The Vision for a SuSol Education Center

By Sustainable Solano

Sustainable Solano has had a vision for a while now: To have an office space that serves as a place of education around the many things we teach about, such as sustainable landscaping, water capture and reuse; cooking with seasonal, sustainable local food; and building community resilience.

We have been lucky to spend the past few years in our office at the Global Center for Success on Mare Island. This office space puts us near nonprofit partner organizations and the beauty of the Vallejo People’s Garden and the Pollinator Pathway garden we installed with them and Solano RCD in front of the building. But as our team has grown in number, we find there are limitations in a one-room office, both for our team members’ needs as well as ways we would like to interact with all of you in the community.

And so we are returning to that original vision.

We would love to find a safe and beautiful place where we can create and exhibit the solutions we’ve been teaching and demonstrating for nearly 25 years. These may include a permaculture garden or farm, sustainable water techniques, solar energy and maybe even chickens. There could be a commercial kitchen space for teaching classes and preparing food (or the potential to add such a space). We also need a shared workspace and a place to gather around a table for large team or partner meetings, and an area to house tools and equipment, promotional materials and office files. The property would need to be zoned to allow for office space and would need to be able to support visitors coming to the site for meetings, classes and demonstrations.

We’ve seen creative and innovative ways individuals, organizations and cities have supported such projects. In Berkeley, the Ecology Center runs EcoHouse, which was founded in 1999 when a group of individuals “collectively purchased and transformed a small, dilapidated North Berkeley home into a demonstration house and garden.” In American Canyon, the city offered up an old public works yard to be transformed into the Napa River Ecology Center in partnership with the American Canyon Community Parks Foundation. Santa Cruz Permaculture now stewards a 26-acre farm under a 30-year lease as part of its operations.

We’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions for supporting this vision! Reach out to us at info@sustainablesolano.org

Even with this active vision for an education center, Sustainable Solano is committed to continuing hands-on sustainable landscaping and resilience-building workshops, cooking classes, and internships within Solano communities, because these are the very heart of our work. Our goal is to bring neighbors together in ways that help them connect with each other, the Earth, and themselves.

How to Compost at Home

By Patrick Murphy, Program Manager

Backyard composting often feels like a hobby reserved for those “in the know.” Like sourdough starter and beer brewing, the process seems both too simple and too complex to get started. How do you get from wheat and water to become bread? How do you turn yard waste and food scraps into compost? The answer is planning and time (and bacteria). With a little preparation and some patience, you too can compost your food scraps at home.

Composting requires a little forethought, some dedicated space, and the diligence to do regular light maintenance. If you can keep a houseplant alive, you should be able to get a compost bin started. The most important thing with backyard composting is to choose a system that will work best for you, which you feel you can sustain long-term. There are two common options for at-home composting, “hot pile” and “vermicompost” (or worm bins).

A stereotypical “hot pile” composting system uses a large bin and regular aeration to convert organic materials (i.e. food scraps) into compost. This system works very well when it receives a regular supply of organic materials, and is turned often. However your pile will begin to work less and less efficiently if the bin ever has less than a full cubic yard of material in it. Hot pile systems require that you maintain a specific ratio of high-nitrogen/high-carbon scraps in order for the bacteria to break down the material. I would recommend these systems for larger families, or organizations looking to get into composting. Learn more about hot pile composting here.

A vermicompost system relies on worms to digest and process organic matter to create compost. These systems offer more flexibility compared to a traditional hot pile system. Vermicompost systems can be made in any size, allowing them to fit into more spaces (some people keep their bins under their kitchen sink). Vermicompost systems do require more careful planning than a hot-pile system. While worm bins do not need to be turned, bins need to be emptied more regularly and the worm populations need to be divided to prevent overcrowding. Worm bins also typically cannot be added daily: worms eat in “batches”, so waste needs to be collected and added all as a single, larger quantity. I would recommend worm bins for smaller families, or people who might lack the space or volume of material needed to start a hot pile system. Learn more about vermicomposting here. 

