New Program to Focus on Air Quality in Fairfield

Sustainable Solano Awarded 3-Year, $260,000 Community Air Grant

By Sustainable Solano

Photo credit: Visit Fairfield

A new program that will focus on air quality concerns, causes and solutions will help Fairfield residents to address air pollution within the community.

Sustainable Solano was recently awarded a $260,000 Community Air Grant that will support the planning and implementation of this new program over the next three years. The goal of the program will be to build public awareness around air pollution, its environmental causes and health effects, and engage community members in ways to monitor and mitigate air pollution on an individual and community scale. It will launch later this spring.

“From the crosswinds to the local environmental conditions, poor air quality impacts the population of Fairfield greatly,” Sustainable Solano Executive Director Elena Karoulina said, citing the grant and highlighting its importance. “Our goal is to increase public awareness and strengthen community capacity to monitor and respond to air quality issues in real time with help of local youth leaders.”

The program will engage high school youth leaders through a Youth Air Protectors program. These youth will research the air quality challenges for their communities, create outreach campaigns and support community-based projects centered around air quality. The program also will increase the number of air monitors in and around Fairfield, and will build community resilience through air quality mitigation projects, such as planting trees or improving community spaces to make them more appealing for foot and bike transportation.

Ultimately, the youth involved in the program will create an air quality plan for the City of Fairfield that incorporates what they have learned through research and community engagement and could set the foundation for future air quality improvement projects. This plan could serve as a model for other Solano County communities, as well as the greater region.

Sustainable Solano was one of 33 community organizations and five Native American Tribes that received a total of $10 million in grant funding from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for projects that would help reduce air pollution in communities.

The Community Air Grants program is part of CARB’s overall efforts to implement Assembly Bill 617. Community Air Grants are designed to establish a community-focused approach to improving air quality and reducing exposure to toxic air pollutants at the neighborhood level. AB 617 is unique in that it requires CARB and air districts to work with residents, businesses and other stakeholders to tackle air pollution at the community scale. The current grants elevate community voices and their specific priorities regarding air pollution where they live.

As a result, the projects funded will help communities identify areas with the most harmful air emissions and then take actions to reduce exposure or address the underlying cause of the pollution.

“The Community Air Grants provided by CARB are an important tool to help residents and Tribal communities throughout the state identify and combat the harmful effects of local air pollution — and create a cleaner environment for their families,” said CARB Chair Liane Randolph.

Read more from CARB’s press release about the Community Air Grants program and find additional resources here: https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/news/carb-awards-10-million-grants-dozens-communities-statewide-fight-air-pollution

 

About Sustainable Solano

Sustainable Solano is a countywide nonprofit organization that is dedicated to “Nurturing Initiatives for the Good of the Whole.” The organization brings together programs that support and sustain one another and the Solano County community. Initiatives include sustainable landscaping, local food, resilient neighborhoods, youth leadership, sustaining conversations and community gardens.

For more information, visit sustainablesolano.org

About CARB

CARB is the lead agency in California for cleaning up the air and fighting climate change to attain and maintain health-based air quality standards. Its mission is to promote and protect public health, welfare, and ecological resources through the effective reduction of air and climate pollutants while recognizing and considering effects on the economy.

Growing Healthier Plants and Ecosystems Regeneratively With Biology

By Michael Wedgley, Permaculture Designer and Soil Food Web Lab Technician

We are excited to be working with Michael and Hampton Bay HOA on the designs for two pilot sites that will demonstrate how lawn in common areas can be replaced with low-water, low-maintenance sustainable landscaping that is healthy, beautiful and natural. Here, Michael shares about the importance of healthy soil biology as part of that equation.

Michael Wedgley meets with a client in a permaculture garden he designed with healthy soil biology in mind.
Photo courtesy of GMC Photography and Video

Growing with biology is a decision to strike symbiosis with the natural world and allow natural systems to support the life of your plants. We can create greener, more vibrant ecosystems that support wildlife and humans more effectively and abundantly. We eliminate the need for toxic and time-consuming applications to “feed” plants and keep disease and pests at bay. By introducing biology into systems that are lacking and nurturing their establishment we can achieve balance in a system that allows us to let go of the wheel and let nature take over. This blog is meant to give a brief introduction to the natural process in action that allow for this transition.

