SuSol Celebrates its 25th Year with Milestone Event

By Sustainable Solano

This year marks a significant milestone for Sustainable Solano as we celebrate 25 years of fostering sustainability, resilience, and community well-being in Solano County. To commemorate this achievement, we invite you to join us Sept. 21 for an unforgettable evening in the picturesque Suisun Valley. Set amidst a beautiful vineyard, our anniversary celebration promises to be a night of reflection, celebration, and forward-looking vision. We will take time to share memories from the past 25 years and talk about our impacts in community resilience, local food, green infrastructure, and youth empowerment.

The equinox, with its perfect balance of light and dark, provides an auspicious backdrop for our event. This time of equilibrium is ideal for making important decisions about the future, and it is symbolic of the balanced and sustainable future we envision for Solano County. As we gather on this special night, we will take time to recognize the collective efforts and special people that have brought us to this point. Most importantly, we will look forward to the next seeds being planted for resilience in Solano County and invite you to be involved in shaping our work ahead. We’ll officially launch our new business recognition initiative, Doing Good, which will provide an opportunity to spotlight local businesses that are making a positive impact on our environment and community.

The evening will feature a farm-to-table dinner prepared by local Chef Lindsey Chelini of BackDoor Bistro, showcasing the best of our region’s bounty. Each dish will highlight fresh, locally sourced ingredients, emphasizing our commitment to sustainable agriculture and community health. Paired with local wines from Backroad Vines, the meal will be a culinary journey celebrating the flavors and richness of our county.

Mark your calendars for Sept. 21 and get ready for an evening of great food, inspiring conversations and dancing. We look forward to celebrating with you and charting the course for our next 25 years.

General tickets will be available in August. Tables of 8 will be offered by request. Keep an eye out for more details!

Sustainable Solano Celebrates Our Beginnings At ‘Our Benicia Roots & Soil’

By Sustainable Solano

It’s been 20 years since the organization that would become Sustainable Solano put down roots through the creation of the first community garden in Benicia, and on Saturday, we recognized the most important element in making that happen: the people.

More than 50 people gathered at Harvest Presbyterian Church, the place where so many seeds of Sustainable Solano’s growth have been planted, to celebrate their involvement with the organization.

Special guests Dr. Erik Swenson and his son, Kai, attended in honor of Dr. Ed Swenson, the force behind the creation of Benicia Community Gardens, starting with the garden at Heritage Presbyterian that now bears his name.

“Dad loved this town a lot. He loved all the people,” said Erik Swenson, Ed Swenson’s son. “I wish he were here. He truly would have enjoyed this.”

Marilyn Bardet, Erik Swenson and Kai Swenson at the celebration

Board Chairwoman Marilyn Bardet spoke about the years of work that led to the 1999 groundbreaking of the intergenerational community garden at the church led by Dr. Ed Swenson and the Healthy Benicia Task Force as a way to encourage healthy food and community sustainability. She talked about incorporating that vision into the Benicia General Plan, which created a public-private partnership around the endeavor.

An important part of the celebration was to recognize the many volunteers, community partners, past board members and advocates who have helped to shape Sustainable Solano and given it the strong foundation needed to grow and flourish over the past 20 years.

“We’ve been very fortunate in the kinds of help we’ve received and the types of responses we’ve gotten,” Marilyn said.

Bits of history adorned the walls as participants nibbled on breakfast items from local shops and farms and discussed their roles with Sustainable Solano over the years. A slideshow traced the progression from Benicia Community Gardens through the creation of the orchard, numerous sustainable backyard food forest gardens and more.

Kathleen Huffman and Elena Karoulina at the celebration

As Sustainable Solano grew, it maintained its vision around local food, extending that concept from intergenerational gardening to community food access. This manifested into new programs: the CSA program; the Benicia Community Orchard, also at Heritage Presbyterian; and, with new attention to the tenets of permaculture, Benicia Sustainable Backyard.

Through such programs, the seeds were planted for the growth of programs in Benicia and throughout the county, Executive Director Elena Karoulina said, once again focusing on the people who made such things possible, including those volunteers who helped launch the programs and later made their way onto the organization’s advisory boards and board. She also discussed designers who have helped grow the reach of permaculture, such as David Mudge, who launched Benicia Sustainable Backyard, and Kathleen Huffman, who went through permaculture design training and then became the designer and contractor for Solano Sustainable Backyard that brought the concept to other cities in the county. The program now has 19 gardens and counting, has 1.2 million gallons of annual positive water impact, and thousands of people have been educated through the hands-on installation workshops. Kathleen is leaving in July to return to Oklahoma, where she plans to foster similar permaculture programs.

