This Giving Tuesday, Support Sustainable Solano Through Give Local Solano

By Sustainable Solano

Sometimes the gifts we get at Sustainable Solano are the small moments that come out of the work we do. While our work is focused on effecting change within our communities to build resiliency and sustainable living, what happens on the human scale is much more personal:

  • A woman getting to know neighbors and new friends while planning a resilient neighborhood.
  • A man planting in a community garden recalling how his mother prepared certain vegetables during his childhood.
  • Students researching and connecting with the food they grow on campus to send home for families.
  • Farmers connecting in conversation to share practices and ideas.

During #GivingTuesday, Dec. 3, we invite you to become part of fostering that human connection in creating a world that works for everyone. Sustainable Solano is participating in this year’s Give Local Solano. The program gives you a chance to give to area nonprofits that are doing important work in the county. All donations go to the organizations selected, and 100% of the donation qualifies as a charitable gift. Here are more details on Give Local Solano.

While we have a Donate button at the top of our website for any time of year, Give Local Solano gives us a chance to highlight our programs with people who may not have heard of Sustainable Solano and the work we do. We hope those of you who know us, volunteer with us and have joined us for workshops will help spread the word — while every dollar will help bring more programs to the county, every new connection is someone who can help us grow and spread the important work we’re doing to create sustainable landscapes, shape resilient communities, provide education and support local food.

See Sustainable Solano’s profile and donate here on Dec. 3!

Building Community Capacity: Conversation at California Environmental Protection Agency

By Elena Karoulina, Executive Director

Sustainable Solano Executive Director Elena Karoulina, far right, shares insight on a panel at the CalEPA gathering.

Recently a few Sustainable Solano team members had the privilege of spending a day with our fellow Environmental Justice CalEPA grantees and CalEPA and other state agencies’ officials and staff in Sacramento.

We were humbled by the depth and breadth of the organizations present at the meetings. From all over California – LA, Central Valley, Northern California and Bay Area — representatives of mostly grassroots organizations described their work of fighting against unfair environmental burdens in their communities, restricting and eventually banning pesticide use in California, building green infrastructure, providing youth education and leadership skills development, and supporting healing and personal transformation for inmates using permaculture as guiding philosophy. The community wisdom in the room was palpable — we all shared our honest stories of our accomplishments, opportunities and numerous challenges to further this work, from lack of funding and policy support to the unrealistic expectations of some funders to have measurable results in a short period of time. Our impact is not always easy to measure: How do you measure hope?

California Secretary of Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld opened the gathering and set the tone of our inquiry for the day: What does “successful” community capacity development look like? He masterfully identified our major modern adversaries: complexity and abstraction. The issues we are dealing with are so multifaceted and complex that it becomes increasingly difficult for the majority of the population to grasp them in their totality. Related to this is the abstraction of many concepts. For example, climate change is so profound and global, yet for most of us it is not yet a dire daily reality. Secretary Blumenfeld encouraged us to keep it personal and relative to our communities, to distill the essence of the issues and translate them into the place-based needs of the communities we work in, yet remain aware of how those fit into the complexity of our global challenges.

Blumenfeld talked about the need to reform the system and posted a question to all of us: How would this reform look? How can we ensure that technological advancements are placed in low-income, high-need communities first? Overall, we all felt appreciated and supported by the top leadership of the California EPA.

Throughout the day and long after we’ve been reflecting on what community capacity means for Sustainable Solano. The first question we have to answer is “capacity to do what?”

We, at Sustainable Solano, strive toward a new model, a vision for our human society built on the principles of Earth care, people care and fair share for a world that works for everyone. This new world is emerging all around us at the grassroots level, and it was very reassuring to hear from state officials that the question of a structural change is presenting itself on their level, which opens up a conversation about what that change will look like. It will take all of us, every level and all three major sectors of our society — business, government and civic — to work together to create a more sustainable future for all. We work on the ground, rooted in our neighborhoods, inspiring, educating and empowering our community members and providing tools and space to take heart-based actions toward the good of the whole.