Learn more about the Hampton Bay HOA project and Permaculture Designer Michael Wedgley on our HOA Projects page.

Who Are the Players

Fungi – Mushrooms are the fruiting body of a group of organisms known as Fungus. There are Fungi that break down material like leaves and wood, Fungi that form beneficial relationships with plants, and Fungi that parasitize plants. Fungi is the dominant nutrient-cycler in an old growth forest.

Bacteria – There is aerobic (oxygen preferring) and anaerobic (lack of oxygen preferring) bacteria. Most beneficial soil bacteria is aerobic; most disease forming bacteria is anaerobic. Bacteria help to mine nutrients from parent material and create structure in soil.

Nematodes – Nematodes are like microscopic worms. There are 3 primary groups to be aware of; bacterial feeding, fungal feeding, and root feeding. Root feeding can cause plant disease.

Protozoa – Large single celled organisms that feed on bacteria.

Nutrient Cycling

By ensuring that soil has adequate numbers of each of our microbial populations we eliminate the need for fertilizers. All soils have the necessary nutrients for plants to thrive. The biology in the soil makes those nutrients plant available through the nutrient cycle. This semi-complex interaction starts primarily with bacteria and through predation by nematodes and protozoa, excess nutrients are released into the soil.

Diversification and Disease Prevention

By ensuring that we have high and diverse populations of beneficial microbes we ensure there is no room for disease organisms to dominate and thrive. In general, just as in the human body, disease organisms in the soil and on the surface of the foliage of plants need a weak ecosystem to establish and thrive. By creating a diverse and abundant ecosystem of microbes we create a system that is impenetrable by diseases and pests.

Fungal to Bacteria Ratio and Weed Suppression

By customizing the ratio of the amount of Fungi in the soil to the amount of Bacteria in the soil, we can actually select for which plants we want to grow and eliminate weed species. To understand this, consider an old growth forest. You’ll notice that there are ferns, there are large coniferous trees, but nowhere can you find your typical garden weeds. The reason for this is the form of nitrogen released by fungi. This form of nitrogen (ammonia) is a lower ph. This is why you hear people say “blueberries prefer acidic soil.” On the other end of the spectrum (bacterially dominated) you have early succession plants like grasses. This is because the exudates created by bacteria are more alkaline. You don’t see many trees in prairies. Applying different compost preparations that have higher fungal to bacterial ratios we can begin to affect the ratio in the soil and have healthier plants and select against weed species.

Thermophilic Compost

The process in which we create compost to ensure the highest diversification of beneficial organisms and that we are able to eliminate pest organisms is through Thermophilic Composting. Using a diverse source of material, in the right balance, while maintaining aerobic conditions we are able to raise the temperature of a pile to the point that disease and pest organisms are destroyed while beneficial ones are left to thrive given the rich and diverse foods provided. We monitor the pile’s biology by assessing it under a microscope. Once the biological numbers are at our desired numbers it is ready for a number of applications.

Applications

With a microbially dominant compost that has our desired ratio we can apply the microbes through 3 primary applications.

  1. Direct compost applications – This application is recommended if the organic matter is lacking in dirt we wish to grow in. We can either till in some compost or apply to the surface of dirt.
  2. Compost extract – In this application we actually extract the microbes out of the compost and they become suspended in water. We can then apply this as a root drench to put the biology right where the plants will use it, or at areas of compaction where the bacteria can begin to loosen it up and create aerobic conditions with improved soil structure.
  3. Compost teas – Once we have an extract, we can “brew” it by adding oxygen into the water with some foods for the microbes. We let the extract bubble with aeration for roughly 24 hours while monitoring the growth under a microscope. Given time, bacteria and other microbes are able to multiply and form glues that allow them to stick to surfaces. We then spray this compost tea on the leaves of plants giving them a protective barrier from disease-causing organisms as well as allowing for nutrient exchange on the foliage of plants.

