Creating Change During a Crisis

By Sustainable Solano

When there is a crisis, it often can reveal underlying flaws in the existing system as well as opportunities for change. It has become apparent to us at Sustainable Solano that the current economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic (businesses shuttered, one in four people in the workforce filing for unemployment, increased need for food and other assistance) also opens the dialogue for how to shift our economy in a way that works for more people.

In particular, we wanted to take a look at the breakdown in the nation’s industrial food system and how strengthening and growing local food systems could support regenerative approaches to agriculture, create more local jobs, stimulate the local economy and create a more robust system that would weather future downturns better than the current system. This led to our open letter to California’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery.

Sustainable Solano also has joined more than 100 organizations in calling for equity, community-driven and comprehensive solutions, and capacity building in the recovery. These organizations, representing the environmental justice, equity, natural resources, transportation and energy sectors, offered principles and recommendations to embrace systemic transformation. You can find a copy of that letter and more on the recommendations here.

We hope the problems and solutions raised in these letters will be heard by those in positions of power to shape policy and move away from business as usual to transformative change.

Read Sustainable Solano’s open letter to the task force below.

Open Letter to Tom Steyer and the Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery

As the Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery explores what steps to take to ensure a steady, stable and long-lasting economic recovery within California, we at Sustainable Solano urge you to move toward an economy that works for more people, supporting the citizens of California and the small businesses upon which so many communities rely. In large part, a recovery in California will require a transformation of agriculture and our food system to create more local, resilient and regenerative approaches that are better for those who work in the system, the environment and citizens who need access to healthy, local food while supporting a local economy.

An Economic Strategy for the Way Forward

Sustainable Solano is a nonprofit grassroots organization in Solano County. Through our work, which grew out of community gardens and sustainable, edible landscapes, we have seen the need for access to healthy, local food. In 2017, we started building a local food system that supports our local farmers and creates appreciation and demand for food grown locally. We want to see a food system that is environmentally regenerative, economically viable and socially just. Supporting a local food system with some creative thought on how to help those hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis — those who have lost jobs, communities of color, the homeless and low-income communities — can create a way forward that helps to boost those communities even while building a robust system that will weather the next downturn with less disruption. This directly addresses your task of developing a fair, green, people-centered economic strategy to help the state recover.

Replacing a Flawed System with Resilient Local Food Systems

We urge you to consider approaches informed by the New Deal as well as the Green New Deal — finding ways to support citizens, provide work and improve the resilience of communities as we strengthen the economy and better the planet. The current situation has revealed cracks in the existing system of industrial agriculture, where food is treated as a commodity exchanged between institutions rather than the foundation that supports people’s health and well-being.

Farmers often grow products that are shipped out of state and out of the country for processing or sale in a vast global supply chain. The flaws in this system are now exposed: food is flushed down drains and rots in the field while people go hungry. We encourage supporting local food systems where farmers can get a fair price for their food within a local market that in turn supports the creation of more jobs.

Supporting local farms that operate in sustainable ways and providing local markets for what they produce will support communities around the state. Access to local food reduces the carbon footprint of the food people buy, returns more of the profit to the farmers who are able to sell directly to consumers and nearby institutions, such as schools or hospitals, and has a multiplier effect for the local economy, boosting local business spending and jobs. You have the unique opportunity to encourage systemic change through the development and growth of local systems, based on successful models that already exist in the state, such as the local food system in San Diego.

Financial Support for Workers and Farmers

We envision that those who need work could find jobs within the local food system, including on farms, in restaurants, through distribution, in the production of value-add products and more. But we also suggest supporting those workers through an underlying Universal Basic Income, offering financial support to meet their basic needs, helping them pay bills and bolster the local economy even as they build the new food system. Having UBI to offset part of their salaries would also help to support smaller farms that have less capacity to increase production, allowing them to bring on additional workers at a lower price point. This again strengthens the system, and in ways that move away from food stamps and food banks, but rather support agricultural practices that pour resources back into the local economy.

A Move from Business as Usual

Now more than ever we are faced with a crisis that presents new opportunities to change from business as usual to business that supports even those who are most vulnerable in society. We urge you to reach out to community organizations like our own that are prepared to carry the vision forward. These organizations are ready to do the legwork to effect change in our current system, but we need the political will, high-level imagination and courage that comes from government and business leaders such as yourself and those represented on the task force.

