2023 Fairfield & Suisun City Demonstration Food Forest Garden Tour & Healthy Local Food Showcase is May 6!

Join us for the Fairfield-Suisun City Demonstration Food Forest Tour and Celebrating Healthy Local Food: A Culinary and Garden Showcase on Saturday, May 6!

Sustainable Solano’s self-guided tour of vibrant, waterwise gardens in Fairfield and Suisun City will start with check-in from 9-11 am at Jardin de Esperanza, the garden on Armijo High School’s campus. Park and follow the signs to the garden, where you will be able to sign in and receive an itinerary of gardens to visit. Then tour Jardin de Esperanza and visit the Showcase in the Armijo High School library before heading out to tour the other gardens between 10 am-1 pm!

The tour highlights private and community gardens that use sustainable, waterwise practices to create spaces that provide food, habitat and beauty while capturing rainwater and, in some cases, reusing laundry water in the landscape. Some gardens also show how to make chickens part of a backyard ecosystem. Register here.

In the Showcase, students who participated in the Armijo Healthy Local Food program will share multimedia projects that highlight the importance of growing, cooking and eating healthy food and the importance of local food. Students in the Healthy Local Food program spent weeks learning about the importance of healthy, seasonal, local food by learning culinary skills and how to cook with local produce and meeting in the school garden to connect with growing and understanding our relationship to food. They used their experiences to create multimedia campaigns that include videos, interviews, podcasts, blogs and more!

Explore the multimedia campaigns at your own pace while talking with the students about their work and the program.

We hope to see you there!

Scroll through the list below to read about the Fairfield and Suisun City gardens that are featured on this year’s Demonstration Food Forest Tour!

Gardens will be open from 10 am-1 pm Saturday, May 6. You can pick up your itinerary for this self-guided tour at the Armijo High School “Jardin de Esperanza” from 9-11 am.

Register for the tour here!

Fairfield Demonstration Food Forest Gardens

Magical Garden

This garden was a front lawn conversion in 2019. It is filled with vegetables, fruits, herbs and more, building healthy soil and harvesting water from the roof.

Home to hummingbirds, bees, ladybugs and other beneficial insects, the garden sparks conversation with the neighbors and offers bountiful produce to share.

Learn more

Mom’s Delight

Installed in 2017, this backyard food forest has 21 fruit trees pruned annually to 5 feet, making it easier to access the fruit. The majority of the trees are watered by rain funneled into a swale, while others are watered from the laundry-to-landscape greywater system. An automatic drip system is used during the dry periods. All the fruits are shared with neighbors, friends and family. Additional plantings of salvia and calendula draw in honey bees and hummingbirds.

Laundry-to-Landscape greywater & backyard chickens

Learn more

West Winds

This garden was just planted in January 2023 as a collaborative project between Sustainable Solano and Solano 4-H. Youth members learned about permaculture and designing within the homeowners’ needs, then applied their new knowledge to a plan that includes fruit trees, pollinators and edible annuals. This site is especially susceptible to the western winds, which have annual summer gusts up to 40 mph. The garden is a work in progress as a learning space for 4-Hers for years to come.

Backyard chickens

Learn more

Suisun City Demonstration Food Forest Gardens

Caisteal Termonn

This garden is a demonstration in community and environmental resilience. Homeowners Heidi and Mitch had dealt with a wildfire taking their home in 2020. The garden was designed around a large maple tree, the only thing that survived the fire, and was named in Gaelic to harken back to Mitch’s native Scottish roots. It was installed December 2022.

Learn more

El Bosquecito

Installed in 2021 to mitigate the effects of flooding, this food forest garden is complete with chickens and a laundry-to-landscape greywater system. This yard has multiple fruit trees and pollinator plants.

Laundry-to-Landscape greywater & backyard chickens


Learn more

We are incredibly grateful for the generous support of our funders. 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.

Armijo High’s garden is supported through our Solano Gardens program and by Innovative Health Solutions. 

The Healthy Local Food Program is run through Sustainable Solano, with funding from Solano Public Health and a CA Department of Food and Agriculture grant. Innovative Health Solutions is also a partner that supports the program and receives funding through the CalFresh Healthy Living Program administered through the Nutrition Services Bureau of Solano Public Health. The program is in partnership with Armijo High School and the school’s Multimedia Academy and Garden Club.

