Winter at the Pace of Nature

By Jazzmin Ballou, Solano Gardens Program Manager

Every winter I find myself overwhelmed with the need for rest. This comes regardless of how busy I have been, how much sleep I have, or what my calendar looks like for the next week. It shows up as an inherent, unignorable need to slow down and retreat. When I process this in the context of the human world, I feel kind of crazy. Everyone else is continuing on as normal, working and attending social gatherings … and some people are doing even more of those things considering the holidays are upon us! It all seems so surreal to me: the way the human world never seems to slow down, often appearing to just move faster and faster. And then I look to nature. Nature, with her ability to tune in directly to her needs and move at a pace that serves all of her inhabitants. When did we lose touch with this process?

In the winter when I tune in to the pace of nature I find myself face-to-face with myself in all of my slowness. The fog soon clears and I realize my body as a member of nature is asking to move at the pace that the rest of the natural world is moving at. This need for rest is not necessarily because my body is tired from my life, but because my body is taking the hints from the natural world that this time of the year, winter, is intended for slowing down, hibernation, and stasis. I’m reminded of a quote from the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, who writes “In winter, I want concepts to chew over in a pool of lamplight — slow, spiritual reading, a reinforcement of the soul. Winter is a time for libraries, the muffled quiet of bookstacks and the scent of old pages and dust. In winter, I can spend hours in silent pursuit of a half-understood concept or a detail of history. There is nowhere else to be, after all.”

As we enter into the holiday season, a time that for so many of us signals travel to see loved ones, time off of work and school, and cozy time spent indoors, I wish you rest. Rest that is so sacred and full of ease, it mimics the process of the leaves surrendering to the wind, carrying them from their host tree to be composted back into the Earth. Rest that is so intentional it allows space for your own internal composting process, preparing you for the rebirth of spring.

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.

Fellowship Focuses on Environmental Justice, Supports Pollinators in Vacaville

By Patrick Murphy, Program Manager

As part of Sustainable Solano’s Environmental Justice Leadership Fellowship, seven students from multiple Solano County cities undertook a research and green infrastructure project in Vacaville. Students focused on the Markham neighborhood, a community grappling with several environmental challenges, and explored possible solutions, including walkability, available green spaces, and usable wildlife habitats.

Students engaged with the local community, spending time within the neighborhood, assessing the severity of each issue and researching possible mitigation approaches.

Pollinator garden installation at the Vacaville Boys and Girls Club (above) and student presentations (below)

Each student then delivered public presentations at various locations around Vacaville, including the Rocky Hill Trail, the Town Square library, and an Earth Day event in Andrews Park. The culmination of their efforts was the installation of a much-anticipated pollinator garden at the Vacaville Boys and Girls Club, where the students also presented their research findings. Situated right in the heart of the Markham neighborhood, the local community had been seeking a native pollinator garden since 2018.

Permaculture Designer Scott Dodson was able to design a compact and attractive native pollinator garden space at the Boys and Girls Club, which was installed by the EJLF students, Boys and Girls Club members and community volunteers during a public installation day hosted by Sustainable Solano. The garden’s design prioritized water conservation while creating an extensive habitat for the region’s pollinators. Additional pollinator plants are being raised in beds owned by Solano Unity Network across the street at the Vacaville People’s Garden. Educational signage was placed throughout the gardens, providing valuable information about the native California pollinator species for residents.

A volunteer from Rio Vista was able to produce five large-capacity bat boxes with student support for the pollinator garden and surrounding Markham community. “Bat boxes” are nesting boxes for bats to raise their young. Bats are known for their pest control capabilities. Each bat consumes vast numbers of insects each night, reducing the need for harmful pesticides and keeping the local ecological niche competitive. They and many pollinators are keystone species, and have a disproportionately large impact on the ecosystem.

Additional bat boxes are available to community members in the Markham area who would like to help strengthen the local bat population. If you live within 3 miles of Holly Lane and are interested in hosting a bat box on your property, please contact us here.

This ambitious project demonstrated the power of collective action in addressing environmental justice and promoting biodiversity. With the installation of these vibrant green spaces, the local community now has the opportunity to interact with and appreciate the importance of coexisting with nature. As the pollinator garden at the Boys and Girls Club continues to flourish, it promises to act as a sign post, promoting environmental consciousness in the Markham neighborhood.

Bat Boxes

Live in the Markham community and want to host a bat box on your property?
Reach us here

Interested in building a bat box for your own property?
Find instructions here

Sustainable Gardening Intern Reflections

The Sustainable Gardening internship was an opportunity for high school students to learn basic permaculture principles with a focus on waterwise gardening, and engage with community members while supporting community gardens. They were led in their garden activities by SuSol Program Coordinator Jazzmin Ballou and often worked with designer Scott Dodson. These three interns shared their reflections on the program with us, and we are excited to share them with you here with their permission.