The number of applications necessary to establish a resilient and sustainable colony of beneficial microbes in the soil varies given many variables. The best way to picture what it takes is to think of settlers settling America, according to Elaine Ingham, microbiologist and researcher who created the Soil Food Web approach. Sometimes the first to arrive didn’t survive or few survived. The next ship was better prepared, or there were some settlers previously that made conditions slightly more hospitable so more were able to survive. Every subsequent ship going forward led to increasingly successful population growths until they became sustainable and reproduced and growing. It is the same with the microbes, and varies depending how hospitable or inhospitable the soil is to begin with, and how well it is protected during colonization.

Fertilizers, Pesticides, Salts, and Chemicals in Water

In establishing and maintaining healthy plants and healthy soil in a biological method we need to ensure the health and safety of the organisms. We must become caretakers of the invisible life that populates the soil beneath our feet and the foliage up above. A critical piece of this care is to ensure that their environment is not compromised by salts or chemicals which can completely eradicate the microbial populations. Fertilizers are a form of salts. All salts will dehydrate the cells of the microbes and cause death. Pesticides are created to destroy life. Even “targeted” pesticides have unwanted casualties and can upset the balance. Lastly chlorine and chloramine in water are designed to ensure lack of microbial growth in the pipes and therefore can do the same in your soil and on your plants. It is extremely important that we understand how fragile ecosystems can be. In general, these natural systems are extremely resilient, but when humans come in with their toxic approaches we upset the balance. Nature will always find a way back towards its attempt at turning everything into an old growth forest, but that takes time. If we want to have healthy and natural environments we have to help the biology along and make sure we don’t destroy it with our products.

Dec. 4, 2021: Town Hall (with video)

We will provide periodic updates on the process of creating two sustainable pilot sites at Hampton Bay HOA.

The town hall with HOA members on Dec. 4 was a great opportunity for Permaculture Designer Michael Wedgley to share the proposed designs for the two pilot sites that will replace the grass with sustainable, low-maintenance, waterwise landscaping that captures rainwater and incorporates beautiful native plants and shrubs.

Hampton Bay HOA has been incorporating sustainable practices at the property, including ending the use of chemical herbicides like glyphosate several years ago and using wood chip mulch on the hillsides.

Michael highlighted how the designs for the larger site and the smaller mailbox site will look to nature as a guide, as opposed to common approaches to landscaping that have relied on indiscriminate water usage, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and “mow and blow” maintenance. Read his talking points from the presentation here and watch the video below.

Here are some highlights:

Plants

  • The plants are planned and positioned so that they can grow to their full size without the need for constant trimming.
  • Plants in the designs serve multiple functions in the environment, including plants that pull nitrogen from the air and deposit it into the soil where it becomes more accessible to other plants.
  • Native plants are best acclimated to our wet winters and dry summers and have co-evolved in harmony with local pollinators to flower and fruit at the right times.
  • The selection of plants focused on multiple senses (how they look, their fragrance) and a small number of herbs that could be harvested and enjoyed. Multiple layers and heights of the plants make it aesthetically attractive.

Rainwater catchment

  • Capturing rainwater from the roof in basins at the larger site will give that rainwater time to sink into the soil. Multiple basins will create somewhere for the water to overflow into during larger rain storms.
  • In-ground swales (basins) will be filled with wood chips at both sites, which will act like a sponge to hold onto the rainwater until it can sink into the ground.
  • At the smaller site, a diverter will be installed that can send rainwater away from the in-ground swale during larger rain events
  • Because the sites have mostly native, low-water usage plants, they likely won’t need supplemental irrigation after a year or two

Soil

  • Michael talked about the microbes he looks for in healthy soil that help to cycle nutrients that plants need to thrive. Without this soil biology, including bacteria, nematodes, protozoa and fungi, soil cannot release those nutrients effectively to plants.
  • After Saitta’s Gardening & Landscape installs the final designs at the pilot sites, Michael will apply compost extracts to help build soil biology, which in turn will start to create the structure within the soil that will allow it to hold more water and better support plants.
  • Wood chips on top of the soil will protect it from compaction from rain and break down over time to improve the soil.
  • Read Michael’s informative paper on Growing Healthier Plants and Ecosystems Regeneratively with Biology here

The hope is that these concepts from the two pilot sites will provide ideas that can be incorporated in later phases that will replace large lawn areas in the HOA. This will make Hampton Bay HOA a model for how other HOAs could do landscaping and conserve water.

