Bay Area Butterfly Festival Lands May 19

By Annina Puccio, executive director of the Monarch Milkweed Project

The Monarch Milkweed Project and the Vallejo People’s Garden are hosting the inaugural Bay Area Butterfly Festival on May 19!

Join us and experience the beautiful view of the Carquinez Strait from the boardwalk on Mare Island while learning about the importance of protecting our pollinators. This is a family-friendly community festival!

On two stages, fantastic performers and live bands will delight you with their talents. Children’s free games and hands-on activities will entertain young ones throughout the day. Musical performances will fill the air — dancing is not required, but it is definitely recommended! Artisans and small businesses will sell their art, wares, and many fantastic sustainable goods.

On a third stage, community groups will lead pop-up workshops on a wide range of exciting topics, which will include a talk sponsored by Sustainable Solano by Heath Griffith of Grow With The Flow on how to turn your lawn into a native garden. Food vendors and food trucks will offer a variety of cuisines, including vegan and gluten-free options.

We will be hosting over 100 vendors/exhibitors from various organizations and nonprofits at the event. There will be a focus on sustainable living, clean water practices, and environmental education.

This festival is a low-to-no-waste event focusing on commemorating the historic monarch overwintering site on Mare island, as well as the importance of sustainable practices and saving our pollinators — especially the iconic monarch butterfly and our various native bee species.

Learn more about attending here

On Facebook: https://fb.me/e/3uncrnQqk

Register on Eventbrite: www.bit.ly/BABF2024

Volunteer here

All volunteers get the following: free food and drink, a volunteer festival T-shirt and two free classes at the Vallejo People’s Garden.

Sign up here: https://forms.gle/o3Bx27kFusyriu2P6

Testing Your Soil: A Toolkit for Gardeners

By Patrick Murphy, Program Manager

Soil testing is an accurate and definite way to get an idea about how your soil is doing and learn what issues you might be dealing with. But what type of tests are there? What information are you looking for? How do you determine which test is best? You may want to follow a “Learn. Test. Act.” approach. Learn about the site’s history, test your soil appropriately, and act upon the test results.

Learn about your future gardening location — The test you choose depends on the history of your site. Solano County was incorporated in 1850, and the county has seen a variety of industries come and go. As such, many possible urban agriculture sites lack a robust history. Do your research before you begin:

  • What used to be near this garden space?
  • What possible sources of contamination are there?
  • What will you be growing?

You may wish to contact the local museum, or check out some online sources (see our toolkit for some suggestions) to learn more about your site’s history.

Test your soil appropriately — A variety of tests are available to everyday people and many are fairly inexpensive. The most accessible type of test is probably a “nutrient panel” (often called a “soil paste” test), which gives you an idea of the nutrient content of your soil. This will give you a breakdown of each nutrient, soil pH, salinity, etc., depending on the lab and exact type of test. You can learn more about what needs to be addressed in your garden (e.g. a lack of nitrogen, too high a pH, etc.).

The other common type of test would be some variety of heavy metal test. It is important to consider the variety of plants and produce you plan to harvest. Leafy vegetables (lettuce, kale, spinach) are known as hyperaccumulators and draw heavy metals up into their leaves. A key property of many leafy greens is their ability to accumulate heavy metals in their tissues without the traditional signs of toxicity. Do not assume plants will “reject” contamination; a significant number of plants humans consume can accumulate heavy metals in their edible areas. If you are concerned about heavy metals, such as lead and arsenic, you should test the soil you plan to grow in.

Primary Pollutant Metals-13 (“PPM-13”) and the California Administrative Manual-17 (“CAM-17”) are the standard tests to determine if you have heavy metals in your soil. PPM-13 looks for the 13 most common heavy metals, CAM-17 for the 17 most common. Either of these tests are perfect for locations where you believe there is a chance of heavy metal contamination. Additional tests exist to determine if soil has been contaminated with things like DDT, gasoline, etc. For more information about tests and costs, check out our soil contamination toolkit, or consult an environmental health specialist.

Act with the information you have — Once you have your results, decide what to do. You may have perfect soil that requires only that you begin planting. If you discover you do have a significant level of soil contamination in your garden space, you may want to consider alternative locations, remediation methods, or some combination of both. There are a number of good resources from agricultural offices and university extension programs, some are linked in our soil contamination toolkit. Always make sure the remediation technique you’re using is safe, effective, and observable. If you are attempting remediation, you will need to test your soil at regular intervals to evaluate how effective your efforts have been.

At Sustainable Solano, we have selected two potential sites that we plan to test over time to not only see what the soil composition looked like at the start of our work on these gardens, but also how our approach to building healthy soil and using permaculture practices affect the ongoing health of those gardens. We look forward to offering future updates on what this “Learn. Test. Act.” approach yields.