There are multiple options when it comes to composting at home, make sure you check out multiple methods and choose the one which you feel you’ll be able to maintain the easiest. Consider alternatives to compost like indoor bokashi fermentation, or an outdoor green cone digester. Compost alternatives allow you to avoid most of the emissions created by throwing away food scraps while still allowing you to return nutrients to the soil. Focus less on the total volume of compost produced, and more on ease of use for yourself.

Tell Us About Your Urban Ag Needs!

By Patrick Murphy, Program Manager

Installation of a garden bed at Faith Food Fridays in Vallejo

Sustainable Solano firmly believes that the best community projects are community driven. We believe strongly that solutions and ideas need to come from locals who know their area, the neighborhood, and what they can expect from their community. Most communities are acutely aware of the local problems they face, and may have insightful and unique solutions to solve these issues, but lack the funds to put their ideas into practice. Through our Solano Gardens program, we have encountered many informal groups of interested citizens needing support for smaller urban agriculture projects who lack funds, materials or planning support to get their project off the ground.

Sustainable Solano is applying for an Urban Agriculture grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Farm to Fork office. This grant would support the continuation and expansion of the Solano Gardens program, which focuses on creating, renewing and supporting community gardens in Solano communities to create more access to healthy, seasonal produce. The program is currently funded through Solano Public Health.

The CDFA grant would also allow us to give small, flexible funding to local urban ag projects, which could include a variety of needs, including the creation of a new community garden, revitalizing garden beds, adding chickens or creating a seating space within a community garden. It would open up new opportunities for organizations or groups of individuals that need materials and support. We envision creating a simple, straightforward application and approval process to make it easy to reach out to Sustainable Solano for the help needed to support urban agriculture in your communities.

This is why we want to hear from you! We want the best possible picture of what types of urban ag projects, what resources and what support your organization or community could use. This will inform our own grant application and help us to create a database of the urban ag needs we could serve through the expanded Solano Gardens program.

Share Your Ideas & Needs

Please send your needs, project ideas, questions or suggestions to patrick@sustainablesolano.org with “CDFA Urban Ag Needs” in the subject line.

Tell us about your proposed project or support needs, who you are, where your project might be located, and anything else you’d like for us to know.

The Latest from Benicia Community Gardens

By Maggie Kolk, Avant Garden co-manager, Sustainable Solano Board of Directors chair, and happy gardener at Avant

There’s a lot going on with Benicia Community Gardens, the flagship program that started Sustainable Solano more than 20 years and continues to serve the Benicia community through two community gardens and a community orchard. Here, Maggie shares an update on BCG’s many summer activities and garden bounty. Interested in a garden plot? Learn more and fill out an application here.

Torchlight Parade BBQ attendees (from left) Sheri Zada, Randi Scott and Alan Zada

Torchlight Parade BBQ

The annual Benicia Torchlight Parade BBQ in Avant Garden on July 3 kicked off the summer gardening season with a fun-filled party enjoyed by garden members and their special guests. Delicious dishes creatively prepared by the Avant and Swenson gardeners were enjoyed along with the usual hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and vegetarian BBQ fare. Several of the Avant Garden members were cheered as they marched up First Street and some of our own Benicia city officials joined in the festivities at Avant after riding the parade route. As usual, a good time was enjoyed by everyone attending our small-town Benicia Independence Day celebration. Kudos to those garden members who racked up volunteer hours pulling weeds and spreading woodchips, which resulted in Avant looking like the crown jewel of First Street that it has become.

The Share Plot

Enzo and Slater hold a 6-pound zucchini at Avant Garden

Zucchini, sometimes the size of small baseball bats (how many five-year-old boys does it take to carry an Avant zucchini?), kale, onions and tomatoes are growing in abundance in the Avant Share Plot. The Benicia Community Action Council (CAC), St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s twice weekly free dinner program and several Food is Free Bay Area stands are the beneficiaries of our fresh, organically grown Benicia produce. The cooks at CAC, which provides daily free lunches to Benicia seniors, created the most delicious zucchini bread along with a fresh zucchini casserole. Benicia seniors are eating well!

