Arugula & Almond Pesto

Photo credit: Unsplash


¼ cup almonds, lightly toasted
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry (or ¼ – ½ t. anchovy paste)
1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and halved lengthwise
5 oz. arugula
1 oz. parsley (about ½ small bunch)
¼ cup lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 t. kosher salt (or more to taste)

Set up food processor with the blade attachment. Turn on processor, drop garlic cloves through the opening and process until minced. Add the almonds, anchovies and serrano pepper and pulse until finely chopped, scraping down the sides as needed. Add arugula and parsley and pulse to roughly chop. Add lemon juice, oil and salt and process until smooth, about 30 seconds.

Note: to toast almonds, put them on a dry sheet pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 8 minutes, or until fragrant and just beginning to darken.

Makes about 1 ½ cups.

Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen.

Download a printable version of the recipe here

Learn about this recipe by watching the cooking class below

Simple Vegetable Stock


2 T. olive oil
2 medium onions, or equivalent (including scraps of leek tops, shallots, spring onions, scallions, etc.)
6-7 celery stalks (including tops and leaves are OK)
2 large carrots (scrubbed ends are OK)
8 oz. cremini (baby bella) mushrooms
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
6-8 sprigs fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
1 t. whole black peppercorns
4 quarts water

For the veggies: chop onions, celery, carrots and any other alliums into 1-inch pieces.

Note: the onions need not be peeled, but you may want to scrub the root end well, or shave it off with a sharp knife, depending on how much dirt is there.

Heat oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Add alliums and saute over high heat until the veggies just begin to brown. Halve the mushrooms if large. Add the celery, carrots and mushrooms and continue cooking until more browning develops on the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes more.

Add the garlic, parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns, followed by 4 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered until reduced by about half, 1 – 1 ½ hours.

Strain stock through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl or pan; discard solids. Cool to almost room temperature, then cover and chill for 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Optional other additions: Spent corn cobs, small fennel bulb, cauliflower core, lemongrass, kale stems.

Makes about 2 quarts.

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit.

Download a printable version of the recipe here

Learn about this recipe by watching the cooking class below

2022 Benicia & Vallejo Demonstration Food Forest Tour is April 23!

By Nicole Newell, Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

We will be opening up our demonstration food forest gardens in Benicia and Vallejo for the annual tour on April 23, and are thrilled to be back with our regular tour! Learn about this year’s gardens here.

Each garden is a unique expression of the homeowner and the land and was designed using permaculture principles. These gardens offer ideas and inspiration on how to use water efficiently while creating a lush thriving garden that supports life and provides food and habitat. During this pandemic, the food forest keepers have been doing really cool things to serve the Solano County community. This year some of the garden sites will have information on what they have been up to for the past two years: bees, honey, Monarch butterflies, Food is Free stands, native plants, local food and so much more. All of the gardens will showcase plants that thrive in Solano County!

When you pick up your full-day itinerary at Avant Garden in Benicia, you’ll have an opportunity to hear a talk on soil biology and soil health at 9 am. Want to join us for just the afternoon touring Vallejo sites? You can pick up your itinerary from noon-1 pm at St. Patrick-St. Vincent Catholic High School in Vallejo and have an opportunity to learn about what’s going on in local food. Find more details below!

For the past two years we were challenged to get creative with garden tours. We created a few video tours the first year of the pandemic that expanded our educational video library but couldn’t convey the full vision of what it’s like to stand inside these gardens. Last year the gardens were open to private tours.

Over the past two years I have missed seeing people smile and the magic that unfolds when people gather. We thrive when we are connected. Our deepest hope for this year’s tour is that people get energized and inspired to take action and become caretakers of the land and each other.

We look forward to seeing you this year as we return to a full tour, but with some changes that should add to your experience. Read below to find out more about the day’s events and what to expect in each garden so you can plan out your day!

Register here

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

Plan Your Day

Learn about each garden you can visit here

How It Will Work

You can choose to tour for the whole day or for half a day.
Learn about the gardens here
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).

