The Beginning of Flood Resiliency in Suisun City

By Alex Lunine, Resilient Communities Program Manager

Over the past two years, Sustainable Solano has focused on spreading awareness of the dire need for climate resilience in Suisun City, making education regarding flooding accessible for the city’s residents. Generously funded by PG&E through the Better Together Resilient Communities, Sustainable Solano’s Resilient Neighborhoods program installed two flood-resilient gardens in Suisun, kicked off a now annual climate event in the city, led a high school internship program, taken residents on a dozen Flood Walk tours, and empowered the community to tackle flooding via the creation of a community-based action plan.

Starting in 2021, we shared information from the Adapting to Rising Tides report published by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission to spread scientific literacy regarding climate change and its impacts on Suisun. We connected with hydrology and permaculture experts Anne Freiwald and Lydia Neilsen of Vital Cycles to conduct a walkaround consultation of downtown Suisun and surrounding neighborhoods. Their expertise was instrumental in our own understanding of Suisun’s baseline flood resilience and informed our educational efforts. This expert information was used to create our Flood Walk program, where we would lead groups of curious Suisun residents and others from around Solano County interested in flood risk on a tour of flood-vulnerable areas near the Suisun Marina and downtown. We furthered our outreach efforts via the flood-resilient garden workshops and installations, offering opportunities for individual resiliency actions in addition to those at the community scale. Finally, in partnership with Suisun City, we organized and started the Suisun Climate and Environmental Festival: bringing a variety of environmental organizations together to promote true citywide community resilience.

Flood Walks offered an interactive way to learn about flood risks
A demonstration garden showed how to capture rainwater during large storms

Climate and Environmental Festival Educational Talks

As awareness of flooding vulnerabilities became more commonplace, and with the city partnership, we proceeded into 2021 with the goal of assisting residents to funnel their thoughts, concerns and solutions into a unified and practical document. With a combination of hard work from our Core Team (a group of concerned Suisun residents and officials), Adam Welchel with The Nature Conservancy, and our high school interns, we hosted the first Community Resilience Building Workshop on the West Coast. During this event in June 2022, around 20 residents, government officials, and environmental experts participated in the formation of a grassroots community action plan primarily targeting climate change. The conversations that took place were then consolidated into a Summary of Findings Report, which we hope will serve as a blueprint for residents and officials when crafting flood resilience policies.

Finally, with the last stretch of the Resilient Neighborhoods program in Suisun under this grant funding, we refocused on sharing education regarding flooding in Suisun and the Summary of Findings Report. The goal was to continue to bring as many voices to bear on the decision-making process. Sustainable Solano continued leading Flood Walks, installed a second climate-resilient garden, and facilitated a climate resilience community forum with then-Mayor Pro Tem Alma Hernandez. This forum served as the spiritual continuation of the 2021 festival, and gave the 15 participants the opportunity to directly engage in flood-related conversations with their government. The forum also contained an expert panel with representation from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, UC Davis, and the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District, that was able to answer questions participants raised.

High school interns learned how to lead informative Flood Walks
A garden installation taught about drought and flood resiliency

Climate Resilience Community Forum

While we are proud of the work SuSol has done to promote flood resilience in Suisun, we know that these past few years only represent the first step in true climate change preparedness. We hope to continue to conduct educational and community-building efforts in Suisun around flooding mitigation, and promote equitable and sustainable solutions for the city.

On behalf of Sustainable Solano, I would like to offer my deepest gratitude to PG&E and the Better Together Resilient Communities team for their guidance, patience and support in our efforts to build environmental resilience in Suisun City. Through our efforts enabled by PG&E’s backing, Sustainable Solano has helped Suisun undergo the first steps necessary to create a truly environmentally resilient community.

