CSA Farm Spotlight: Wilkinson Acres

By Sustainable Solano

This is an ongoing series profiling local farms that have Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) available in Solano County. CSAs create a way for community members to buy a share of the harvest directly from local farmers. Customers pay a set amount and receive a box of seasonal produce or other farm products in return. Such arrangements help farmers receive a greater share of the money paid, bring customers fresh, local produce and promote health, community and the local economy.

Mike and Courtney Wilkinson of Wilkinson Acres

Mike and Courtney Wilkinson started thinking about their future together after they were married — and what they really wanted to do with their lives.

“After a lot of discussion, we decided what we wanted more than anything was a lifestyle — one in which we could provide good, healthy food for our community while enjoying the freedoms (and responsibilities) of owning our own small business,” Courtney said.

The two left their jobs as a building engineer and high school teacher and started Wilkinson Acres in Fairfield about a year ago, where they use low-till and organic practices to grow vegetables and fruit for their customers, which include restaurants, weekly visitors to their farm stand and, starting in January, CSA members.

Below is a Q&A with Courtney about Wilkinson Acres:

  • Wilkinson Acres
  • Fairfield
  • 5 acres
  • 2019

 

When did you start offering a CSA? Why was it important to offer?

Our first ever CSA starts in January 2021! 2020 was a crazy year of pivoting due to COVID-19. The closure of many of our restaurant accounts required a shift in our business model towards our direct community. We realized that now more than ever it’s important for us to make healthy, organic food accessible to our immediate neighborhood and county. The CSA model allows our community to give us a boost at the beginning of the season, ensuring we can provide them with the best of our product for the 16-week season!

Are there special perks for CSA members? Why do people tend to subscribe?

There are definitely perks to being a member! For starters, all members get an extra 10% off at the farm stand (on-site), as well as a weekly Member Newsletter, featuring recipe ideas for the week’s produce. We’re working on more perks, in conjunction with some of our farm stand partner vendors. Stay tuned!

What’s something that makes your farm stand out?

Our organic certification. We’re certified organic by CCOF and, as far as we can tell, we are the only officially certified organic farm in the Fairfield/Suisun Valley area. We take a tremendous amount of pride in our organic transparency and the quality of our certified organic product. We are looking to implement even more organic and sustainable practices around the farm in the years to come.

We use low-till growing practices to build soil health, which, in turn, grows better produce. Encouraging all the good bugs and bacteria to live in our soil by not tilling up their ecosystem and by adding in organic compost benefits the farmer and the plants. These beneficials, as we call them, help the plants take in and process nutrients, resulting in healthier, tastier food. Low-till farming is environmentally friendly, sustainable, and low-waste. It may not be the easiest way to farm, but we believe sustainable growing practices create better farms, food and families.

Anything exciting on the horizon? What do you see happening and what do you want to see happen with interest in local food?

The opening of our first CSA! We’re focusing hard on making the CSA kickoff in January an exceptional customer experience. Check out our website (WilkinsonAcres.com) for all the details.

With regards to interest in local food — we’d love to see more! We’ve had the great fortune to start creating relationships with a lot of passionate foodies in Solano County, but we know there are so many more people in our county that can and should benefit from the fantastic variety in the local ag and hospitality industries.

Anything else you’d like to add?

A big huge thank you to all of our customers! It’s been a wild couple of years for all of us and we know we would not be here without them. We are so deeply grateful for the welcome we’ve received from the agricultural community in Solano County. If you haven’t visited us yet, come see us every Saturday, 8 am-noon at the farm stand [winter hours: 10 am-2 pm]. We’re looking forward to meeting you!

Wilkinson Acres has its Solano County CSA drop site at the farm. Learn more about how to sign up here.

Find out more about local CSAs here.

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.

Solano Community Foundation Funding Supports Sustainable Solano & Local Food

By Sustainable Solano

As a nonprofit organization, Sustainable Solano continuously seeks funding from various grants and other sources that can support the work we do. But there is something that deepens our connection to the local community when funding comes from a local source.

We are grateful to the Solano Community Foundation and its donors for their ongoing support of our work, including two recent funding awards that will help us continue our work supporting our local food system and access to healthy food within our communities.