Lentils in War & Peace

By Sajneet Kaur Chauhan, intern

The Healthy Local Food program at Armijo High in Fairfield brings together 30 students each week to learn about healthy, seasonal, local food in both the school garden and culinary sessions. The program is offered through two SuSol programs — Solano Gardens and Local Food Cooking Education — in partnership with Innovative Health Solutions, Armijo High School and the school’s multimedia and garden clubs. Students will share what they have learned through final multimedia projects. Here, student Sajneet reflects on a recent class. Follow the program’s progress on Instagram @healthylocalfoods and check out their in-progress website at healthysolano.com

Sajneet during the Armijo Healthy Local Food program / photo credit: David Avery
As a comforting, versatile food quick enough for weeknight cooking, lentils will keep you well fed all winter. But they’re good to eat at any time. People in many countries eat lentils to ensure prosperity in the year to come. Canada is the world’s leading producer and exporter of lentils. In India, 6.3 million tons of lentils are produced in a year.

You might be wondering why I am introducing lentils. Lentils are a traditional food in India where my parents grew up. In our family we shop for lentils at the local Indian grocery store in Fairfield. When you enter the store, the smell of spices will ignite your senses and surely make you hungry. There are varieties of spices like turmeric, chili powder and cardamom. A few days ago, we cooked Mexican Lentil Soup in the Armijo High School Healthy Local Food program, and I was inspired to learn even more about lentils.

Lentils are low in sodium and saturated fat, and high in potassium, fiber, folate, and plant chemicals called polyphenols that have antioxidant activity. In my culture, pregnant women are recommended to eat lentils, especially sprouted ones, because they are rich in nutrients. These nutritional properties have led researchers to study their effects on chronic diseases. There are four main categories of lentils: brown, green, red/yellow, and specialty. One specialty lentil, the black lentil (beluga lentils) is the most nutritious variety of lentil, boasting the highest amount of protein in addition to high levels of calcium, potassium and iron.
Growing up, I was obsessed with eating lentils! We cooked lentils every day and I figured out it was healthy for our daily life. In the Healthy Local Food program when I heard that we were going to cook lentils I was so excited about spreading my culture. Lentils are a great part of a healthy plant-based diet. According to NPR.org, lentils were introduced in the U.S. a few years before World War II and “gained their enduring popularity thanks to their ready availability, low price, and high nutritional benefits” during and after that conflict. I’m glad this program gave me a chance to learn even more about something that has been a part of my life since I can remember.


The Healthy Local Food Program is run through Sustainable Solano, with funding from Solano Public Health and a California Department of Food and Agriculture grant. Innovative Health Solutions is also a partner that supports the program and receives funding through the CalFresh Healthy Living Program administered through the Nutrition Services Bureau of Solano Public Health.
Funding for culinary instruction was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM22SCBPCA1133. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.

Armijo High Students Reflect on Healthy Local Food

The Healthy Local Food program at Armijo High in Fairfield brings together 30 students each week to learn about healthy, seasonal, local food in both the school garden and culinary sessions. The program is offered through two SuSol programs — Solano Gardens and Local Food Cooking Education — in partnership with Innovative Health Solutions, Armijo High School and the school’s multimedia and garden clubs. Students will share what they have learned through final multimedia projects. Here, two students in the program reflect on their early experiences. Follow their progress on Instagram @healthylocalfoods

Matthew Madrigal (second from left) and Kenya Jackson (right) participate in the recent stir-fry cooking class. They offer their reflections on the program below.

Connecting in the Armijo Garden

By Kenya Jackson

When we first walked into the garden we were met with SuSol instructor Lauren Gucik holding a huge bag of stuff. She had asked us to gather in a circle wherever we liked. We immediately moved to a more circle-ish form but not too far from each other as we were all very nervous. We, as a group of kids, were very quiet because we were nervous. Thankfully, Lauren was very considerate of this and while encouraging us to talk, she didn’t mind talking to keep conversation going by herself.

Lauren went into quite a bit of detail about her past and told us all about her journey into becoming so in touch with nature. She asked for our input and acknowledged all of our nonverbal answers. We soon became very comfortable around each other as well as her. Once Lauren took notice she asked us to introduce ourselves and establish this as a safe space where we could take a break if we are ever in need of one.

While in the circle we were given seeds to break open and toy with, they were ours. Most of us peeled off the seeds and discovered they were beans! Luca’s beans had started to grow while inside the pod which we then passed around as we found it quite interesting and cool. Lauren had taken notice of Mariah raking her hands through the beans and took the time to teach us about sensory stimulation. She pulled dried cobbed corn out of her bag and gave one to each group that was established the week prior.

As we pulled the kernels off of the cob, we fell into steady conversation of our ancestry and where we are from. We talked about all we had in common culturally. Lauren’s ancestors are from Northern Europe, meaning she can’t burn sage since it’s Native American, so she burned rosemary, another protective plant.