“Our Benicia seeds are going nationwide,” Elena said.

Seven new designers will undergo training in the coming months to take on Kathleen’s role here at home.

“Ripples keep going out y’all,” Kathleen said, talking about the knowledge she will take with her to share with a new audience and how much her involvement in the movement has meant to her. “I am so moved and so full of gratitude and honored.”

The celebration ended with a look toward the future as Sustainable Solano continues in its mission of “Nurturing Initiatives for the Good of the Whole.” Elena talked about how the organization continues to grow and add new programs that expand that mission in Benicia and around the county, such as the Urban Forest and Solano Gardens programs, Resilient Neighborhoods and the Local Food System program. And how new generations will gain valuable skills through planned high-school and workforce training programs, including the Community Land & Water Caretaker Program planned for Benicia.

“We believe, as Dr. Ed Swenson did, that hands-on learning through actual practice opens awareness when hearts, minds and bodies are engaged in meaningful work,” Marilyn said after the event. “Food is central to survival. We have to work to grow it. Doing the work helps us see the necessary changes we must make in the way we do business and conduct all aspects of our lives as lived in community.”

Saturday’s celebration was the first of several we plan around the county this year. Following this recognition of our roots, we plan to celebrate in the coming months the stem of growth throughout the county, the flower and seeds that are spreading far and wide. We hope you can be a part of these upcoming events as we honor the importance of the people who have shaped Sustainable Solano through the years and are moving us forward.

View a gallery of photos from the celebration below

Our Benicia Roots & Soil

Recognizing Our Roots As We Grow: Sustainable Solano Marks 20 Years

By Sustainable Solano

Sustainable Solano is 20 years old! We hope you will celebrate with us this year as we recognize how we have grown and changed over the years even as we hold tightly to the core values that led to our creation and drive our interwoven initiatives for the future.

To mark 20 years of dedication to promoting ecologically sustainable, economically and socially just communities, we plan to host several celebrations this year recognizing the communities and volunteers that have helped shape and support the organization. We would not be who we are today without the countless volunteers, community partners and advocates who have embraced the vision of what is possible when many people work together for the good of the whole.

Sustainable Solano owes its strong roots to its start in Benicia, where the very seed of what we have grown into today started with Benicia Community Gardens.

On March 30, we will host “Our Benicia Roots & Soil,” a celebratory breakfast in Benicia to recognize the importance of our history as we look at how Sustainable Solano has grown and spread throughout the county and set goals for the future. We hope you can join us at this or future celebrations we will hold around Solano County this year.

Part of recognizing this anniversary is the introduction of a new logo. Central to the new logo is the sunflower, its roots reaching down into the soil and its leaves spread to catch the sunlight as its many-petaled face turns toward the sun. The sunflower has been a key motif for Sustainable Solano since Benicia Community Gardens started, drawing together those who recognized the need to build community around the key elements of food, environmental stewardship and conservation.

Over the years, Sustainable Solano has grown to encompass a diverse group of initiatives that all work together toward nurturing the whole — recognizing what we need as individuals to thrive both within our communities and in harmony with the environment. Today, we are involved in programs that promote sustainable landscaping, building a local food movement, driving new conversations about the world we live in and bringing together neighbors to create a more resilient way of living.

That sunflower reflects these things, and has been a symbol for what nurtures us as an organization, as seen in this early sketch of what it means to us.

An early version of the flower used for board strategic discussions in 2011-2014

Its roots are set within the local community and environment, reaching down to soak up nutrients and pull in the funding that comes from our donors, grants and partners.

The strong core, the stem of the program, is people — our staff, board and countless volunteers and supporters — who define the resilience and vitality of the flower! The leaves stretch out, reflecting the board and community members who draw upon the rays of indigenous wisdom that is an integral part of our learning and insight from conversations and dialogue about problems and solutions. All of those help to nurture the organization.

The head of the sunflower centers around the different ideas and programs upon which Sustainable Solano’s initiatives are based, with each petal emerging out of those to form the different interrelated parts of the organization.

As we move into 2019, we hope that you will join us for a conversation, a food forest installation or a cooking demonstration to help grow this sunflower to its full potential, powered by the people involved.

We invite our friends, partners and supporters who have formed the roots of the organization through their dedication to our programs that have grown out of Benicia to join us March 30 for the “Our Benicia Roots & Soil” celebration or at one of the other celebrations around the county this year that will celebrate our growing organization as we take on new people and programs and plant the seeds for new opportunities and programs in the future.