What kind of community capacity supports this work? What would be a crucial characteristic we all need to have? We think it’s CONNECTION – to ourselves, to each other, to the world around us and to something larger than ourselves, whatever it might be for each of us.

We see the role of Sustainable Solano in enacting and supporting these connections through meaningful, tangible work in our communities. Every time you come to our events to plant trees, establish a permaculture food forest or install a greywater system, we are doing just that — seeding these vital connections all over the county.

This is exactly how we approach our Listening Circles project in Central Solano, funded by CalEPA’s Environmental Justice grant: We would like to bring to the communities mostly affected by the environmental pressures a balanced sense of urgency and agency, knowledge about environmental issues in their backyards, and practical, achievable, community-based solutions to fix the problems or at least ease the effects of them.

Looking forward to seeing you at our next community event!

Growing Change Through Community

By Allison Nagel, Communications Manager

Film maker John de Graaf and author and public speaker Anamaria Aristizabal

A conversation sparked in a Vallejo living room by the lessons learned in the city of Bogota, Colombia, could be a part of driving change in the local community. 

Change starts with a vision of what is possible.

“It is a fire in our hearts,” said Anamaria Aristizabal, who spoke to a small group of local citizens earlier this summer about the transformation that took place in her hometown, creating a city full of parks, libraries and bike paths. Anamaria was there by invitation of filmmaker John de Graaf. (We’ll be showing one of his films, Redefining Prosperity, on Aug. 18 in Benicia, and John will participate in a Q&A after the screening.) John is currently working on a documentary about Vallejo. He said there are lines to be drawn between what happened in Bogota and what he sees happening in our local city — how bringing public services to neglected areas can give residents the sense that someone in government cares and the empowerment to ask for more.

Anamaria, who is a public speaker, author and the co-founder of an ecovillage outside of Bogota, drew out a timeline of how Bogota’s leadership history led to the city’s current state. First, there was leadership that pursued fiscal cleanup of a corrupt and bankrupt system. That paved the way for the next leader to focus on civic culture and the need for citizens to be civil to each other while building up a fiscal surplus. And that surplus allowed the next leader to focus on infrastructure, building out all of those public services and spaces.

By solving for essential needs, such as adding communal kitchens to address hunger, the city freed people up to have the bigger conversations and to advocate for more and better ways of improving the city and the status of its citizens.

“A strong social platform of people feeling met by their government allowed the city to move into a new era,” she said.

In examining the identity of an individual or a city, it comes down to tangible things, stories (those “seeds” that carry the identity and essence of a person or place) and ideals, Anamaria said. In Bogota, attention to ideals meant a focus on inclusion for all citizens or beauty in the natural world.

“All these ideals guide us and bring us together,” she said.

A focus on ideals can be a challenge, with the question of how to sustain the commitment and energy around an ideal.

Anamaria suggests “social technologies” — the building of stronger relationships where everyone feels heard and can unite around common values. Building trust creates more opportunities to pursue possibilities.

She pointed to the small group gathered together and how it creates new connections. There are more opportunities to do that within our communities. Part of the discussion that night among attendees touched on the need to better engage disenfranchised parts of the community.

“Out of relationships you can generate new possibilities and move into action,” she said, noting that the building of relationships, purpose and meaning has to come first before jumping to action.

She hoped that by sharing what has happened elsewhere, she can inspire others intent on changing their cities for the better.

“Sharing the positive stories that are already happening becomes the good fire to inspire others,” she said.

Learning to Listen

Anamaria’s insight and the feedback from this small group on the importance of community involvement and lending an ear to the voices of those most affected by community challenges ties in with Sustainable Solano’s commitment to creating Listening Circles. Learn more about this exciting process here.

Environmental Justice Grant to Help With Most Important Part of Community Involvement: Listening

By Sustainable Solano

So much of what we do as an organization is driven by connection. We seek to connect with community members and help neighbors come together to work toward a better world, whether that is through creating a community garden, forming a resilient neighborhood, supporting local farms or other means of connection. An important part of that task is finding out from community members what challenges they face, so that we can offer services that meet the needs and serve the desires of local residents.

