Seeds of Hope

By Lisa Murray, SkyGirl Productions

Lisa Murray wears many hats as a visual storyteller through SkyGirl Productions, her work with the Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association, and the role she took on in helping Sustainable Solano connect with farms hurt by the LNU Lightning Fire in 2020. She offers an update on those farms in this blog.

Courtesy of Lisa Murray

The weekend of Dec. 19 was just past the four month mark from the LNU Lightning Complex Fire that ripped through Vacaville’s rural area. Instead of looking at the destruction and blackened hills with a feeling of loss and overwhelming grief, the weekend offered the first glimmers of hope.

There were two events happening in Pleasants Valley that promised healing for all involved. The first, Sow Beautiful, a native wildflower & native bunchgrass reseeding project, headed up by Karen Lee Ford and Clay Ford of Pleasants Valley Honey Company (a.k.a. “Clay’s Bees”) and partners including the Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association (PVAA), Morningsun Herb Farm, and Solano RCD.

Karen reached out to landowners and then collected volunteers via the PVAA website. With an initial training session by Solano RCD, the volunteers were off and seeding. The plan is to reseed select areas to be a draw for pollinators come spring.

Kristina Young paints at Girl on the Hill during the From Ashes to Springtime event. (courtesy of Lisa Murray)
Children play at Joyful Ranch during the Sow Beautiful reseeding event. (courtesy of Lisa Murray)

The second event was the first day of From Ashes to Springtime, an outdoor art event documenting the regeneration after the fire. Artists — painters, drawers, photographers — were invited onto private properties for the day to paint what they see now and then they will be invited back in the spring to paint what they see then. On April 17, there will be an art show/sale at Joyful Ranch to show off all of the amazing art that was created and the art will also be for sale. A portion of the sales will go to the landowners to help with their further recovery efforts.

I live in these areas, and I’m an artist myself, and even I saw these places with new eyes on that day. I took off my “regular life glasses” and put on my “artist glasses” and was really amazed by what I was seeing. First, to just see my friends’ blackened properties now teeming with artists who were honored and humbled to be there to witness what their fellow Vacaville residents and farmers had survived was an important step in the healing for all of us. And, at the same time as the sadness and shock at the now burned landscape, the artists were also inspired by the unique beauty that the landscape presented and excited to come back in the spring. My “artist eyes” saw the colors and lines differently on that day as well. I now saw the black ground as a great backdrop to all of the beauty that is nature. We also saw green! In some places, just blades of green grass poking through the blackened topsoil, in other places, bunches of

Lake Curry is visible from Samuels Ranch Sustainable (courtesy of Lisa Murray)

Girl on the Hill is a lavender farm and vineyard located on top of Mount Vaca and was hit hard by the fire. Denise and Dan (owners/famers) lost all of their lavender plants as well as their lavender workshop, their still, and several other buildings. Kristina Young, a Napa-based plein air painter who was painting at Girl on the Hill, was mesmerized by the beauty all around her.

“I have plein air painted all over the world and there is no other time in my life that I could paint this scene. I couldn’t get into a plane and go to paint this. Even in Napa after the fires there, I couldn’t paint something like this. This is so beautiful and unique. My heart breaks for all that was lost but as an artist, I see the beauty too. The shapes of the branches, the colors, with the black, it’s stunning. As a plein air artist, I capture nature and this is nature.”

Dan was visibly happy as he walked around delivering chai tea and gingerbread snap cookies to the artists. (And the artists were delighted by the hospitality they are not used to experiencing as plein air painters – usually they’re all alone!)

Jasmine Westbrook and her sister Whitney of Samuels Ranch Sustainable — also located on top of Mount Vaca — were both sad and inspired hosting their first “guests” since the fire that took out all three of their homes and half of their herd of sheep. The family barely escaped with their lives that horrible night. And now they were hosting artists to paint/draw/photograph the scenes from their burned land. There are so many spots on their property that have breathtaking views. By the gate, you can see Lake Curry through the burned branches. On the other side, a spectacular view of Lake Berryessa glistened in the sun. Artists had a hard time choosing which view spoked to them strongest.

