A Call to Action to Save the Monarchs

By Annina Puccio and Ann Whittemore, co-founders and co-directors of the Monarch Milkweed Project

Annina Puccio and Ann Whittemore started the Monarch Milkweed Project out of Benicia, CA, to increase the supply of milkweed available to Western Monarch butterflies as they make their way along their migratory path. Join the Monarch Milkweed Project and Sustainable Solano on Sept. 17 for an informative talk on Monarch butterflies, their population decline and how you can help! Register here

In all the animal kingdom, Monarch butterflies are unique insects: No other insect in the world migrates such a distance, over four or five generations, to places it has never been before. Did you know that a group of Monarchs is called a “Kaleidoscope of Monarchs?”

Monarchs play a crucial role in regulating our ecosystems and pollinating plants — including the crops we rely on for food. Indeed, one out of every three bites of food we eat is thanks to pollinators like the Monarch butterfly. Without pollinators, our entire food web could unravel.

After two years of record-setting lows of 30,000 and less Western Monarch butterflies (2018/19), this past year (2020) fewer than 2,000 of these orange-and-black beauties were counted in their winter groves.

The most recent population count shows a heartbreaking decline of 99.9% for Monarchs, who are dying off due to pesticides and habitat loss. Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed Monarchs need protection, but our government hasn’t acted yet and is saying that Monarchs won’t be put on the endangered list until 2024. That will be too late.

If we want future generations to live in a world that still has Monarchs, we have to act now.

In March and June of this year, the MONARCH Act (S.809 Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act of 2021) and S.806 The Monarch and Pollinator Highway (MPH) Act were introduced in the Senate, but have not yet been voted on. They would provide millions of dollars a year to protect and save the Western Monarch butterfly. The MONARCH Act and the MPH Act both need to be brought to the Senate floor for a full Senate vote.

We urge you to contact Senators Diane Feinstein and Alex Padilla and ask them to make the MONARCH Act and The Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act a priority!

We also ask that you contact our Representative in the House, Mike Thompson, and ask that the Western Monarch be protected now! The two bills have also been introduced in the House: The Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act and The MONARCH Act (House Bill USHB.1983). Congressman Thompson is a co-sponsor of these bills. Call Congressman Thompson and thank him for his support, and ask that these bills be brought to the House floor for a vote.

Also contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and urge them to put the Western Monarch on the Endangered Species list now and provide funds and protections to save these insects!

Contact information

    • Senator Diane Feinstein: (202) 224-3841
    • Senator Alex Padilla: (202) 224-3553
    • Congressman Mike Thompson: (202) 225-3311
    • Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland: (202) 208-3100
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Lori Marshall – Office of Public Affairs (703) 358-2541

Please also encourage your friends and all who love the Western Monarch Butterfly to call these numbers. The more of us who call, the more likely they will take swift action.

SUGGESTED SCRIPT for Senators and Representative:

“I am calling from the San Francisco Bay Area in (your local city) as a constituent and am concerned about the Western Monarch butterfly. I thank you for co-sponsoring the two Monarch Acts that are working their way through Congress. The Western Monarch count in 2020 was less than 2,000 butterflies, and this butterfly should be put on the Endangered Species List NOW and protected. If pollinators like butterflies and bees go extinct this will severely affect our crops and our food supply not to mention that these beautiful butterflies will be missed by all. Please help bring the MONARCH Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act of 2021 and the Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act to a floor vote NOW. This is urgent and cannot wait. Thank you for your time.”

SUGGESTED SCRIPT for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and for Secretary Deb Haaland’s office:

“I am calling from the San Francisco Bay Area in (your local city) as a concerned citizen and am concerned about the Western Monarch butterfly. The Western Monarch count in 2020 was less than 2,000 butterflies, and this butterfly should be put on the Endangered Species List NOW and protected. If pollinators like butterflies and bees go extinct this will severely affect our crops and our food supply not to mention that these beautiful butterflies will be missed by all. Please do not wait but use your authority to save these insects now. This is urgent and cannot wait. Thank you for your time.”

