Sustainable Solano’s Position on California Forever

By Sustainable Solano

Sustainable Solano has remained publicly silent until now about California Forever, both as a proposal and a ballot item. But we have spent that time in active discussions as a team and board to weigh the California Forever proposal and the process taken to get it to this point and test it for alignment with Sustainable Solano’s mission and objective to nurture initiatives for the good of the whole. We work to help bring our communities together in a way that connects people with each other, the Earth and something larger than themselves, and we must base our responses upon those values.

We have determined the motives behind California Forever do not align with our values as an organization, even if some parts of the proposed community do reflect measures we would like to see for Solano County’s existing cities.

Sustainable Solano’s work around community resilience, sustainable landscapes and local food all starts at a singular nexus — the interest in giving a voice to the community and building community trust toward the good of the whole. We can say without a doubt that the approach taken to acquire property and establish California Forever does not align with that core value for our organization. Solano County residents are frustrated due to the lack of transparency and absence of trust around the intentions of those behind California Forever. As an organization that is exploring what it means for us to democratically govern ourselves in an open manner, we ask no less of those who are seeking to change the county where we ground our work.

Even in the structure of its proposed community, California Forever does not align with our values. The decision for this community to remain unincorporated will result in residents being denied a locally elected municipal government. The new city will not have a mayor or city council, with many governmental functions relegated to nonprofits established by California Forever, or to the County Board of Supervisors. Consequently, the voices of residents may go unheard, and their ability to participate meaningfully in shaping the future of their community can be hindered. Without a local government, residents are often deprived of the essential mechanisms for representation, decision-making, and resource allocation that are fundamental to democratic governance. Issues such as environmental protection, infrastructure development, and public services become challenging to address without a locally elected centralized authority to coordinate efforts and advocate for community needs.

In the absence of a community-elected municipal government, this unincorporated city may face significant obstacles in achieving the democratic ideals of equitable representation and collective decision-making.

There are other areas where California Forever does not properly align with Sustainable Solano’s mission and values. We promote sustainable land use and the protection of ag land, which this proposal would directly affect as well as removing range land and endangering critically important habitat. We work with communities to lift up residents’ voices around environmental degradation and injustice, and see where creation of a large new city in the county would increase the negative effects on surrounding communities commensurate with increased traffic and strains on water supplies.

California Forever paints a picture of a community that would be built for walkability with good jobs and affordable housing. We appreciate and understand the vital importance of these features of a sustainable city, and would like to see more in our existing cities — cities where people could easily walk, bike or take local transit to jobs that pay a livable wage, have access to grocery stores with healthy seasonal food, can gather in public spaces with urban greening, and use renewable, local energy. We would like to encourage building this vision within our existing cities, and invite you to think about how such changes could be brought to where you live. These strategies would strengthen Solano County and our local communities, but for California Forever they remain only ideas at this point, and there are far too many conflicts with our values for us to support the California Forever proposal as a whole.

Bay Area Butterfly Festival Lands May 19

By Annina Puccio, executive director of the Monarch Milkweed Project

The Monarch Milkweed Project and the Vallejo People’s Garden are hosting the inaugural Bay Area Butterfly Festival on May 19!

Join us and experience the beautiful view of the Carquinez Strait from the boardwalk on Mare Island while learning about the importance of protecting our pollinators. This is a family-friendly community festival!

On two stages, fantastic performers and live bands will delight you with their talents. Children’s free games and hands-on activities will entertain young ones throughout the day. Musical performances will fill the air — dancing is not required, but it is definitely recommended! Artisans and small businesses will sell their art, wares, and many fantastic sustainable goods.

On a third stage, community groups will lead pop-up workshops on a wide range of exciting topics, which will include a talk sponsored by Sustainable Solano by Heath Griffith of Grow With The Flow on how to turn your lawn into a native garden. Food vendors and food trucks will offer a variety of cuisines, including vegan and gluten-free options.

