Food, environment and human health, local economy and resilient communities
By Elena Karoulina
Executive Director of Sustainable Solano
Image from Pixabay
When was the last time you had Solano-grown produce on your dinner table? The most possible answer is ‘never’, unless you grow your own food in your garden or your backyard food forest. It’s a very unusual situation for a Bay Area county that is still largely agrarian, at least in the land use patterns.
Sustainable Solano is embarking on a new project to bring more local food to our communities and to connect our local farmers, chefs, and residents with the gifts of our land and with each other.
At the very end of September we received great news from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): our proposal to further our vision by developing a business plan for Solano Community Food Centers was selected for funding! Annually, USDA funds about 14% of grant applications for local food projects, and we are honored to earn support on a federal level.
What is a Community Food Center? It is a hub for local food activities: CSAs deliveries, cooking classes, community education, and large kitchens where chefs and community members can cook wholesome nutritious meals. Larger Community Food Centers can include a food co-op.
Although Solano County produces close to $354 million worth of agricultural products and exports these products to more than 40 countries, only a fraction of that amount remains in the county due to weak distribution system, lack of sales outlets and somewhat low interest in local food. You can hardly find any Solano-grown products in our farmer markets, stores and restaurants. Small farmers struggle to hold on to their land and to connect with local customers.
Where do we buy local food? People who can afford it obtain their local ag products in the markets outside our county: Napa, Sonoma, Berkeley (thus spending local money outside our local communities). Some cities in Solano are blessed with Community Supported Agriculture, but not many people know about this option and take advantage of it. People with low means have to go without local fresh food at all. Solano is a county of commuters, and unfortunately, the only option available for families on a go is fast-food restaurants and convenience stores (you cannot find local food there!).
We pay dearly for this lack of access to local food with our health: Solano County is among the sickest counties in the nation. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease rates are above national average in our home county.
Food, human health, the environment and local economies are all interconnected; by creating a network of city-based Community Food Centers, there is potential to re-envision and re-construct Solano County’s food system so that it works for everyone in the local food supply chain.
Sustainable Solano has partnered with researchers at UC Davis, Solano County Department of Agriculture and Department of Public Health to conduct a feasibility study, develop an effective business plan, and outline implementation for local food businesses that aggregate, process and distribute locally-produced, healthy food products. Our big vision is the environmentally and economically sustainable, equitable local food systems in Solano County.
We are looking for urban and rural farmers, chefs and local food activists interested to implement this vision. We’d love to hear from you with your comments, suggestions, reflections, and offers to help. Please email directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s make it happen! I am looking forward to meet all of you at the official launch of the program on Wednesday, October 25, at 7 pm, at Benicia’s Heritage Presbyterian Church (doors open at 6 pm). Please join our Advisory Board members Dr. Feenstra and Dr. Campbell in the conversation about the future of food and why local resilient food system is so important. Come meet the project team and all of us interested to bring this vision to reality.
Share Plot Harvest, July 2016
Benicia Community Gardens Annual Meeting on February 18, 2017
After a brief welcome by Marilyn Bardet, Board President, our executive director, Elena Karoulina, explained that the Benicia Community Gardens and Orchard are now part of Sustainable Solano. In the past few years Elena and the Board have added many new initiatives, including 7 food forests in Benicia and consumer supported agriculture programs to supply residents with sustainably sourced vegetables, meat, fish, and other food products. The food forests have saved an impressive amount of water. These accomplishments caught the attention of Solano County officials, who asked our group to bring some of these programs to other parts of Solano County. So the name change reflects the new and broader mission of bringing sustainable food (in many forms) to Solano County.
The group then heard from the coordinators of Avant Garden, Swenson Garden and the Community Orchard. Avant Garden is almost full, but many of the beds at Swenson are empty. The Share plot at Avant Garden provided over 700 pounds, an impressive amount of food! All 3 coordinators requested increased participation in work days. As discussed last year, people who did not provide the minimum hours last year will be charged extra this year. Annual agreements were signed and the annual fees were collected. Agreements and fees for 2017 are due by March 21. Contact your garden coordinator if you missed the Feb 18 meeting!