Monarchs at Avant

Monarch caterpillars at Avant Garden

After planting showy milkweed last year in one raised bed and in the children’s tomato bed, several monarch caterpillars were observed during the first few weeks in July. Children visiting the garden find these little gems fascinating and learn about the stages of the monarch life cycle (egg, caterpillar, pupa or chrysalis then the final transformation into the adult butterfly). The metamorphosis typically is completed within 30 days. We are convinced that every monarch butterfly we see at Avant is a result of their munching on our milkweed during the caterpillar stage. As the caterpillar eats the milkweed it ingests a toxic substance called cardiac glycoside, which makes the monarch poisonous to most creatures that would want to eat them, like birds! Monarchs are so brightly colored to deter their predators. Once the early summer monarch butterfly emerges and spreads its wings, it flies off to find a mate and then lays eggs on other (or the same) milkweed plants to produce more butterflies. The butterflies that emerge in the late summer and early fall, rather than search out a mate, fly to Mexico where they spend a warm winter vacation before returning north to find a mate, lay eggs and start the cycle all over again. Nature at its most majestic.

Upcoming Garden Events

Stay tuned for upcoming garden events by checking out our calendar. Gardeners are eagerly awaiting their tomato, pepper and cucumber harvests. We are planning a cooking demonstration for August, date TBD. Our Harvest Festival will take place in late September or early October.

Please stop by an enjoy Avant Garden on First and D streets or Swenson Garden at the Heritage Presbyterian Church on the corner of East Second and Military East. Both gardens are serene spaces bursting with fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers. Remember to look but not touch or take. Each of the garden beds are lovingly cared for and owned by individual gardeners who are growing for their personal use.

Happy gardening!

Gift of the Generations

By Alana Mirror, creator of This Wonderful World: a musical reality-show where love for ourselves, each other, and the Earth become one

We introduced Alana and her This Wonderful World project when she attended the Pollinator Pathway garden installation and created a series of three songs from that experience. Since then, she’s done a series of songs about the installation of Peace of Eden community garden at City Church Fairfield, and a series inspired by the Vallejo People’s Garden. This is her reflection and the last song in her spring series — it highlights community gardens through SuSol’s Solano Gardens program. We appreciate reposting it here with her permission.

I’ve never felt like I had much of a green thumb. Though I’ve always known that growing a garden is a staple of sustainable living, I never really felt capable. Growing up, we didn’t have a garden. Other than the tomatoes that my grandpa grew, or my great-grandma’s home-dried oregano, I just thought food came from the store.

It wasn’t until I found Sustainable Solano that things began changing. I remember the first time I went to one of their community events — such diversity! All ages, shapes, colors and sizes were represented. There were people who seemed super experienced in the garden, and then there were folks (like me) who found the courage to show up as amateurs.

No one embarrassed us. No one rolled their eyes. Tips were shared with kindness and patience. I felt embraced and appreciated just for showing up. There seemed to be a shared understanding: we’ve all grown up in a culture that’s been disconnected from the source, and we’re all still finding our way home.

Before the rise of industrial agriculture, participating in the cultivation of food has been a human staple. But my great-grandma’s generation tended not to pass it on. Why would she? The Great Depression was hard and the supermarkets were miraculous. All it took was one generation for that long line of ancestral wisdom to disappear.

Fortunately, it wasn’t lost completely, which is evident in the fact that there’s enormous efforts being put forth to help reestablish our most basic connection with Earth: food. For non-home owners (like me — and 44% of California), just having a place to practice gardening is a gift. But when you add education and community to that, the roots really start to grow back. Recently the Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, declared loneliness an epidemic where 60% of us feel a desperate hunger for belonging. His solution: social connection.

