Vital Cycles Brings Permaculture Instruction to Solano County

By Anne Freiwald & Lydia Neilsen, Vital Cycles

Vital Cycles is Anne Freiwald and Lydia Neilsen, permaculture educators based in Santa Cruz County. They bring together extensive backgrounds in community health and permaculture education and activism, and have taught classes to our local community through Sustainable Solano.

We are thrilled to be part of the diverse offerings Sustainable Solano provides the community! We have been consistently impressed and inspired by the commitment of Sustainable Solano and the larger community to regenerative practices and community resilience. Join us this January 2021 for Sustainable Solano’s first Permaculture Design Certificate Course (PDC), which we are kicking off with four free introductory classes so you can get to know us and get a taste of what permaculture is all about. See this link for more details.

Our first offering, Permaculture 101: Patterns and Principles, focused on three of our favorite patterns: the meander, dendritic branching and the keyhole bed design. Patterns provide tools for understanding the big picture as well as design ideas to integrate. Permaculture principles represent stories and ways of understanding that offer deeper perspective on how we interpret our landscapes and make design decisions. This shift in thinking is critical to our roles as members of and tenders within the ecosystems we inhabit. Missed this one? Check it out in the video above, or here.

This Saturday, Nov. 7, from 11 am-12:30 pm we will be taking a deep exploration of Soil, Water, and Plants. As gardeners, we are working with these three all the time, but do we really understand the nature of their interactions? How can we honor and enhance their interconnections and synergy on a backyard scale? How do they regulate carbon in our atmosphere and what is their role in maintaining local and global climate? Join us for an integrated perspective and practical examples for working with soil, water and plants, so that we can all move towards dynamic stability through ecological co-creation. Register here.

Our following talks will be on the parallels between our natural and internal worlds, particularly the cycles of sleep and water, and community and the permaculture concept of guilds (plants that work together to support one another). The sleep and water talk will be Dec. 12 and the guilds and community talk on Jan. 9 (registration will open soon). We hope you’ll join us for all of these informative talks and dive deeper into the study of permaculture with the PDC this January in Benicia!

Permaculture Design Certificate Course Coming to Benicia

By Allison Nagel, Workforce Development Program Manager

Permaculture education is a key part of Sustainable Solano’s mission, and that means not only educating the public through our hands-on workshops and online talks, but also offering ways for professionals to grow their knowledge and understanding.

That’s why we’re excited to bring our first Permaculture Design Certificate course to Benicia starting in January. The course offers an internationally recognized certification, though its appeal is widespread – from landscapers interested in enriching their design skills to individuals who want to create change in their communities. At its core, permaculture recognizes the strength of working with nature to encourage natural processes that result in healthy soil and abundant ecosystems. Permaculture can be used to design a landscape, neighborhood, community, organization or society.

Sustainable Solano’s 2021 PDC develops a broad understanding of permaculture and design that uses whole systems thinking, which looks at how everything works together as a part of a larger whole. This can apply to the environment, our internal state of being and our organizations and social systems. In this course, participants learn a standard 72-hour permaculture curriculum toward certification. Participants will also gain hands-on experience in designing and transforming a local landscape using design principles and incorporating the use of captured rainwater and greywater systems.

We are excited to bring Lydia Neilsen and Anne Freiwald of Vital Cycles to Benicia as the course instructors. Lydia, a longtime partner with Sustainable Solano, is a PINA certified permaculture educator, landscape and habitat designer, specializing in water cycle restoration and passionate polyculture. Anne is a passionate personal health and permaculture educator focusing on growing food in small spaces, working for over 25 years with individuals and communities on personal ecology and community resilience. They have an action-based perspective that highlights skills, practices and resources necessary for growth, creativity and vitality in person and place.

Curious to learn more? Lydia and Anne will be offering two free online introductory talks that will cover the foundations of permaculture. They will discuss Permaculture 101: Patterns & Principles from 11 am-12:30 pm Oct. 3, and Soil, Water & Plants from 11 am-12:30 pm Nov. 7. These are a great way to learn more about permaculture and to meet these wonderful instructors. The Patterns & Principles class will cover working with nature to create resilience – the very heart of permaculture design. The Soil, Water & Plants class will explore how these vast and interconnected systems work together to restore and maintain balance in local and global climates.