California’s Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded Sustainable Solano an Environmental Justice grant that will help us create Listening Circles to identify challenges and move toward solutions starting in Fairfield, Vacaville and Suisun City. The grants focus on communities most affected by pollution and look at ways to combat pollution and improve health outcomes. 

Sustainable Solano will work with local partners, such as churches, schools and other community groups, to engage community members and develop community-led solutions that will address the effects of climate change on disadvantaged communities. We will do this with help from Solano Public Health and UC Davis. Much of our work in green infrastructure, from creating demonstration food forest backyard gardens to community vegetable gardens to resilient neighborhoods, can serve to address climate change. The Listening Circles will help determine which of those types of resources can be the best fit for local communities, particularly low-income communities and communities of color that often face the greatest environmental justice challenges. These circles will also help plan any future programming that community members identify as needs.

By taking the time to listen to residents, we will be able to learn what environmental issues affect their neighborhoods, involve community leaders and local representatives in the decision-making process at the local and county level, and improve access to environmental information and making that information easy to understand and put to use. All of these things will culminate in an assessment and action plan that can then help the community members through support in developing green infrastructure plans to address the challenges they have identified.

We look forward to sharing more as we get underway in fostering greater connection and access to green infrastructure solutions as these communities address the greatest environmental issues they face.

Have questions, suggestions or want to connect about this program? Please contact Gabriela Estrada at

Next Economy Series: Designing the Next Economy

By Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan, Local Food Program Manager

Local Food Program Manager Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan presents what she learned at the workshop to community members.

Between January and April, Santa Cruz Permaculture presented a series of four workshops entitled “Systems Change & the Next Economy:  Regenerative Design for People & the Planet.” The series featured instructors with diverse backgrounds who are critically examining aspects of our economic, financial and monetary systems, as well as offering alternative models, inspiring examples and ideas for a new economic system that works for everyone.

My fellow Sustainable Solano co-workers had gone before me to the first three workshops, and on April 6 and 7, it was my turn. Led by Erin Axelrod and Kevin Bayuk of LIFT Economy, over the weekend we would “collectively explore the possibility of how we can redesign the economy to create regenerative outcomes of security, prosperity and a stable climate rather than outcomes of exploitation and inequity. By gaining an understanding of the design constraints of the ‘business as usual’ economy we will chart a pathway of transformation, using permaculture design principles, methods and ethics, to an economy that works for the benefit of all life. We will explore how to design enterprises and organizations that provide needed goods and services in ways that enhance and restore environmental and social prosperity.”

A tall order, but my group of around seven workshop participants jumped in with enthusiasm and curiosity.  

We began by looking at the current problems:  How currency use and certain economic activities have catalyzed a culture where humans don’t need anyone else — we only need money. (Or at least we think we don’t need anyone else.) This has resulted in lack of trust in people, only trust in money, and a laundry list of negative economic patterns (endless economic growth, greed, competition, prioritization of profit, commercialization, etc.) and skewed beliefs (“If I don’t have a leg up with inherited wealth, I’m not going to make it!”; “If you’re wealthy, that’s proof that you deserve more money!”; “If there’s a top category of wealthy people, there must be a bottom category”).

Erin pointed out that capitalism, as a system, has been good at suppressing alternatives and perpetuating itself, and making losers in the game. One point that I found fascinating was how humans are the only species with the concept of “unemployment,” and the idea that they/we have nothing to contribute. (Indeed, the squirrels scurrying around my backyard have endless work to do, within their functioning, natural ecosystem!)

So, now what?  

Erin and Kevin argued that it is time to re-focus and think about how choices around business design and structure matter. What are models of creating businesses/organizations that don’t require passing on expenses to the end user? How can we find ways to meet our needs based on connection/community, and less on transaction/extraction? How can we design enterprises and organizations that provide needed goods and services in ways that enhance and restore environmental and social prosperity? Permaculture principles, which focus on “Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share,” provide the guiding star for this work. Is there a way to create an economy that works for the benefit of all life?

