Seeking Suisun City, Fairfield & Vacaville Residents Interested in Yard Transformation

By Gabriela Estrada & Nicole Newell, Program Managers

Do you live in Suisun City, Fairfield or Vacaville? Are you interested in working with your neighbors and community to install a demonstration food forest garden or other sustainable landscaping elements in the coming months at your home or a community site, like a place of worship or school?

Sustainable Solano is currently looking for private or public sites and residents that are interested in working with their neighbors to transform these properties to grow food, create habitat and build healthy soil, while using water efficiently. The search for these sites is targeted in specific neighborhoods that are vulnerable to flood and fire.

We envision neighborhoods better equipped to adapt and thrive in the face of environmental, social and economic changes. The need for strong communities where people know and care for their neighbors is more apparent than ever, and projects such as these through our Resilient Neighborhoods and Solano Sustainable Backyards programs can help to build resilience in our neighborhoods as we connect with one another.

Suisun City and Fairfield

We are looking for residents in Suisun City and Fairfield (in the areas outlined in red in the map below) that are interested in working collaboratively to transform their neighborhoods into robust regenerative urban ecosystems that mimic nature in performing valuable functions like producing food, filtering air and cycling water. We are looking for sites to create beautiful and productive gardens that build healthy soil while using water wisely.

Vacaville

In August 2020, the LNU Lightning Complex Fire affected many Vacaville residents. We are looking to identify a private property in Vacaville that was damaged by the fires to begin to restore the ecological health of the land through the installation of a demonstration garden that would incorporate best practices for designing in a fire zone.

All of these projects will be done through public, educational installations that share knowledge and techniques used to address flooding or fire risk as well as sustainable landscaping principles. If you live within the highlighted areas of the map of Fairfield and Suisun City or your yard was damaged in the LNU Fire and you are interested in creating waterwise, edible food forest gardens, please fill out the Sustainable Landscape Interest Form or contact nicole@sustainablesolano.org. Once we receive the form, we will be looking to schedule site assessments for properties that suit the programs. By February, we hope to select multiple sites for yard transformations.

We are looking forward to hearing about your vision for your neighborhood!

4th Annual Demonstration Food Forest Tour a Reimagined Success

By Nicole Newell, Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

Permaculture expert John Valenzuela shows the roof water outlet at Living & Learning garden in Benicia during the video tour

Our 4th Annual Demonstration Food Forest garden tour was very different this year, but still brought people together in new ways around the concepts of permaculture and creating waterwise, edible gardens. Permaculture expert John Valenzuela gave a talk over Zoom to nearly 100 people that included a Q&A session and a pre-recorded video tour with John in one of our 27 demonstration food forest gardens.

What also made this year unique was it opened up the opportunity for people from all over the country to be able to attend, even people from the UK and Canada! It was comforting to see all of the familiar faces and exciting to see new people as we are all adjusting to this new way of interacting through video conferencing.

We had to rethink the annual tour this year due to the pandemic and social distancing. The big vision is a community day of local people gathering to tour the gardens, get to know each other and learn about permaculture concepts that can be applied to their landscapes. The original plan was to begin the tour at Avant Garden in Benicia with John’s talk and then 14 demonstration food forest gardens would be open in Benicia and Vallejo for a self-guided tour. These gardens are open annually to educate the community on how to create beautiful and productive gardens that build healthy soil and use water wisely.

Knowing we needed to bring the tour to life in a new way this year, our Sustainable Solano team got into solution mindset. We found David Avery, a videographer that made the video of John touring Living & Learning food forest in Benicia. Then on April 25, John gave his live talk over Zoom and answered many questions on plants and fruit trees. For those who couldn’t make the live event, you can view the talk and Q&A in the video below.

 

View the Living & Learning tour video below.

 

Stay tuned for more! In May, we will record Lydia Neilsen touring The Ripple Effect and The Enchanted Cottage garden in Vallejo. At a later date, Lydia will present her Rehydrate the Earth talk in a live Zoom call. We are also creating a series of short videos on the elements that go into creating your own food forest garden. To stay on top of the latest, subscribe to our newsletter 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!

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.

Creating Community Through Edible Landscapes in Vacaville

Since the launch of its Sustainable Backyard program in 2014, Sustainable Solano has created 15 food-producing, self-sustaining demonstration “food forest” gardens across Solano County on both public and private land. These gardens are primarily irrigated by secondary water sources (diverted roofwater, laundry-to-landscape greywater systems). The food forests are designed based on a permaculture design system of food production that utilizes the wisdom inherent in natural woodlands and the understanding of beneficial relationships between plants to create and support landscapes that grow food for human use.

The program officially expanded to Vacaville in mid-August. Since the launch, sustainable landscape classes have been offered to Vacaville residents covering sustainable landscape design, wise-water practices and permaculture.