Sustainable Gardening interns move woodchips for the First Christian Church garden in Vallejo

Scooping the Wood Chips

By Aldo Michel

This was technically my first official work day with my fellow co-workers. It was on a Friday; I came there running from school ready to get the work done. I get there a little late but I get caught up on what we are doing. We need to scoop up a huge mountain of woodchips, put them in wheelbarrows and then go dump them somewhere in the garden. It was really quiet at first, only the sound of the shovels hitting the ground and the wheelbarrows being rolled out. I knew [fellow intern] Vincent, but he was on the other side of the mountain so I couldn’t talk to him, so I just continued with my work.

As the time passes by I notice that this young fellow with blond-ish hair is working really hard. I mean it’s his first day, I’m sure he wants to make a good impression and he is sure succeeding. After a while I decided to take a little break, drink some water and check out those granola bars. Once there I see that Vincent is also taking a break — perfect now we can talk. We greet each other and start talking about our day. A couple laughs later, the same blond-ish guy comes and takes a sip of water. Once he leaves me and Vincent started talking about him, we want to start a conversation with him, he seems nice and it’s never a bad idea to make new friends. We weren’t sure about his name so we weren’t into our email to check an email that Jazz has sent us. We checked the recipients and our questions were answered, his name is Liam.

We go back to the wood chips and greet him. Our suspicions were correct; he was a nice guy. We mostly talked about school and college and whatnot, not the most interesting topic but I still had fun. I even managed to fit in a couple jokes and for the most part it was accompanied by laughter. I had lots of fun that day just talking with my new friends. I’m very glad we decided to start a conversation and that we got the work done as well, although I was very sore the next day.

Meaningful Work in the Garden

By Liam McGee

I think the most meaningful time in this internship for me was our last work day at the Faith Food Fridays Garden. While it started off a bit sad with Jazzmin and a few of the interns gone, it quickly turned around. I first walked around the garden and accustomed myself with the diverse crops they had growing there.

A Haiku for the Gardening Internship

Shovel the wood chips
Tiring work for my body
Yet I feel fulfilled

-Liam McGee

One thing that especially caught my eye (or more so my nose I suppose) were the chamomile plants planted in multiple beds. They smelled delightful and I’d never seen what the plant looked like before, only the tea in the past. Once a few more people started arriving and a helper from Faith Food Fridays led us through an opening circle, Scott took us into what we’d be doing that day.

For some reason, one of the beds had lots of wood chips in it instead of soil. These chips don’t supply lots of nutrients for the plants unless they are broken down into soil so we had to painstakingly remove all of the chips and replace them with soil. While at first it reminded me of the wood chip shoveling we did at the church in Vallejo, it slowly turned into a more fun experience.

More and more people began showing up, someone started playing music on a bluetooth speaker, and the entire atmosphere changed. One thing that was especially cool to see was the number of kids present. Even if their parents just dragged them there to help, they were eager in planting and watering the entire garden. It was awesome to see how young children were already being inspired to get into growing their own plants, for a more sustainable and healthy lifestyle. It warmed my heart seeing them get to experience the joy of gardening. After a few hours with lots of volunteer help, we finished the once-wood-chip-filled bed and had transformed it into a thriving environment for the new plants. To end the working session, we picked some of the chamomile buds to bring home and dry out for tea. It was a perfect treat to end a fulfilling and effective work day in the garden.

Liam McGee and Aldo Michel rest while working at the Faith Food Fridays garden in Vallejo

My Experience with the Gardening Internship

By Charlie Castillo

Although I had joined this internship a bit late, I was welcomed kindly by the people who run Sustainable Solano. Prior to the internship, we first had to go through certification, which consisted of meetings held with youth from multiple different internships. There, I got to meet a wide variety of people with different dreams of the future and different reasons to do their internships. The most common reason that I’d found with all the kids I’ve met from the certification process was because they had a vision to shape the world into a place that was green and has clean air.

My favorite highlight of this internship was the workday at First Christian Church. I liked this day a lot because I was able to meet all of the other interns and talk about school and hobbies. I found that they were all exceptionally brilliant, some of them holding down several AP classes and athletics, and even attending community college classes too. Although we had only spent a few hours of the day together, I know that the garden at First Christian Church was created with love and compassion from me and friends from Sustainable Solano.

The people of the church were also very friendly in making sure that we did not push ourselves too hard to get things done, and their lighthearted conversations made the mood of the day very calming and peaceful. I also appreciate every time that someone has taken the time out of their day to express their gratitude for us helping with the garden every now and then.

I enjoyed raking and shoveling in this garden a lot and I hope to find an opportunity to do it again someday. Overall, if there is one thing that I learned with this gardening internship, it is that teamwork creates beautiful gardens.