There are more questions than answers, but to try and arrive at some answers, Erin presented an interesting diagram:

Where we are now is at the top of the top curve, where the dotted line connects. “Business as usual” is the dotted line, which represents endless economic growth — but at the expense of others. The Hospice line represents activities that help the current system (with its inequities) to die off. The Midwifery line represents bringing in entirely new economic principles. And if all goes according to plan, we have a more equitable “Next Economy.”  

There are lots of questions/issues around this graphic. Midwifery requires resources, which some organizations don’t have. Sometimes “hospice” is just keeping the bad from getting worse, and not actually working to stop dysfunctionality in the system. We then tried brainstorming examples of organizations that are practicing either “hospice” or “midwifery.” Patagonia would be one such example, as they are interested in repairing your (expensive) clothing, and not replacing it. They are trying to “hospice out” the “throw-away mentality” among consumers in the clothing industry and at the same time, “midwife” the idea of investing in fewer, higher-quality garments created in a fair trade system.

Another example that came up was TerraCycle. TerraCycle offers free recycling programs funded by brands, manufacturers and retailers around the world to help collect and recycle hard-to-recycle waste. But what I realized was that for TerraCycle to be completely effective, they need to be willing to go out of business. Some businesses that claim/work for good need to be so effective that they wouldn’t need to exist anymore.  

We do have some organizations and people trying to do the right thing. But, when organizations/businesses are interfacing with the economy and trying to do the right thing, they hit a snag. Erin and Kevin call it the “Price Parity Paradox.” This means that when you are implementing a good/service and doing it “right” (equitable, environmentally sustainable, etc.), you end up with higher prices, making the thing inaccessible to those who might need it most. For example, let’s say I’m a community kitchen sourcing from small to mid-sized local farms (who practice sustainable agriculture) and paying fair prices for the ingredients. I’m also paying my staff – everyone from the dishwashers to the sous chefs – fair wages to produce nutrient-dense food. However, to maintain this business and be sustainable, my pricing needs to be at a certain level, which can only be afforded by wealthier people in the community. My products are too expensive and not accessible to certain populations who might need my nutrient-dense food the most  (i.e. low income customers with health challenges).

All hope is not lost, however. Erin and Kevin presented some possible solutions to the Price Parity Paradox:

On the Demand Side:

  • Make Customers Your Owners (Cooperatives)
  • Differentiate Pricing (sliding scales, free vs. premium, even “pay what you can … or what you think it’s worth”)  
  • Transparency (being really honest with your customers about what it costs to grow the food, make the soup, etc.)

This brought up more questions around perception of value:  How do we get that shift where people are investing in things that benefit all life? Where are the people who are voluntarily ethical, and how did they get that perspective? How did they form value around certain things? Who are these self-selecting individuals opting in to pay more?

On the Supply Side:

  • Partially or Totally Vertically Integrate (not so much to remove the middle man, but to remove the middle margin)
  • Vertically Integrate Through Local Joint Ventures (Who in my community could be as invested as me in growing the business? An example was a roof builder who partners with a gutter repair person.)
  • Reducing Salary Expense Through Creative Total Compensation (flexible hours, a CSA box, 401(k) that feeds back to the community)
  • Worker-Ownership (good for weathering recessions)
  • Innovation (renting out goods during off-season; selling viable by-products; communicating the durability of goods, detracting from the “throw-away” mentality)

Very few organizations are doing ALL supply and demand solutions to solve the Price Parity Paradox, but many are trying. It’s difficult because we are still operating within the constraints of the “business as usual” system. But let’s say you have an idea for an organization or business.