We will be hosting over 100 vendors/exhibitors from various organizations and nonprofits at the event. There will be a focus on sustainable living, clean water practices, and environmental education.

This festival is a low-to-no-waste event focusing on commemorating the historic monarch overwintering site on Mare island, as well as the importance of sustainable practices and saving our pollinators — especially the iconic monarch butterfly and our various native bee species.

Learn more about attending here

On Facebook: https://fb.me/e/3uncrnQqk

Register on Eventbrite: www.bit.ly/BABF2024

Volunteer here

All volunteers get the following: free food and drink, a volunteer festival T-shirt and two free classes at the Vallejo People’s Garden.

Sign up here: https://forms.gle/o3Bx27kFusyriu2P6

Testing Your Soil: A Toolkit for Gardeners

By Patrick Murphy, Program Manager

Soil testing is an accurate and definite way to get an idea about how your soil is doing and learn what issues you might be dealing with. But what type of tests are there? What information are you looking for? How do you determine which test is best? You may want to follow a “Learn. Test. Act.” approach. Learn about the site’s history, test your soil appropriately, and act upon the test results.

Learn about your future gardening location — The test you choose depends on the history of your site. Solano County was incorporated in 1850, and the county has seen a variety of industries come and go. As such, many possible urban agriculture sites lack a robust history. Do your research before you begin:

  • What used to be near this garden space?
  • What possible sources of contamination are there?
  • What will you be growing?

You may wish to contact the local museum, or check out some online sources (see our toolkit for some suggestions) to learn more about your site’s history.

Test your soil appropriately — A variety of tests are available to everyday people and many are fairly inexpensive. The most accessible type of test is probably a “nutrient panel” (often called a “soil paste” test), which gives you an idea of the nutrient content of your soil. This will give you a breakdown of each nutrient, soil pH, salinity, etc., depending on the lab and exact type of test. You can learn more about what needs to be addressed in your garden (e.g. a lack of nitrogen, too high a pH, etc.).

The other common type of test would be some variety of heavy metal test. It is important to consider the variety of plants and produce you plan to harvest. Leafy vegetables (lettuce, kale, spinach) are known as hyperaccumulators and draw heavy metals up into their leaves. A key property of many leafy greens is their ability to accumulate heavy metals in their tissues without the traditional signs of toxicity. Do not assume plants will “reject” contamination; a significant number of plants humans consume can accumulate heavy metals in their edible areas. If you are concerned about heavy metals, such as lead and arsenic, you should test the soil you plan to grow in.

Primary Pollutant Metals-13 (“PPM-13”) and the California Administrative Manual-17 (“CAM-17”) are the standard tests to determine if you have heavy metals in your soil. PPM-13 looks for the 13 most common heavy metals, CAM-17 for the 17 most common. Either of these tests are perfect for locations where you believe there is a chance of heavy metal contamination. Additional tests exist to determine if soil has been contaminated with things like DDT, gasoline, etc. For more information about tests and costs, check out our soil contamination toolkit, or consult an environmental health specialist.

Act with the information you have — Once you have your results, decide what to do. You may have perfect soil that requires only that you begin planting. If you discover you do have a significant level of soil contamination in your garden space, you may want to consider alternative locations, remediation methods, or some combination of both. There are a number of good resources from agricultural offices and university extension programs, some are linked in our soil contamination toolkit. Always make sure the remediation technique you’re using is safe, effective, and observable. If you are attempting remediation, you will need to test your soil at regular intervals to evaluate how effective your efforts have been.

At Sustainable Solano, we have selected two potential sites that we plan to test over time to not only see what the soil composition looked like at the start of our work on these gardens, but also how our approach to building healthy soil and using permaculture practices affect the ongoing health of those gardens. We look forward to offering future updates on what this “Learn. Test. Act.” approach yields.

