By Elena Karoulina, Executive Director, Sustainable Solano
At the end of January, I was honored to attend the 38th Eco Farm Conference at Asilomar Conference Grounds. It’s an annual convergence of farmers, supporting people and organizations dedicated to “ecological farming” – farming that works in harmony with nature, that seeks to heal and regenerate our land and water, and to provide wholesome, nurturing food to our communities. Sustainable Solano is beginning to work toward the vision of a healthy and whole local food system in the county, and we welcome this opportunity to learn from the field and bring this knowledge back to Solano County.
Farm as a living organism, in harmony with nature and people, regenerating its own vitality and fertility on site
The central pole of the conference was sustainable agriculture – why, and most importantly, how. “Regenerating Our Soils” keynote opened the event, followed by many workshops on soil health and building soil fertility directly on the farm and not from the outside in the form of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Healthy soil is the foundation of sustainable agriculture. Cover crop and crop rotation, incorporating animals into farming operations (manure has been the foundation of land’s fertility since humanity began farming 12,000 years ago), no-till approach, composting – all this and more was presented by experienced farmers and scientist now proving in their labs what has been known around the globe for centuries. This attention to soil health is reinforced by our recent realization that improving soil health can reduce greenhouse gas emission and sequester carbon!
Farming workshops included a wide range of topics on plants nutrition, selection, health and diseases; classes on specific crops, irrigation, tools and machinery, greenhouses, seeds and seed saving. Permaculture and biodynamic agriculture were examined through numerous workshops and gatherings. Urban agriculture was included too – an inspiring example from our neighbors in Richmond, Urban Tilth.
“People in communities like Richmond are treated only as consumers, meant to consume the products that others create to help them realize their dreams, and help us continue with our grind. They give just enough to continue, but no more.” Keynote speaker Doria Robinson, Urban Tilth, Richmond, CA.
The next big topic was how to get this wonderful harvest to local communities. Almost a dozen of workshops dedicated to delivery and logistics solutions, Community Supported Agriculture, small independent retails stores and food co-ops, working with restaurants, food safety, and utilizing social media.
And then came everything that surrounds farming: land use, social justice, legal and financial constraints and considerations, farmland protection and farmers’ succession, and food policies – from a Farm Bill to state policies to local laws and ordinances, including zoning. One of the big takeaways for me was the notion of how quickly we are loosing farmland to development, land hoarding and speculation. Representatives from the Sustainable Economies Law Center (our partners in the development of Solano Local Food System!), California FarmLink, California Center for Cooperative Development, various land trusts and legal firms discussed options for farmland protections and creative funding to remove farmland from speculative real estate market and protect it forever for agriculture. Traditional land trusts, emerging affirmative agricultural easements, community land trusts – these and other legal forms were examined at length.
There is no planet B.
Inspiring key speakers kept all of us attuned to the vital importance of this work and kept things in perspective by returning us to big picture. Winona LaDuke spoke beautifully about sacred land and practices of native people, new economy, environmental justice and a choice between a well-worn, scorched path and a new, green path ahead of us. Dr. John Ikerd masterfully outlined the devastation caused by industrial agriculture and promise of small farms and ecological farming to finally end hunger. John argued that healthy food is a fundamental human right, and since market economy failed our food system, local jurisdictions can declare basic food to be a utility and thus be provided to all people as basic services, just like water or energy.
After these three days of intense learning and networking, going from inspiration to despair and back to resolve to make a difference, we returned home ready to tackle the most important, fundamental and life-giving area of our lives – healthy local food for all.
Made possible by Solano Public Health in partnership with the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation
What is Permaculture & Whole Systems Design?
Permaculture is an ethically based whole-systems design approach that uses concepts, principles, and methods derived from ecosystems, indigenous peoples, and other time-tested systems to create human settlements and institutions. It’s also been called “saving the planet while throwing a better party.”
This course includes the internationally recognized 72-hour curriculum, augmented by an additional 38-hours of hands on practice and field trips. Plus, folks have the option to camp on site each weekend, and build community around the fire!
Dates & Topics 2018
- April 14 & 15 – Introduction to Permaculture Design and Nature Awareness
- May 5 & 6 – Restoring Watersheds & Soils
- June 16 & 17 – Personal & Social Permaculture
- July 7 & 8 – Home Scale Permaculture: Creating Natural Homes and Edible Landscapes
- August 4 & 5 – Broad Scale Permaculture: Integrated Animal Husbandry and Forest Management
- September 8 & 9 – Regenerative Community Development
- September 15 – Design Presentations & Party!
For more details, cost information and to register, CLICK HERE.
By Rileigh Barton
Hi, I’m Rileigh, and I’m 13 years old. I volunteer for Sustainable Solano with my dad. I’ve gone to two Sustainable Landscaping classes so far at a food forest in Fairfield called “Mom’s Delight.” But first, I’ll tell you a little about me, and how I got involved in permaculture.
It all started at The Tomato Festival, Fairfield’s annual celebration of the tomato harvest, in August. My dad met Kathleen Huffman, Landscape Designer; and Nicole Newell, Program Manager at Sustainable Solano, and got involved with the program. Once he bought certified permaculture expert Denise Rushing’s book, “Tending the Soul’s Garden: Permaculture as a Way Forward Through Difficult Times“, Dad became fascinated with the idea of permaculture, which is short for permanent agriculture. Permaculture design is a way to work with nature to grow a resilient and edible eco-system. In September, Dad went to a Speaker Training class which kicked off my own interest in permaculture.