Goodbye Grass

By Tereasa Christopherson-Tso

Tereasa is a Solano County-based artist who is working with Arts Benicia on an “artivism” exhibit focused on water conservation. Tereasa reached out to SuSol about visiting one of the demonstration food forests established through our Solano Sustainable Backyards program, and visited “Living and Learning” in Benicia, where she beautifully captured the garden in spring. She has given us permission to share her painting and artist statement, which we feel encapsulates why these gardens are so important.

You can visit “Living and Learning” and other demonstration food forest gardens during our annual Benicia & Vallejo garden tour on April 27. Learn more and register here!

Keep an eye out for a special exhibition that brings together Arts Benicia and Vallejo Center for the Arts for “Stewarding our Water Resources: Solano Artists Create, Collaborate & Educate” from May 25 through June 23.

Goodbye Grass, Acrylic, 18”x24”

I have always been a lover of pure nature where I find joy in exploring landscapes in their wildest forms and where nature alone stewards the land. The arresting beauty of the forest and the awesome vastness of the ocean have never ceased to stir my soul with creative inspiration. This past year, however, I began exploring what it means to not only be an admirer of plants and bodies of water but how to better steward them. I began attending numerous workshops held by Sustainable Solano and touring gardens they had installed for people’s yards and community gardens. This inspired my garden efforts this year and the desire to create a garden as Monet did to inspire his paintings but also one that takes into account the high value of water as a limited resource here in northern California.

I found inspiration for this painting from a front yard garden in Benecia that Sustainable Solano installed. I had the pleasure of working with their Program Manager Nicole [Newell] to tour gardens I was interested in painting for this project. Here drought tolerant plants are seen throughout the landscape, a pathway of wood mulch provides a protective layer over the dirt, and native golden poppies have sprouted up in all their super-bloom glory. By excluding grass and using more sustainable garden practices this yard requires very little water yet does not sacrifice beauty.

-Tereasa Christopherson-Tso
Take a tour of the “Living and Learning” garden in this video, and join us for the Benicia & Vallejo Demonstration Food Forest Garden Tour on April 27!

Becoming a Democratically Managed Organization

By Elena Karoulina & Allison Nagel, Co-Executive Directors

People often think “sustainability” means renewable energy or control of carbon emissions. While it can mean those things (and more, as defined in many Climate Action and Sustainability plans around the globe), we believe that sustainability begins in our hearts and resides in our ability to live well together in harmony with each other and our planet. At Sustainable Solano, we operate within these global frameworks of carbon sequestration and resource conservation, yet we consider creation of healthy social forms our main goal.

We bring people together for immediate and personal cooperation, for working together towards something that is bigger than each of us individually — for the good of the whole. Our public events strive to give participants the experience of a healthy social life, of seeing and valuing each other and our unique contribution to the world as part of an experience that helps us connect with ourselves, each other and the Earth.

The SuSol team and board members (present and past) at a May gathering to recognize founding Executive Director Elena Karoulina’s leadership as we grow as a democratically managed organization

Our team at Sustainable Solano is also a unique social organism, a living and breathing being that requires our attention and care. For a few years now we’ve been engaged in inquiry around what it means to uphold a healthy organization that is effective and impactful for the outside world, while supporting our personal and professional growth and development, respecting our authentic expression, and valuing our individual contributions.

During the pandemic, we began learning about Teal organizations, a growing trend in the business and nonprofit world of creating self-managing organizations. We were intrigued by this holistic and empowering approach, yet we felt we did not have enough tools and resources to fully embrace it at the time.

Last year, a few of our team members joined the Collaborate to Co-Liberate training from the Nonprofit Democracy Network and it finally clicked! In the network, we met many fellow nonprofits following the same path towards democratically managed organizations and learned many tools to manifest this vision. The generous long-term capacity-building support of the Magic Cabinet Foundation made it possible to try this approach for our organization.

Our professional world is largely hierarchical: the direction is given from the top of the organization and doing is at the bottom. The nonprofit sector, built on the corporate model (which, in turn, was built on the military model) is no different: the boards set the course, put things in motion, and hire an executive director to watch over the staff and report back to the board. This picture is no longer serving our evolving collective consciousness and the needs of our shared humanity.

Sustainable Solano has always been different: it’s a collegial, non-hierarchical, positive organization where the board and team work closely together and major decisions have always been made collectively. We are now deepening, defining and codifying this approach.

Our work is arranged around three major areas: Green Infrastructure, Local Food and Community Resiliency. Each area (we call them “guilds” to reflect their organic nature and our roots in permaculture) selects their Guild Leads, who for a limited time (18-24 months) become members of the Leadership Circle and assume a leadership role within their guilds. The Leadership Circle together with the Board of Directors is responsible for all key decisions for the organization (strategic direction, funding, compensation, key partnerships). These decisions are not done in isolation behind closed doors: they are brought to each Guild for discussion, and the feedback comes back to the Leadership Circle. A circular, non-hierarchical, fluid and transparent decision-making structure is one of the key features of our vision.