Here’s the theory:  to get to that Next Economy place on the chart,

you’ll need to follow 10 Principles:

  1. Need-Oriented, Basic Goods and Services. Stick with the basics. How many businesses do we really need? Some are there simply to fulfill the “shiny object syndrome!” Our culture shapes our definition of need. How is our culture a product of something greater that needs shifting?
  2. Diverse & Inclusive Ownership. The more diverse the team, the better it comes up with solutions and there’s more creativity. When you prepare to work with others, you put more work into it. More diverse groups bond around VALUES, not race/gender/age, etc. When you design for the most vulnerable population, it benefits everyone. But there must be ownership, otherwise it’s tokenism.
  3. Equitable/Democratic Culture. An example of this would be multi-stakeholder cooperatives. (An example you can look up is “Our Table,” a cooperative of farmers/producers, worker-owners and consumers.) Democratic culture could be an organizational method/structure called “holocracy,” which is practiced by Three Stone Hearth in Berkeley.
  4. Support of the Local Economy Ecosystem. How is the organization banking? At a large bank that engages in the extractive economy, or with a credit union or smaller progressive bank? An example that came up was Beneficial State Bank, which has its assets owned by a nonprofit. Another example to consider are B Corps: corporate entities that are beholden not only to profit, but also to stakeholders and the environment, and are assessed by third parties on ownership, culture, environment, etc.
  5. Embed Education Into the Good or Service. This looks at “known needs” vs. “unknown needs.” Look within existing markets to educate, instead of creating something new. Education often benefits businesses and hopefully will catalyze a cultural shift, because the value of the product is understood. And we can probably all agree that culture change happens before policy change!
  6. Open Source. No monetary exchange for information (the idea of ownership and property emerge out of a “scarcity” mindset). What’s the benefit of a software company doing open source? Maybe someone will improve the code after putting it out there. However, the tension is that something will be taken, used (and perhaps commodified) by the extractive economy.
  7. Transparency. Everyone who participates in the business will make better decisions if they know more about finances, governance, etc. On the consumer side, it’s also education: You can give a breakdown of where the money goes to make the jacket, the food, etc. Another example is Participatory Budgeting (as done in Vallejo).
  8. Zero Waste & Climate Beneficial. Look at the system, and strive to create symbiotic relationships. For example, when farmers enrich their soil, they get not only more nutrient-dense food, but land that helps pull more carbon out of the atmosphere. Farms that have a commercial kitchen on-site so that food scraps can be composted back into the land are another example.
  9. Scale by Regional Replication. Don’t scale up — scale across. If you scale up (which “business as usual” does), then the problem of endless economic growth in a world with finite resources continues. Sometimes this is place-specific, to be adapted to different environments, soil, watersheds, etc.
  10. Supportive of Personal Growth & Development. This is a workplace that can produce/provide needed goods/services AND provide personal growth and development of the people who work there. What needs to get done on a personal level to support transition? How can we get rid of the scarcity mindset? How can we put our population/community/workers at the core of the designing of a resilient system?

In our quest to design the Next Economy, we have circled back to the personal level. Here is another graphic that ties in personal purpose with an economic system:

As we wound down the weekend, I was reminded of the quote that Erin shared with us at the beginning of the weekend.  It is from Adrienne Maree Brown, author of “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds”:

Do you already know that your existence – who and how you are – is in and of itself a contribution to the people and place around you? Not after or because you do some particular thing, but simply the miracle of your life. And that the people around you, and the place(s), have contributions as well? Do you understand that your quality of life and your survival are tied to how authentic and generous the connections are between you and the people and place you live with and in?
Are you actively practicing generosity and vulnerability in order to make the connections between you and others clear, open, available, durable? Generosity here means giving of what you have without strings or expectations attached. Vulnerability means showing your needs.

Changing a system is big work that requires years of travel down a long, long road. But by attempting to integrate some of these concepts into our lives, businesses and organizations, perhaps we can start to shift our culture. Perhaps we can have positive effects on other systems which are inextricably linked to our economic system, and perhaps someday we will be living within the “Next Economy.” Good luck!

The funding for Sustainable Solano’s team training at the “Next Economy” course at Santa Cruz Permaculture was provided by Solano Community Foundation through their NPP Capacity Building grants program. Community conversations are made possible through a grant from the Peaceful World Foundation. Thank you to both organizations!

