Tangible and Valuable: Permaculture Design Course Shapes Program Work

By Gabriela Estrada and Kassie Munro, Program Managers

The OAEC Permaculture Design Course cohort that included Sustainable Solano Program Managers Gabriela Estrada and Kassie Munro

During Sustainable Solano’s restorative summer break, we traveled to Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, a research, demonstration, education, advocacy and community-organizing center in West Sonoma County, where they develop strategies for regional-scale community resilience and the restoration of biological and cultural diversity. For two weeks, we joined 30 other people in an intensive Permaculture Design Certificate program – frequently referred to as the PDC.

While Permaculture Design Courses follow a standardized curriculum to ensure that those who get their PDC receive comprehensive training in all of the critical systems design components, each program has a unique approach to how they immerse students in the permaculture experience, which for us meant living in yurts on the 80-acre OAEC property as part of their intentional community for the duration of the program.

Upon arrival on the first day, we all sat in a circle and were asked why we decided to attend the PDC training. What quickly became evident was that a lot of our fellow PDC-ers wanted to learn about permaculture design not only to create beautiful gardens, but to heal the earth and the people on it. As the days progressed this became more evident. Cohort members came from all walks of life and from all over the world! We had Mimi from Taiwan and our yurt-mate Mounir from Dubai. Their goal was to create a space of sustainability and social cohesion in their properties back home. Their generous attitudes were not unique among our cohort.

The course itself was both incredibly rigorous in its training, and yet at times also felt remarkably like summer camp. Nestled in the lush Duck Bill Creek watershed of Western Sonoma County, the property boasts a number of incredible gardens, restored forest and grasslands, an irrigation pond (which doubles as a swimming hole), and countless trails to get lost on. Communal vegetarian meals cooked in the shared kitchen with ingredients from the gardens were shared three times a day.

While living on-site, the property became so much more than a demonstration classroom, and the experience became so much more than simply an education. With course topics covering everything from cob building and composting to botany and global water systems, the training is incredibly holistic. We even had an afternoon dedicated to learning the art of fire-making. The social permaculture teachings truly came to life in the communal living experience where we had the chance to feel and live a different way based on designing social structures to favor beneficial patterns of human behavior and attempting to create conditions that favor nurturing and empowering relationships with each other.

The course culminated in a group design project, which for us focused on a nearby 7-acre plot of land that had recently been acquired by the Cultural Conservancy. Indigenous wisdom and learning the heritage of our host land was a focal point of the training. This came in many forms: first a small presentation by The Cultural Conservancy, then a trip to the actual site in the city of Graton, which is Southern Pomo Coast Miwok Territory. During this site visit, we all took notes, pictures and asked members of the Cultural Conservancy what they envisioned for the space to better understand their hopes and aspirations for the place. As a group, we were grateful that we were allowed to participate in a project that aims to create an inter-tribal bio-cultural heritage farm and indigenous education center. Together in a team of five, we created designs that represented all the different topics we were taught, and then on the last day presented it to the Cultural Conservancy.

It was a true honor to be a part of a tangible and valuable regenerative restoration project during our course. Belonging to an organization such as Sustainable Solano, whose core principals are permaculture-based, it has been very valuable to obtain Permaculture Design Certification. As program managers, this certification will allow us to infuse permaculture design principles and guiding ethics more deeply into our work, allowing us to continue shaping programs that approach sustainability through the lenses of social, environmental and economic equity.

Garden Tools: A Resource for Building Community

By Nicole Newell, Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

One of the things we love to see in the neighborhoods where we have projects and programs are our community partners each contributing their own efforts to strengthen and grow these communities.

And when there are ways we can support other organizations with goals that complement ours toward building a just, equitable and sustainable environment, we are happy for the opportunity to do so. One such opportunity arose this summer.

Richard Fisher serves on the Vallejo Commission for the Future and Sustainable Solano’s Resilient Neighborhoods Advisory Board. He contacted us about a beautification project that he has spearheaded on the corner of Curtola Parkway and Solano Avenue. This corner has become a dumping ground for trash, furniture and other items, which gives a poor first impression of Vallejo.

Faith Food Fridays is located on this corner and provides an important service to the Vallejo community. The organization supplies food, clothes, household supplies and so much more to families in need. Beautifying this area would create a significant positive impact by giving a new face to Vallejo for people driving into the city and for the hundreds of families that visit Faith Food Fridays.

The vision of this project is to create an open-air art gallery and native plant garden to tell a positive story about the culture and love of the Vallejo community. The first part of the project was to clean up the corner and begin to rehab the soil by adding mulch. That’s where we were able to help.

Generous funding from the Solano County Water Agency and PG&E has allowed us to purchase garden tools used in various workshops and installations. When we are not using them for our own projects, rather than have those tools sit unused, we’re happy to offer them to community organizations as a resource.