9 am: Sustainable Solano Program Manager Michael Wedgley will give a talk at Avant Garden on how to have garden abundance with healthy soil biology, including the creation of compost extracts and teas to add soil biology where it’s needed. He will then apply compost extract to the community shared plot at the garden, which grows food for donation. ***Bring a mason jar and get some compost extract while supplies last.

12-1 pm: Itineraries for the Vallejo garden sites (open in the afternoon) will be available at St. Patrick-St. Vincent Catholic High School (1500 Benicia Rd., Vallejo)

12 pm: Learn about Sustainable Solano’s local food programs at St. Patrick-St. Vincent Catholic High School. The Local Food team will have details about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs in Vallejo and Benicia where you buy directly from local farms, favorite family recipes from our Youth Cooking Program students, information about local farms, agritourism, and how to engage in food rescue and recovery. Stick around for student demonstrations and check out beehives and honey there on campus.

2022 Benicia & Vallejo Tour: Featured Gardens

Scroll through the list below to read about the Benicia and Vallejo gardens that are featured on this year’s tour, and to learn about special offerings at some of the gardens!

Register for the April 23 tour here!

Benicia Demonstration Food Forest Gardens

The Curious Garden

Mature front yard food forest has mostly fruit trees and native plants that attract pollinators year-round. It has a laundry-to-landscape greywater system.

The garden is designed for a young family, including space to enjoy the outdoors and hidden forts. It also has a very steep hill, which presents its own unique issues.

Learn more

Giardino su una Collina (Garden on a Hill)

A 2-year-old food forest and pollinator garden installed in 2020 that includes a swale that captures roof water and mediterranean trees and plants mixed with native pollinating and nectar plants to attract bees and butterflies. This site is home to a Monarch Waystation that grows  a variety of plants to support Western Monarch Butterflies. The Monarch Milkweed Project and monarch education will be highlighted, milkweed seeds and maybe milkweed plants available for a donation.

Learn more

Greyhawk Grove

Greyhawk Garden after installationA 7-year-old established food forest with two swales that are dug out and refreshed every 2-3 years, laundry-to-landscape greywater to fruit trees, and chickens. The drip irrigation system was removed 2 years ago and the garden is thriving! Annual beds are hand-watered once a week during the growing season. Greyhawk Grove is a “high-traffic-survival-of-the-fittest-have-three-young-children garden”. There may be lemonade and baked goods for sale by children, as well as products from the garden to give away (dried calendula, lavender, herbs, eggs, fruit, etc.).

Learn more

Living and Learning

Established front yard food forest that replaced a lawn in 2016 with 2 swales, a laundry-to-landscape greywater system and a diverse group of plants and fruit trees that has now expanded throughout the property. Small spaces for relaxing and enjoying are throughout the garden. One of the food forest keepers is a teacher and will be present to share knowledge about growing and preserving tomatoes.

Learn more

Redwood Guild

Food forest garden and greywater system installed as part of Sustainable Solano’s Permaculture Design Certificate course, with students transforming the front lawn with rain-capturing swales and planted berms and converting the sprinkler system to drip irrigation. The side yard is watered by a laundry-to-landscape greywater system and also includes edible plants and native pollinators. This home has its own redwood grove, and certain plants were selected that do well in the unique conditions created by redwoods. The food forest keepers are using that knowledge to add other plants to the garden that will thrive alongside the redwoods.

Wild Cherry Way

Southern slope food forest focused on pollinators, shrubs and native plants. It also includes fruit trees, perennial and edible plants, swales and a laundry-to-landscape greywater system. Food is Free Solano and the Solano Gleaning Initiative will be highlighted.

Learn more

Vallejo Demonstration Food Forest Gardens

Colibri Ochoa (Hummingbird Ochoa)

Front yard food forest garden has a laundry-to-landscape greywater system, a swale, repurposed logs to create planting areas and a variety of plants to provide food for people and pollinators. On the day of the tour there will be a Spanish translator. 