The SCF has provided a $25,000 grant that Sustainable Solano will use to support our Solano Gardens program. Solano Gardens establishes and revitalizes edible gardens in communities that have limited access to healthy, fresh produce. Using permaculture principles that support healthy soil, rainwater capture and water conservation, these gardens provide a source of fresh produce, a hub for information about sustainable urban agriculture and a place to build relationships. To date, Solano Gardens has established nine gardens at schools, places of worship and multi-unit housing, such as an apartment complex and a veterans home. These gardens were funded by Solano County as part of the Solano Community Health Improvement Plan. With further funding in question, we are so grateful that SCF stepped in at this crucial time so we can continue to create new gardens around the county in communities that need them and offer ongoing support to existing gardens and the community champions who make those gardens vibrant and sustainable. Know of a site that could benefit from this program? Fill out our Sustainable Landscaping Interest Form to let us know about it!

Of course, food security does not only come from growing our own food. The pandemic’s effects on the industrial agriculture system showed us the flaws and where supply chains broke down. That is another reason it is so important to support our local farmers through buying directly from them or from retailers and restaurants who source from local farms. This is a big part of our local food system work, but the wildfires that tore through western Solano County raised a new, more immediate concern for our Solano farmers who had already been adjusting to the pandemic.

We started raising funds through Bounty of the County: Stronger Together to help the farms hurt by the wildfires, and now SCF has stepped forward to offer $25,000 in disaster relief funding that can advance those efforts. While the Bounty of the County fire relief funds will go to farmers for immediate needs, we will use the funds from SCF to help farmers in the second stage of recovery based on what we are hearing from the farmers themselves that they most need to rebuild. You can learn more in our blog on how we plan to support wildfire relief and future resilience for our local farmers.

In this time of giving thanks during a year with so many challenges and uncertainties, we are truly thankful for the partner we have in the Solano Community Foundation and the support it provides to Sustainable Solano and the residents of Solano County through its mission of private giving for public good.

Fostering Food Security Through Collaboration

By Sustainable Solano

Food insecurity is a big challenge in Solano County, where 13.7% of residents don’t have a stable food supply, compared with 11.6% for the state, according to Solano Public Health. In recent months, Sustainable Solano has been in conversation with organizations that are taking the initiative to move food from farms and gardens onto the plates of county residents. These organizations are seeking ways to collaborate toward supplying more people with the good food they need.

Sustainable Solano strives to build community around immediate personal connection, and an emphasis on healthy local food that provides greater food security and resilience is an important part of that connection. Our current food system doesn’t support this vision, which is why we applaud the efforts of organizations that are supporting ways to give on a personal level to people in need.

In the coming months, we hope to bring you more resources to share in the community and how you can get involved.

Images courtesy of Solano Land Trust

From Fair to Food

Solano Land Trust is known for its work preserving agricultural land and open space around Solano County, but the organization has recently expanded its efforts to include a farm-to-community food connection. It started when the COVID-19 restrictions canceled the Dixon May Fair and moved the Solano County Fair from a large public event to an online virtual event this year. While the livestock auctions for the fairs were able to transition to an online bid process, Solano Land Trust officials wanted to support the kids. The organization was able to purchase a steer and two pigs this year, coordinate the difficult task of processing those animals, and deliver the meat to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano County.

The food bank reports increased food insecurity as a result of COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, an estimated 43,650 people did not have access to enough nutritious food in the county. The number is expected to grow by 23,690 people this year due to the effects of the pandemic, the Solano Land Trust and food bank report.

Solano Land Trust is finding other ways to distribute food to those in need. The organization has supplied more than 1,000 tomato, squash, melon, pepper and eggplant starts donated by Morningsun Herb Farm to the food bank and other community food distribution organizations. Solano Land Trust also has been collecting restricted donations used to purchase more than 3,600 pounds of produce from local farms. So far, the organization has bought produce from Eatwell Farm, Tenbrink Farms and Fully Belly Farms. The purchased food is then donated through the food bank and distributed through the mobile food pharmacy, which focuses on getting fresh produce to people whose doctors have prescribed that they eat healthy.