Cooking in the Kitchen

By Matthew Madrigal

For our sixth week we made a stir-fry! But before we did that we discussed smells of foods that remind us of dishes that are important to us. We then went over the ingredients. Then we got to the actual cooking. Every time I cook in the program I just get reminded how fun it is. My team and I did pretty well. I and some others were even interviewed for a bit! When we finished, everyone’s dish was fantastic. It was a great day. I’m glad I get to be here.

Solano Gardens is funded by Solano Public Health. Funding for culinary instruction was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM22SCBPCA1133. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.

Influencing Local Land Use Comes Down to Making Your Voice Heard

By Sustainable Solano

When it comes to how land is put to use in your community — whether rural or urban — it is important to remember that each local citizen has a voice and that those voices can influence government decisions around planning and zoning.

Experts on planning and land use discussed how to be informed and take action around such decisions at the Rural & Urban Land Use: Planning, Zoning & the Local Food System event on Nov. 3 hosted by the Solano Local Food System Alliance. The online event started with keynote speaker Dr. Catherine Brinkley with the Center for Regional Change at UC Davis, and a panel that included Solano County Planning Manager Allan Calder, Solano Land Trust’s Tracy Ellison, and Vacaville Senior Planner Tyra Hays. You can watch the video of the event below.

While the topics covered were wide-ranging, several highlights emerged.

During her keynote, Brinkley talked about the importance of looking at where similar zoning and planning decisions have been in effect and also analyzing where the gaps exist. This is difficult because city and county general plans have not been kept in a central location and, when they can be found on government websites, they are not always easy to search for the particular land use that is being researched.

“Not all plans are in the same place,” she said. “You can’t Google ‘I’d like a recipe for food security’ the way you do for pumpkin pie.”

That’s why the Center for Regional Change has been collecting general plans and creating a database that can be searched for keywords that will help to cut through the dense text of general plans. Searches show when the plans were created and can help to see if nearby jurisdictions are doing something similar or if a municipality might be the first to have an innovative policy in place. This can support everything from community advocacy to supporting general plan updates.

In the local food system, this might mean searching agricultural plans that affect policies and purchasing, development rights, or greenbelts in agricultural areas; looking at food equity policies; or exploring urban growth boundaries. You can learn more about the database here.

Another part of influencing the planning process around the food system is making sure you are involved. This is true for citizens of any age — even if you’re not yet old enough to vote, you can make your voice heard to influence planning decisions. Sometimes what it takes is showing up.

Hayes recommends speaking with city council members or bringing forth a proposal around planning issues. It can be involving yourself in general plan update meetings and land use discussions. Having interested residents who support an idea helps greatly, she said.

Calder said there are often technical or citizens advisory committees involved in shaping new plans, and these are opportunities to participate as a citizen in planning and zoning updates.

The panel also touched on hot topics including urban agriculture/community gardens; the use of prime ag land for greenhouse growing; agritourism; and foreign entities buying local farmland.

Interested in learning more about the local food system? The Solano Local Food System Alliance holds public educational events every quarter to address different topics that affect local food. The Alliance includes a wide variety of stakeholders committed to fulfilling the mission of creating an environmentally sustainable, economically viable, socially just and equitable local food system in Solano County. You can learn more about the Alliance here.

Vallejo Food Rescue Project Promotes Community Collaboration to Share Information, Resources, Food

By Sustainable Solano

The Vallejo Food Rescue Project had its official launch meeting in early June at Loma Vista Farm, bringing together people from organizations involved in current food rescue and distribution operations in the city and seeking guidance on how to streamline and shape food rescue efforts in Vallejo.

“So much of what we do is not about lifting a box of food,” Food is Free Solano Executive Director Heather Pierini said. “It’s about getting food to people in need.”

The Vallejo Food Rescue Project seeks to do just that in a pilot project that could serve as a model for elsewhere in the county — perhaps elsewhere in the state and nation.

Starting the meeting in the shade of the large tree that centers the entrance to the educational farm and surrounded by pollinator and native plants, the attendees acknowledged the indigenous stewards of the land’s history and shared about their own work in the food system. Organizations represented at the meeting included the Islamic Center of Vallejo; Emmanuel Arms Community Inc., the nonprofit arm of Emmanuel Temple Apostolic Church; Catholic Charities of Yolo-Solano; and Vallejo Together.

Many related how the need for food has grown in the community and they could serve many more people if they had more access to food for distribution. Food pantries quickly empty out, and hundreds of people show up for meals or to pick up food.

Heather noted that the meeting brought together a diverse group of individuals and organizations. Each of these groups can reach different communities, and it’s important to make sure resources are spread out so that people feel they have someone to reach out to, she said.