Learning Community Garden at Faith Food Fridays to Educate About Growing Food

Jan. 13, 2023
For immediate release

Media Contact: Allison Nagel
Interviews, photos and other materials available upon request

Quick facts:

  • 2 pm Thursday, Jan 26: Ribbon-cutting ceremony and plant giveaway at Faith Food Fridays’ new Learning Community Garden
  • Remarks from Faith Food Fridays’ Benjamin and Mary Ann Buggs, and Sustainable Solano’s Solano Gardens program managers Michael Wedgley and Lauren Gucik
  • Class on gardening in containers taught by Roxann Reyes, Beautification Commissioner for City of Vallejo. Participants will receive supplies and plants to take home with them.
  • This event is open to the public.
  • Please share news of the event in advance with your audience. We also invite media coverage of the event.


Learning Community Garden at Faith Food Fridays to Educate About Growing Food

Faith Food Fridays in Vallejo grew out of a mission to end hunger, with a focus on providing emergency food to families. But Mary Ann Buggs, Faith Food Fridays’ administrative director, says that food security needs to move beyond emergency food to sharing knowledge and skills to grow food within our communities.

That’s why the organization is working in partnership with Sustainable Solano’s Solano Gardens program to dedicate a raised garden bed and offer plants for those who want to grow their food at home at Faith Food Fridays’ Vallejo distribution location.

“This garden is extremely important to Faith Food Fridays, not just from a personal standpoint of continuing the tradition we grew up with of growing our own food, but really providing a means for sustainable nutrition for our community members to advance long-term health,” Buggs said.

The Learning Community Garden has been improved and expanded through the efforts of a number of community groups and organizations, with Vallejo Beautification Commission board member Roxann Reyes organizing volunteers to sheet mulch, install garden beds and plant those beds.

Reyes said she learned from her grandmother how tending a garden could offer freedom, and self-sufficiency, and she brought her own experience with facing hunger and the security of a garden to her efforts to start seedlings at home that she could share with others in the community through various organizations, including Faith Food Fridays, Angels With Heart and WAHEO, so they could grow their own food.

“I’m most thankful for Mr. Benjamin Buggs and Mrs. Mary Ann Buggs for gifting the community with a piece of property that will benefit Vallejo and the surrounding areas,” Reyes said.

At 2 pm Jan. 26, Faith Food Fridays and Sustainable Solano will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony and plant giveaway to recognize the addition of the Learning Community Garden while giving those in the community plants and supplies they can take home to start their own gardens. Leadership and community member volunteers will share their involvement with the Learning Community Garden, and elected officials, Vallejo business owners and other nonprofit organizations are invited to attend. Reyes will be offering a talk on container gardening that can benefit those who want to grow food at home but don’t have the space or live in temporary housing. The event is open to the public.

Faith Food Fridays and Sustainable Solano hope to combine their expertise and work with support from the community and other organizations to create a garden that is an example that can be used to inspire similar gardens throughout the county.

“The hardest thing with community gardens is harnessing the human power to keep it going long term and sustainably,” Buggs said. “We hope other cities/communities reach out so we can show them how easy it is to create a sustainable, healthy food source.”


About Faith Food Fridays

Faith Food Fridays began in 2011 under the guidance of Ministry Director Benjamin Buggs and Administrative Director Mary Ann Buggs, and helps those in need with free boxes of food, groceries and other necessities, along with resource referrals and positive encouragement. Distributions are on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays and serve more than 600 families each week. There are no requirements or qualifications people need to meet to receive fresh and non-perishable food items.

About Solano Gardens

The Solano Gardens program has grown this year beyond its original scope of creating and supporting gardens that provide access to fresh produce in communities that have historically experienced limited access to healthy food. With the expansion of the program, the broader goal is to help Solano communities regain control over the growing, sharing and preparing of food. The program will do this in three ways. Solano Gardens will establish garden Hubs that can support education, distribution and preparation of food; community gardens that continue to get fresh produce to local residents; and smaller satellite gardens that can serve as a network of support for home gardeners interested in producing their own food. Culinary training classes for youth will impart skills and understanding of how to prepare fresh food at home and in larger amounts to share with others. And the program is also managing a farm feasibility study to look at the best approaches to continuing to support farming and food production here in Solano County. Together, these three aspects of Solano Gardens work toward that broader goal of food sovereignty for Solano communities.

