe you’re considering converting your lawn into something waterwise. Maybe it’s learning about groups of plants that work together to support each other. Maybe it’s the desire to grow food for your family and your community.

Often, we hear anecdotally about what inspired people to take action, from downspouts routed to swales to laying lots and lots of mulch. Now, we want to share your inspired gardens so your projects can inspire others! We’ve launched a new Inspired Gardens section on our Solano Sustainable Backyards page, starting with Colette and Daniel’s “Der Biergarten.” Sustainable Solano’s Land & Water Caretakers class worked with Colette and Daniel on their class design project, giving us a chance to get to know them and talk about their desires for the property. We wanted to share the beautiful transformation Colette and Daniel made to their garden that brings in various sustainable practices. You can find more on their garden here.

Do you have an Inspired Garden to share that reflects some of what you’ve learned? Tell us about it! Please submit:  Your first name, location, what inspired you, what action you took and 1-3 photos to info@sustainablesolano.org

Your inspired garden entry will be posted on our website to inspire others. If you live in Solano County or nearby counties, then you will be entered in an upcoming monthly drawing to receive a gift card from a local nursery of your choice:

  • Lemuria
  • Mid City
  • Morningsun Herb Farm
  • Grow a Pear

The winner will be announced each month during our online classes. Entries will remain in the monthly drawing and removed only once they win. Let us know how you’ve moved from inspiration to action!

Bounty of the County Shifts Focus to Support Solano County Farmers Hurt by Fires

The fires that have torn through Solano County this week have damaged many of the small family farms and wineries in the county. Some farmers lost everything, including their homes, while others were spared. Some have not been able to access their property to determine the extent of the damage.

With the farming community in shock and grieving, Sustainable Solano has decided to shift the focus of the Bounty of the County celebration of Solano agriculture, chefs and wine, which was scheduled to start Aug. 25 with cooking classes, presentations and special dishes.

Instead, the Bounty of the County: Stronger Together event will start with raising funds for those farmers and growers who have lost property, crops and animals to the wildfires. 100% of all donations received through Sustainable Solano through the end of September will go to help our Solano County farmers, ranchers and wine growers. The cooking demonstrations, presentations and dining promotions will be delayed by a week, starting Sept. 1.

Donations may be sent to:

Sustainable Solano

P.O. Box 1215

Benicia, CA 94510

Checks should be made out to “Sustainable Solano”

Or through PayPal at


(while donations by check will go to the fund in their entirety, PayPal does charge fees)

Starting Sept. 1, the Bounty of the County: Stronger Together event will begin to highlight trios of Solano farmers, chefs and winemakers to build public awareness of Solano agriculture and food. Each Tuesday, the trio will be part of a live, online presentation that will offer a cooking demonstration and details on the farms, restaurants and wineries featured. Attendees who register for the free events on Eventbrite will be able to make an optional donation for the Bounty of the County Fire Relief Fund.

Those who want to help can also purchase directly from Solano farmers and the restaurants and retailers that source local farm products. Find more local food resources here.

Find more information here: http://sustainablesolano.org/bounty/

Contact: Communications Manager Allison Nagel at allison@sustainablesolano.org or 805-512-0901

Grill It!

Photo: Unsplash

On those hot summer days, use the grill to bring out the flavor of your seasonal vegetables with these Brined & Grilled Carrots with Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce and Grilled Vegetable Ratatouille.

Brined & Grilled Carrots with Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce


1 ½ lbs. young carrots (not baby carrots!), unpeeled, tops removed and reserved
4 cups water
½ cup kosher salt, plus extra to taste

Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce:
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems, plus extra for garnish
1 cup chopped carrot tops, plus extra for garnish
½ cup Greek-style yogurt
3 T. dry-roasted peanuts, plus extra for garnish
1 jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeds reserved, and cut into ¼” pieces
1 ice cube
1 t. finely grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, rough chopped
¼ t. ground coriander
Salt, to taste

For carrots: rinse and scrub carrots to remove any dirt. Whisk water and salt in a large bowl until salt is dissolved. Submerge carrots in brine and let sit at room temperature for 45 minutes – 1 hour (don’t go past 1 hour, or they will be too salty). Transfer carrots to paper towel-lined plate and pat dry. Discard brine.

Meanwhile, process cilantro, carrot tops, yogurt, peanuts, jalapeno, ice, ginger, garlic and coriander in a blender on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Scrape down sides midway through. Taste for spiciness; if desired, add jalapeno seeds. Season with salt and refrigerate until ready to use.

Light grill on high and heat until hot, about 10 minutes. Leave all burners on high. Clean and oil cooking grate. Place carrots on grill (directly over coals if using charcoal) and cook, turning occasionally, until carrots are well charred on all sides and just beginning to soften on exteriors, 3-5 minutes for very small carrots, 5-7 minutes for larger ones. (No need to fully cook – they should still be crunchy at the center.)

