By Nicole Newell, Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

Volunteers install a demonstration food forest in Vacaville through the Solano Sustainable Backyards program

Water, air, healthy food, the desire for connection with each other and our ecosystem — we all need these basics to survive and thrive. The Solano Sustainable Backyards program educates the community on the benefits of living in harmony with our ecosystem and the importance of building healthy soil, growing food, trees and providing habitat while using our precious resources efficiently. It is with deep gratitude as manager of this program that I write this blog. This work has given me a meaningful way to serve a community that I have grown to love.

Since 2016 we have received funding from the Solano County Water Agency (SCWA) to install demonstration food forest gardens throughout the county through the Solano Sustainable Backyards Program.  These gardens are all designed around saving water but they are so much more. All of the sites started as either a lawn or a barren space and through community education events were transformed into food forest gardens.

Community members and volunteers joined us on Oct. 17-18 to install a demonstration food forest in Vacaville called Blooming Beneficial Biome. This was the first in-person installation since the pandemic began, and we were grateful for everyone who turned out to create this vibrant ecosystem. People are initially drawn to garden installations to learn how to transform their landscapes. While digging swales, moving mulch and planting, many meaningful conversations take place and the day ends with new friendships.

These food forest gardens serve as a community space where people gather to share personal stories while participating in the creation of a garden. These gardens use water efficiently to create an ecosystem that provides habitat and food and a sacred place to take solace from a chaotic world.

SCWA produced two promotional videos that highlight our collaborative partnership that spreads the message of saving water while creating ecosystem and community.

The food forest keepers are the residents that care for these gardens. You can often find them attending our educational workshops, passing on excess food within their communities and sharing their wisdom and experience. Each keeper has unique strengths and abilities to serve the community, as evidenced by the work they do. Heather established Food is Free Solano and provides excess produce to food stand sites throughout the county; Stacy is always inviting us into his food forest to teach people about his yard transformation, including in this year’s virtual garden tour; Carla recently hosted an outdoor film screening of Kiss the Ground in her yard. Many times when I visit a garden I am given some precious gift of food. Melissa gave me a bottle of strawberry rose jam; Nam, a jar of lemon preserves. This is a community of people that truly care for one another and pass on their excess.

Sustainable Solano started as Benicia Community Gardens, growing into backyard food forests in Benicia. Based on the success of Benicia Sustainable Backyards, SCWA provided the funds for our organization to serve all of Solano County’s communities in exponential ways. This has led to many other programs that continue to provide resources for Solano County while creating meaningful relationships.

The Solano Sustainable Backyards program started as individual private sites within the community, but is expanding to grow the Resilient Neighborhood concept. Resilient Neighborhoods highlight ecological features while building community connection to make a neighborhood better equipped to face the ongoing challenges of our time. We continue to listen to the community to see what resources they need to transform their landscapes and then we look for ways to support. This fall we are planning our first demonstration food forest installation taught in Spanish! We also are looking at future opportunities to transform larger public land that would serve as sites for education about healthy ecosystems.

May our partnership with the Solano County Water Agency and the communities we serve continue to have a positive ripple effect in our world. Thank you SCWA!