2021 PDC instructors Lydia Neilsen and Anne Freiwald

For those inspired by the talks or already wanting a deeper dive into permaculture, the PDC will offer a rich, varied experience with a small group of peers involved in online classes, hands-on experience and cooperating on a final design project. The program runs from January through April with all classroom instruction online and four hands-on weekends spent outdoors at a site in Benicia. The program is $1,200, with a 10% discount for verified Benicia residents.

Because of safety precautions due to COVID-19, we are limiting enrollment in the 2021 PDC. This will allow us to maintain physical distancing requirements, and we will take other precautions, such as sterilizing tools between uses, during the outdoor instruction. We will continue to work with Solano Public Health and monitor state and CDC guidelines to make sure the program meets the latest requirements.

For those with PDCs who want to brush up on certain topics or those interested in learning more about permaculture before signing up for a full PDC, there will be four online Friday Focus classes that will be open for public registration on a sliding scale. These classes are included as part of the PDC instruction, but are also being open to the public. We will have more details and registration open for these closer to January.

The PDC program will be partially funded by the second amendment to the Valero/Good Neighbor Steering Committee Settlement Agreement, which supports our goals of public and professional education, and measurable improvements for the city of Benicia. The free introductory permaculture classes are funded by the Solano County Water Agency.

Free Online Introductory Classes

Oct. 3 (11 am-12:30 pm): Permaculture 101: Patterns & Principles (Register here!)

Nov. 7 (11 am-12:30 pm): Permaculture 101: Soil, Water & Plants (Register here!)

Permaculture Design Certificate Course

PDC begins Jan. 29. Learn more and register here!

Questions? Contact Program Manager Allison Nagel at allison@sustainablesolano.org 

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!

More Sustainable Landscaping Education Programs Planned for Benicia

By Allison Nagel, Workforce Development Program Manager

Students in the 2020 Land & Water Caretakers certification course do a soil test at the project site

As we plan for an exciting slate of programs based in Benicia for 2021, we want your insight on what sort of workshops we should hold in the city — what is most interesting to potential participants as well as property owners. These workshops will help to strengthen and expand the programs we piloted in Benicia at the beginning of this year.

These Benicia programs support our goals of public education through class instruction and public workshops, targeted sustainable landscape professional education for adults and high school interns, and measurable improvements for the city of Benicia, including water savings, improved soil health through mulching and keeping organic matter on-site, and planting trees and understory plants for carbon sequestration, food production and heat island mitigation through shade and evapotranspiration, which moves water through the plant from the soil to the leaves where it can evaporate and cool the air.

Our Youth Leadership and Workforce Development programs in Benicia launched in January, bringing instruction and certification programs through adult education and high school internships. We offered our Land & Water Caretakers program in partnership with Benicia Adult Education to participants from around the county looking to build their sustainable landscaping design skills for use in their careers, seeking new work and at their own homes and in their communities. Working with Liberty High School’s award-winning Learning Through Interests program, we offered an internship that taught students about sustainable landscaping and systems thinking while building hands-on skills that they could put to use in further study or future careers.

Participants in both programs worked on creating demonstration food forest gardens in Benicia: Wild Cherry Way and Giardino su una Colina (Garden on a Hill). Shawn Carter and Maleik Dion of Resilient Solutionaries were the course instructors for both programs and designers for Giardino su una Colina, and Lauren Bennett was the designer for Wild Cherry Way.

At Wild Cherry Way, the Adult Education Caretakers worked alongside their class instructor and garden designer to create a backyard food forest complete with three fruit trees and a laundry-to-landscape greywater system. The Caretakers went through the design process and then joined in three public workshops to dig swales for roofwater capture, work on the greywater system and put in the plants and drip irrigation. It all added up to nearly 33,000 gallons of possible annual water savings for the property. The Caretakers then took what they had learned from that process and created a design for another Benicia property based on their knowledge and what the homeowners wanted for their backyard. Funding for the program and the public workshops came from the second amendment to the Valero/Good Neighbor Steering Committee Settlement Agreement, the Solano County Water Agency and student fees. Republic Services donated compost for the Wild Cherry Way project.