Seeking Suisun City, Fairfield & Vacaville Residents Interested in Yard Transformation

By Gabriela Estrada & Nicole Newell, Program Managers

Do you live in Suisun City, Fairfield or Vacaville? Are you interested in working with your neighbors and community to install a demonstration food forest garden or other sustainable landscaping elements in the coming months at your home or a community site, like a place of worship or school?

Sustainable Solano is currently looking for private or public sites and residents that are interested in working with their neighbors to transform these properties to grow food, create habitat and build healthy soil, while using water efficiently. The search for these sites is targeted in specific neighborhoods that are vulnerable to flood and fire.

We envision neighborhoods better equipped to adapt and thrive in the face of environmental, social and economic changes. The need for strong communities where people know and care for their neighbors is more apparent than ever, and projects such as these through our Resilient Neighborhoods and Solano Sustainable Backyards programs can help to build resilience in our neighborhoods as we connect with one another.

Suisun City and Fairfield

We are looking for residents in Suisun City and Fairfield (in the areas outlined in red in the map below) that are interested in working collaboratively to transform their neighborhoods into robust regenerative urban ecosystems that mimic nature in performing valuable functions like producing food, filtering air and cycling water. We are looking for sites to create beautiful and productive gardens that build healthy soil while using water wisely.

Vacaville

In August 2020, the LNU Lightning Complex Fire affected many Vacaville residents. We are looking to identify a private property in Vacaville that was damaged by the fires to begin to restore the ecological health of the land through the installation of a demonstration garden that would incorporate best practices for designing in a fire zone.

All of these projects will be done through public, educational installations that share knowledge and techniques used to address flooding or fire risk as well as sustainable landscaping principles. If you live within the highlighted areas of the map of Fairfield and Suisun City or your yard was damaged in the LNU Fire and you are interested in creating waterwise, edible food forest gardens, please fill out the Sustainable Landscape Interest Form or contact nicole@sustainablesolano.org. Once we receive the form, we will be looking to schedule site assessments for properties that suit the programs. By February, we hope to select multiple sites for yard transformations.

We are looking forward to hearing about your vision for your neighborhood!

CSA Farm Spotlight: Wilkinson Acres

By Sustainable Solano

This is an ongoing series profiling local farms that have Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) available in Solano County. CSAs create a way for community members to buy a share of the harvest directly from local farmers. Customers pay a set amount and receive a box of seasonal produce or other farm products in return. Such arrangements help farmers receive a greater share of the money paid, bring customers fresh, local produce and promote health, community and the local economy.

Mike and Courtney Wilkinson of Wilkinson Acres

Mike and Courtney Wilkinson started thinking about their future together after they were married — and what they really wanted to do with their lives.

“After a lot of discussion, we decided what we wanted more than anything was a lifestyle — one in which we could provide good, healthy food for our community while enjoying the freedoms (and responsibilities) of owning our own small business,” Courtney said.

The two left their jobs as a building engineer and high school teacher and started Wilkinson Acres in Fairfield about a year ago, where they use low-till and organic practices to grow vegetables and fruit for their customers, which include restaurants, weekly visitors to their farm stand and, starting in January, CSA members.

Below is a Q&A with Courtney about Wilkinson Acres:

  • Wilkinson Acres
  • Fairfield
  • 5 acres
  • 2019

 

When did you start offering a CSA? Why was it important to offer?

