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!

Jardin de la Esperanza Shows Power of Community

By Gabriela Estrada, Solano Gardens Program Manager

When people tell you it takes a village to create great things, believe them. They most likely understand that the world is a connected place and that nothing truly great ever gets accomplished in a vacuum. Solano Gardens, for example, was made possible with support from Solano County and the need for a model of community gardens in low-income communities that serve as a source of fresh produce, a hub of information and a place for building relationships.

From this source of funding, Jardin de la Esperanza (Garden of Hope) was developed. This garden at Armijo High School in Fairfield began with the dedication of a couple of teachers, a few wine barrel planters purchased by the principal and a passion for gardening and a desire to take learning beyond the classroom. They shared this with their students and created a garden club.

To announce this club, a banner was created and placed outside the school. This banner caught the eye of Jeff Barton, a longtime Sustainable Solano supporter and host of our Walk The Talk Workshops. Intrigued about this club, he walked into the school and shared information about permaculture, Sustainable Solano and that we were looking for a school to install a permaculture-based garden. Sylvia Herrera, English teacher and garden adviser, jumped at the opportunity, and like the force of nature that she is, began to move the project forward. We were then joined by Michelle Bolden, special education teacher and co-head of the garden club, English teacher Vanessa Willing-Sisi and Principal Sheila Smith.

The next steps involved getting on the same page about the kind of garden we wanted to create. We had a meeting with students who were interested in supporting the garden and the project. To make this garden something that fit the needs of people, we enlisted these students in supporting with the design, the needs and the overall implementation of the project.

Out of this meeting, the Get Fresh Crew was created: Sebastian, Flor, Valeria, Florence and Ana.

 

After a few meetings where we briefly discussed what we wanted and needed out of the garden, we created a design. This design took elements of permaculture, ideas from different students and from the Get Fresh Crew, and from our lead landscape designer, Kathleeen Huffman.

Then the physical work began! Sylvia, Michelle and Vanessa enlisted their students in the digging, sheet mulching and planting of the guilds. Woodshop teachers and their students also supported the project by building raised beds for the garden, and the art teachers and students began planning for a painted mural.

A week later, we had a garden! A garden that was created for students by students and whose produce will help support Armijo’s Pantry, a food pantry for Armijo families in need. It always amazes me what a few passionate people can do when they put their minds to it and the impact that they can create.

You can be part of this process. Interested in helping to create a new garden? Join us in installing a vegetable garden at Emmanuel Temple Apostolic Church in Vallejo on June 22.

Do you know a church, a private residence, a school or an apartment complex that has limited access to fresh produce and would benefit from a community garden? Fill out our Interest Form to tell us about it!

So what impact did the garden create? Check out the student insights here and in the videos below (scroll down to view).

Student Garden Reflections

To me the garden is a way for us as students to get involved in something that matters more than just our regular curriculum. The garden is not only a creative outlet for us as students, but it teaches us to appreciate the natural world around us. The garden represents a new venture into a more involved and natural community. In the future I envision the gardening not only continuing, but growing and thriving.

— Aaron R.

 

The garden has given my classmates and I the opportunity to get involved and give back to the environment. It also allowed us to gain knowledge and appreciate indigenous culture. It is a great way to get students involved and hopefully continue to nurture the garden for future Armijo students to enjoy. It’s also a great opportunity to inspire students and encourage them to become more involved with their community and show compassion for the environment.

— Mariah A.

The garden was a great opportunity for my class and I to create a beautiful way of giving back to the environment. It was great opportunity to learn about gardening and a welcome change from sitting all day long in a classroom. In the future, I envision the garden continuing to grow and being not just a beautiful sight to see while walking to class and an opportunity to learn about nature.

— Alexia C.

 

Rosemary, sage, and strawberry. With each new plant we add to our garden, we grow our appreciation of not only gardening, but indigenous culture. This garden has given me a moment of calm in the center of campus. I am inspired by the sweetness of our lemongrass to the sturdy miner’s lettuce, which withstands its tangled stems. Our trampled grass and cold concrete has metamorphosed into a vibrant display of our hard work and optimism— a lesson that I will never forget.

— Royce G.

 

Creating a garden is a very precise and skillful task that teaches indigenous knowledge. It shows the hard work that the student community has put in to better the society by promoting healthy and diverse fruits and vegetables. I can see future generations continue the tradition of cultivating our garden to learn about indigenous knowledge and the work behind how our food is grown.