Richard approached us about borrowing the tools for this beautification project so a large group of volunteers could get the work done in less time with more tools available. Angel’s Tree Care dropped off a load of free wood chips, and volunteers showed up with energy to clean up the corner and spread wood chips. The next step for the corner is still in the planning stages. Anyone from the community that has ideas or is willing to donate art, please contact Richard Fisher at: vallejocommissionforthefuture@gmail.com

As we enter into our busy season of landscaping projects and planting gardens, our tools will go back into regular use for our projects. But we still want to be a resource for community projects when those tools aren’t in use. If you are part of a community organization planning a project that needs garden tools, check with us for availability!

Learn How to Create a Food Forest Garden as Part of Vallejo’s First Resilient Neighborhood

By Sustainable Solano

Sustainable Solano and dozens of community members have been hard at work in the past few weeks creating the first Resilient Neighborhood in Vallejo through the new Resilient Neighborhoods pilot project.

Already, homeowners, neighbors and community members have come together to turn a water-hungry lawn into a water-wise front yard, dig water-grabbing swales to capture roof water and rainwater, and plant trees to offer shade and fruit and other beneficial plants. Projects have also included features such as a hugelkultur, which creates a raised garden bed using wood yard waste, and an herb spiral that creates microclimates for different herbs to grow.

Anyone interested in learning how to do these things hands-on will have another opportunity starting this weekend as volunteers take on the fourth home in this pilot project.

Come and see what it takes to transform a barren yard into a food forest garden oasis and bring these ideas back to your own home!

The free, educational workshops start at 9 a.m. and are scheduled until 4 p.m., though participants who can only give an hour or two are also encouraged to stop in. Lunch will be provided.

Here are the activities planned for the coming weekends (click the links for more details and to register for the free workshops):

There will also be a small celebration on June 29 to recognize all of the work that has been done to build this Resilient Neighborhood, ending the workday with a frozen treat for participants.

The workshops at this home are funded through the Solano County Water Agency. The Resilient Neighborhoods program is funded through the PG&E Corporation Foundation.

From Hugelkultur to Harvest: First Resilient Neighborhood Brings Together Community

By Joanna Palmer, Resilient Neighborhood Homeowner

Last Saturday, my neighbors and I were incredibly touched to see how many people came out to help us install permaculture features in our yards. Around 20 volunteers showed up early on a weekend morning to our block in Vallejo’s Morningside Addition to dig swales, plant trees, mulch and build garden beds.

Throughout the day, neighbors kept dropping by to ask what was going on, and in some cases offer to help out — I think I met more people in one day than I have since the first few weeks of moving to the neighborhood. We had snacks and cold drinks to offer them, but hopefully soon we’ll have something more special: homegrown fruit from the many trees Sustainable Solano helped us plant. If all goes according to plan, in a few years they’ll be providing a harvest much bigger than we can possibly consume on our own.

So many things are better when they’re shared: work, food, knowledge. Sustainable Solano’s permaculturists offered an abundance of the latter on Saturday. We learned how to dig a swale to collect rainwater runoff; how to plan a hugelkultur, a raised mound for recycling yard waste that creates great soil; and how to build an herb spiral that creates tiny little microclimates for growing many different plants in a small space.

Creating the hugelkultur garden bed at one home and the herb spiral at another

My partner and I are recent transplants from the East Coast, and this project represents a realization of so many of our hopes for moving to California. We were drawn here by the natural beauty, the weather that makes living outdoors year-round so appealing, and the easygoing lifestyle. Vallejo in particular seemed to offer a chance to make our home in one of the few places left in the Bay Area that’s still full of multigenerational families with a community-minded orientation.

Strong communities will be essential to thrive in the world that’s coming, and I’m so grateful to Sustainable Solano for providing us with this vehicle to start building one. Over the long term, I hope we can use this project as a foundation for an array of different offerings. I’d love to help develop a food-sharing network, workshops and a hub for disaster-preparedness resources.

More immediately, I’m just really excited to be learning so much.

Joanna is part of the Vallejo pilot project in the Resilient Neighborhoods program, which is funded through a grant from the PG&E Corporation Foundation.

Learn more about this Resilient Neighborhoods pilot project in Vallejo here.

Interested in learning some of these techniques to bring to your own community?

Register for the upcoming workshops at the links below:

June 1Greywater and Lawn Conversion
June 8: Understory, Drip and Water-Capture Feature
June 15Swales, Mulch, Trees, Hugelkultur
June 22Laundry-to-Landscape Greywater Installation
June 29Understory and Drip Irrigation

We hope to see you there!

Join Us in Creating Our First Resilient Neighborhood in Vallejo!

By Kassie Munro, Resilient Neighborhoods Program Manager

Do you want to be a part of a pioneering new effort in Vallejo, and learn how we can make our neighborhoods more resilient?  

Join us Saturdays May 25 through June 22!

Our first pilot Resilient Neighborhoods team has been selected, the design process is underway, and we are excited to begin scheduling our educational installation days in the coming weeks.  For the first time, we will be working with a team of four homeowners to begin transforming their street into an environmentally and socially resilient community hub. Using landscaping elements of our Sustainable Backyard program as a foundation, this new program will build in additional resiliency elements focused on temperature regulation, restoring ecosystem functions to the urban environment and strengthening community networks. The design will treat the homes as part of the same ecosystem, linking them together through shared services and planned diversity, like providing shade in communal areas and producing a varied supply of food. Over time, we plan to work with this established team to bring additional neighbors and community organizations into the hub as part of a larger movement to transform our cities into more regenerative, equitable and resilient places to live.  

