Mangia! (Let’s Eat!)

Food Forest Keeper: Carla and Duane

Duane and I had this grand idea to re-landscape the backyard. Then we figured if we were going to install plants they might as well be plants that would feed us. As I did research on what I might want to bring into the yard, I learned of Sustainable Solano and their workshops on creating food forests. I attended as many workshops as I could to learn how to build a food forest that would be as productive as possible with as little work as possible to maintain. The idea of permaculture and working with nature to establish systems for the landscape to support itself was a revelation.

Our first hurdle would be to remove all the landscape rock around the perimeter of the backyard. Well, if we had to move all that rock, we might as well find a way to use all that rock. More online research brought me to the idea of gabion wall raised planter beds. Once we started down the ‘repurposing’ path, it was difficult to un-see the potential of ‘junk.’ Both our back and front yards make use of much repurposed ‘junk’ including headboards (vertical growing supports), cast iron tub (edible plants pond), trampoline frame (kiwi vine support), redwood stumps (seating and aesthetics), old fence boards (many building projects), pallets (compost bin), sink (worm bin), buckets (wicking pots), and IBC totes (rainwater catchment).

When I learned of the Solano Sustainable Backyards program, I could hardly wait for Sustainable Solano to begin installations in Vacaville so we could apply to become Food Forest Keepers. The backyard was well underway in its transformation, but we wanted to convert the front yard to make food more readily available for our neighbors. Also, our backyard is not conducive to roof/rainwater swales, but the front yard is. We were delighted when we were selected for this front yard project!

Site Details

Installation Date:

February 2019


500 square feet

Sun Exposure:

6-8 hours



Number of Swales:


Secondary Water:

Lawn conversion


Roof water diverted to swales

Total annual water impact:

47,802 gallons


Designer: Kathleen Huffman


Plant List:


Kiwi, Loquat, Lemon guava, Artichoke, Blueberry, Aronia, Scarlet runner bean, Strawberries, Blackberry, Elderberry, Cherry berries, French sorrel, Red-veined sorrel, Chard, Red Malabar, spinach, Tree collards, Dandelion, Yacon, Amaranth

Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Beans, Peppers, Garlic, Red onion, Red zinger hibiscus, Nasturtium, Three sisters garden of corn, beans, and squash, Bottle Gourd

Lemon balm, Chamomile, Feverfew, Motherwort, Clary sage, Culinary sage, Purple sage, Oregano, Marjoram, Dittany of Crete, Lemon thyme, Garlic chives, Chives, Basil, Thai basil, Purple basil, Parsley, Celery, Winter savory, Rosemary, Fennel, Lemongrass

Agastache, Salvia – Bee’s Bliss, Salvia – Mesa Azure, Salvia – Greggy, Buckwheat, Golden feather chrysanthemum, Black sage, Lavender: Goodwin Creek (crafting, not cooking), Hidcote (fresh, dried, culinary), Elizabeth (fresh, dried, culinary), Grosso (fresh, dried, oil), Phenomenal (fresh, dried, culinary), French (landscaping), California fushcia, California aster, Calendula, Firecracker Plant, Blue pincushion plant, Purple pincushion plant, 4 o’clocks, Bee plant, Ajuga, Mugwort, Coleus barbatus, Mullein, Lambs ear, Globe amaranth, Statice, Creeping thyme, Shasta daisy, Iris


Installation was a cool misty February morning. We were delighted with the community who came to learn and help with the installation. After a tour of the backyard and a class on permaculture systems by Kathleen Huffman, we set to work digging the swales. Many hands make light work and in no time the swales were dug, plumbed, and back filled with woodchips. A little lunch to sustain us and then we installed the drip system and planted. So many pollinator attractants and edible plants! After just a few months of growth, Duane commented that he was surprised how much color there is in the front yard. Watch a video from the installation here.

Mangia before the transformation and lawn conversion

Vision for the Future:

The idea is to make the front yard food forest available to the neighborhood to harvest as they like. The most gratifying part is seeing the neighbor children harvesting strawberries from the yard. We also revel in the comments from our neighbors like, “Oh, that’s what that is?!” or “You can use that for tea?!” Our vision for the future is that more and more neighbors and community members will harvest from the front yard and be inspired to plant edibles in their own yards. We delight in offering spontaneous tours of the front and back yards. We have since added an additional element to the backyard — a chicken coop (built with repurposed materials, of course) and three laying hens. More parts to the integrated system — pest control, garden tillers, compost builders and eggs for more food. Mangía! Let’s Eat!