About Sustainable Solano

Sustainable Solano is a countywide nonprofit organization that is dedicated to “Nurturing Initiatives for the Good of the Whole.” The organization, now in its second decade, brings together programs that support and sustain one another and the Solano County community. Initiatives include sustainable landscaping, local food, resilient neighborhoods, youth leadership, sustaining conversations and community gardens.

For more information, visit 

Farm to School Brings New Garden to Vallejo’s Griffin Academy

By Patrick Murphy, Program Manager

Sustainable Solano’s Farm to School project would like to express a very warm thank you to everyone who assisted us in completing a food forest garden at Griffin Academy in Vallejo this year. With the assistance and support of so many people, we were able to bring this collective vision into reality. Beginning in the new school year, students at Griffin Academy will be able to access fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden thanks to a grant by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.

Once a desolate and unappealing section of campus, the new Griffin Garden will feature over six unique fruit trees, five repurposed garden beds, two berry guilds, and at least a dozen different additional plants, providing shade, wind cover, and nutrients. The previous garden site at Griffin was slated for removal by a campus renovation. Sustainable Solano worked together with the school leadership to secure a larger, more visible location for the garden at the school. This new site also was much closer to garden champion Tianna DeSliva’s biology classroom. This new location will not only be more productive and visible, but also will use less water than the previous garden. An automatic drip irrigation system will allow the site to survive the long dry summers with minimal maintenance. Additional features include an in-ground swale running parallel to the school building. This swale will capture rainwater and store it in the soil for the plants to draw from. Sustainable Solano’s Solano Gardens program will support the garden and work with Griffin Academy to assist in the long-term stability of the garden. We hope to use the space in the future to encourage other schools to create a garden on their own campus!

Reflecting on the lessons learned from this project, Sustainable Solano has developed a toolkit for other Solano County schools and even community groups to create their own food forest gardens full of perennial and annual plants. This toolkit also contains step-by-step instructions on how to get food from a garden into a school cafeteria. You can view and download the toolkit here.

One important lesson learned from this school garden project was that it is essential to work with a supportive team of individuals who can see a garden through from idea to completion. We would like to thank the following people specifically for the roles they played in supporting the Farm to School program.

  • Holman Pettibone – for his commitment to getting answers when we needed them,
  • Tianna DeSilva – for her commitment to getting this garden established,
  • Shene Wells – for showing up each and every chance she could,
  • Nick Driver – for his support,
  • Roxann Lynch-Burns – for her direction and willingness to help,
  • Jennifer Leonard – for her support,
  • And to all the volunteers who participated in the October installation.

Farm to School Toolkit

Everything you need to plan and start a school or community garden in Solano County
Click here or on the cover below

Get Bare-Root Fruit Trees for Your Garden Through Our Fruit-Tree Giveaway

By Jazzmin Ballou, Solano Gardens Program Coordinator

Update: All available trees have already been reserved. Please check back in the future for other opportunities.

During the winter months fruit-producing trees go dormant. This dormancy helps protect them from freezing in the cold months by stopping them from growing and producing fruit. The good news is that dormant trees can be out of soil for short amounts of time in those winter months without dying, making it easier to transport them. 

That makes it a great time to get trees for the garden! Sustainable Solano will be partnering with three local nurseries in January to give away bare-root trees to the community. We are especially aiming to give these trees to folks who otherwise may not have access to fruit trees. As part of the free giveaway, we will accept donations toward the cost of the trees. Donations will increase our ability to continue giveaways in the future, but are optional so that everyone has a chance to get a tree, regardless of ability to pay.

Photo credit: Mid City Nursery

The giveaways will be

  • 10 am-12 pm Jan. 21 at Mid City Nursery in American Canyon
  • 10 am-12 pm Jan. 28 at Lemuria Nursery in Dixon
  • 10 am-12 pm Feb. 4 at Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville

All available trees have already been reserved. Please check back in the future for other opportunities.

The giveaways will be held in three different locations to increase accessibility. If you are unable to transport yourself or your trees to or from any of these giveaways, please let us know. We are happy to explore options for how we can help you get your trees home. Likewise, if you have little garden experience or have never grown fruit trees, there is a plethora of knowledge on tree planting and care to be found online, specifically on YouTube.