On Saturday, October 13th, residents will have a hands-on opportunity to help create Vacaville’s first private demonstration food forest garden, alongside their community, by attending the first demonstration installation workshop. The selected homeowner is a long-time Vacaville resident with a vision to transform his front yard from barren, dead grass to an oasis of edible and beneficial trees and plants. This demonstration food forest garden will be named “Healthy Futures” with the goal of providing nourishment and serve as a community asset to learn about sustainable landscaping.

All are invited to help transform this lawn into a thriving ecosystem fed by secondary water sources. The garden will take three full days to complete and each public installation workshop will be hands-on.

This first workshop will focus on digging swales, diverting roofwater, planting fruit trees and sheet mulching to increase water-holding capacity and improve soil health. On Saturday, October 20th, with the guidance of Greywater Action, attendees will learn about greywater use and how to install a laundry-to-landscape system that diverts water from your washing machine to your garden reducing the need for potable water irrigation. Day three, Saturday, October 27th,, will wrap up the project with attendees planting a community of plants with multiple functions that support a healthy, diverse ecosystem, installation of water efficient in-line drip system.

The selection process for these sites are based on criteria such as yard access, greywater feasibility and sun orientation. Sites are assessed and selected by Sustainable Solano’s Advisory Board made up of dedicated Solano County residents aiming to raise sustainability awareness in Solano County.

There will be yearly ongoing workshops and tours of these demonstration food forest gardens on private and public land in each city.  This project is made possible by funding and support of the Solano County Water Agency.

Sustainable Solano in Vacaville!

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Sustainable Solano is a grassroots, county-wide movement uniting people and their initiatives aiming to serve the future of Solano County, to promote ecologically sustainable, economically and socially just communities. The organization had been expanding its mission of sustainable gardening since 2011 to include all forms of sustainable local food production (urban agriculture, permaculture, wise water landscape practices, Community Supported Agriculture partnerships and public education). Benicia Community Gardens changed its named to Sustainable Solano in 2016 to reflect its current scope and growing reach to actively engage all of Solano County. Sustainable Solano provides opportunities to local community members across the county to participate in four main initiatives: sustainable landscaping, local food movement, a community conversations speaker series and a sustainable neighborhoods pilot expanding on the sustainability framework to include renewable energy and shared small local solutions. Since 2016, its programs have extended to Vallejo, Fairfield and Suisun City.

Sustainable Solano will be launching its Sustainable Backyard program in Vacaville this August bringing educational, hands-on learning opportunities for residents interested in sustainable landscaping and wise water landscape practices to feed a landscape. This program focuses on transforming lawns and unproductive landscapes into lush, food-producing gardens fed primarily by secondary water sources (laundry-to-landscape greywater system and rainwater) and also brings inspiring talks on sustainable landscape design and permaculture principles.

The Vacaville Sustainable Backyard program will launch on August 11, 2018, with a talk by the permaculture expert Lydia Neilsen at Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville. The application period will be open to Vacaville homeowners and community public spaces to apply to become “food forest keepers” and have their yard transformed into a demonstration food forest garden. Highly visible, front-yard lawns are preferred but other types of landscapes (up to 2,000 square feet) are welcome to apply. Details about this expansion and a downloadable application will be available on the website homepage from August 11-September 21st.

Sites are assessed and chosen by Sustainable Solano’s Advisory Board made up of dedicated residents aiming to raise sustainability awareness in Solano County.  Site selections are based on criteria such as: yard access, greywater feasibility, sun orientation and a commitment to community education.

There is no financial cost to Vacaville homeowners interested in being a part of this community-building project. The program will offer a series of free, hands-on public educational workshops where locals can learn about permaculture design and be part of the installation of these edible ecosystems fed by secondary water sources. There will be an annual tour of these demonstration food forest gardens.

The Sustainable Backyard program has successfully completed 15 demonstration food forests on both private and public land since the initial launch in 2015.  Names given to these gardens are a reflection of the hopes and aspirations of the homeowner as part of their vision for the world they want to live in. Suisun City homeowner and food forest keeper of “A Growing Future” demonstration garden, Cassandra, had her lawn replaced with what she calls “a secure source of local food for my family with a surplus to share with the community”. For food forest keepers in Solano County, these gardens are a source of inspiration, resiliency and connection with neighbors. For Benicia food forest keeper Nam, the garden provided something else aside from birds, bees, flowers, fruits and vegetables. “This garden provided a place for meditation and a peaceful space during difficult times for our family.”

This project is made possible by the funding and support of the Solano County Water Agency.

The Sustainable Backyard will expand to Dixon and Rio Vista in 2019.  Visit www.sustainablesolano.org and www.facebook.com/sustainablesolano for updates and details about this expansion.

In addition to self-sustaining, water-efficient landscapes, Sustainable Solano also envisions an environmentally and economically sustainable local food system. In September of 2017, it was awarded a planning grant by the USDA to begin developing a business plan for Community Food Centers in all seven cities. These food centers will serve as a hub for local food activities: CSA deliveries, cooking classes, and community education increasing access to seasonal, locally-produced food, better health for residents county-wide and a stronger local food economy.

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