Food Forest Keepers: St. Patrick-St. Vincent Catholic High School
St. Patrick-St. Vincent Catholic High School is a co-educational, college preparatory high school serving the Vallejo, Benicia and Fairfield/Vacaville communities for 150 years. The mission of the school is to challenge its diverse student population to seek truth as creative, complex thinkers and to be responsible citizens and compassionate individuals who share their gifts with others. In this context, the school seeks to educate the whole student and to develop innovative curriculum that addresses a variety of learning styles.
The seeds of partnership between Sustainable Solano and SPSV were sown two years ago when Rick Rodgers (‘77) and his wife, Nora, both teachers at SPSV, met Sustainable Solano Executive Director Elena Karoulina at the Vallejo/Benicia Sustainable Backyards Tour. Elena was excited to meet teachers from a local school because she had an idea for a project that needed a partnership with a local high school. Elena and Rick met at SPSV and in the course of their discussion, both shared their visions for creating permaculture and sustainable landscape design curriculum and creating a new classroom space on campus. The SPSV garden sits at the top of a short but steep slope that descends to a flat area that adjoins one of the classroom buildings. Over the last 10 years, various classes and clubs have worked to install raised beds, piping and drip irrigation, and, of course, have spent hours on weed control. As faculty and staff have worked in this space, Rick, who manages the garden and acted as project manager, envisioned terracing the hillside, accentuating its natural design as an amphitheater and adding a more functional space for classes to use and in which groups could host small gatherings.
Instantly, the partnership between SPSV and Sustainable Solano was born. SPSV would secure funding, design and install the seating area and stage of the amphitheater, and Sustainable Solano would develop a curriculum to teach high school students about permaculture and sustainable design. Dr. Summer Ragosta, our Environmental Science instructor, would act as a consultant for curriculum design and SPSV students would be a real student audience with which to pilot lesson plans. The culmination of these efforts would have Sustainable Solano secure funding to install a food forest above the seating space of the amphitheater and SPSV students and faculty would design and install the food forest using the knowledge gained in the classroom.
3,175 square feet
Number of Swales:
Roofwater Diverted to Hillside
Total annual water impact:
Apple, All-in-One Almond, Coast Live Oak, Elderberry, Lime, Mandarin, Pear, Western Redbud
Baja-Bush Snapdragon, California Rose, Ceanothus ‘Skylark, ‘Coffee Berry, Salvia ‘Dara’s Choice,’ Santa Rosa Island Sage, Thornless Blackberry
Artichoke, Bell Bean, California Poppy, Checker Mallow, Comfrey, Coyote Mint, Crimson Clover, Fava Bean, Narrow Leaf Mule Ears, Purple Vetch, Red-Flowered Buckwheat, Sticky Cinquefoil, Yarrow
Calendula, California Fuschia, Strawberry, Silver Carpet
Installation of the food forest was truly a school-wide effort. Students from all four grade levels, specifically from our Environmental Science classes, freshmen Physical Education classes and students in our Urban Farmers Club, spent classtime and time after school moving rocks, digging in the soil, spreading wood chips, and planting fruit trees, a grand oak and many understory plants. The hands-on nature of the project complemented the theoretical knowledge students gained in the classroom. In addition, students in Campus Ministry installed a beautiful meditation labyrinth on the stage of the amphitheater, providing a quiet, reflective opportunity for the whole SPSV community.
Vision for the Future:
The vision for the space is to serve as a peaceful and prayerful setting for individuals and groups. To honor the generous donation from the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, SPSV named the space Teraza Dominicana, Spanish for Dominican Terrace. As the trees mature, the community will be able to witness the healing and renewing power of nature through the various academic and spiritual activities hosted in the space. In addition, food harvested from the food forest and the raised beds will nourish the bodies and spirits of the community.
The space will continue to support the education of St. Patrick-St. Vincent Catholic High School students. Specifically, students will be monitoring the growth of plants in Teraza Dominicana and observe how water moves through the landscape. The installation of a large swale, several terraced guilds, as well as the layering of mulch and burlap were designed to direct the flow of water down towards the root zone, reducing runoff and erosion. This relates directly to University of California approved Environmental Science course curriculum, and helps students play an active role in natural resource conservation efforts. Also, the space has already presented research and creative design opportunities for students to observe and explore ideas for improvement, such as pathways to increase access and study, and how to utilize the existing rain catchment system. Moving forward, the space will enable nitrogen cycle, soil science, plant biology and pollinator investigations (among other things). These topics are covered in both Biology and Environmental Science course curricula, and Teraza Dominicana provides an engaging, safe and on-campus place for students to carry out long-term original science projects.