Our first ever CSA starts in January 2021! 2020 was a crazy year of pivoting due to COVID-19. The closure of many of our restaurant accounts required a shift in our business model towards our direct community. We realized that now more than ever it’s important for us to make healthy, organic food accessible to our immediate neighborhood and county. The CSA model allows our community to give us a boost at the beginning of the season, ensuring we can provide them with the best of our product for the 16-week season!

Are there special perks for CSA members? Why do people tend to subscribe?

There are definitely perks to being a member! For starters, all members get an extra 10% off at the farm stand (on-site), as well as a weekly Member Newsletter, featuring recipe ideas for the week’s produce. We’re working on more perks, in conjunction with some of our farm stand partner vendors. Stay tuned!

What’s something that makes your farm stand out?

Our organic certification. We’re certified organic by CCOF and, as far as we can tell, we are the only officially certified organic farm in the Fairfield/Suisun Valley area. We take a tremendous amount of pride in our organic transparency and the quality of our certified organic product. We are looking to implement even more organic and sustainable practices around the farm in the years to come.

We use low-till growing practices to build soil health, which, in turn, grows better produce. Encouraging all the good bugs and bacteria to live in our soil by not tilling up their ecosystem and by adding in organic compost benefits the farmer and the plants. These beneficials, as we call them, help the plants take in and process nutrients, resulting in healthier, tastier food. Low-till farming is environmentally friendly, sustainable, and low-waste. It may not be the easiest way to farm, but we believe sustainable growing practices create better farms, food and families.

Anything exciting on the horizon? What do you see happening and what do you want to see happen with interest in local food?

The opening of our first CSA! We’re focusing hard on making the CSA kickoff in January an exceptional customer experience. Check out our website (WilkinsonAcres.com) for all the details.

With regards to interest in local food — we’d love to see more! We’ve had the great fortune to start creating relationships with a lot of passionate foodies in Solano County, but we know there are so many more people in our county that can and should benefit from the fantastic variety in the local ag and hospitality industries.

Anything else you’d like to add?

A big huge thank you to all of our customers! It’s been a wild couple of years for all of us and we know we would not be here without them. We are so deeply grateful for the welcome we’ve received from the agricultural community in Solano County. If you haven’t visited us yet, come see us every Saturday, 8 am-noon at the farm stand [winter hours: 10 am-2 pm]. We’re looking forward to meeting you!

Wilkinson Acres has its Solano County CSA drop site at the farm. Learn more about how to sign up here.

Find out more about local CSAs here.

Stocking Your Pantry for Uncertain Times

By Lisa Núñez-Hancock, Culinary Arts Instructor

Whether it is fire season, an earthquake, a pandemic, the busy pace of life, or unexpected guests, it is always a good idea to have a well-stocked pantry of healthy, nonperishable items on hand. Eating healthy foods, maintaining a good gut microbiome, getting enough sleep, and minimizing stress are all important to optimum health.

Having nutritious staples in your pantry will steer you in the direction of eating better and staying healthy. Beans, legumes, whole grains, dried pastas, brown rice and rolled oats are all foods with a long shelf life and can be a base for soups, stews, salads and grain bowls. Combined with fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits, eggs and sides of meat, if desired, the variation of nutritious meals you can create with basic staple foods is endless.

In no way am I implying that you should be stockpiling or hoarding food. That is ultimately wasteful and not neighborly. I also recommend practicality and economy when furnishing your pantry. Purchasing local products whenever possible supports local farmers and food crafters, and benefits both the local economy and our immediate communities.

There is a culinary pleasure and satisfaction in throwing open a well-socked cupboard and being able to create a meal on the fly. Of course, there is Google and you could get someone else’s recipes, but there is a lot to be said for being creative, inventive and spontaneous, in life in general, and especially in the kitchen.

Beans and legumes have a good shelf life and are a healthy source of essential vitamins and minerals. They are an important plant-based protein and a good source of fiber. They are easy to prepare and versatile in recipes. Rancho Gordo, a company specializing in heirloom beans and located in Napa, stocks a selection of glamorous beans in a rainbow of colors and flavors. In my pantry right now, I have Marcella white, Midnight black, a beautiful purple bean called Aycote Morado, and a quirky heirloom called Vaquero (I love them — they are spotted black and white and remind me of miniature cows). All beans are wonderful and make delicious one-pot soups and stews.