Sustainable Solano partnered with two other organizations to install this garden in 2021 and begin to provide resources in Spanish. Planting Justice partnered with Sustainable Solano on a Spanish-speaking installation. They offer permaculture services and also have an organic nursery in Oakland that sells rare and heirloom varieties. Club Stride translated an educational program about Patio Sostenibles and created a food forest video in Spanish, Entrevista de Patio Sostenible. Both organizations are doing incredible work to reduce inequities. Check out their websites to find out more on how to support their work. 

Learn more

Enchanted Cottage Garden

Front yard lawn replaced in May 2017 with 2 swales, above-ground rainwater collection and a variety of fruit trees, grapes, herbs, and year-round pollinator plants mixed with annual vegetables. There is a path through it with seating for anyone who walks by. The food forest concept extends to the back garden. This yard has inspired several neighbors to transform their landscapes. Produce from the garden is used in the food forest keeper’s small home-based restaurant and they donate excess produce.

Learn more

Loma Vista Farm

Food forest garden that provides a beautiful demonstration to the public at Loma Vista Farm on how to plant their own yard in a variety of fruit trees, perennial vegetables, herbs, native plants and pollinator plants.

The food forest tour will be on the same day as Loma Vista Farm’s annual Spring Open House, making it an extra special day to visit. Plants that the students have grown will be available in the greenhouse for sale, animal feeding will be available, as well as entertainment, such as a puppet show. For more information check out:

Learn more

Morningside Botanical Bounty Resilient Neighborhood

Four gardens on one block were installed collaboratively through the Resilient Neighborhoods Program to show how a neighborhood can be an example of a resilient urban ecosystem that mimics nature.

Highlights: hugelkultur mound, 2 laundry-to-landscape greywater systems, fruit trees, swales, drip irrigation, bee-friendly plants, herb spiral, native plants, shade trees and a little free library.  Native plant information will be available.

Learn more

Ripple Effect

Compact urban yard with an artistic style and creative use of repurposed items, rainwater barrel, laundry-to-landscape greywater and guild planting worked into an existing landscape. This food forest keeper recognizes the benefits of “weeds in the garden” and is enthusiastic about compost, worm bins and building healthy soil.

Learn more

Terraza Dominicana (St. Patrick-St. Vincent Catholic High School)

SPSV Food Forest comprises six planting guilds, each with a central tree and underplanting on a steep hillside. It is used as a living laboratory for students to explore soil health, water conservation and pollination. The food forest highlights design features to address erosion control as well as techniques using repurposed materials for terracing a hillside. The site will highlight local food that is available in Vallejo, and Scott Dodson, the owner of Bee Tribe Honey Farms, will be educating about bees and hive maintenance and selling his raw honey.

Learn more

Vallejo Unity Garden (Vallejo Project)

This garden was inspired through collaboration with Sustainable Solano. Vallejo Project youth leaders attended Sustainable Solano workshops and became an organizational partner. This is a newly established garden with the beginning of a food forest with fruiting trees, eight chickens, a worm bin and a compost system. Over the last six months the soil has been nourished with fava beans and other nitrogen-fixing plants and the garden has been a training ground for mulching. This garden is a Vallejo Project-supported venture to build youth resiliency and forge a relationship between transitional families and youth to sustain the community for years to come.

Learn more

We are incredibly grateful for the generous support of our funders. The first seven food forest gardens were made possible through funding from the Benicia Sustainability Commission; the Solano County Water Agency continues to support the Sustainable Backyard Program throughout the county. Solano Sustainable Backyard Program short videos: Waterwise and Building Gardens and Community. Occasionally we combine funding from other programs to make larger projects possible.

