The Beginning of Flood Resiliency in Suisun City

By Alex Lunine, Resilient Communities Program Manager

Over the past two years, Sustainable Solano has focused on spreading awareness of the dire need for climate resilience in Suisun City, making education regarding flooding accessible for the city’s residents. Generously funded by PG&E through the Better Together Resilient Communities, Sustainable Solano’s Resilient Neighborhoods program installed two flood-resilient gardens in Suisun, kicked off a now annual climate event in the city, led a high school internship program, taken residents on a dozen Flood Walk tours, and empowered the community to tackle flooding via the creation of a community-based action plan.

Starting in 2021, we shared information from the Adapting to Rising Tides report published by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission to spread scientific literacy regarding climate change and its impacts on Suisun. We connected with hydrology and permaculture experts Anne Freiwald and Lydia Neilsen of Vital Cycles to conduct a walkaround consultation of downtown Suisun and surrounding neighborhoods. Their expertise was instrumental in our own understanding of Suisun’s baseline flood resilience and informed our educational efforts. This expert information was used to create our Flood Walk program, where we would lead groups of curious Suisun residents and others from around Solano County interested in flood risk on a tour of flood-vulnerable areas near the Suisun Marina and downtown. We furthered our outreach efforts via the flood-resilient garden workshops and installations, offering opportunities for individual resiliency actions in addition to those at the community scale. Finally, in partnership with Suisun City, we organized and started the Suisun Climate and Environmental Festival: bringing a variety of environmental organizations together to promote true citywide community resilience.

Flood Walks offered an interactive way to learn about flood risks
A demonstration garden showed how to capture rainwater during large storms

Climate and Environmental Festival Educational Talks

As awareness of flooding vulnerabilities became more commonplace, and with the city partnership, we proceeded into 2021 with the goal of assisting residents to funnel their thoughts, concerns and solutions into a unified and practical document. With a combination of hard work from our Core Team (a group of concerned Suisun residents and officials), Adam Welchel with The Nature Conservancy, and our high school interns, we hosted the first Community Resilience Building Workshop on the West Coast. During this event in June 2022, around 20 residents, government officials, and environmental experts participated in the formation of a grassroots community action plan primarily targeting climate change. The conversations that took place were then consolidated into a Summary of Findings Report, which we hope will serve as a blueprint for residents and officials when crafting flood resilience policies.

Finally, with the last stretch of the Resilient Neighborhoods program in Suisun under this grant funding, we refocused on sharing education regarding flooding in Suisun and the Summary of Findings Report. The goal was to continue to bring as many voices to bear on the decision-making process. Sustainable Solano continued leading Flood Walks, installed a second climate-resilient garden, and facilitated a climate resilience community forum with then-Mayor Pro Tem Alma Hernandez. This forum served as the spiritual continuation of the 2021 festival, and gave the 15 participants the opportunity to directly engage in flood-related conversations with their government. The forum also contained an expert panel with representation from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, UC Davis, and the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District, that was able to answer questions participants raised.

High school interns learned how to lead informative Flood Walks
A garden installation taught about drought and flood resiliency

Climate Resilience Community Forum

While we are proud of the work SuSol has done to promote flood resilience in Suisun, we know that these past few years only represent the first step in true climate change preparedness. We hope to continue to conduct educational and community-building efforts in Suisun around flooding mitigation, and promote equitable and sustainable solutions for the city.

On behalf of Sustainable Solano, I would like to offer my deepest gratitude to PG&E and the Better Together Resilient Communities team for their guidance, patience and support in our efforts to build environmental resilience in Suisun City. Through our efforts enabled by PG&E’s backing, Sustainable Solano has helped Suisun undergo the first steps necessary to create a truly environmentally resilient community.

Suisun City Climate Resilience Community Forum Engages Public Around Flood Risks

By Alex Lunine, Resilient Communities Program Manager

Panelists John Durand of UC Davis, Mayor Pro Tem Alma Hernandez, Emily Corwin of the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District and Jaclyn Mandoske of Bay Conservation and Development Commission speak during the forum roundtable

Suisun City is vulnerable to increased flooding risks from sea level rise, king tides and storm surges that will threaten homes, businesses and jobs in the coming decades. The Suisun City Climate Resilience Community Forum brought together local environmental experts, city officials and city residents and community leaders to explore those risks, while informing a discussion around community-supported actions and solutions.

The Forum built upon the work of the city’s core team, which organized a Community Resilience Building workshop in June that led to a report by The Nature Conservancy.

Bringing together around 15 residents and a panel that included Mayor Pro Tem Alma Hernandez, Jaclyn Mandoske of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, Emily Corwin of the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District, and John Durand from UC Davis, the Forum sought to engage community members on the topic to collectively work towards preventing and adapting to the threat of rising tides in Suisun.