Bare-Root & Fruit Tree Resources

SuSol’s plant resources (click here and scroll down for fruit tree planting and pruning resources)

Winter Fruit Tree Care (watch this video to learn about how to care for your fruit trees in the winter, including planting bare-root fruit trees, from Lemuria Nursery’s Kristina Fink)

Planting a Bare-Root Fruit Tree (watch this short video for quick tips on planting your tree)

How to Plant a Fruit Tree (this video gives details on planting bare-root vs. potted trees)

Reflection, Gratitude and Anticipation for What Lies Ahead

A letter from incoming SuSol Board President Maggie Kolk

The past few years have been challenging in so many ways for most of us.  Sustainable Solano’s strength and resilience under the leadership of Executive Director Elena Karoulina in the face of these challenges is remarkable. Marilyn Bardet, outgoing Board of Directors president, has played no small part in supporting Elena, the team, and the board through demanding times. Marilyn will be a hard act to follow. Fortunately, she will remain a board member, and I am confident that I can rely on her future support and nurturing mentorship.

As we begin a new year and as I take on the role of board president, reflection, gratitude, and anticipation for what’s to come are at the forefront of my mind

Reflection and Gratitude

Sustainable Solono - Nurturing Initiatives for the Good of the WholeTrue to our mission of “Nurturing Initiatives for the Good of the Whole,” SuSol continues to grow and expand countywide programs to support and sustain the Solano County community. Like any organization, the team experienced both change and growth in 2022. We welcomed new team members, said farewell to others, and look forward to bringing on additional dedicated, enthusiastic team members in 2023.  The newest member of our board of directors, Treasurer John Uselman, brings the skill and professional expertise needed as we move forward into our next phase.

The key ingredient for the continuing growth and success of SuSol is the dedication and devotion of all of the people who make up the team managing and supporting our programs — sustainable landscaping, local food, resilient communities, youth engagement, sustaining conversations, and community gardens. (I proudly share that Avant Garden on First Street in Benicia provided over 1,000 lbs of fresh organically grown produce to the Benicia community in 2022. We are over the moon grateful for our volunteers who helped in this effort!)

Wholehearted appreciation and gratitude are sent to the entire Sustainable Solano team and volunteers for their commitment and hard work. To paraphrase Proust: you are “the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

We also are lucky to have the continuous support of funders who see the value of SuSol’s work here in the county, including the Solano County Water Agency, which first helped the organization grow from Benicia to throughout the county and continues to support our Solano Sustainable Backyards program today, and Solano Public Health, which saw the value in community gardens that increased access to fresh produce into Solano communities and moved that to action by supporting our Solano Gardens program. From the big funders to the individual donors, we are grateful to have the support of the community.

Details of SuSol’s accomplishments and activities can be found on the What’s Growing? blog.

Looking Forward to 2023

While I do admit to a bit of trepidation taking on a new leadership role, my excitement for the future of Sustainable Solano mitigates any fears I have about filling those big Marilyn Bardet shoes!

The future is bright for SuSol with existing programs flourishing and new support mechanisms coming from respected valuable resources. The perfect holiday gift arrived early in December in the form of a capacity-building support grant from a Bay Area agency. This grant is just the boost SuSol needs to transform our organization in the coming years.

Brilliant team members and supportive, experienced board members are committed to thinking outside the proverbial box and bringing new innovative ideas to the table. 2023 promises to be exciting and transformative for SuSol. To quote Walt Disney, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we are curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Finally, do you ask yourself “What can I do to live a more sustainable lifestyle and reduce the effects of climate change?” With a variety of programs to choose from, I urge you to take the leap and get involved in one or more of SuSol’s important sustainability programs. What is your passion — Air Quality, Local Food, Youth Engagement, Workforce Development? Attend SuSol events, volunteer for one of our programs, and become a friend of Sustainable Solano by donating to support our mission.

Wishing all of our Sustainable Solano community the very best for a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous 2023.

Maggie Kolk
President, Board of Directors
Sustainable Solano