Learn more about the Monarch Milkweed Project here

Businesses Partner to Provide Plants

By Harmony Organics

There has never has been a time quite like this where much of what we hold dear has changed and over which we have little control, at least for now. It’s definitely a time for nurturing ourselves and those dear to us. For many, home gardens can be a place where we find tranquility, healing and a place revitalize and reenergize — all things that can help us in unsettling times.

With that in mind, Harmony Organics would like to bring a little sunshine into your homes and gardens. As a local supplier of premium organic soil blends and amendments, we can help nurture your gardens and help them thrive, especially now as we are all spending more time in our homes.

And as a commitment to our motto, “Grow Together,” we have teamed with Biota Gardens Nursery to provide the highest quality seed starts for your spring/summer grows. We are fortunate to have been the soil provider for Biota Gardens the past few years and are excited to give everyone the opportunity purchase their plants locally. We will still have our soil and amendments available so that you can pair our soil with wonderful organic heirloom seed starts.

About the Blog

Harmony Organics, located in Benicia, shares how they are partnering with Biota Gardens Nursery as a distribution site for plants.

Many local nurseries have changed their hours and how they are doing business to remain open during this time. See what your local nursery is doing here and check directly with the nursery for the latest information.

We’re always looking for insight from our locally owned small businesses. Want to share what you’re doing? Contact us at allison@sustainablesolano.org

Biota Gardens offers 1 Quart Organic Starts for $4.50/plant with discounts based on the number of plants purchased. As of the first week in April, they will have available a wide variety of tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers with select varieties of eggplants, melons, herbs and flowers. To meet our customers’ needs, we will be practicing the social distancing mandates that are in place to help minimize the spread the COVID-19 so that everyone remains safe and healthy. All plants that are ordered will be available for pickup at our office/warehouse at 4271 Park Road in Benicia (curbside drop off may be available as well based on location).

Please visit biotagardens.com to view the available plants to help jump start your garden this spring. You will be able to place an order directly with Biota Gardens and make sure to mention Harmony Organics in the Questions/Special Instructions section. If you need assistance ordering plants or need other soil/amendments please call us at 707-747-5051 or email info@harmony-organics.com

During these strange and difficult times, we want us all to be able to find joy in playing in the dirt, seeing our work bloom and eating homegrown veggies and fruits. Labor of love or just garden fun. Remember, gardening is for everyone! Hope everyone is safe and enjoying the fruits of their labor!

Garden Tools: A Resource for Building Community

By Nicole Newell, Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

One of the things we love to see in the neighborhoods where we have projects and programs are our community partners each contributing their own efforts to strengthen and grow these communities.

And when there are ways we can support other organizations with goals that complement ours toward building a just, equitable and sustainable environment, we are happy for the opportunity to do so. One such opportunity arose this summer.

Richard Fisher serves on the Vallejo Commission for the Future and Sustainable Solano’s Resilient Neighborhoods Advisory Board. He contacted us about a beautification project that he has spearheaded on the corner of Curtola Parkway and Solano Avenue. This corner has become a dumping ground for trash, furniture and other items, which gives a poor first impression of Vallejo.

Faith Food Fridays is located on this corner and provides an important service to the Vallejo community. The organization supplies food, clothes, household supplies and so much more to families in need. Beautifying this area would create a significant positive impact by giving a new face to Vallejo for people driving into the city and for the hundreds of families that visit Faith Food Fridays.

The vision of this project is to create an open-air art gallery and native plant garden to tell a positive story about the culture and love of the Vallejo community. The first part of the project was to clean up the corner and begin to rehab the soil by adding mulch. That’s where we were able to help.

Generous funding from the Solano County Water Agency and PG&E has allowed us to purchase garden tools used in various workshops and installations. When we are not using them for our own projects, rather than have those tools sit unused, we’re happy to offer them to community organizations as a resource.