What Would Love Do?

By Nicole Newell, Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

March 12 was the first day that the collective unease of the coronavirus was on everyone’s mind. I arrived at the Heart Based Leadership workshop and was greeted by a Be Love sign, which made me smile. This daylong intensive workshop for women on personal growth and development wasn’t cancelled. About 25 women were gathered and most of us were strangers. The first hour of the morning was spent eating roasted pecans, farm treats and drinking coffee with raw milk. At first we were a bit uncomfortable as nobody new how to greet each other. The arm bump wasn’t popular yet and we were still allowed to be closer than 6 feet apart. At this point the question was, do we shake hands? Settling down in this farm home was relatively easy as it was extraordinarily beautiful, like out of a storybook, with comforting cream-colored walls, windows overlooking the farm, olive trees, and the scent of fresh baked coconut cookies.

Heart-based leadership on the surface seems light-hearted — rainbows and unicorns. These workshops always end up being much deeper than expected. Terces from Be Love Farm and Chrissy from Eco-Chic were the facilitators. They created a safe, comfortable place for us all to be. They reminded us of the importance of taking care of ourselves but also inviting us to get curious and do what is unfamiliar. The day was filled with deep questions.

Where do you not experience abundance in your life? Where are you stuck in your life? This was the first set of questions asked of the group. Tears filled the room from the women sharing their personal stories. Some cried because of their experiences and others out of compassion. The space and those stories were so sacred that I stopped taking notes and just held space for these women and myself.

We all seemed to share the caregiver archetype and it was mentioned that we experience being overextended when we give from our own resources. What are the specific things that you do to renew your resources? Chrissy shared that she read the 5 AM Club book by Robin Sharma and practices this morning routine. Every day she wakes up at 5 am and spends 20 minutes in prayer, 20 minutes exercising and 20 minutes learning. My first reaction was to judge the club as something that a shallow morning show would promote and I was repelled by the thought. I became more interested when I learned that 5 am is a time when our minds are their most serene and that it is a time when the deep and quiet energy of our hearts are able to softly emerge and also a time when we are receptive to hearing it. One question the group asked Chrissy: Does it matter if it is at 5 am? There are different views on this. Robin Sharma believes it should be 5 am. I read a bit more online and 5-8 am is when there is the least amount of interruptions. The main point is to set time aside to renew for the day ahead. This can be a time to get clear on your vision for your life and then begin investing in that dream prior to it being a reality. This can be a time to listen and hear the calling that is already within. Now is a crucial time to begin our day getting grounded because we are all being called now to live as our highest self.

Much of what I learned that day is coming into practice now while getting adjusted to this new reality we are all living in. Terces spoke about how we judge each other; this is a human trait that we all share. I think about how I am judging the toilet paper hoarders. Fight, flight, freeze is the fear response that most of us are familiar with. The people that are hoarding toilet paper I think of as fighters. Its funny, I haven’t spoken to a toilet paper hoarder yet. When in fear, I freeze and judge. Which brings me back to the next question of the workshop: How do we shift our view about people struggling? When I think deeply about this I realize that they are just in fear. They are expressing fear. I express fear differently, not in a better way. Does it bring out the best in others to greet people’s fear with judgment and self-righteousness? So how do we reframe the experience of the TP hoarders with conscious language? Honestly I don’t know. Yet I know when my boys were little and they were afraid the only thing I felt was compassion and my response was to comfort.

People need to feel safe to be able to share. “I am here for you” is enough. We can listen and be present for each other.

Terces discussed listening skills that help people solve their own problems:

  • Listen
  • Repeat what they said back to them
  • Then get curious and ask them questions like “How do you feel? What do you plan to do about that?” Sometimes we get attached to our diagnosis, to our problem, to our label rather than how we experience the problem. When you ask someone how they are feeling, it helps them move from their head into their heart.

Listen to people and ask more questions rather than making statements. Ask about feeling. Ask about what they love about their life. Listening is the highest form of loving; listen more. Then thank them for sharing. Just listen and empower with conscious language. Call out love in each other. When someone is struggling and in process, speak to who people are becoming by calling forth their highest self and living in the highest expectations of others.