The Vallejo Food Rescue Project is a joint effort between Food is Free Solano and Sustainable Solano under a grant from the Office of Environmental Justice at the EPA. It seeks to support current efforts by creating a network of organizations and individuals and develop an app that can be used to streamline the giving and receiving of excess food within the city. The app is being developed by Kim Quach of FreeBites.

The project is using a collaborative problem-solving approach under EPA guidance.

“The people doing the work actually design the solution,” said Lauren Gucik, the SuSol program manager involved in the project.

That’s why it was important to have this first meeting with selected stakeholders. Upcoming meetings will be open to the general public and involve more wide-ranging discussion around how the Vallejo community can share food between institutions, organizations and individuals.

The issue is two-fold: The state is now requiring that excess food go first to people, then animals, then compost to keep food waste out of landfills. There is also an increased need for food, with hunger rising sharply in the county during the pandemic. Organizations that seek to distribute food run into myriad challenges, from restaurants that are hesitant to donate food due to liability concerns to not having enough ways to get information out to people about the food distribution and other services they are offering. The Vallejo Food Rescue Project seeks to address that by increasing collaboration, food security, better health for our communities and a reduction in landfill waste, said Cristal Gallegos with Food is Free Solano.

A big part of that is the app, which the group discussed. Kim developed FreeBites while a student at UC Davis. She witnessed first-hand how food was often thrown away after university-catered events, while at the same time there were students who were hungry on campus. She created the app as a direct response to this and to help bridge the disconnect. As part of this project, she’s further developing the app to help with the logistics and build community around food sharing.

The app will allow posting of surplus food, create a map that shows available food resources based on distance, and match donors and recipients.

Heather likened the use of the app to the way someone might post an item on Facebook Marketplace. It’s a way to share what is available locally with those who might be interested. But through using filters, those donating food and those receiving it are able to narrow down who gets the notifications. So if a caterer has 30 extra meals, their post would go only to those organizations that have said they could take that many meals and distribute them properly.

“That right there takes me five texts,” Heather said. By shortening the communication chain through the app, the process can become easier and more efficient.

The excitement and interest around the app was apparent as the group discussed what support they could use. But something else was also going on during the meeting — connections were happening within the room.

“I’d like to acknowledge the collaboration happening here,” Cristal said, noting how when the meeting started people were talking about how they didn’t know what each other’s organizations offered, and now that they had shared and did know, they were already seeking ways to work together.

By the end of the meeting, people were inviting each other to come volunteer and observe their distribution events and to find other ways to connect. They said they left feeling hopeful, optimistic, informed and energetic and that doors were opening and help was on the way.

The project will be working on a prototype of the app through the end of July. At the next meeting, on Wednesday, Aug. 17, members of the food rescue community and the general public will be asked for feedback on the app and the possibilities and challenges they foresee.

Vallejo Food Rescue Project Community Meeting

The next VFRP community meeting will be Aug. 17 at the John F. Kennedy Library at 505 Santa Clara St. in Vallejo. The meeting will be an opportunity to learn more about the project and the app.

More details will be announced soon. Learn more here.

Outgrowing Chicken Tenders

By Cecilia Abiva, St. Patrick-St. Vincent Catholic High School Graduate

Cecilia Abiva blossomed week after week in our six-week culinary class at St. Patrick-St. Vincent, gaining confidence, having fun and, as a senior in the group, stepping up as a sweet-natured leader bringing the boombox with music every week and oftentimes staying late to help with the dishes with her crew of friends. In the SuSol Youth Cooking Program, we seek to create spaces for young adults to explore their creativity in the kitchen while developing culinary skills they can use to feed themselves and their community. The program is rooted in the fresh food available from our local food system, and promotes health and community culture. Not every student will choose to become a chef, but we hope, like Cici, they will walk away empowered for their future path with a deep respect for where food comes from and an affinity for vegetables.

Cecilia Abiva, third from left, during cooking class

Like most kids, my diet consisted of only the crème de la crème: dinosaur chicken nuggets slathered in ketchup, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and pineapples cut by my mom (and my mom only). While such comestibles provided adequate nourishment for a child whose days were filled with endless hours spent outside playing hopscotch in the warm sunshine or building castles in the living room with couch cushions and pillows, the contents of my stomach became a concern when my juvenile palate neglected to mature with the rest of my body. I was an 18-year-old who scoured every menu for anything that consisted of or bore a resemblance to chicken tenders.