Richard approached us about borrowing the tools for this beautification project so a large group of volunteers could get the work done in less time with more tools available. Angel’s Tree Care dropped off a load of free wood chips, and volunteers showed up with energy to clean up the corner and spread wood chips. The next step for the corner is still in the planning stages. Anyone from the community that has ideas or is willing to donate art, please contact Richard Fisher at: vallejocommissionforthefuture@gmail.com

As we enter into our busy season of landscaping projects and planting gardens, our tools will go back into regular use for our projects. But we still want to be a resource for community projects when those tools aren’t in use. If you are part of a community organization planning a project that needs garden tools, check with us for availability!

Partner Insight: ‘The Biggest Little Farm’ and Supporting Local Farmers

 Courtesy of Eatwell Farm

We wanted to share with you some thoughts on ‘The Biggest Little Farm,’ which is currently playing in theaters and Cultivate Community Co-Op recently brought to The Empress Theatre in Vallejo.

Eatwell Farm owner Lorraine Walker saw the film and offers perspective as a local farmer not only on what the film covers about the importance of soil and regenerative farming, but also what it doesn’t cover — and why that knowledge is important.

At Sustainable Solano, we know the value of supporting small farms that use sustainable practices. These family farms are a pivotal part of building a food system that supports the local economy, builds local jobs and gives the buyer the benefit of the freshest produce. You can learn more about supporting local food at our Local Food Happenings page and by downloading our Local Food Guide.

Eatwell Farm, based on 105 acres in Dixon, offers CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes of fresh, seasonal produce delivered to drop sites in the county. Boxes come in different sizes and at different frequencies to meet the needs of CSA members. By being a part of a CSA, members become part of supporting the farm and local food.

Here’s Lorraine’s insight on the film that she originally wrote for Eatwell’s CSA members, printed here with her permission:

 Courtesy of Eatwell Farm

‘The Biggest Little Farm’

By Lorraine Walker, Eatwell Farm

Last week I went to promote our CSA at a viewing of ‘The Biggest Little Farm.’ I thoroughly enjoyed the film and related to many of their experiences. The movie had me reflecting on all the innovative things Nigel had done with our farm. He always considered our soil the life force from which all other life grows. After we began feeding our chickens whey, we realized a lot more was happening with our soil and Nigel made the decision to stop adding compost and other soil amendments. We now rely solely on our birds for fertility. Soil regeneration is probably one of the most important things we can do to save our planet. And listening to John Chester during the Q & A session after the movie, he certainly made that very clear.

As much as I loved ‘The Biggest Little Farm,’ there is one downside to the movie, and it is a big one: the lack of transparency about how much an operation like theirs costs. The movie is gorgeous, the land is gorgeous, the work they do is amazing. According to the LA Times: Apricot Lane is a small-scale farm, defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as earning at least $1,000 in gross income, but not more than $250,000, annually. John speaks openly of their investors, but not who or how much has been invested. I can’t begin to imagine the price for 200 acres an hour from LA in Ventura County. The orchard project in the first year, renting all that heavy equipment to pull out the trees, then move soil, create contours, wow. And the cost of new trees — do a quick little Google on that and you will find trees cost anywhere from $75 to over $100. Granted they were buying in quantity, but I am sure the trees alone were a fortune. And the beautiful building and worm composting operation, how I would love to have something like that here on our farm. But seriously, how much money was all of that?

According to that same LA Times article, they have 60 people working on the farm, including volunteers. On a farm that earns no more than $250,000 year, how many can earn a living wage? The idea that you can give up your city job and live the dream on a farm is so far from reality it isn’t even remotely funny. Sure if you have VC’s investing many, and I do mean many, millions of dollars, then maybe, but don’t you think at some point they would want to earn something back from that investment? The sad truth is, this beautiful movie makes farming look very doable, as long as you have enough grit. The reality is you need so much more than that, and you need a lot of customers.