The next set of questions was around betrayal and victim stories. The first step is to recognize that we felt betrayed because we cared about them. Then communicate the feelings that you have for that person instead of condemning them for the betrayal. Forgiveness is to give as before. Here are some questions to ask yourself when you are working on forgiving: Who are you blaming in your life? Where are you a victim? What could you take responsibility for in that situation? Terces challenged us to retell our stories with conscious language that helps us evolve, to write our stories without victimizing anyone. She invited us to see all our sad stories as a gift and to look for the lesson within. Then there are times when we are the one that needs forgiving. Heart-based leaders apologize first and often. Shift the environment, adjust the tool of acknowledgement and call out the best in someone. When you acknowledge devotion in a person, devotion shows up. Devotion can be replaced with any word: love, respect, kindness, generosity …

You have a Voice. What are you not saying? What are you afraid to say? Tell your truth and face your fears, and live a transparent life. Be bold and make requests of people and ask for help without attachment. Make a request and be OK with no. We need to look at our environment and ask ourselves what is needed to bring our unique expression of love to this world.

We can make powerful choices on the thoughts we choose to think and the simple choices that we make. Terces brought out two jars of water and she challenged us to spend a day and when we have a negative thought about ourselves to stop and put a pinch of salt into one jar — to let the thought dissolve and not let it attach, to not feed it. In another jar of water, put a pinch of glitter in the jar every time you have a positive thought. We observed the beauty of the jar with glitter as opposed to the cloudy salt water. When we have cravings and make choices in our lives a simple question to ask is: Does it serve you? Choose what you want that serves you vs. what you crave. What choices would you make if you knew you were fully loved? Live in that truth.

Servant Leadership is a philosophy where the goal as a leader is to serve. One way to serve others is to ask questions. Check in with the people that you are leading and ask: What is one thing I can help you with this week? How am I doing? What are you missing that would make you feel safe?
In addition to asking questions, Terces highlighted the importance of making generous assumptions:

3 Generous Assumptions as a Leader:

  1. I may not have trained this person well
  2. I may not have given them the tools needed
  3. They may discover a better way

The main goal is to provide tools to people to empower them so they self-manage.

Really this workshop was about how to live a heart-based life and in a deep way we are all leaders. With all of this time alone I am getting the opportunity to practice these tools on myself. When I go out into the world and feel the fear all around, my tendency is to judge. Instead I have been practicing radical kindness by making choices that are larger than me. In the past I would look at my phone or pick up a People magazine while waiting in line at the grocery store, now I pray for inspiration and then I talk with the people around me and ask questions. I look for where I have abundance and then pass it on. I am breathing life into that person and calling forth my highest self.

Being more generous and radically kind moves you towards the person that you really are.

One of the simple takeaways for me was to take a deep breath, slow down and ask: What would love do?

Bioneers Experience Both Personal and Profound

By Gabriela Estrada and Kassie Munro, Program Managers

Gabriela Estrada (left) and Kassie Munro (center) at Bioneers. Photo by Santa Cruz Permaculture

Though there are many conferences out there, few present a balance between seemingly opposing concepts: the old and the new, the indigenous and the futuristic, science and spirit, and even fewer invite us to look deep back to the past and far into the future. Bioneers does just that. While shifting one’s focus to all of these different directions can make one’s head spin, in the end it becomes clear that considering all of these viewpoints is necessary to create the world we want to live in tomorrow. After all, to be pioneers of a better future, we must also be historians of our planet’s storied past.

Bioneers is an innovative nonprofit organization that highlights breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet. Founded in 1990 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, by social entrepreneurs Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simons, Bioneers acts as a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.

This 30-year-old event showcases a variety of speakers including authors, artists, scientists, Native American leaders and activists, and youth activists all ready and inspired to create a new world that works for everyone. They aim to create a “revolution from the heart of mother nature.” The conference was a combination of music, youth leadership, art, activism, social justice, environmental education, women leadership, ecological medicine and environmental conservation.