Farm Field Trip Highlights Connections to Food and Well-Being for Interns

By Taylor Collins, Development & Communications Coordinator

Morningsun Herb Farm’s Rose Loveall leads Youth Wellness Program students from Fairfield High on a tour of the farm

Student interns attending a field trip to Morningsun Herb Farm in March had an opportunity to touch, taste and smell a variety of plants and herbs as part of our Youth Wellness Program. The grounding, multisensory experience of visiting Morningsun provided a unique opportunity to engage with herbs, and invited full-bodied mindfulness, encouraging our students to slow down and be present with their thoughts and each other.

Morningsun Herb Farm is a family-owned farm in Vacaville. The farm grows over 600 species of herbs, succulents and heirloom vegetables. The land is full of trees and wildly growing shrubs. Whimsical metal art and cute sculptures dot the landscape and there are several canopies, greenhouses, and hoop houses surrounding the farm.

During our field trip, Fairfield High School students in the Youth Wellness Program visited a large hoop house with thousands of small herbs. These herbs were all grown from seeds or propagated from larger plants growing on the property. There was a striking variety of lavender, basil and sage. Rose Loveall, the owner of the farm, picked up a basil plant and spoke to us about the essential oils in the plant that produce its aromas and flavors.

As she passed the basil to a student, she said, “Herbs want to be touched. As you pass them around, feel their texture and take in the scent that is produced from their leaves.”

The group questioned this notion. “How do we know that the herbs want to be touched? Do they grow better when they are handled?”

For those of us who don’t live or work on farms, the origins of the food we eat can feel distant and abstract. We may intellectually understand that the basil we consume was grown from the ground, but this knowledge alone fails to capture the impact of physically experiencing the basil plant – feeling its delicate leaves in our hands, inhaling its aromatic fragrance, and being transported to memories of meals where its flavor enriched our dishes. While we may not know for sure what the basil wants, our sense serves as our bridge to communicate with the more-than-human world.

Plants use fragrance to attract pollinators to aid in their reproductive cycle. As we stood in a room with thousands of growing plants, it would appear that the basil got what it wanted. Breathtaking sights often draw humans to nature, but our less-dominant senses hold deeper lessons for us. Deep listening, taste, smell and touch open us up for a more profound connection to the life that sustains us. Considering the needs of a plant like basil can help break down the hierarchies that separate us from our wider ecosystem and these experiences can help us understand that we are not just observers of nature but in partnership with it.

The Youth Wellness Program helps connect all of these dots. As the students engage with plants in the garden, on the farm and in the kitchen, their relationship with them is recontextualized. The program brings together a cohort of 20 high school students for hands-on instruction in practical skills related to gardening and cooking. Each week, in groups of 10, the students build relationships with each other as they learn side by side. Building on a pilot “Healthy Local Food” program offered in partnership with Innovative Health Solutions and Armijo High School during last school year, Sustainable Solano was able to expand the program this year to add more focus on mental health and bring it to more schools. This year, the Youth Wellness Program was offered at Armijo, Fairfield and Vacaville high schools.

We left the hoophouse and followed Rose through a doorway made of wildly growing vines and squeezed into a small circular courtyard punctuated by a stone fountain in the center. Under the dappled shade of trees, we passed around and tasted several kinds of flowers and stems of lavender, geranium and bergamot. All of these plants are a part of the mint family, Lamiaceae, and have varying notes of menthol and bright, citrus-like flavors.

“Doesn’t taste like a grape, but doesn’t taste bad,” said Johan, a Fairfield High senior, about grape-scented lavender. Jinny, another senior, remarked, “It tastes like sage, or like medicine.”

The berries on a tree caught the eye of one of the students. It was a myrtle berry and a few of us tasted it. The flavor was pungent, peppery, and slightly sweet.

As we touched and tasted the various flowers, berries, and herbs, most of the students listened to Rose with rapt attention as she described each plant. There were a few side conversations but they were all about the flavors and sensations of the farm.