Not showing the real financial struggles this type of farming is facing hurts us all. Right now Eatwell’s CSA is working on a goal of 150 new members, but the competition is heavy. There are many CSA options, plus all the home delivery from GoodEggs, WholeFoods/Amazon, etc., not to mention the fact that the greater population doesn’t even cook. We traverse a very thin line between charging enough to support the farm and keeping food somewhat affordable for many. Putting the pipe dream aside, the movie left me feeling hopeful and very appreciative for the message is does share, and that is the fact that regenerative farming is extremely important. Ecologically speaking we can literally change the world.

So go see the movie, be proud of your farm, enjoy watching all the wildlife living in and around Apricot Lane, and know that we too are a home for owls, hawks, bees, butterflies and many other happy animals here on your farm in Dixon.

If you’d like to read the full LA Times article here is a link.

And if you would like to support this type of farming here is a link to sign up for an Eatwell CSA share: eatwell.com

Interested in joining a CSA? Find out more on our website and check out our list of local farms that serve the county.

Partner Insight: The Value of Local Food

By Sustainable Solano

 Courtesy of Terra Firma Farm

We wanted to share with you some recent musings from our partners over at Terra Firma Farm in Winters on the recent closing of S.F.-based Munchery and why these startups are not the solution our food system needs.

As Terra Firma Farm’s Pablito points out, there is value in putting our money as consumers into local farms with sustainable practices. By buying local produce, money stays within our communities, farmers are able to retain more of what is paid for the food they produce and there are environmental benefits from having produce travel shorter distances (and our tables benefit from having the freshest, most flavorful produce).

There are many ways this local food ecosystem manifests, including local restaurants and caterers that source locally grown food, such as League of Chefs or BackDoor Bistro; food co-ops, such as the Cultivate Community Food Co-op that is selling ownership shares; and CSAs (community supported agriculture) that connect consumers directly with growers.

Terra Firma Farm is a CCOF certified organic farm that offers a CSA — a box of organic year-round vegetables, fruit and nuts for local residents — with box-drop locations that include Benicia and Vacaville in Solano County as well as in Winters. Here’s the post:

 Courtesy of Terra Firma Farm

Getting Munched by Munchery

If you live in the SF Bay Area, you have probably heard the news about the prepared-meal delivery company Munchery, who shut their doors and their bank accounts recently without paying their vendors or employees. I’m sorry for anyone affected by this incident.

Many TFF subscribers have already read my opinions about venture capital-funded start ups that promise to “shake up” the food business. They offer things that existing business owners know are simply too good to be true: Extensive freebies and free delivery along with dubious claims that all their ingredients are locally sourced from organic and sustainable farms. And they all claim to do this in the interest of “revolutionizing the food system”. But their only real goal is to make themselves wealthy if and when Wall Street takes them public in an IPO.

There are numerous problems with this model. The first is the idea that food should be cheaper than it already is, and technology can make this happen. That is simply untrue. The profit margin in the farming and food businesses is low; there is literally no fat to be removed. And nothing that companies like Blue Apron or Munchery did fundamentally changed those economics. The founders who ran these companies were either naive, ill-informed, or simply lying. And as stories from inside these businesses start to leak out, it is clear they were also poor and inexperienced managers.

Second, food is a mature market with a relatively fixed demand. Munchery and the others have not created new products, but rather taken market share from existing restaurants, supermarkets and other companies. Their only advantage was the free money from venture capital. Other businesses could not afford to spend more than they make in order to compete. Thus, the VC-backed startup model in this instance was not “disruptive”. It was profoundly anti-competitive.

Third, the companies they were competing against are better run. Lots of people can run an unprofitable business if they have an endless source of someone else’s money. Established business owners are the ones who have figured out how to be sustainably profitable. And yet these were the businesses that Munchery and the others were impacting or eliminating.

Fourth, Venture Capitalists are not held accountable. Sure, VCs are putting their money at risk when they finance companies like Munchery. But that risk should not be limited to the funds they have already invested. Munchery shut down without paying its employees or vendors, and it’s unlikely many of the creditors will get much out of their bankruptcy. The VC firms that retain an ownership stake in a startup should be legally required to make good on all the company’s debts when it fails. This would raise the bar on what type of companies venture capitalists fund, forcing them to spend more time evaluating the viability of startups and ensuring that they retain enough funds to pay their debts if and when they shut down.