The garden not only offers a place to connect, but a way to connect. Metaphors of the earth remind us of our shared human condition where we all know what it’s like to be vulnerable when we sprout and withered when we’re spent. We all know the frustration from pesky weeds and the exhilaration of fruit that’s sweetening. The garden gives us language to connect in where we all belong, through the seasons, in the bird song. Here we are reminded that it’s OK to need each other. Witnessing the bees pollinating, the fungi decomposing, the compost nourishing, we are reassured that everything needs each other, and everything has something to give. We are reminded of the abundance that comes when we work together — how precious the fruit is when our love has nurtured it.

It may sound a bit woo-woo, but it’s true: there’s a vibration that’s inherent. As one of the program managers for Solano Gardens, Jazzmin Ballou, confidently confirmed: “all I need to do is touch the Earth to tune in, and quiet my mind, to give me a glorious sense of sacred belonging.”

It’s truly a gift. As someone who has struggled with my fair share of loneliness, I hardly recognize myself after spending these last few months in community gardening. As much as self-help strategies have served me, there’s been no greater cure than serving. Of course I’m still learning a lot, but I’m not as embarrassed about it anymore. The confidence and connection that comes from growing together has sent ripples through my whole life. It’s an overflow that’s yearning to be shared, a gift begging to be given, a joy to pass on (as our ancestors did not so long ago) to a world that, every day, is rediscovering our beauty.

Thank you for reminding me.

This Wonderful World is the latest production from Alana’s greater work, called The Living Mirror Project, a creative practice that generates peace by seeing ourselves in everything.

Learn more about This Wonderful World here
Watch the whole series here
Sign up for Alana’s newsletter here
Contact Alana at thelivingmirrorproject@gmail.com if there are any service events that you think should be celebrated in this series, or for more info on booking a live musical show.

2023 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 22 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.

Greywater Action’s Andrea Lara will be giving a talk and tour of the laundry-to-landscape system at 11 am and 12 pm.

Learn more

Greyhawk Grove

Greyhawk Garden after installationAn 8-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 three 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

Redwood Guild

Food forest garden and greywater system installed as part of Sustainable Solano’s 2021 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.

Designer Scott Dodson of Scotty’s Organic Gardening will be on-site to guide tours, describe the permaculture principles and offer advice.

Learn more

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.

Permaculture Consultant Ron Kane will be on-site to offer tours and answer questions.

Learn more

Yggdrasil Garden

A new and evolving food forest garden and greywater system installed as part of Sustainable Solano’s 2022-23 Permaculture Design Certificate course. Students transformed the front yard with a rain-capturing swale and planted berms in holistic workshops. The east side yard (in development) is watered with both a rain-capturing swale and a laundry-to-landscape system and will have an aquatic garden and feature scented contributions to the edible landscape. The west side yard raised bed and climbing vines are watered by a laundry-to-landscape greywater system and include edible plants and native pollinators. The monarch butterfly-hosting back gardens were supported by a Sustainable Solano irrigation class and are watered by both a rain-capturing swale and greywater and nurtured by specially prepared compost on-site. A rear patio and herb spiral (in construction) were created with bricks repurposed from the chimney of the circa 1850s historic home, retaining walls from pieces of historic on-site stables. Displays feature the historic aspects of the home; its background and ongoing tradition of art, design, and healing; soil cultivation with worm habitats; information about the Ohlone Sogorea Te Indigenous Land Trust and rematriation of Carquin land; the influence of the garden’s stewards; and the garden’s first tree guilds: yuzu persimmon, apricot, and meyer lemon.

Michael Wedgley, Regenerative Landscape Designer and Soil Consultant from Soilogical, will be touring a working compost system that includes worm composting and a thermophilic (hot) compost pile at 10:30 am and 11:30 am. There will be a raffle for an in-ground worm composter.

