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 Day 1, on May 25, here!

We hope to see you there!

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

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.

Coming Together to Create a Sustainable Landscape

By Sustainable Solano

Community members turned out Saturday, Feb. 23, for an installation workshop at Mangia!, one of our demonstration food forests in Vacaville. The installation focused on the front yard of this property, which already has a backyard orchard with vertical gardening and a sedgefield meadow.

Volunteers learned about water-efficient front yard design, dug swales to divert roof water and planted fruit tree guilds to transform the front yard.

The demonstration food forest is part of our Solano Sustainable Backyard program, funded by the Solano County Water Agency.

Check out the video below from workshop participant David Avery!

Big Vision: Sustainability Curriculum and Certification Program for Solano High School Students

By Elena Karoulina, Executive Director

At Sustainable Solano, we are often asked how we come up with our programs and ideas. Our answer: We plant a seed and nourish it until it roots, grows and matures. A seed can be a spark of imagination or an inspiration from a community member, another organization, a book or article, or even a documentary.

We do not rush to put the seed into the ground, we need to ensure it is viable and that the plant it will grow into is strong, healthy and is needed in the community it is planted in. Most programs have been in what we internally call a “concept stage” for months or even years. When the time is right, when the soil is fertile, when rain is in the forecast (for us, that means funding), the seed is planted. Most programs start as a small pilot to ensure we learn the most difficult lessons early, on a smaller scale.

One of these conceptual seeds has been planted this month – our vision for a Sustainability Curriculum for high school students.

Framed by One Planet Living, a sustainability framework from Bioriginal, we envision a comprehensive education and certification/workforce development program aiming to equip young members of our communities and future leaders with a deep understanding of society’s sustainability and resilience, rooted in the system design and appreciation and knowledge of planetary limits, and practical skills to actively participate in the creation of a more just and resilient world.

We envision a four-year curriculum, correlated with California’s state curriculum for high schools, with a focus on the four pillars of the One Planet Living principles: Land & Nature, Sustainable Water, Local and Sustainable Food, and Zero Carbon Energy. The other six elements are softly built into the core curriculum (e.g. Health & Happiness or Culture & Community).

From Bioregional’s One Planet Living framework

We would like to offer a comprehensive standard training to all schools in the county, taught by Sustainable Solano instructors, followed by an optional hands-on practical training and certification. These practical skills will be developed and practiced on real projects in our communities — replacing the remaining lawns, installing greywater systems and solar panels, working in community kitchens and retrofitting houses for sustainability. This workforce development should be followed by paid internships, where funds earned by trainees are deposited into their savings accounts in local credit unions. These payments will not only provide trainees with a starter banking account and start them saving, but will also teach a soft lesson in the local economy. 

The program’s outline as of now is:

Freshman Year: Systems Thinking. Planetary Limits. Protecting and Restoring Land. Permaculture and Biomimicry.

Optional practical training/certification: 72-hour Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC)

Sophomore Year: Sustainable Local Water. Watersheds. Secondary Water (greywater and rainwater). Water Budget for All Landscapes. Flooding and Drought.

Optional practical training/certification: Greywater Installer Training

Junior Year: Local and Sustainable Food. Solano Local Food System. Foodsheds. Climate-Smart Agriculture. Humane Farming. Healthy Diets.

Optional practical training/certification: Food Handler Certification, Cottage Food Operator or State Food Safety Certification (TBD)

Senior Year: Renewable Energy.

Optional practical training/certification: TBD (e.g. solar panel installer)

We will be developing these ideas into solid business plans and grant proposals in the next couple of years. We are beginning to connect with other organizations doing similar work in the county and the state to form partnerships that strengthen each organization and further our missions.

Last month we received funding to plant the first seed: Solano Community Foundation awarded an ED Plus grant to Sustainable Solano to develop a pilot curriculum program in partnership with St. Patrick-St. Vincent School in Vallejo! This very first project will focus on sustainable water and permaculture; the materials designed for the students will enhance their classroom learning, especially math and science classes.  The hands-on practical application will involve building swales to slow, spread and sink rainwater, building a rainwater collection system and learning about greywater. The students will even build an earth bench using natural on-site materials. This project runs in conjunction with a demonstration garden coming to this school under another program, Solano Sustainable Backyard, funded by Solano County Water Agency.

Please let us know what you think about this idea! We are looking for support, partnerships and inspiration to bring this vision to life in Solano County!

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

The Shalom demonstration food forest installation wrapped up Saturday.  This was phase one of a larger goal to create a community garden in Vacaville.  The past few weeks have been incredible community events, but the devastation of the fires and shootings weigh heavy on my heart.  In spite of the smoke, people showed up and as a team we installed the Shalom garden.  In spite of the fear of violence, Pastor Sue and husband Jim opened their home and served lovely meals.  The fair share ethic in permaculture was embodied on these Saturdays:

Kathleen brought pineapple guavas.

