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 

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!