The conference began early on Friday morning with a drumming set and a performance by Climbing PoeTree, which immediately marked the tone of the next three days — a celebration for mother earth. It was difficult to choose only one workshop for each of the allotted time periods. How does one possibly choose between a conversation with Stuart Muir Wilson about Permaculture & Ecological Social Justice, an earth connection herb walk, a panel titled The Ground Beneath Our Hearts, among so many others? As we had an opportunity to connect with other attendees, it became clear that we were not alone in this dilemma, battling the constant fear of missing out on something important in another workshop. To the best of our ability we very purposefully divided up the workshops that were of most interest to not only us, but to the organization and the work we do at Sustainable Solano.

Fortunately the Bioneers organizers had guiding themes for each day which helped us to focus in on key messages and walk away from each day with tangible insights.

Here are some reflections on our favorite speakers from each day:

Day 1: Grief, Love and Power of Independent Media

Kassie: Terry Tempest Williams gave an enlightening talk about erosion to start the morning, not only as a powerful force in nature but as an alarming reality in America today. She urged us not to turn away from the devastating erosion we are witnessing to our democracy, science, compassion and trust — but to think of it as a force of evolution and creation rather than destruction and undoing, as we see it happen in nature when the elements create some of our most treasured natural wonders through forces of erosion, like the Grand Canyon. She instilled a mood of hope for what the future could look like, which is so important to keep alive in challenging times.

Gabriela: My favorite speaker of the day was Jerry Tello, who reminded us that stories are powerful reminders of the things we forget about ourselves, and that the work we do is healing — as such we need to remember the sacredness of us and that when those who hurt us heal, we heal. After his talk, not one eye was left dry. His incredible ability as a storyteller reminded us that we need to be grounded in the work we do because it is so much bigger than ourselves.

Day 2: Climate Justice and Resilience

Kassie: Saturday had a number of standout speakers for me. As a fan of both Bill McKibben (co-founder of 350.org) and Paul Hawken (author of Drawdown), it was exciting to hear them speak in person and embody their action-oriented, revolutionary, yet practical, vision for the future of our country and how to get there. I was also surprisingly moved by Valarie Kaur and her Revolutionary Love approach to transformation, likening the revolution needed in our world to that of childbirth and urging us to view labor as a form of love. All of these speakers reminded me that there is a path forward to a world that works for everyone and to stay dedicated to working toward that vision.

Gabriela: On Saturday I was captivated by a panel talk on Building Resilience in a Climate Changing World. The panel spoke about projects and strategies that have been deployed in our coastal, rural and urban communities in an effort to increase resiliency in those communities. They invited us to think about reversing climate change, not stabilizing it, and to make the climate change crisis message reliable to create collaborative solutions.

Day 3: Regeneration

Kassie: On the last day of the conference, I was thrilled to see Demond Drummer as one of the final keynote speakers. Demond is the co-founder of New Consensus, a nonprofit that helped drive the creation of the Green New Deal by supplying research and policy proposals to the deal’s political advocates. After two days of discussion centered on all of the systems-level changes that are needed in our country, it was extremely inspiring to hear from someone who is driving this work at the highest level. It can be so daunting and overwhelming at times to dive deep into all the challenges we are facing as a nation and as a planet, so to learn about his work advancing these ideas and values toward national-level action was a wonderful message to end the conference on. While we may not be able to change everything we would like to, that should not deter us from driving forward the things we can.

Gabriela: Sunday’s workshops focused on cultivating a culture of regeneration, from hearing Casey Camp-Horinek (councilwoman of the Ponka Tribe of Oklahoma) about the story of interconnectedness to a panel about Bridging Divides: Co-creating a Culture of Belonging. What stood out to me about this workshop was the new model that the panel speakers proposed: To move forward we need to create a model that would bridge the many divisions and polarizations that divide us. We need to create a culture of belonging.

It’s difficult to express in writing how powerful and moving these speakers were, so luckily you can find some of the keynotes here if you would like to listen for yourself.

Attending Bioneers for the both us was a tiring and intense experience, yet a very interesting one. The conference offered a space to learn from each other — from seeing art inspired by the environmental movements we are a part of to connecting with like-minded individuals from all over the country and the world.

The enormity of the conference and diversity of the topics covered felt a bit overwhelming at first, but in retrospect underscores a unique element of the conference — no two people will have had the same experience. You can feel this energy everywhere at Bioneers: that we are all here together yet every individual is living their own personal experience and that is what makes this complex world so dynamic and beautiful.

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.