The second important feature is distribution of the key business functions across the organization. In a traditional model everything is fragmented and often disconnected: people doing the organization’s public-facing work have very little understanding or say in the matters of HR, finance, legal or infrastructure. In democratically managed organizations, these functions are assumed by the team members as an integral part of their core responsibilities, with added compensation to reflect that work. We call these four key areas of operation “hubs.” Our team members have an option to chose one of those as an added responsibility and assume an active role in the operations of their hub and key decisions there.

This approach does not lend itself to a traditional role of a “CEO on top of the C-Suite” either. To recognize the nature of the distributed leadership model and to support professional growth of our team members, we’ve also transitioned Sustainable Solano to a co-executive director model. We strongly believe that leading an organization like Sustainable Solano requires “home-grown” leaders who have worked on the ground, understand the organization, its mission and its culture, have received support and professional development from the organization and are ready to take on extra responsibilities. Co-executive directors will step up from the Leadership Circle; the position is also rotational, requiring a 3-4 year commitment.

We are thrilled to introduce our first co-executive director, Allison Nagel, who will join our long-term founding Executive Director Elena Karoulina in this role. With this transition, Elena’s title is now also co-executive director. Under this model, we hope to share the responsibilities and accountability held as co-executive directors, while retaining a firm footing in the community-based programs that are the vital core of Sustainable Solano’s work.

We hope our example will inspire other nonprofits and businesses in Solano County to follow. Please let us know if you have questions or comments — we would love to be in communication with organizations walking this path.

Elena Karoulina
Co-Executive Director

Allison Nagel
Co-Executive Director

Reflection, Gratitude and Anticipation for What Lies Ahead

A letter from incoming SuSol Board President Maggie Kolk

The past few years have been challenging in so many ways for most of us.  Sustainable Solano’s strength and resilience under the leadership of Executive Director Elena Karoulina in the face of these challenges is remarkable. Marilyn Bardet, outgoing Board of Directors president, has played no small part in supporting Elena, the team, and the board through demanding times. Marilyn will be a hard act to follow. Fortunately, she will remain a board member, and I am confident that I can rely on her future support and nurturing mentorship.

As we begin a new year and as I take on the role of board president, reflection, gratitude, and anticipation for what’s to come are at the forefront of my mind

Reflection and Gratitude

Sustainable Solono - Nurturing Initiatives for the Good of the WholeTrue to our mission of “Nurturing Initiatives for the Good of the Whole,” SuSol continues to grow and expand countywide programs to support and sustain the Solano County community. Like any organization, the team experienced both change and growth in 2022. We welcomed new team members, said farewell to others, and look forward to bringing on additional dedicated, enthusiastic team members in 2023.  The newest member of our board of directors, Treasurer John Uselman, brings the skill and professional expertise needed as we move forward into our next phase.

The key ingredient for the continuing growth and success of SuSol is the dedication and devotion of all of the people who make up the team managing and supporting our programs — sustainable landscaping, local food, resilient communities, youth engagement, sustaining conversations, and community gardens. (I proudly share that Avant Garden on First Street in Benicia provided over 1,000 lbs of fresh organically grown produce to the Benicia community in 2022. We are over the moon grateful for our volunteers who helped in this effort!)

Wholehearted appreciation and gratitude are sent to the entire Sustainable Solano team and volunteers for their commitment and hard work. To paraphrase Proust: you are “the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

We also are lucky to have the continuous support of funders who see the value of SuSol’s work here in the county, including the Solano County Water Agency, which first helped the organization grow from Benicia to throughout the county and continues to support our Solano Sustainable Backyards program today, and Solano Public Health, which saw the value in community gardens that increased access to fresh produce into Solano communities and moved that to action by supporting our Solano Gardens program. From the big funders to the individual donors, we are grateful to have the support of the community.

Details of SuSol’s accomplishments and activities can be found on the What’s Growing? blog.

Looking Forward to 2023

While I do admit to a bit of trepidation taking on a new leadership role, my excitement for the future of Sustainable Solano mitigates any fears I have about filling those big Marilyn Bardet shoes!

The future is bright for SuSol with existing programs flourishing and new support mechanisms coming from respected valuable resources. The perfect holiday gift arrived early in December in the form of a capacity-building support grant from a Bay Area agency. This grant is just the boost SuSol needs to transform our organization in the coming years.

Brilliant team members and supportive, experienced board members are committed to thinking outside the proverbial box and bringing new innovative ideas to the table. 2023 promises to be exciting and transformative for SuSol. To quote Walt Disney, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we are curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Finally, do you ask yourself “What can I do to live a more sustainable lifestyle and reduce the effects of climate change?” With a variety of programs to choose from, I urge you to take the leap and get involved in one or more of SuSol’s important sustainability programs. What is your passion — Air Quality, Local Food, Youth Engagement, Workforce Development? Attend SuSol events, volunteer for one of our programs, and become a friend of Sustainable Solano by donating to support our mission.

Wishing all of our Sustainable Solano community the very best for a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous 2023.

Maggie Kolk
President, Board of Directors
Sustainable Solano

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

By Sustainable Solano

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

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

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

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

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

Slideshow

Board President Marilyn Bardet

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

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

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