 

This intership was offered as a collaboration between SuSol’s Solano Sustainable Backyards and Solano Gardens programs. Solano Sustainable Backyards is funded by the Solano County Water Agency, and Solano Gardens is funded by Solano Public Health. We are grateful to both funders for supporting our work with youth.

SuSol Seeks to Engage Indigenous Voices in Our Work

By Sustainable Solano

Sustainable Solano works with local communities here in Solano County and honors the lands that we are lucky to do that work on. As this land originally belongs to the Patwin, Miwok, Karkin, Muwekma, Confederated Villages of Lisjan, and Ohlone peoples, these indigenous communities continue to hold and steward this land as they have for time immemorial. We thank the original peoples of this land with the utmost gratitude for their stewardship of this beautiful Earth and their resistance to its destruction past, present, and future. Because it is our mission to nurture initiatives for the good of the whole, we recognize that true equity arises when we intentionally engage and empower communities who historically have been mistreated by the systems in place.

It is our intention to get our resources into communities that are not regularly afforded access to these resources, but we have realized that we have not been making enough effort to invite indigenous people to the table. As an organization we seek to counter the harm these systems perpetuate with action, one way being through opening up our platform to directly uplift indigenous voices.

We are actively looking to engage with more indigenous community members in our work. SuSol team members have been in communication with representatives from local tribal communities, and we want to see how we can support the identified desires of indigenous groups and individuals in ways that intersect with our mission.

As a part of many of our programs, we are always seeking people to teach classes to the wider community. This is paid work, where we look to bring people together in gardens and beyond to learn more about permaculture, sustainability, resilience, waterwise gardening, farm-to-table cooking, and connecting with love for and solidarity with our Mother Earth. We acknowledge that we have a responsibility to make these jobs especially accessible to indigenous communities, whose knowledge is the foundation for so many permaculture practices and ways of connecting with the Earth, our non-human relations and each other.

This is a starting point for working together. If you are an indigenous community member and are interested in partnering with us, please contact info@sustainablesolano.org 

Our goal is to open up a space to share your knowledge, foster community connections, and to come together to support increasing access to land. We wish to uplift our communities by prioritizing connections based on equity and decentralization, while learning together how to live in harmony with our neighbors of all species.

In Gratitude: Recognizing Board President Marilyn Bardet’s Selfless Service to SuSol

By Sustainable Solano

In January, Marilyn Bardet will step down from the board president role she has held for the past 18 years. Sustainable Solano would not have grown into the organization it is today without her leadership, guidance, wisdom and trust. We are grateful for all she has brought to the organization.

Back in 2005 a tiny fledgling nonprofit, Benicia Community Gardens, was going through turmoil — after the death of founder Dr. Swenson, the remaining board had no vision and no capacity to continue forward. There was just one garden then, at Heritage Presbyterian Church, now carrying the name of the founder, Swenson Garden. The board put out a call for help to the community, and one of the people who stepped forward was a local artist and environmental activist, Marilyn Bardet. The board dropped the documents on her lap and left.

That’s how Marilyn started on a difficult path of being board president. There was nothing glamorous about this role — it was a hard labor of love. Together with a small group of new board volunteers, Marilyn not only saved Swenson Garden and the community that formed around it, but secured funding for the second garden in Benicia — Avant Garden, now a beloved institution on First Street. Avant Garden started with a bare patch of land. The original garden beds were made of straw and each straw bale was laid down by the hard-working volunteer board. They carried soil, spread mulch, installed irrigation, built the fence and invited the community to join in. Hard work and a steadfast commitment to the vision made it a garden that became a true Benicia town square.

The work did not stop there — the nonprofit continued to reinvent itself in response to the needs of the community and a vision for a better future for all, expanding the vision to local sustainable food, planting a community orchard, running educational programs, developing a Community Supported Agriculture hub in Benicia, and envisioning and implementing a Benicia Sustainable Backyard program: permaculture-based demonstration gardens in private homes that became the base for community education and inspiration.

Marilyn was at the heart of all these initiatives. The programs were growing, the organization was rooting. It required dedication and more hard work to secure funding, build the board, support the team and develop relationships with key stakeholders in the county. When in 2016 we took a leap of faith to become Sustainable Solano, Marilyn’s authentic leadership and support for the vision led us safely and successfully through the passage of scaling up successful Benicia programs to the county level.

Slideshow

Board President Marilyn Bardet

Marilyn, you gave so much in all these years! Countless hours at the board and team meetings; scientific research and artwork; numerous meetings with, and calls and letters to the key stakeholders; late nights with grant deadlines; long (and sometimes difficult) conversations; personal funds, and wisdom, trust and pure love given so freely and selflessly.

As you are stepping down from the board president role, we want you to remember that your selfless service has formed the very foundation of the organization you’ve been leading for 18 years!

In deep gratitude,
The board and the team of Sustainable Solano