Liberty High School students in the Land & Water Caretakers internship work on their project site

At Giardino su una Colina, the Liberty High Caretakers went through a similar process with their instructor, learning about permaculture design, meeting with the homeowner, and, through a front-yard lawn conversion, creating a demonstration food forest that introduced the concept to neighbors and others. The students dug swales for roofwater capture, sheet mulched, constructed guilds of plants that work together and replaced the sprinkler system with drip irrigation, resulting in a possible annual water savings of more than 96,000 gallons for the site. Students then used what they learned to design their own guilds and create a sample design to earn the certification. Funding for the program came from the second amendment to the Valero/Good Neighbor Steering Committee Settlement Agreement, and Republic Services provided lunch from Benicia restaurants for the days the students worked on the installation.

There were challenges, perhaps most noticeably how the shutdown from COVID-19 affected the conclusion of both the adult education and internship programs, with final presentations moving online and the cancellation of planned field trips. We are already planning for our next Land & Water Caretakers course through Benicia Adult Education and high school fellowships for this coming January. We are also planning to offer Sustainable Solano’s first Permaculture Design Certificate course in Benicia starting in January! You can find more information here and we will provide exciting updates in the coming months.

For all of these programs, we are figuring out what we can offer online and how to best hold outdoor workshops that are safe and adhere to the guidelines from Solano Public Health, the state and the CDC. We also want your insight on what to offer. While this year’s Caretakers courses focused heavily on permaculture design, for the coming year we are trying to offer a variety of workshops in Benicia that would be open to the public as well as those enrolled in the Caretakers certification programs. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to convert a sprinkler system to drip irrigation, or you want to create a guild of supporting plants around an existing fruit tree, or capture all of that rainwater off the roof during the rainy season.

If there are workshops you would like to see in the year ahead, please let us know by taking this quick Benicia Workshop survey. And if you are a Benicia resident interested in hosting a workshop either on your own property or a community site, such as a church or school, please fill out our Sustainable Landscaping Interest Form.

Questions? Contact Program Manager Allison Nagel at allison@sustainablesolano.org 

Students Make Real-World Connections Through Sustainability Education

By Allison Nagel, Workforce Development Manager

Instructor Brennan Bird works with students during a lesson on permaculture and systems thinking as part of the curriculum pilot program

Saving the environment, creating a better life, preparing for future jobs.

Perhaps the most telling part of the four-day sustainability curriculum and hands-on demonstration food forest installation at St. Patrick-St. Vincent Catholic High School in Vallejo was what students answered when asked why these lessons were important.

“It gives us a new method of keeping the earth more green,” one student answered.

“We can apply it in our real lives,” said another.

Those insights and connections were a welcome outcome of the pilot program, which focused on creating a curriculum that introduced students to sustainable, systems thinking through learning about permaculture and water harvesting in class and creating the demonstration food forest garden that now sits on the hill above the school’s new amphitheater.

“Permaculture is more than just about gardening. It’s a whole way of redesigning our lives,” said instructor Brennan Bird, who was called Mr. B by students.

Students participate in a soil erosion lab with instructor Brennan Bird

The tie-ins between the lectures, lab activities and hands-on experience were cemented as students in science teacher Dr. Summer Ragosta’s class linked something learned in one class with another. For example, students learned how to dig trenches, or swales, to capture water and covered the hillside with mulch. A soil erosion lab from class showed them what happened when water was poured into different boxes of soil — with students watching as the box with mulch absorbed a large portion of the water poured into it while the box with bare soil meant muddy runoff. They then used this knowledge to connect why adding both plants and mulch will help to both mitigate erosion and stabilize the hill. They also learned how mulch is an important component of greywater systems that capture and store used household water, such as from a laundry machine, in mulch basins around trees and other plants in the yard.