Two weeks ago on Saturday, Dad and I went to a Sustainable Landscape class, and witnessed the birth of a food forest. Kathleen talked to us about what we were going to be doing that day, and she taught us what swales were. Then the Food Forest Keeper, Brenda, came up front and told us about the forest. She’d nicknamed it “Mom’s Delight” because before she planted the garden in the backyard, her mom stayed inside all the time. Now her mom comes out and walks around and she’s happy. We then got to work. We first dug a swale, a ditch about 2 feet wide and 1 foot deep that is flat on the bottom. Then we filled it with mulch. There were lots of big dirt clods, and Kevin, a fellow volunteer, came in with a mattock to break up some of the clods. Before we planted the calamondin tree and the apple tree, Kathleen gave us a small lesson on how to plant trees and the best conditions for them. Then we planted the trees, mixing the natural soil with organic potting soil, and watered them.
A couple days ago, Dad and I went to another Sustainable Landscaping class. This time we were installing a Laundry-to-Landscape system, which saves time, saves water, and conserves energy. Christina and Nina from Greywater Action talked to us about these benefits and more, and oversaw the event. Up until lunch half of us worked inside while the other half worked outside. Dad and I worked on digging mulch basins, which are similar to swales, but often surround a single plant. Kevin and I took turns with the mattock to help with the digging. After lunch, we assembled and installed the Laundry-to-Landscape pipes. Then we worked together to irrigate the mulch basins. We didn’t quite finish, but Dad, Kathleen, and I came back the next day to finish.
This experience was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Permaculture is the only way to make Earth a healthier, and nicer, place to live. Definitely more people should participate in this, and I’m glad I got the chance to: “Save the world, one yard at a time!”
Sustainable Solano will be installing two demonstration food forest gardens in Fairfield at a private residence and one public location as part of its Sustainable Backyard program. The program aims to teach gardening techniques based on permaculture design principles (layered planting system that supports life) and wise water practices such as groundwater storage, roofwater catchment, and laundry-to-landscape greywater re-use. The expansion of these garden installation projects is funded by the Solano County Water Agency with the first project scheduled for 11/04, 11/11, and 12/16 at a private residential backyard.
This three-day installation will serve as a free, hands-on educational workshop open to Solano county residents. Attendees will have the opportunity to be a part of building the foundation for this garden by creating contour swales, building berms, planting fruit tree guilds and the installation of a laundry-to-landscape greywater system.
This holiday season, the program will also move forward with the creation of an edible “Christmas” food forest garden at Mission Solano, a transitional housing shelter that provides food, lodging, faith support and job training to over one hundred individuals and families in Solano County. Mission Solano sits on 3.5 acres with much of its land being underdeveloped making it an ideal location for a public demonstration food forest community garden. The demonstration garden will also include swales to capture rainwater, a laundry-to-landscape system, permaculture planting methods and will be open most Saturdays of the year for self-guided tours.
Mission Solano relies heavily on food donations and struggles with providing resident guests high-quality, nutritious food and access to fresh fruits and vegetables. A portion of food is purchased by the organization itself. Both partnering agencies saw an opportunity to not only reduce program food costs through this project, but to also serve the greater community by providing educational opportunities for Fairfield residents to learn about growing their own food, secondary water use and building resilient communities. On Saturday, 12/2 the public is welcome to attend a free greywater system installation workshop to learn how secondary water from your laundry and roof can feed an entire garden.
Most of the installation work and ongoing maintenance of this demo food forest garden will be completed by Mission Solano volunteers. The project is in in alignment with the agencies “job therapy” program that helps resident guests develop skills for future employment and sustainable living. Chief Operating Officer of Mission Solano, Shauna Hughes states, “By teaching our guests how to grow their own food, we can equip them to continue doing so once they establish permanent housing. This will help them overcome the barrier to good nutrition that most low-income residents face.”
Registration is required for all installation workshops for both public and private projects. Visit www.sustainablesolano.org/events to register.
The Sustainable Backyard program will expand to Suisun City next spring and to Vacaville in the fall of 2018. Sustainable Solano will be looking for both private and public lands to install food forests in these cities. Visit www.sustainablesolano.org and www.facebook.com/sustainablesolano for updates and details about this expansion.
About Sustainable Solano
Sustainable Solano a non-profit organization is a non-profit organization dedicated to Nurturing Initiatives for the Good of the Whole. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sustainablesolano.org.
Eight graders chiming in on their future food forest design.
Kathleen, Larry and Elena taught a hands-on swale workshop to the Suisun Valley eighth graders in the spring of 2017 on how to use swales in storing rainwater in the ground. Now that the kids are back in school, designing the Demonstration Food Forest is the next step.
Principal Jas Wright is including the kids in the design of the food forest. To get them thinking about that design, I held five sessions, speaking with seven classes of, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students. We had a conversation about Fruit Tree Guilds and the importance of choosing a diverse group of plants that benefit each other. Each plant should provide multiple functions.
The kids were engaged asking many questions. The one question that stood out in my mind: What is the opposite of a food forest? The answer is monoculture, the planting of only one type of crop in a given area. Our program encourages planting a polyculture and the importance of including plants that build the soil.
Fava beans have already been part of the Suisun Valley curriculum. Katie, one of the students was excited to tell me how they added nitrogen to the soil by planting fava beans as a cover crop. To prepare the demo garden site, Laura, the Garden Coordinator has already begun to sheet mulch. The site has two mature fig trees and an unidentified, mysterious fruit tree. These three trees will be included in the design.
Now the kids have a base understanding of what a fruit tree guild is. Each class will be responsible for the design, the installation and the care for one guild within the food forest. Over the next 2 weeks they will be naming their guilds and selecting the plants. On a side note, one of the classes is even working on restoring the California Native Plant Garden. So many opportunities to learn!