Ron, Sue and Neely shared their bounty of pomegranates.

Kevin and Jessica brought tools and strength.

Kristina from Lemuria donated two flats of vegetables.

Divina brought her infectious joy.

There are too many generous acts of kindness to list.

With facemasks on, members of our Solano community came together to build a garden and somehow exist between the speechless beauty and bottomless grief.

Even though I felt deep gratitude, for the kindness of the community, I awoke on the Sunday after the final installation feeling weepy and moving around my home directionless.  Then I remembered that I came home from the installation with pomegranates!  I got lost researching pomegranates and the best way to separate the seeds for juicing.  As I separated the arils, I had a few bowls next to me. The worms got the membrane; the chickens received some of the arils that I was too lazy to separate.  I pressed a beautiful burgundy apple pomegranate juice for my family and saved the peels of the pomegranate in the freezer to make a tea.  While I got lost in the task I listened to the Mr. Rogers documentary, “Won’t you be my Neighbor?”  The tears began to flow as he relayed his mother’s advice that when something is happening that is scary to always look for the people that are helping.  I just spent three Saturdays surrounded by the people that are helping.

The Narratives of Permaculture

By: Gabriela Estrada, Project Coordinator for Sustainable Solano

As a new member of Sustainable Solano, I have had the pleasure of interacting with different members that play key roles in advancing a message of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share. While the message is clear and the work that has been put forth just as fantastic, it has been even more interesting discovering the instances and uniqueness of everyone’s relation to different aspects of sustainability and permaculture.

This month in Vacaville, while reflecting on this, I had the pleasure of learning about sustainable landscaping through presentations from local sustainable landscape experts, Jeff Barton and Kathleen Huffman.

The first of three workshops were led by Jeff Barton, whose lighthearted and authentic demeanor allowed for his audience to become engage and comfortably ask questions. During his presentation, Jeff spoke about his journey through sustainability and the tremendous impact that joining Sustainable Solano and digging his first swale had on him. This experience made him realize that “The solution to a lot of the problems is embarrassingly simple: We need to go back to basics and ask what the soil needs”.

This statement immediately allowed for people to reflect on and to firmly nod their heads. As the presentation continued, it became more of a conversation, and people voiced questions and concerns, to which Jeff did his best to answer, given his experience with similar problems. He shared that getting a pineapple sage plant, helps monitor the water of the entire garden, since it’s a plant that is very receptive to water usage, and encourage everyone to get one. I’m currently still looking for one.

While he spoke, it was clear that what he is passionate about the land and the people in it. For Jeff, it is a people first approach that will be key in making the world more sustainable. As such, we were encouraged as an audience to do just that, take care of our neighbor by sharing surpluses.

As the workshop continued, it was interesting to see how engaged people were and how responsive they were to the topic by chiming in their own ideas. While I really appreciated the level of engagement from everyone, what caught my attention the most was the level of engagement that his son (one of the youngest people in the room) had about the topic, and how full of curiosity he was. Given that he is the next generation, I see a bright future ahead of us.

For the second and third workshop, I had the pleasure of hearing from Kathleen Huffman, who proudly shared with her audience that she was from Oklahoma and that she still said things like “Ya’ll”. After a couple chuckles from the room, she shared her experiences of growing up on a farm in Oklahoma, with wind mills, and the ways that her upbringing shaped her future. Throughout her talk, we got to see pictures of how she transformed her own backyard and  learned about her design process.

She shared how everyone can become more sustainable simply by changing our way of thinking and “finding better ways to take care of the soil in ways that makee sense for our needs”. As the presentation continued, it became clear that Kathleen was passionate about creating systemic long-term solutions for the world, and that the way she approached solutions was shaped by her own lived experiences.

In both workshops, Kathleen shared tricks she learned along the way that had helped keep her garden pest free like using coffee grinds from a local coffee roaster to take care of slug problems and using worms as little workers of her yard. As I saw her audience quickly writing notes and ask questions, I realized that one of the things I appreciated most about hearing her talk was her narrative and how she approached issues by observing and doing her research.

The principles of permaculture are Earth care, People care and Fair share ,and it is exactly these principles that both Jeff and Kathleen embody in their Sustainable Landscaping classes and efforts. Though they both come from different walks of life and relate to issues differently, one thing was clear: they both authentically showcase their love for the land and their belief in mixing the old and the new in order to create present-day solutions. And, while one of the main goals of creating a sustainable landscape is to conserve water, by attending these workshops, I gained so much more than tips to reduce my water usage. I got to see how two different passionate people use their authentic narrative daily to showcase solutions and to increase the possibilities of what the future can look like.