Grains! If any of you have attended my cooking workshops, you know I am all about the grain bowl, a bit of a fanatic in fact. Ancient grains like quinoa, millet, farro, bulgar and amaranth, to name just a few, are healthy for you, and full of important nutrients, minerals and essential fiber. Although not local, I have been having a long-distance relationship with Bob’s Red Mill for many years and his grains makes me happy and healthy more than I can tell you!

Dried pastas are always good to have on hand, especially if you have children and picky eaters in your home. Combined with a variety of innovative herb and nut pesto sauces or tomato-based sauces that you can make from your garden’s yield or CSA box. Add shelf-stable olives, capers and marinated artichokes to create pasta dishes that are easy and quick to make, and a filling meal for one or a group. Locally produced Baia Pasta in Oakland is a good source.

Which brings me to the subject of canning and preserving. If you are growing your own vegetables, a member of a community garden, get CSA boxes, or frequent your farmers market, you should know how to can and preserve your produce, so as not to waste a bit of nature’s beautiful bounty. Your homemade canned products will be a “lush” addition to your pantry of staples, as well as a source of pleasure when cooking with them. I can’t tell you the satisfaction of cultivating a plant, harvesting it, and “putting it up” (on your pantry shelf or in your “root cellar”). Knowing where your food comes from, how it was prepared and that you created canned tomatoes from your summer crop or your own delicious pickles and jams is truly a heightened experience.

Although not necessarily shelf stable, don’t forget an important realm of crafted foods — probiotics like sauerkraut, pickles and fermented vegetables. They must contain lactobacillus acidophilus, which is essential for good gut health and proper immune functioning.

And especially, don’t forget the spices! Think of your spice drawer as a medicine cabinet. Spices not only make food taste better, they are medicinal, have healing properties that will boost your immune system, add much needed spice to life, and keep you healthy.

A short caveat: I have listed local food sources, but I understand that not everyone can afford these items. The basic staple list can be adapted to fit your budget with an eye to supporting our local food producers when possible.

Suggested Items for Stocking Your Pantry

Below are some items as well as local sources. You can find locally sourced staples at some of these retail shops and restaurants.

Beans

  • Rancho Gordo

Grains

  • Bob’s Red Mill, Community Grains

Pastas

  • Baia Pasta, Community Grains

Rice & Noodles

  • Lotus Foods

Olive Oil

  • Il Fiorello, De Vero, Katz & Company, Soul Food Farm, Sepay Groves

Vinegar

  • Il Fiorello, Sepay Groves, Katz & Company

Local Honey

  • Be Love Farm, E.G. Lewellen’s, (check your CSA box add-ons)

Nuts

  • Nut-N-Other Farms, Sierra Orchard, Cal Yee Farm

Dried Fruit

  • Cal Yee Farm, Frog Hollow Farms

Sauerkraut

  • Salt & Savor

 Pickles

  • The Cultured Pickle Shop

 Tea & Coffee

  • Numi (tea)/ Moschetti, Ritual (coffee)

Jam

  • Erickson Ranch, Bridgeway Farms, Inna, Frog Hollow Farm

Hot Sauces and Salsas

  • The Salsa Chick

Granola

  • Nana Joes, Tom’s ‘Best Ever’, Frog Hollow Farms

Spices

  • Whole Spice, Savory Spice Shop, Lhasa Karnak, Bazaar

Mustard

  • Mendocino Mustard

Canned Fish

  • Katy’s Smokehouse

Basic Baking Ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, yeast

Note: Have a local source for some of these items we should add? Let us know at allison@sustainablesolano.org 

Access Food Resources Here

Discover recipes with seasonal ingredients

Learn more about Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) — boxes of produce from local farms

Learn what’s in season now

Find out more on our Local Food page

Explore our Community Resilience Resources for more food resources