Learn more and donate to the Solano Land Trust’s Farm to Community Food Connection program here.

Images courtesy of Food is Free Solano

Food. For Free

Food is Free Solano has grown in leaps from when Heather Pierini started with a small stand in her front yard to distribute extra produce (Heather is one of Sustainable Solano’s Food Forest Keepers and recently expanded her garden so she could offer more to her community members). Since starting with that one stand and seeing the need for food in her community, Heather started coordinating other permanent and pop-up stands as Food is Free Benicia. Next thing we knew, she was arranging the donation and distribution of 4,000 gallons of milk! She has since changed the name to Food is Free Solano to reflect the wider scope of her vision. Working with local nonprofit WAHEO, she has been able to arrange distribution of food boxes through the USDA’s Farmers to Families food box program. So far, Food is Free Solano has distributed over 90,000 pounds of produce and 8,000 gallons of milk. Heather’s also been involved in promoting gleaning of fruit trees through starting the Solano Gleaning Initiative, with distribution through the Food is Free Solano stands.

Learn more about Food is Free Solano and Heather’s work and donate here.

Image courtesy of Fairfield-Suisun Rotary Club
Sustainable Solano’s Avant Garden in Benicia

Gleaning Gets Going

Gleaning is gaining legs as people are looking for more sources of food that have been only sporadically utilized in Solano County. The Fairfield-Suisun Rotary Club saw the need for fresh produce among those receiving food assistance and identified gleaning as a way to serve that need. Through the new Rotary Feeds Families program, Rotary Club volunteers turn out to pick the fruit and then deliver it to the food bank or Meals on Wheels.

Learn more about the Rotary Club’s gleaning efforts here, and contact Kimber Smith if you have fruit to harvest. You can reach her at  kimbersmith2010@gmail.com or 707-333-9830.

The next step in gleaning will be creating more coordination between the organizations that are offering gleaning services around the county and community food distribution organizations. This is an area Sustainable Solano hopes to support in the future in cooperation with the Solano Land Trust, the Rotary Club and Food is Free Solano.

Toward Greater Collaboration

Our dedication to sharing food within communities stretches back to the establishment of Sustainable Solano’s very first community garden in Benicia 21 years ago. Our community gardens have “share plots” that grow food for giving, and many of the community gardeners and food forest keepers we work with also give food as their gardens grow in abundance. Already this year, Avant Garden in downtown Benicia has donated around 130 pounds of squash, zucchini and peppers to organizations like Food is Free Solano and CAC. Many of the small to medium-sized local farms we work with offer opportunities to purchase donated boxes of produce through their Community Supported Agriculture programs, creating ways to support local farms and provide food for people who need it. All of these efforts are important, and we are excited about working with other organizations to coordinate all of our efforts toward the common goal of sharing more food with neighbors in various ways.

Learn more about Sustainable Solano’s work and donate here or contact us at info@sustainablesolano.org

If you or your organization is interested in joining these efforts, please reach out to us at info@sustainablesolano.org

You can find more local food resources here on our site, and more food access support and resources on our COVID-19/Community Resilience Resources page here.

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.

Eating Healthy with Immune-Boosting Foods

By Lisa Núñez-Hancock, Culinary Arts Instructor

Lisa Núñez-Hancock teaches a cooking class at Avant Garden

During these times of disease, it is important to find ways to keep your body healthy. Sleep, lowering stress levels, exercise in nature and eating healthy high-fiber foods are all ways of maintaining a healthy immune system.

Over the last decade, scientists and research have uncovered just how profoundly our microbiota (aka gut bacteria) is wired into our immune system, our metabolism, our central nervous system and even our brain. The microbiota is a complex organism, one that I have a particular passion for understanding.

In this brief article I want to focus on plant-based, fresh foods that will assist you in maintaining a strong and well-functioning immune system. It is my belief that instead of spending a lot of money on expensive supplements and industrial, laboratory-produced products, we should focus on natural foods in their most basic, least expensive, and most easily accessible form. In the simplest terms, our microbiota thrive on fiber and the resulting carbohydrates that derive from plant material.