DIY Sustainable Landscape Design Class a Hit for Homeowners

By Heidi Varian
Heidi participated in the DIY Sustainable Landscape Design class offered earlier this year. She wanted to use the class to gain design ideas for a historic home in Benicia that she is restoring with some friends to create a site people can visit for an “eco-vacation.” We appreciate her sharing her reflections on the class and process!
Heidi Varian (center right) goes over the proposed design for her site with other DIY design students and professional designers

A new DIY Landscape Design class from Sustainable Solano was a hit for homeowners.

I joined the class because I’m restoring a historic home in Benicia with some friends. Our interests are arts and music, health and healing, ecology and sustainability, food as medicine. We seek to model these community visions for future generations. The house we chose was built before the industrial revolution, and designed to take advantage of the elements. So we thought we would blend 21st century eco-conscious innovation with the era of conservation, where the houses were small, the land loomed large, and the same soap was used for the dishes, the laundry, and the conservator.

People could enjoy a learning eco-vacation right in the Bay Area. My son, Tyler Varian, touched on permaculture when getting his degree in landscape architecture, writing a book as his capstone, so we had a language. I reached out to Sustainable Solano about what we could learn and was overjoyed to meet such a thoughtful, conscientious team who gently guided me in the direction of best opportunities to facilitate the goals of both organizations.

The four sessions of the DIY class were split between online and in-person workshops. The first two online classes were a great introduction to the material as participants could meet in a COVID-safe environment at the height of omicron and learn to navigate the incredible online resources that the organization has amassed through years of community outreach and team-building.

Instructor Ojan Mobedshahi had to work fast to introduce all the tools he intended for the group to share, while encouraging hands-on learning from the outset, creating an online community, and facilitating collaboration and support. The shared folder of class work is a plethora of valuable information from class contacts and individual ideas and projects to videos and workshop presentations to DIY resources and contractors. The online class was a period of DIY observation and planning. The class materials introduced water reclamation and irrigation, solar and wind considerations, soil composition, tree guilds and planting, and methods of design.

Participants in the DIY design class tour El Bosquecito, a demonstration food forest garden, with designer John Davenport, who talked about how the garden captured rainwater and prevented flooding

When we met in person in Suisun City, it was as though everyone was already acquainted. Program Manager Nicole Newell heightened the feeling by creating a space that was comfortable and inviting, where participants shared ideas and plantings alike. Arranging to visit a recent Sustainable Solano demonstration food forest garden nearby was not only a helpful participatory excursion, but also a chance to feel welcomed by a host food forest family and feel a part of a project that was ongoing and alive. John Davenport, designer for the El Bosquecito (Little Forest) garden gave the DIY class a private tour explaining the flood zone design, laundry-to-landscape greywater system, swales and plant selection. Having an additional viewpoint from a second designer throughout to reinforce that permaculture is as much about the participants as the concepts was enlightening.

Participants gather in groups to offer feedback on the designs created by classmates in the DIY design class

The final in-person workshop was the most exciting of all because the workshop attendees shared their designs with each other, offered ideas, and each received feedback from various professional designers specifically brought in for the class. This was extremely inspiring because everyone had an idea that was unique and intriguing, meaning that with the same material, each DIY home design had a personal artistic element. The flip side was that the professional contractors, designers, and design-build teams each noticed something or had a vision that the DIY classmates had not considered. It’s a very short time to cover a large body of material. I was asked if I felt empowered by the class and, in some ways, I did feel more empowered. In others, I realized that old adage, “You don’t know all that you don’t know!”

One of the best takeaways of the class is that I do feel that I can understand the language of sustainable design and the concept of permaculture. In that way, I can communicate in a more meaningful way with a professional that would potentially collaborate on a project if I feel overwhelmed at the prospect of tackling such a project on my own. And that’s a great takeaway. In the inaugural DIY permaculture class, we were lucky that a volunteer garden installation was happening concurrently. Being able to participate in the install definitely highlighted the lessons of the workshops, heightened understanding, boosted confidence, and offered an opportunity to experience the community and camaraderie of sustainability and permaculture.