I can admit that my attention span has shortened considerably over the last few years. The pandemic had us all focused on our various screens and led to decreased social connectedness for everyone, especially students.

Morningsun is not far from the high school, but the rhythms of this experience made us feel much more off the grid. The earth felt softer beneath my shoes and the vibrations of the insects and birds moving through the trees was palpable.

This gentle, sensory immersion was a stark difference from the busy, digital-centric routines of our lives. Research suggests that time spent outdoors is linked to renewed attention, lower stress, and a balanced nervous system. Planting a garden is an act of optimism, which is especially important for young people on the precipice of adulthood. The culinary instruction is an opportunity to put new skills into practice, exercise teamwork and trust.

As the trip concluded, the students had the opportunity to interact with the animals and explore the array of plants. Each student selected an herb to plant in their school garden and use in the kitchen. This excursion reinforced the significance of grounding experiences for youth. Reflecting on my own experiences in nature, those moments of clarity and connection with the world remain vivid in my memory. I am eager for our students to embark on more enriching journeys with the land that promote growth, foster connections, and enhance their overall well-being.

The Youth Wellness Program is generously funded by Solano Public Health

2024 Benicia & Vallejo Demonstration Food Forest Garden Tour: April 27

By Nicole Newell, Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

Loam Sweet Loam garden in Vallejo

Sustainable Solano’s annual tour of demonstration food forest gardens in Benicia and Vallejo returns on April 27 for its eighth year. Join us for our largest tour of some of the longest-established food forests in the county!

The day will include speakers and activities to keep you inspired and engaged. Register here!

We will start at 9 am at Avant Garden in Benicia with a talk about the many roles mulch plays in supporting a water-efficient garden with Heath Griffith from Grow with the Flow. Learn about:

  • What is the difference between wood chips and bark?
  • Why is mulch one of the superheroes of permaculture?
  • Does mulch increase or decrease fire risk around houses?
  • How does mulch support a water-efficient garden?

Attendees will pick up the itineraries from 9-11 am at Avant Garden for a self-guided tour of the Benicia and Vallejo gardens. This year’s tour will continue to provide education on topics related to sustainability and highlight the amazing organizations and ways people are involved in uplifting the community. In addition to education, we will also have music, an adventurous scavenger hunt for our youth, two inspired gardens and a special guest that will be present to chat about calming calendula.

The Benicia gardens will be open from 10 am-1 pm, and the Vallejo gardens will be open from 1-4 pm. Attendees who can only participate in the afternoon can pick up the itineraries for Vallejo at the Pollinator Pathway garden on Mare Island from 12-1 pm.

You can learn about each garden and the special events going on at the gardens here.

To prepare a garden tour event that is in service to our community is a gift. As I learn what inspires our food forest keepers to live, grow and contribute, I am inspired in return. Spring brings new possibilities to discover what seeds we want to plant, in our garden and in our life. Each garden serves so many functions that support an abundant, healthy life. I invite you to explore these gardens and gain your own inspiration for your gardens, your communities and your lives.

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

How It Will Work

You can choose to tour for the whole day or for half a day.
Benicia Demonstration Food Forest Gardens will be open 10 am-1 pm
Vallejo Demonstration Food Forest Gardens will be open 1-4 pm

Register here

Itinerary pickup and special events:

9-11 am: Itineraries will be available at Avant Garden in Benicia (400 First St.). This itinerary will include all of the demonstration food forest gardens in Benicia (open in the morning) and Vallejo (open in the afternoon). Families can pick up a scavenger hunt sheet that will make the day more fun!

9 am: Heath Griffith of Grow with the Flow will talk about the importance of mulch at Avant Garden.

12-1 pm: Itineraries for the Vallejo garden sites (open in the afternoon) will be available at the Global Center for Success (1055 Azuar Dr/BLDG 733).

Throughout the day: Special speakers, activities and information will be available at various gardens.