Transfer to a serving plate/platter. Drizzle yogurt sauce over and sprinkle with garnishes: cilantro, carrot tops and peanuts.

Serves 4.

Download a printable version of the recipe here

Grilled Vegetable Ratatouille


1 large red onion
2 lbs. eggplant
1 ½ lbs. zucchini or yellow squash
2 bell peppers / gypsy peppers
1 lb. firm yet ripe tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil (you’ll need approximately ½ cup)
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
3 T. sherry vinegar
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 T. minced fresh thyme
1-2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

Prepare vegetables for grilling:

  • Cut onion into thick rounds and skewer.
  • Cut eggplant and zucchini/yellow squash into ¾” planks.
  • Cut peppers in half or quarters, depending on size and prepare a grill pan.
  • Cut tomatoes in half cross-wise (across the “equator”).

Brush both sides of the vegetables with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until marked, slightly caramelized and just beginning to soften, turning once. Depending on size, veggies will need to be pulled off as they are done cooking. Peppers can be placed in a perforated grill pan to prevent slipping through the grill grates.

Set veggies aside to cool slightly. Meanwhile, whisk ¼ cup olive oil, sherry vinegar, basil, thyme and garlic together in a large bowl. Cut vegetables into 1” pieces and add to oil mixture. Toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6-8.

Download a printable version of the recipe here

Learn how to make these recipes by watching the cooking class below


Bounty of the County to Spotlight Solano County Food and Wine

This celebration of agriculture, chefs and wine will highlight a team of one Solano County farmer, a chef at a Solano County restaurant and a Solano County winery each week starting the week of Aug. 24 and continuing through September. This is the first year of Solano’s Bounty of the County, which will be held as a virtual event to ensure public health and safety due to COVID-19.

Each week will begin with an informative online live cooking demonstration, where the chef will discuss and make a featured dish, the farmer will talk about the seasonal specialty crops in that dish and the winemaker will highlight pairings. Each restaurant will offer a special meal for purchase that includes the farmer’s featured Bounty of the County products.

To date, participants include:

  • Farms: Be Love Farm, Eatwell Farm, Lockewood Acres, Tenbrink Farm, Terra Firma Farm, Wilkinson Acres
  • Restaurants/Food Producers: Backdoor Bistro (Vacaville), Michael Warring (Vallejo), The Pip Wine Bar & Shop (Dixon), Slanted Tree Kitchen & Taproom (Fairfield), Two60 Kitchen + Bar (Fairfield), Virtue Juice Bar (Vacaville)
  • Wineries: Sky Ranch, Suisun Creek Winery, Suisun Valley Wine Co-op, Tenbrink, Tolenas

More participants may be confirmed in the coming weeks.

This year’s Bounty of the County was developed in partnership by Sustainable Solano, the Solano County Fair Association and the Solano Small Business Development Center.


Dates: Weekly starting the week of Aug. 24 and going through September

Each week will highlight a local trio: a farm, restaurant and winemaker

Find the schedule and latest updates and learn more here: http://sustainablesolano.org/bounty/

Bounty of the County was originally envisioned as a large, in-person event at the Solano County Fairgrounds that would highlight local food in an environment that encouraged food and wine tasting and social interaction with farmers, chefs and winemakers. Instead, the celebration has moved online with virtual demonstrations and participating restaurants offering ways to purchase the featured dishes under the current county health guidelines. The organizations behind the event continue to plan for a public event next summer that will be aligned with public health and safety.

For more information or to arrange interviews, contact Sustainable Solano Communications Manager Allison Nagel at 805-512-0901 or allison@sustainablesolano.org or Sustainable Solano Local Food Program Manager Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan at stephanie@sustainablesolano.org


About Sustainable Solano

Sustainable Solano is a countywide nonprofit organization that is dedicated to “Nurturing Initiatives for the Good of the Whole.” The organization 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.

For more information, visit sustainablesolano.org

About the Solano County Fair Association

The Solano County Fair Association (SCFA) was established in 1946 to produce the annual Solano County Fair and manage the year-round operations of the Solano County Fairgrounds.  Since then, the SCFA has been providing educational, cultural, artistic, commercial and recreational programs to the residents of Solano County for more than 70 years.

For more information, visit https://www.scfair.com/

About Solano Small Business Development Center

The Solano Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is a nonprofit organization that provides expert no-cost advising, low cost workshops and small business trainings to guide small businesses to success and accomplishment. The Solano SBDC serves all of Solano County and is part of the Northern California SBDC network. 

For more information, visit https://www.solanosbdc.org/