The day started with an introduction by Alma Hernandez, followed by presentations on flooding issues and the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District’s ongoing and planned flood-related projects.

If you have been keeping up with our outreach efforts, you might already be familiar with the flooding projections published by the BCDC in 2020: an increase of 6 to 10 inches in water level by 2030, 13 to 23 inches by 2050, and upwards of 41 to 83 inches by 2100. This timeline is indicative of flooding due to sea level rise only, and does not include the additional threats that storm surges or king tides present to the city. When determining flood mitigation efforts, all three factors of flooding have to be considered in conjunction with one another. A mix of three primary strategies can be implemented by the city to curb the impacts of flooding: protect, adapt, and retreat. Protection infrastructure, such as levees, seeks to prevent flooding from occurring. Meanwhile, adaptation measures, such as adjusting building codes to prevent water damage, attempt to mitigate the harm that flooding can inflict. Finally, retreat cedes that flooding and damage cannot be prevented in a given area, so preexisting or planned development should be abandoned.

To illustrate how flood mitigation strategies can look in action, Emily Corwin presented on three projects within the radar of the sewer district:

  • The district is planning to establish community treatment wetlands on-site at the district. These wetlands will reduce the amount of excess nutrients being carried out into the Bay, while also helping to bolster the flood resilience of the district and surrounding properties. Additionally, these wetlands are planned to serve as a public educational resource about the Suisun Marsh and host walking trails.
  • The next project was the renovation of the Kellogg Pump Station. This pump station, directly behind residences on Maple Street, was damaged by fire in 2020, and improvements to the station are planned to both bolster fire and flooding resilience and provide a walkable path along its creek.
  • The last project pertained to improving the capacity of the stormwater systems to move water out of Suisun neighborhoods. This, in part, includes replacing older piping.

The district wants to incorporate community feedback into its projects and what should be prioritized in their efforts.

The group adjourned for lunch and came back together for the community forum. The panel was able to answer questions from participants, including clarification from the presentations, what organizations and stakeholders the city could partner with to tackle flooding vulnerabilities, how flooding would impact the Suisun Marsh and examples of how flood-mitigation measures have looked in nearby communities.

Even if you could not attend on Oct. 22, you can still make your voice heard by watching the video recording of the event and filling out our survey.

Participants also gave crucial commentary on how Sustainable Solano can improve our outreach efforts. This includes having greater representation from government leaders at future roundtables to enhance the ability of community members to communicate their needs to the city, and reaching beyond coalition-building with the adult population to offer more ways for students to get involved.

This forum would not be possible without the huge contributions of time and effort from the Core Team: Alma Hernandez, Anthony Adams, Aleta George, Jay Gunkelmann, and Mike Zeiss. Additionally, I would like to thank Jaclyn Mandoske, Emily Corwin, and John Durand for lending us their expertise on the panel and for taking the time to join us for these important conversations.

I would also like to thank our high school interns for helping film during this event, even after their internships ended, and for all their hard work over the course of the summer.

If you are interested in learning more about flood risks or want to get more involved, we are partnering with Adopt a Neighborhood to host another Flood Walk from 10 am-12 pm Saturday, Nov. 19. Additionally, from 10 am to 4 pm on Dec. 3 and Dec. 10, we are installing a flood- and drought-resistant garden at a Suisun City home that was previously affected by fire. During the workshop, you can learn how to address similar hazards at your own home.

Community Resilience Workshop Builds Awareness of Environmental Hazards and Community-Based Solutions

By Alex Lunine, Resilient Communities Program Manager

Resilient Communities Program Manager Alex Lunine (left) instructs Suisun City interns on how to lead a Flood Walk

Suisun residents place a high value on their community’s natural beauty, its diversity, and its tight-knit network of publicly active residents. Despite these communal strengths, participants in a collective dialogue on environmental resilience determined that climate change, flooding, wildfires, windstorms and earthquakes all pose a significant threat to their neighborhoods.

Sustainable Solano, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, hosted a Community Resilience Building Workshop with more than 20 concerned community members, local officials and environmental professionals to strategize and collaboratively discuss solutions to the environmental hazards facing Suisun City. The June 15 workshop was held virtually, over Zoom, and was led by Dr. Adam Whelchel of The Nature Conservancy.

A core team of seven dedicated community members and local officials was instrumental in putting the workshop together. This team networked to bring a broader coalition of concerned residents to the meeting, identified community priorities, served as leaders during the workshop’s dialogues, and are continuing their efforts to ensure the findings are spread to the rest of Suisun City.