Next Economy: Exploring the Role of Community and Restorative Economics

By Gabriela Estrada and Allison Nagel, Sustainable Solano

Communities have the power to shape a new economy that is equitable and just, and the transition to get there lies in creating self-determination and shared prosperity through community governance and community ownership. It also relies on moving from a mindset of scarcity to one of creating abundance.

At our recent Next Economy discussion, we explored these key elements and how they can be used, particularly within communities of color that have been disempowered and disenfranchised in the current economic system, to create a new way of approaching the economy that often draws upon traditions of supporting one another.

This discussion of Restorative Economics came from insight and lessons learned at a workshop led by project management consultant Nwamaka Agbo, who has a background in community organizing and restorative justice. Through our Next Economy series, we’ve tackled problems with the current economy and shared what we’ve learned about creating a new economy from the courses taken through Santa Cruz Permaculture’s Next Economy series, including Nwamaka’s workshop.

Restorative Economics addresses how to prioritize investment of resources back into impacted populations. Nwamaka focuses on creating a just transition that moves away from capitalism’s patterns of economic oppression that has harmed marginalized communities and placed power and wealth with a select few.

In particular, a just transition moves from:

  • Extraction to Regeneration — Moving from an economy that pulls resources (and pushes people) out of communities to one that builds up those communities.
  • Control to Governing for the Whole — Moving from those with power and wealth controlling decisions that affect impacted populations to community governance and approaches that are beneficial to impacted populations and make life better for society as a whole. (As an example, curb cuts were put in on sidewalks for wheelchairs, but then those with bikes, strollers, etc., benefited from having them)
  • Accumulation to Shared Prosperity — Moving from an accumulation of wealth among a few to supporting shared prosperity through the reinvestment of profits in the community to add community benefit. (An example is the “pay-it-forward” approach that, rather than sending loan interest income to an investor turns around and invests it in a loan to another business.)
  • Exclusion to Inclusion — Moving from excluding people from being a part of the economy to build models that give voice and build capacity for meaningful participation in the local governance and economy.

We asked attendees to reflect on the fact that capitalism is a system, which means we have agency over it and we can change it. Keeping this in mind, we asked the group to think of some practices and values we could use for a just transition. As a group, we discussed the different ideas behind Restorative Economics and did some activities to think about both how we look at economics now and new ways to redefine the economy.

We shared Nwamaka’s tenets of Restorative Economics and some examples:

  • Investing in Human Development and Capacity Building: The Restore Oakland project, of which she was a vital part, builds employable skills in recently incarcerated individuals while also creating space for furthering restorative justice and restorative economics work.
  • Remembering and Reclaiming Traditions and Collective Wisdom: Drawing on the indigenous cultures of shared prosperity that have been discouraged in the current economic system.
  • Building a Community of Practice and Social Movement Infrastructure: Practicing community governance through co-ops and other approaches, and bringing community organizations and social movements together to support each other in efforts on the ground and to shape policy.

We wrapped up by thinking of what some of the biggest challenges are in our local community and how to address them. That included creating a system of affordable housing, better community gathering space and the recognition of the true value of labor. The idea of changing from a system that commodifies land, labor and capital to a system of land trust, right livelihood and public banking was also identified.

Join us at our next discussion on May 2 to explore ways to design our economic future.

As Nwamaka told us at the Santa Cruz workshop: “Change doesn’t come from intent. It comes from deliberate action.” That is the first step towards a more just economy that works for everyone.

The funding for Sustainable Solano’s team training at the “Next Economy” course at Santa Cruz Permaculture was provided by Solano Community Foundation through their NPP Capacity Building grants program. Community conversations are made possible through a grant from the Peaceful World Foundation. Thank you to both organizations!

We will continue to share insights at our final workshop at Green Hive Spaces in Vallejo. Please join us to further the discussion on the next economy in our community.

Designing the Regenerative Economy, 6 pm, May 2

Join us to discuss the design principles and strategies needed for vocation and regenerative enterprise design. We’ll discuss how we could redesign the economy for security, prosperity and a stable climate with transformation based on permaculture design principles, methods and ethics for an economy that benefits all life.