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.

How to Compost at Home

By Patrick Murphy, Program Manager

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

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

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

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

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

Tell Us About Your Urban Ag Needs!

By Patrick Murphy, Program Manager

Installation of a garden bed at Faith Food Fridays in Vallejo

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

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

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

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

Share Your Ideas & Needs

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

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

Gift of the Generations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reminding me.

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

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

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.