Unfazed by the criticism of my family, who always managed to point out the contents of my plate during family dinners, I did not make any drastic changes to my diet until recently. Following the flurry of events that transpired during the first semester of my senior year, I found myself with an abundance of free time. Finally unfettered by the stress of finals, college applications, and being a candidate for homecoming royalty, I decided to add a new skill to my repertoire: cooking! I joined a culinary class offered by my school with a few friends. And as you can imagine, it was no easy feat. Although I had found success in the classroom as I am the valedictorian of my graduating class, being a student in the kitchen was a humbling experience. The extent of my culinary expertise at the beginning of my cooking adventure was limited to the use of a microwave. However, I faced an even bigger dilemma: Would I actually be eating the food that I was cooking?

On the first day of class, I cooked tofu stir fry with rice. The preparation of the meal went rather smoothly. Other than a few near mishaps with a knife and the flame on the kitchen stove, everyone walked out with all ten fingers and eyebrows intact. I sat at the table anxiously awaiting our meal. There was not a chicken tender or bottle of ketchup in sight. But the moment that I picked up my fork and reluctantly shoveled the concoction of onions, carrots, spinach, and celery into my mouth, my mouth curled up when I began to chew. It was pretty good! With just a little taste, my love for cooking came to fruition and it provided a new outlet to relieve my stress. And with a little bit of practice and patience, however, cooking became less daunting and more enjoyable. Being able to cook my own food and making an effort to eat sustainably also had a positive impact on my health. I also shared my affinity for cooking with my family as I became in charge of making Saturday night dinners. The sly looks that I once received at the dinner table were replaced with hearty laughter and the sound of our mouths voraciously eating our food.

Discovering this appreciation for cooking not only expanded my taste for food, but it also fostered an appetite for adventure and service for others … two traits that I hope to explore more at UC Berkeley. If admitted, I plan on continuing to nurture my culinary skills by joining the Cal Cooking Club while also exploring new ventures like taking part in the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Red Cross. I look forward to trying new things, ketchup or no ketchup.

Reflecting on the Youth Cooking Program

Lauren Gucik, Program Manager

As SuSol’s first year offering a Youth Cooking Program comes to a close, we can surely say that many meals were shared, lessons were learned, and the farmers and specialty crops of Solano Country were celebrated! We facilitated 5 unique courses with St. Patrick-St. Vincent (2 sessions), the Girl Scouts, 4-H of Solano, and the Benicia Teen Center. We spent hours in the kitchen developing culinary skills and exploring easy ways to enjoy healthy fresh food. During our farm field trips, students met with farmers and land stewards and saw firsthand where our food comes from and what it takes to feed the community. And at our final session, students planned and cooked for their own families, serving multiple dishes in a family-style gathering.

In the kitchen, students met regularly with local chefs to develop comfort preparing fresh easy recipes. We began with kitchen safety and knife training and introduced students to simple preparations such as sauteing, steaming, roasting, and making a simple vinaigrette. Each technique was paired with recipes that highlighted local foods grown in Solano. As the seasons changed, so did the recipes. Many students said their favorite part was working with the knives and learning the different ways you can cut and chop and how what lends best to different preparations. It was very inspiring to see how students blossomed throughout the course, gaining more confidence in themselves and their abilities in the kitchen. Their openness to trying new things was an inspiration.

At the close of each class, we dressed the tables with fabric and flowers and shared the meal they had just prepared, experiencing how everyone had the same ingredients but each group’s final dish tasted a little bit different as inevitably one group cooked the onions a little longer or someone was feeling extra spicy and added more pepper flakes. Even the shyest of students opened up around the table when our discussion turned to the food system at large. We spoke of the economic, ecological and community health benefits of supporting local farmers and shared maps of farm stands and CSAs available in their neighborhood. These conversations set the stage for our farm visits, where students picked strawberries in the field, hung out with chickens and lambs, and ate a farm fresh lunch outside with produce harvested right before their eyes. They had the opportunity to see firsthand the challenges and rewards of being a small scale responsible farmer in Solano County. One student even said “This is the best field trip of my life!” right before we encountered three large snakes on our path to the bus! The youth are as brave as they are inspiring!

In these classes, we focused on creating a future of health and wealth in our communities and for our planet. In addition to cultivating comfort in the kitchen for high schoolers, we aim to strengthen relationships between farmers and their communities and foster an authentic, lasting appreciation for fresh local food. By the final cooking session, students were ready to step up to plan the menu and cook for their friends and family members. They stood tall in their responsibility; providing for their community. It is our hope to expand this program to continue to instill this understanding of local, seasonal food in Solano youth, with the possibility of supporting a healthy meal service to bolster our local food economy and our collective immune system.

We are currently pursuing funding to continue working with youth in the kitchen and on the farm. Please contact lauren@sustainablesolano.org if you’d like to connect about future partnership opportunities.