By Allison Nagel


On Saturday, about 15 volunteers arrived at the Enchanted Cottage Garden for the first day of transforming the Vallejo home’s front yard into a food forest.

Eight cubic yards of mulch, a stack of cardboard and a nondescript patch of grass in the front yard greeted volunteers as they arrived. Blue lines detailed where swales would go; orange outlined the edges of the planned garden. Shovels, pickaxes, wheelbarrows and trowels waited at the ready.

We moved to the backyard where we learned what to expect for the day. Sustainable Solano Executive Director Elena Karoulina talked about the food forests the organization had created in Benicia — gardens that will be featured in the 7 Food Forests tour on May 20. She talked about bringing the program to Vallejo, starting with this day’s work.

Then it was time for Kathleen Huffman, owner of The Repurposed Oakie, to go over her plans for the front-yard food forest, with several fruit trees surrounded by bushes, lower vegetation and vines. She walked the group through the plan for the day to create something that nurtured the soil, starting with laying the groundwork on Saturday.

We shifted to the front of the house, where the volunteers gathered in a circle, taking a mindful moment to appreciate the ground beneath our feet and the way we would combine our efforts to achieve something bigger than ourselves for the greater good.

We started digging the trenches for the swales, roughly a shovel-blade deep by a blade wide. Earth piled up next to the swales, ready to be shaped into berms for planting. At the side of the house where the rainspout ended, we dug out another trench for the pipe that would funnel rainwater from the roof into one of the swales where it could spread out and soak in. Pickaxes were used to create tiny trenches around the edge of areas that would be mulched, digging out dirt and pulling up grass.

Stakes around the yard showed where various trees would go, including apple trees, Bacon avocado trees and a fig tree that had sprouted in a neighbor’s yard. Ever the learning experience, those of us who knew little about planting fruit trees worked alongside volunteers with intimate knowledge of the depth of the hole, the value of mixing in amendments with the local soil, the need to create rough edges on the sides of the hole and even how to face the tree so it could best grow in the sun and wind in that yard.

Once the trees were in and the swales dug and filled with mulch, there was a natural pause — a perfect time to take a break, sit in the shade and continue conversations started during the digging and start new dialogues over lunch.

Rested and ready after lunch, the group started the next stage, laying out and staking in the cardboard and then mulching, mulching, mulching. Teams worked shoveling the mulch, pushing it over the cardboard in wheelbarrows and raking it out 3-inches deep. Before long, the day’s tasks were over. Many hands had made light work, and the yard was transformed.

It was a wonderful day of collaboration and conversation and left us with a satisfying feeling of accomplishment to see what had come of those hours of work.

Saturday’s efforts will be followed by another day of work May 13 at the Enchanted Cottage Garden to put in the other layers of plants that will truly create a food forest retreat. Before then, on May 6, installation of a greywater system will take place at The Ripple Effect.