The lessons were a part of Sustainable Solano’s work to bring sustainability curriculum into local schools. In the pilot program, Mr. B worked with students to create a cob bench in May and then created and shaped the sustainability lessons in October through funding from the Solano Community Foundation. The lessons corresponded with the installation of the demonstration food forest funded by the Solano County Water Agency.

Students install the school’s demonstration food forest garden with designer Lauren Bennett

Students learned about the first principle of permaculture, which parallels the scientific method in its simplicity — starting with observation. They applied math skills, like determining based on local rainfall and the size of a roof how much rainwater could be captured, and the best ways of storing it, whether in the ground or in rainbarrels. And they discussed specific projects and people working in the field that use these skills on a daily basis.

Mr. B also tied the lessons to current events, talking about the importance of conserving and storing water even as the Kincade fire raged and the school had to close due to the smoke from the fire nearby in Glen Cove, and the city of Vallejo urged water use restriction.

We’re thrilled about what students have taken away from the classes with Mr. B and grateful to SPSV and Dr. Ragosta for working with us to plan for and bring these lessons into the classroom.

This pilot was the beginning of a very exciting time for Sustainable Solano as we step into more work aimed at growing sustainability education. In January, we will launch our Land and Water Caretakers internship program at Liberty High School in Benicia and will start our Land and Water Caretakers Certification course through Solano Adult Education for those who are interested in learning more sustainable landscaping practices. We’re looking forward to the work ahead!

Help Students Build Skills While Building Your Resilient Community

By Allison Nagel, Workforce Development Manager

Volunteers work on a lawn conversion in Vallejo’s first Resilient Neighborhood

Sustainable Solano is entering an exciting new phase this school year with our latest area of focus — workforce development — which is creating new opportunities for students and Benicia residents.

This year, our Land and Water Caretakers program for high school students will launch at Liberty High School in Benicia. Students at Liberty High will have a chance in the coming months to listen to engaging speakers and attend field trips to some of our Benicia Sustainable Backyards to learn about permaculture and food forests and build interest in sustainable landscaping.

Then, starting in January, students who join the Land and Water Caretakers internship training will have the opportunity to learn about what goes into creating and maintaining sustainable landscapes, building life and leadership skills with a strong hands-on component.

We are able to offer this program in Benicia thanks to a generous stream of funding. The program fits into our long-term vision of creating a sustainability curriculum for youth that helps them think about the effects their actions have upon the environment and society and how that perspective fits into work in landscaping, water conservation, the food system and energy.

As the new workforce development manager, I am excited about where we are headed with this vision and what the creation of this year’s program will bring to students and the community. We are already in conversation about growing the program.

Students who successfully complete the Land and Water Caretakers program this spring in Benicia will have increased insight into how systems work, better understanding of a range of green careers and have employable skills in sustainable landscaping. They will be eligible for a summer Permaculture Design Course (PDC) free of charge and the chance to earn a weekly stipend for assisting with that course, building financial literacy along with new skills. Those who finish the summer PDC will have an internationally recognized certification.

One of the benefits of the Land and Water Caretakers program is it not only gives students new knowledge, but can also help to make Benicia neighborhoods more sustainable. As part of their hands-on lessons, students will create edible permaculture food forest gardens at local homes that are fed by rainwater capture and greywater systems. We’re looking for those homes now.

The Living and Learning demonstration food forest in Benicia

We’re hoping to find Benicia residents who want to change to a sustainable yard, moving away from water-hungry lawns and chemical fertilizers and pesticides. And we would like to find neighbors interested in creating something beyond a single sustainable yard — similar to our Resilient Neighborhoods communities in Vallejo that bring together several neighbors on the same street. Benicia properties will be selected for the Land and Water Caretakers program, which runs from January through April, and the PDC, which will be during the summer months. Property owners commit to the program as well as participating in future annual tours to let others see how sustainable landscaping techniques were incorporated into the garden.

If you’re a Benicia resident interested in this program, please fill out our Sustainable Landscaping Interest Form to find out if you might be a candidate. All forms should be submitted by Oct. 18 for consideration for this year’s program. Submissions after that date will be considered for future programs.