 

In the end, the business model of Munchery, Blue Apron and so many others in the sector had only one real goal: to take business from thousands of small businesses and outsource limited profits to Wall Street. It was a terrible idea all around, and certainly not good for our economy or society as a whole.

I have sent a letter to my state Assemblywoman asking her to look into legislation requiring VCs to cover the debts of the companies they fund. I believe it is in the interest of the state of California to more strongly discourage VCs from funding companies that they do not have absolute confidence in. Small businesses in this economy need all the protection they can get, and face numerous layers of regulation that raise their costs and lower their profits. Wealthy Venture Capitalists should be subject to regulation and oversight that is just as strong, or stronger.

Thanks,

Pablito

This article originally ran on Terra Firma’s site.

Interested in joining a CSA? Find out more on our website and check out our list of local farms that serve the county.

Planting an Urban Forest: Harvesting The Power of Community

By Gabriela Estrada

“Planting trees can be very rewarding,” Dr. Muick told her class. She was a professor at Solano Community College, whose class I was giving a presentation to. I had never thought about the planting of trees as anything other than practical. Her words however, invited me to reflect on exactly what part of working on the Urban Forest project I found rewarding.

 

After deep reflection, I concluded that the rewarding part about this project so far has been the chance to strategically support community members who are seeking opportunities to take action and activate their power as community members. For there is true strength in diverse community members collectively working on a project that will create a positive change in the world. 

 

With this reward in mind, I entered on a three-month journey of event planning, of reaching out to different organizations and individuals in Fairfield who might be interested in joining the Sustainable Solano to plant an Urban Forest.

 

On the day of the event, I was delighted when about 60 volunteers from all age groups showed up; ready to plant trees and reap their own rewards. Armed with shovels, gardening gloves, water bottles and a go-getter attitude, they were ready to dig holes and serve at any capacity needed.

 

After making sure that everyone was signed-in and accounted for, we gathered to talk a little more about the importance of the project and to briefly discuss what the next three hours had in store for us. We then gathered in a circle, and while taking three deep breaths; we thanked the earth beneath our feet, the air around us and the people we were getting ready to share this tree planting journey with.

 

Afterwards, people self-assigned into two groups: one that will be moving mulch in order to prepare the soil and another team that was going to be digging the holes where the trees were going to be planted. Younger children, assisted by their parents, began to move mulch in wheel barrows. A few father and son duos soon became occupied digging holes, and removing trees from their storage containers (this task is harder than it sounds). Small groups of 20-something year olds laughed, as they met classmates for the first time in person while they struggled to dig into the hard ground.

 

As the event progressed, I then encouraged volunteers to think of names for the trees they were planting, and everyone jumped at the opportunity to do it. Tree names ranged from Groot, to Bert, to Crystal Diamond, to Snowflake. People were having fun, chuckling and discussing possible names as they struggle to dig deeper into the ground.

 

Our hard work paid off, and in a manner of two hours, eighteen trees had been planted in their new home. This, however, did not discourage many from persevering and continuing to move mulch and helped set-up the drip irrigation system for the trees until noon. As the event came to an end, volunteers then began to place shovels, garden rakes and wheel barrows next to the trailer they had gotten them out from.

 

They scuffed the mud collected underneath their shoes away on the pavement and asked when the next tree planting was going to happen.

 

The end of the event, marked a successful first installation of Fairfield’s Urban Forest, but the project is continuing through November 2019! As the project continues, I envision strategically attracting more people and organizations who are interested in working with Sustainable Solano to increase the green infrastructure in Solano County. I hope to increase the capacities of volunteers to go beyond planting trees on the ground (though this is one of the most important parts). Though I am still figuring out just how I will do this, I hope that as volunteers continue to work on this project, they will continue to harvest the power of their community and learn a couple new skills along the way. I am always excited to hear ideas and how people want to be involved!