Inspired Garden

This homeowner attended our tours and was inspired to transform his yard! This brand new garden, designed by Michael Wedgley, is a unique opportunity to tour a stunning and sustainable backyard that showcases the beauty and abundance of permaculture. This eco-conscious backyard features a rainwater catchment system that can harvest up to 3,500 gallons per year, helping to restore the on-site water table, and providing an abundant source of water for this permaculture food forest.

The carefully designed irrigation system utilizes drip irrigation, which not only lowers water usage but also promotes water conservation. Despite being only two months old, this new garden already boasts over 80 different species of perennial plants, many of which are edible. You’ll be amazed at the variety and richness of the plants that are flourishing in this environment.

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 laundry-to-landscape greywater education in Spanish and a translator on-site.

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. 

Greywater Action’s Rahul will give a talk and tour of the laundry-to-landscape system at 2 pm in Spanish and 3 pm in English.

Learn more

First Christian Church

Two separate gardens, one is a peace garden with mostly flowers, cactus and trees and the other is the vegetable garden, called Johnson Ranch. The vegetable garden was revived through the Solano Gardens program. The food grown is donated to the local food pantries (Faith Food Fridays, Amador Hope Center, etc.).

Learn more here

Enchanted Cottage Garden

Front yard lawn replaced in May 2017 with two 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

The Food Forest Garden is an extra special garden at the Farm. It provides a beautiful demonstration to the many thousands of people that visit each year on how to plant their own yard in a variety of fruit trees, perennial vegetables, herbs, native plants and pollinator plants. Volunteers will be available to show visitors the Food Forest Garden. The Farm will close promptly at 4 pm.

The tour will be on the same day as Loma Vista Farm’s annual Spring Open House, making it an extra special day to visit. The Farm event begins at 11 am and ends at 3 pm. Please come before 3 pm if you would like to enjoy both events.

As part of the Farm event there will be a plant sale in the greenhouse of natives, herbs, vegetables, and pollinator plants. The students from Loma Vista Environmental Science Academy produce these plants as part of their weekly farm science lessons.

For more information check out: Lomavistafarm.org.

Learn more

Morningside Botanical Bounty

Morningside Botanical Bounty food forest was created as part of the Resilient Neighborhoods Program. This backyard garden has a laundry-to-landscape greywater system, fruit trees (pruned to keep them short and easy to harvest), swales, drip irrigation, bee-friendly plants, native plants and shade trees.

Native plant information will be available.

Learn more here

Pollinator Pathway

Pollinator food forest garden filled with a variety of California native plants that support the habitat of butterflies, bees, moths, wasps, hummingbirds and so much more. This garden was just installed in February 2023 as a collaboration with a variety of organizations including Vallejo People’s Garden, Vallejo Project, Solano Resource Conservation District and Monarch Milkweed Project. Alanna Mirror wrote three songs inspired by the installation, featured in her Pollinator Pathway Lawn Transformation Mini Series!

Designer John Davenport of Cali Ground Troops will be at the site from 12-4 pm to tour and educate on how this 3,000 square foot lawn was converted into a native pollinator garden. The tour coincides with Vallejo People’s Garden Earth Day Celebration, 11 am-4 pm, which will include food trucks, live music, artisans, hand crafted goods, education, free seeds and garden classes.

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 garden space also includes a beautiful meditation labyrinth for reflection and contemplation.

Students from SPSV’s Urban Farmers club will be sponsoring a plant sale, 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)

Vallejo Project’s Unity Garden initiative restored an abandoned lot that was once filled with sand and garbage and turned it into a multi-level food forest with internationally influenced farming techniques and 10 chickens. This garden is focused on urban agriculture.

There will be seeds, plants or art from the garden for sale.

Vallejo Project imagines a Vallejo strengthened by new generations of youth and young adults who are inspired to give back to their community as role models, advocates, entrepreneurs, and leaders; who are able to efficiently articulate and implement solutions to challenges in the community based on their learned experience and knowledge gained through youth development programs.

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.