Garden Tour: Join Us For a Demonstration Food Forest Tour and Talk!

By Nicole Newell, Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

Interested in learning how to turn your home into a sustainable, bountiful oasis? Curious about water, climate and practical solutions you can apply in your own backyard?

Join us Saturday, April 27, for talks and tours of 10 demonstration food forest gardens in Benicia and Vallejo.

These private back and front yards are open once a year for a self-guided tour. Each garden is a unique experience: some are compact front yards, others are on a slope, some share space with animals and small children, some are allowed to grow without restriction, while others are more manicured. They all are lush, food–producing gardens that are fed by secondary water sources (laundry-to-landscape greywater and rainwater). The food forest keepers (homeowners) will be available to share their experience and to answer questions about their custom gardens.

The day will start at 9 am with a presentation by permaculture expert Lydia Neilsen at Avant Garden in Benicia. This empowering talk provides an understanding of permaculture and practical solutions for how each of us can contribute to the restoration of the global water cycle and climate stability. From there, you will get to tour the food forest gardens and see how these practical solutions can be applied to your landscapes through simple designs.

The demonstration food forest gardens will be open 9 am-2 pm. Stop by Avant Garden between 9-11 am to pick up the list of gardens to tour. You can also sign up that morning to join Lydia on a guided tour of one of the demonstration food forests.   

At 2:30 pm, Dog Island Farm in Vallejo will host a guided tour of their working urban farm and the new Grow a Pear Nursery. Vallejo-grown plants will be available for purchase that day at both Loma Vista Farm and Dog Island Farm to add to or begin your own food forest garden!

Register here.

This program is made possible by the generous support from the Solano County Water Agency.

Sustainable Solano Seeks Lead Landscape Designer

By Sustainable Solano

One thing nature teaches us with each season is that change is an inevitable part of the cycle of growth.

At Sustainable Solano, we have been lucky to have Kathleen Huffman, owner of The RePurposed Okie, as a central force in our sustainable landscaping work. Kathleen and the program have grown together and she has played a key role as our lead landscape designer.

Now, as Kathleen plans to move back to Oklahoma this summer to take care of family, we are seeking someone who understands permaculture and uses its principles in food forest garden design to step into that role.

Kathleen started her journey with Sustainable Solano when she attended the Land Caretaker Training in 2015. From there she took a Permaculture Design Certificate course and transformed her landscape career from mow and blow to a sustainable landscape business that is now thriving. She became our lead designer for the Solano Sustainable Backyard program and designed 12 demonstration food forest gardens in Vallejo, Fairfield, Suisun City and Vacaville. She has taught sustainable landscape classes throughout the county and guided the installations with the community through teaching educational workshops. We have been so honored to have her with us for four years.

For Kathleen, the move back to Oklahoma creates an opportunity to re-open her 10-acre family farm to showcase sustainability and permaculture and bring all that she has learned from her time in California. As we plan for her departure this summer, we are entering a transition phase of searching for the right person to step into the role Kathleen has filled. As we’ve often learned, such transitions can open up new opportunities at the right time for someone who will be a natural fit with the aspirations of Sustainable Solano for the programs we offer to transform our communities.

We are looking for someone local who can take on the lead landscape designer role and all that it entails. We need someone comfortable with teaching the community about sustainable landscapes who will be able to guide community members through installation workshops.

The ideal candidate would have a PDC, business license and liability insurance and would be knowledgeable about greywater systems and irrigation.

We are looking for someone who not only has an interest in sustainable landscaping, but also has an interest in growing their practice with us while continuing to learn and share that knowledge with the community.

If interested, please contact Nicole Newell at

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

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.