— Stephen I.

I believe the garden is a great way to teach others about agriculture and indigenous culture. It also teaches other skills that aren’t (but should) be better promoted in schools such as healthy eating and survival skills. I hope it’ll expand and help unite all of Armijo.

— Florence T.

 

In the future I hope that the garden expands. I hope that the following generations appreciate it as much as some of us do. I learned by having a garden that it’s a way to bring people to work together as a community and a way to learn values.

— Juliza V.

The garden is a pretty cool concept to me because it symbolizes growth and balance. I think it is a nice opportunity for students to connect with nature and have a chance to be cultivators of a better future that depends on us, the students. I hope in the future the garden thrives and keeps growing as the peaceful mindset of the garden also grows.

— Juan D.

To me, the garden represents growth in our school. We are beginning to bring new opportunities to learn and expand the school’s knowledge. I hope that the garden continues to expand and even more people become involved. Having a garden teaches those working in it patience, care and commitment.

— Brianna V.

Working in the garden taught me about the different types of plants that grow natively in this area. Before I didn’t know what was imported and what was naturally grown here.

— Madelyn G.

My time in the garden has taught me new things about plants and their various uses that I wasn’t aware of. I envision the garden being full of life, with vegetables and fruits that will improve the nutrition in this school and show students some work ethic.

— Alvin A.

Being a part of the creation of the garden has been a great experience thus far. Shoveling, raking, watering the plants or simply doing WHATEVER IT TAKES has been great. Labor turned into competitions to see who could shovel more bark into the barrels. Since it is a part of our TOK curriculum related to indigenous knowledge, our class has been outside working on it for the past two weeks, making for a great time. In the next coming year, I hope for it to still be thriving and I hope for all the plants to be in good condition and well manicured. By having a garden, great responsibility skills are learned as it takes a lot of care to maintain the beautiful garden. All in all, I have really enjoyed my time in the creation of the garden!

— Alessio I.

To me, the garden seems to be one vision of what we at Armijo want to see in our future — growth — and how it portrays future aspects of beauty for our community. My understanding of the garden is that it is a community experience for the school that shows how the Fairfield and Suisun high school population can work together as a team to produce something not for material gain, but to show the indigenous knowledge our of area. Thus, as a constituent of this complex, yet miraculous process, I have been instructed and taken with me the abilities to sustain the environment by increasing the biodiversity of the garden and other important and sustainable processes in making a garden.  

Hezekiah B.

I love how the garden was nothing at first and became a big project that put all students to work and interacting with each other. The best part of building the garden was how all students put a little of something of theirs in the garden like ideas and thoughts.

— Lydia R.

Having a school garden means a lot to me because I was part of its creation from the very first beginning and it has really helped me develop some skills. It also has a metaphorical meaning for many students because it represents our growth and how we take care of ourselves; and I love that part. The best part of the garden was working with all the students and Sustainable Solano members to make things in the garden happen. I really hope the garden can help (in a physical and emotional way) and feed many people, and that future students make a good use of it. I wish all the best for it.

— Valeria G.

 

Having a school garden to me means good publicity for the school. The best part of the garden journey is being able to go outside.

— Isaiah P.

 

Having a garden at school means that we could educate the students on the how important nutrition is. The best part of the garden journey is seeing it all come together with the trees and plants. I envision the garden being very well developed. I can see the trees getting bigger and actually producing fruits and vegetables.

— Zaria R.

 

Having a garden at school serves as an element that stands out. It has been a rarity, since not a lot of schools have a garden and a peaceful outlet of trees and plants that contrasts with the hectic environment of school. The best part so far of traveling through the garden journey has been constructing and arranging the basic outline of the garden. Seeing the construction process has allowed me to see how the garden has changed, from a barren terrain to home of many greens. Even though the garden’s plants and trees haven’t flourished much yet, I hope to see a vibrant and fresh ambiance in the future. Also, I hope that it’s a learning outlet for people to discover new plants.

— Maryflor F.

 

Having a school garden not only makes the school look nice but the purpose behind it and the effort it takes has a positive impact on the environment. The best part of my garden journey is planting but also seeing the process of the garden. I envision using the garden to harvest fruits and veggies.

— Marcus F.

 

To me, having a school garden means we have something that the whole school can take care of. The best part of working on the garden was being able to go outside and do tasks we wouldn’t normally do. I envision the garden as an important future hotspot for our school, like a symbol, an emblem for our school.

— Sebastian B.

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.