Our gut microbes thrive on dietary fiber found in plants, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, according to research from the Stanford University School of Medicine at The Sonnenberg Lab.

There are numerous natural, fresh foods that researchers tell us are beneficial to boosting our immune health through feeding our microbiota.

Cruciferous Vegetables, also known as brassica oleracea, are packed with vitamins A, C and E, as well as fiber. Studies, such as those referenced in this blog post, indicate that vitamins C and E act as powerful antioxidants that help to destroy free radicals and support the body’s immune response. Cruciferous vegetables include Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collards, Kale and Kohlrabi.

Leafy Green Vegetables are yet another source of varied nutrients and fiber. Those include Spinach, Micro-Greens, Watercress, Arugula, Swiss Chard, Beet and Turnip Greens.

I can’t sing the praises of Mushrooms enough. I encourage you to research them on your own. In a study conducted at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, researchers found evidence of increased immunity in participants who consumed shiitake mushrooms daily. Not only do they fight inflammation, they are also anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. There are medicinal ones and culinary ones (and of course poisonous ones) Some immune-boosting culinary varieties include Shiitake, Maitake (aka Hen of the Woods), Enoki, Oyster and Lions Mane.

I want to recommend three local sources where I get both my culinary and medicinal mushrooms. IntregiTea in Vallejo, and my new BFF’s at E & H Farms, as well as all those great folks at Far West Fungi! We are so lucky to have these resources in our “neck of the woods.”

We are all lucky to live in California, with beautiful thriving citrus crops. We all know Citrus is a source of important immune boosting vitamin C and fiber, both important to healthy immune functioning. These can include Oranges, Lemons, Limes, Grapefruit, Tangerines and Clementines.

Some additional immune-boosting foods include Garlic, Turmeric, Ginger, Almonds, Red Bell Peppers, Papaya, Kiwi, Pomegranates, Sweet Potatoes, Sunflower Seeds, Miso and Wheat Germ.

Variety is the key to proper nutrition. Eating just one of these immune-boosting foods won’t be enough to help fight the flu or seed your microbiota with enough diversity to fight chronic diseases, even if you eat it regularly. Pay some attention to serving sizes and recommended daily intake so that you don’t get too much of a single nutrient, and too little of others. That may sound complicated, but trust your gut, so to speak.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak I had scheduled a September workshop on the microbiome with probiotic foods for good gut and mental health to be taught in collaboration with a mental health professional. I am presently taking a UC Berkeley course online that among other food-related topics, deals with the latest research in the realm of microbiota. So, hopefully in some context I will be able to bring this information and recipes to the community in the future. I’ll also be addressing fermented foods and their probiotic properties, as I have done in past workshops. If this is an interesting topic to you, I highly recommend the work of Erica and Jason Sonnenburg out of Stanford University — my heroes in the microbiota field.

Again, I can’t stress the importance of natural homemade probiotics and good gut health. But that is an article/workshop for another day.

Immune-Boosting Broth

Here is my recipe for an immune-boosting broth that can be used by itself, or as a base for soups, stews and sauces.

1 cup of greens (Kale, Spinach and/ or Watercress)
1 cup sliced mushrooms (Shiitake, Oyster and/or Enoki)
1 peeled red onion, quartered
1 peeled shallot, halved
2 garlic heads, unpeeled and cut horizontally
1 fresh ginger piece, (thumb-size) peeled and sliced
1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes
1 jalapeño, (hot) thinly spiced
4 sprigs each of fresh sage, basil and thyme
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar and/or fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or to taste

In a dutch oven or stock pot combine all the ingredients (see options below) and add 3 quarts of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook 20-30 minutes or until the flavors are blended.

Personally, I like to eat everything in this pot, but that may not appeal to everyone.

Here are some options:

  • Instead of cooking them, add raw radishes and sliced jalapeños as a garnish when serving.
  • Remove sprigs of herbs and squeeze garlic out of heads, discarding the husk before serving.
  • The broth can be completely strained, but it seems like such a waste to discard these veggies and all their immune-boosting nutrients and fiber.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding food, nutrition, supplements and other dietary decisions.