Those who attended the workshop lent their expertise, community knowledge, and passion to the conversations surrounding environmental resilience. The discourse spanned from wildfires to wind storms to flooding, and the ways in which Suisun City can tackle these environmental hazards as a community.

Flooding poses a unique obstacle for Suisun. The city, built atop and adjacent to the Suisun Marsh (the largest brackish estuarine ecosystem on the West Coast), is expected to see a rise of 6-11 inches in water level by 2030, up to 23 inches by 2050, and in a worst-case scenario, up to 66 inches by 2100. Just an additional 12 inches of water level — be it by sea level rise, storm surges, or king tides — will begin to cause flooding of the marshes and roadways. If no action is taken, residents in flood-vulnerable areas will experience unavoidable flooding of their homes at 24 inches. As sea level continues to rise over the coming decades, more and more of Suisun will find itself underwater. This issue represented the bulk of the problem-solving efforts by the workshop participants.

To learn more about the flood risks facing Suisun, join SuSol’s Flood Walks, where we give guided tours of areas vulnerable to flooding around the city. The next Flood Walk will be at 10 am Sunday, August 14. You can register here.

By evaluating Suisun City’s strengths and areas for improvement, workshop participants compiled a priority list of actionable plans. A few of the highest priority actions included

  • Access grants to install preventative flood infrastructure such as living-levees and critical pump stations;
  • Implement hazard and warning signs along flood-prone roadways to increase public awareness;
  • Bring findings to City Council to get flooding prevention measures enacted and to incorporate successful actions by neighboring Bay Area communities;
  • Secure funds to continue vulnerability assessments and planning over the next 10 years;
  • Develop an action list to combat wildfires that manages open and vulnerable spaces adjacent to Suisun City.

This group conversation led to a summary report published by The Nature Conservancy. Moving forward, Sustainable Solano and the core team hope to use this document to ensure awareness of the environmental hazards facing Suisun and to provide pragmatic solutions that protect the whole community.

This workshop would not have been possible without the hard work of the workshop’s facilitation team, who mediated and conducted conversations between participants, and the Resilient Neighborhood program interns, who diligently transcribed the dialogue for the final report.

We look forward to sharing more with the community about the report in the months ahead.

2022 Benicia & Vallejo Demonstration Food Forest Garden Tour Slideshow

By Sustainable Solano

We were so excited to visit with those of you who attended this year’s Benicia & Vallejo Demonstration Food Forest Garden Tour on April 23. It was uplifting seeing so many people able to return to the gardens, have meaningful conversations with the Food Forest Keepers and each other, reconnect with old friends and make new acquaintances. We appreciate all of you who attended and hope that you will join us for upcoming events (including the Fairfield & Vacaville Demonstration Food Forest Garden Tour on June 4), workshops, talks and more if you are inspired to bring some of these waterwise approaches to your gardens.

Learn about this year’s gardens here. And view the slideshow below to see each garden and some highlights from the day. Thank you to everyone who shared their photos!

Benicia & Vallejo Tour Slideshow

2022 Benicia & Vallejo Demonstration Food Forest Tour

This program is made possible by the generous support from the Solano County Water Agency.

2022 Benicia & Vallejo Demonstration Food Forest Tour is April 23!

By Nicole Newell, Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

We will be opening up our demonstration food forest gardens in Benicia and Vallejo for the annual tour on April 23, and are thrilled to be back with our regular tour! Learn about this year’s gardens here.

Each garden is a unique expression of the homeowner and the land and was designed using permaculture principles. These gardens offer ideas and inspiration on how to use water efficiently while creating a lush thriving garden that supports life and provides food and habitat. During this pandemic, the food forest keepers have been doing really cool things to serve the Solano County community. This year some of the garden sites will have information on what they have been up to for the past two years: bees, honey, Monarch butterflies, Food is Free stands, native plants, local food and so much more. All of the gardens will showcase plants that thrive in Solano County!

When you pick up your full-day itinerary at Avant Garden in Benicia, you’ll have an opportunity to hear a talk on soil biology and soil health at 9 am. Want to join us for just the afternoon touring Vallejo sites? You can pick up your itinerary from noon-1 pm at St. Patrick-St. Vincent Catholic High School in Vallejo and have an opportunity to learn about what’s going on in local food. Find more details below!

For the past two years we were challenged to get creative with garden tours. We created a few video tours the first year of the pandemic that expanded our educational video library but couldn’t convey the full vision of what it’s like to stand inside these gardens. Last year the gardens were open to private tours.

Over the past two years I have missed seeing people smile and the magic that unfolds when people gather. We thrive when we are connected. Our deepest hope for this year’s tour is that people get energized and inspired to take action and become caretakers of the land and each other.