By Jason Lingnau of Intuitive Design
The pruning workshop on Saturday was informative and timely. The winter pruning season is upon us and my wife and I have some work to do but have been hesitant to “make the cut”.
The speaker , Ann Ralph had such a wonderful approach to the subject and gave the group hands on lessons in pruning various types of fruit trees.
Ann is the author of Grow a Little Fruit tree and has a long career in the Nursery business. It was hosted by Sustainable Solano through Benicia Community Gardens. The workshop took place at the Benicia Community Orchard on a brisk February morning and this wonderful outdoor experience was part lecture and part story telling. Ann brought my rough understanding of pruning into focus.
I had a sense that pruning was an important part of keeping a fruit tree productive but learned the how and why of it. Ann broke it all down into simple and practical steps that anyone with a fruit tree of any age could perform.
There were folks from Vallejo and Fairfield that brought the discussion around to growing patterns from other parts of the county.
I was particularly interested in her promotion of the first “knee cut”. Others in the group knew what that meant and were just as horrified as Ann herself was when she was told to perform this on “all bare root trees that left the nursery”. In fact she says that she refused to do it! I hid the fact that I didn’t know what all this meant, but for me this pruning workshop just took an intriguing turn like an Agatha Christie novel.
My curiosity did push me to raise my hand and ask Ann to explain to me in more detail about this mystery “knee cut “. I was to learn how this dramatic cut really does set the stage for a future tree that produces a better crop of fruit. But I was unsure if I could do it to one of our freshly purchased bare root asian pear trees.
This hard pruning technique that was once ridiculed by nursery’s throughout California is now a standard practice for many or a suggestion given to those purchasing bare root trees from Bay Area nurseries.
The group learned how very common sense pruning can be and some tricks that are counter intuitive. I look forward to taking the techniques learned from Ann to promote stronger, more fruit producing branches in our little back yard fruit orchard.
Maggie (center) Taking notes on peach tree pruning.
When we asked Community Orchard Program Manager Maggie Ingalls why she invited Ann Ralph to speak to Orchard members, she said, “I took Ann’s workshop on backyard fruit tree pruning soon after we had planted several fruit trees in our new yard here in Benicia. I wish I had taken the course before we planted those trees, but I jumped right in with summer pruning and have successfully kept the trees to a manageable size. I find Ann’s theory of pruning and her teaching style to be very helpful.”
Which is a plus, because pruning can seem quite intimidating, with talk about sizing, different cuts, pruning for growth, pruning for fruit, dwarf trees, semi-dwarf trees, two-year fruit vs four-year fruit. The ideal angle of branches. At times, avid orchardists can forget there is knowledge and terminology that the average (or novice) fruit tree owner doesn’t know. It can be quite dizzying. Ann will spend two full hours teaching and demonstrating the simple logic of pruning: how to prune for short stature and easy harvest, seasonal routines, and pest and disease control. Because unless you do care for an orchard as your main activity in the day, most backyard caretakers will only be able to do what works for them.
To that, Maggie added, “I came away from her workshop with the confidence to maintain my own trees at the size that is convenient for me.”
Have you registered for our upcoming winter fruit tree-pruning workshop taught by author and educator Ann Ralph? The February 11th workshop, which will be held at the Benicia Community Orchard, is a great opportunity to learn the basics of fruit tree pruning.
When: Feb. 11, 10:30am-12:30pm (potluck lunch to follow)
Where: Benicia Community Orchard, 1400 E 2nd St Benicia
Cost: $40 (free for orchard members)
Registration Required (space is limited to 20)
Join us in co-creating a world that works for everyone. Whether you were with us for the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium, or you want to learn more about how you, with your own unique values, skills, and concerns, can commit to creating the change you want to see, a good place to start with with the Game Changer Intensive. Offered by Pachamama Alliance, it is a seven-week online course designed to educate, inspire, and equip you to be a pro-activist leader, a game changer in your community.
Sustainable Solano is partnering with Pachamama Alliance and Solano County libraries to offer, in conjunction with the online session, regular meeting spaces for residents of Solano County to meet, build, and support our communities together. If you are interested in registering, please submit your interest here. Pachamama and Sustainable Solano will contact you with more information according to the respective cities that you live in. For any additional information, please contact email@example.com.