Working with four unique homes simultaneously provides a new opportunity for us to showcase how permaculture techniques can be applied to a variety of landscapes to enhance climate and social resilience.  Permaculture is an adaptive approach and methodology, and the diversity of our homes in this pilot will allow us to demonstrate how the same core principles can be applied to a variety of homes to achieve outcomes that are tailored to the individual members of the Resilient Hub, and the team as a whole. This pilot is an opportunity for us to expand our demonstration gardens not only in scale, but in scope.

Join us as we explore:

Heat Mitigation and Biomimicry

The urban heat island effect is a challenging consequence of our changing climate, felt most dramatically in urban areas with extensive paved surfaces and little vegetation.  We will be exploring how to use shade trees and structures to help keep our homes and outdoor spaces cooler in times of extreme heat, as well as the impact that evapotranspiration from greenery has in helping to cool the air.  Our partner Richard Fisher will also be working with us to pilot innovative biomimicry techniques throughout these installations that explore additional ways to help mitigate temperature extremes, as well as restoring other valuable ecosystem services back to our built environment. Biomimicry is guided by and aims to mimic Mother Earth’s methods for providing important ecosystem functions. For example, an old tree log can be used to capture, store and cycle water in a yard, similar to the role it would play in a forest setting.  You can read more about biomimicry and Richard’s approach here.

 

Integrating Permaculture into Existing Landscape Features

Creating a dramatic transformation from water-hogging lawn to lush, water-wise edible foodscape is a powerful and compelling demonstration.  But for many of us, our yard isn’t a blank canvas and the thought of needing to strip things down to a clean slate to transition to a permaculture landscape can be daunting.  Through these installations, we will be highlighting how to work within your existing landscape features, both hardscape and established plants, to integrate permaculture techniques and begin the transition to a more sustainable, regenerative and productive landscape.

 

California Native, Ultra-Low-Water Showcase

One of our Resilient Neighborhood homeowners is a passionate California native plant enthusiast.  We will be working with her to design a unique backyard landscape that will serve as a pollinator oasis and embrace California native and drought-tolerant plants.  Within this garden, we will also be building a bridge between native and permaculture-based designs by including soil building and water capture techniques like bioswales, and incorporating small amounts of food forestry through fruit tree guilds, berry bushes and edible perennial plants.

Along with these new features, we will be holding workshops on all of our foundational sustainable landscaping elements, including:

  • Roofwater capture
  • Bioswales
  • Edible landscaping
  • Laundry-to-Landscape greywater systems
  • Sheet mulching

Check our calendar for individual installation dates to register for upcoming workshops. By signing up for our newsletter, you can be sure you’re the first to hear when events are scheduled.

Register for the upcoming workshops at the links below:

June 1Greywater and Lawn Conversion
June 8: Understory, Drip and Water-Capture Feature
June 15Swales, Mulch, Trees, Hugelkultur
June 22Laundry-to-Landscape Greywater Installation
June 29Understory and Drip Irrigation

We hope to see you there!

The Resilient Neighborhoods program is funded through a grant from PG&E.

Work at one of the homes in the neighborhood is funded through a grant from the Solano County Water Agency.

Interested in Sustainable Landscaping and Community-Building? Tell Us!

By Sustainable Solano

Have you ever wondered how Sustainable Solano makes the connections that lead to our involvement in the community? Whether it is the planning and planting of a sustainable garden, the installation of a greywater system, urban forests to bring food and shade to residents or bringing local communities together around these sustainability efforts, the process to find sites can be a long one.

Now, you can help! We know that the best way to find the perfect site for a future project is through the people we meet. That’s why we’ve created a quick and easy form for Solano County residents to let us know how they want to get involved and help us identify where programs and projects are needed.

We want to hear your vision and look for opportunities that Sustainable Solano can support. We’ll use this information to identify which of our current programs best fit your interests, and it will give us insight as we expand our programs and help to shape future initiatives.

We are seeking both private residents and public sites to be part of our green infrastructure programs that take a restorative approach to our environment and include Sustainable Backyards, Solano Gardens and Urban Forests.

We’re also actively starting our search for the first Resilient Neighborhood site in Vallejo. Our vision for the Resilient Neighborhoods program is to unite neighbors to work collaboratively, with the support of the greater community, to install low-cost, low-tech sustainability elements that restore valuable services back to our built environment, like producing food, filtering air and cycling water. Let us know if you are interested in exploring this opportunity in your neighborhood — or let us know what other programs fit your interests.

Filling out the interest form is the first step. Become part of the conversation on sustainability and building community. We hope you’ll take a moment to fill out the form yourself and share it with neighbors and friends.

Download the form here and send your completed form to nicole@sustainablesolano.org

Or fill out our interactive online form here.