We look forward to seeing you this year as we return to a full tour, but with some changes that should add to your experience. Read below to find out more about the day’s events and what to expect in each garden so you can plan out your day!

Register here

This program is made possible by the generous support from the Solano County Water Agency.

Plan Your Day

Learn about each garden you can visit here

How It Will Work

You can choose to tour for the whole day or for half a day.
Learn about the gardens here
Benicia Demonstration Food Forest Gardens will be open 10 am-1 pm
Vallejo Demonstration Food Forest Gardens will be open 1-4 pm

Register here

Itinerary pickup and special events:

9-11 am: Itineraries will be available at Avant Garden in Benicia (400 First St.). This itinerary will include all of the demonstration food forest gardens in Benicia (open in the morning) and Vallejo (open in the afternoon).

9 am: Sustainable Solano Program Manager Michael Wedgley will give a talk at Avant Garden on how to have garden abundance with healthy soil biology, including the creation of compost extracts and teas to add soil biology where it’s needed. He will then apply compost extract to the community shared plot at the garden, which grows food for donation. ***Bring a mason jar and get some compost extract while supplies last.

12-1 pm: Itineraries for the Vallejo garden sites (open in the afternoon) will be available at St. Patrick-St. Vincent Catholic High School (1500 Benicia Rd., Vallejo)

12 pm: Learn about Sustainable Solano’s local food programs at St. Patrick-St. Vincent Catholic High School. The Local Food team will have details about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs in Vallejo and Benicia where you buy directly from local farms, favorite family recipes from our Youth Cooking Program students, information about local farms, agritourism, and how to engage in food rescue and recovery. Stick around for student demonstrations and check out beehives and honey there on campus.

2022 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 23 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.

Learn more

Giardino su una Collina (Garden on a Hill)

A 2-year-old food forest and pollinator garden installed in 2020 that includes a swale that captures roof water and mediterranean trees and plants mixed with native pollinating and nectar plants to attract bees and butterflies. This site is home to a Monarch Waystation that grows  a variety of plants to support Western Monarch Butterflies. The Monarch Milkweed Project and monarch education will be highlighted, milkweed seeds and maybe milkweed plants available for a donation.

Learn more

Greyhawk Grove

Greyhawk Garden after installationA 7-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 2 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

Living and Learning

Established front yard food forest that replaced a lawn in 2016 with 2 swales, a laundry-to-landscape greywater system and a diverse group of plants and fruit trees that has now expanded throughout the property. Small spaces for relaxing and enjoying are throughout the garden. One of the food forest keepers is a teacher and will be present to share knowledge about growing and preserving tomatoes.

Learn more

Redwood Guild

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

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. Food is Free Solano and the Solano Gleaning Initiative will be highlighted.

Learn more

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 Spanish translator. 

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. 

Learn more

Enchanted Cottage Garden

Front yard lawn replaced in May 2017 with 2 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.

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Loma Vista Farm

Food forest garden that provides a beautiful demonstration to the public at Loma Vista Farm on how to plant their own yard in a variety of fruit trees, perennial vegetables, herbs, native plants and pollinator plants.

The food forest tour will be on the same day as Loma Vista Farm’s annual Spring Open House, making it an extra special day to visit. Plants that the students have grown will be available in the greenhouse for sale, animal feeding will be available, as well as entertainment, such as a puppet show. For more information check out:

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Morningside Botanical Bounty Resilient Neighborhood

Four gardens on one block were installed collaboratively through the Resilient Neighborhoods Program to show how a neighborhood can be an example of a resilient urban ecosystem that mimics nature.

Highlights: hugelkultur mound, 2 laundry-to-landscape greywater systems, fruit trees, swales, drip irrigation, bee-friendly plants, herb spiral, native plants, shade trees and a little free library.  Native plant information will be available.

Learn more

Ripple Effect

Compact urban yard with an artistic style and creative use of repurposed items, rainwater barrel, laundry-to-landscape greywater and guild planting worked into an existing landscape. This food forest keeper recognizes the benefits of “weeds in the garden” and is enthusiastic about compost, worm bins and building healthy soil.

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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 site will highlight local food that is available in Vallejo, 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)

This garden was inspired through collaboration with Sustainable Solano. Vallejo Project youth leaders attended Sustainable Solano workshops and became an organizational partner. This is a newly established garden with the beginning of a food forest with fruiting trees, eight chickens, a worm bin and a compost system. Over the last six months the soil has been nourished with fava beans and other nitrogen-fixing plants and the garden has been a training ground for mulching. This garden is a Vallejo Project-supported venture to build youth resiliency and forge a relationship between transitional families and youth to sustain the community for years to come.

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.