The Sow Beautiful reseeding at Soul Food Farm (courtesy of Lisa Murray)

Other properties that hosted artists were Brazelton Ranch, Zinger Ranch and Wingate Trainers.

On other properties, the clean-ups continue. At La Borgata, Gerry & David were able to put a downpayment down on a new tractor — they lost two in the fire — to clear out some of the burned areas. Most of the rubbish has been taken away, leaving only the two tractors and a forklift — all three too heavy for the company that came to help haul them away. They are awaiting the company’s return with stronger and bigger equipment.

You wouldn’t believe how long everything takes to just clear away the burned stuff. But in a farmer’s life, nature doesn’t wait, so there were plantings and December sales for Soul Food Farm and Morningsun Herb Farm.

With the holidays, everybody could look forward to a well-deserved rest. The work as a farmer doesn’t stop, but it slows down considerably. Nature is resting and receiving the much-needed early winter rains. And the farmers are taking this well-deserved time to regenerate themselves, take stock of what they have been through, and visualize where they see themselves and their farms going in 2021. The healing continues for everyone, and I am excited to see how everyone emerges in early spring.

Sustainable Solano continues to work with farms, ranches and wineries that were damaged by the fires. Learn more here about how you can help or how affected farms can apply for project-based disaster relief funding.

Wildfire Relief Goes to Farms to Meet Immediate Needs and Build Future Resilience

By Sustainable Solano

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. James Muncy, 60th Civil Engineer Squadron crew chief, puts out burning embers near a residence on Gibson Canyon Road in Vacaville, California, Aug. 20, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Nicholas Pilch)

In the weeks since the LNU Lightning Complex wildfires tore through many of Solano County’s family farms, we have been humbled by the number of you who poured in donations to help those who had lost homes, animals, farm structures and crops to the devastation.

Through the Bounty of the County: Stronger Together fundraising, special fundraising packages from local wineries and generous donations from more than 160 individual donors, Sustainable Solano has collected more than $10,000 that we now plan to distribute to help with the immediate needs of those farmers. Working closely with the Solano-based farming community, we looked at where the most need is and where we could make the most impact with your donations.

Toward that end, we identified these farms, ranches, wineries and agritourism businesses in need of support:

But those donations have inspired something more than a one-time distribution. Some of our farmers told us they wanted the donations for more immediate needs to go to those farms that needed them more, but they are examining how to rebuild and their long-term needs are great. We are pleased to say that we can offer that support as well. Alongside the Bounty of the County fundraising effort, Sustainable Solano was awarded disaster relief funding from the Solano Community Foundation that will help us look at the next stage of recovery for our Solano County farms, including those that have received your donations and others that are rebuilding for the future. We will continue to work with our local farmers to help coordinate with farms hurt by the fires for project-based funding that best addresses their mid-term needs. Find out more about how SCF supports our work here.

And beyond that stage? We want to help our local farms prepare for the future, and a big part of that is supporting resilient, regenerative ways of farming that are healthier for the planet, the farmers, and for those of us eating the food grown in this manner. Some of our local farmers use regenerative approaches in their operations, including low-till methods, building soil health without the use of artificial fertilizers and using integrated pest management as opposed to pesticides. We want to further support these efforts, so with the long-term resiliency of our farms in view, we hope to seek further funding that can help local farmers engage in recovery in a more regenerative way.

Do you wish to continue to support these efforts? You can still donate directly to help with fire relief or the next stage of recovery and rebuilding. To do so, either send a check to Sustainable Solano, P.O. Box 1215, Benicia CA 94510, or donate through our PayPal link. To make sure your donation goes to wildfire relief for farms, please note that the donation is for “Fire Relief.” You can also continue to purchase fire relief fundraiser packages from participating wineries that have extended their offers to continue to raise funds.

We look forward to sharing with you how our Solano County farmers are recovering and rebuilding – and how they are moving to more regenerative approaches through your generous support.