By: Gabriela Estrada, Project Coordinator for Sustainable Solano

As a new member of Sustainable Solano, I have had the pleasure of interacting with different members that play key roles in advancing a message of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share. While the message is clear and the work that has been put forth just as fantastic, it has been even more interesting discovering the instances and uniqueness of everyone’s relation to different aspects of sustainability and permaculture.

This month in Vacaville, while reflecting on this, I had the pleasure of learning about sustainable landscaping through presentations from local sustainable landscape experts, Jeff Barton and Kathleen Huffman.

The first of three workshops were led by Jeff Barton, whose lighthearted and authentic demeanor allowed for his audience to become engage and comfortably ask questions. During his presentation, Jeff spoke about his journey through sustainability and the tremendous impact that joining Sustainable Solano and digging his first swale had on him. This experience made him realize that “The solution to a lot of the problems is embarrassingly simple: We need to go back to basics and ask what the soil needs”.

This statement immediately allowed for people to reflect on and to firmly nod their heads. As the presentation continued, it became more of a conversation, and people voiced questions and concerns, to which Jeff did his best to answer, given his experience with similar problems. He shared that getting a pineapple sage plant, helps monitor the water of the entire garden, since it’s a plant that is very receptive to water usage, and encourage everyone to get one. I’m currently still looking for one.

While he spoke, it was clear that what he is passionate about the land and the people in it. For Jeff, it is a people first approach that will be key in making the world more sustainable. As such, we were encouraged as an audience to do just that, take care of our neighbor by sharing surpluses.

As the workshop continued, it was interesting to see how engaged people were and how responsive they were to the topic by chiming in their own ideas. While I really appreciated the level of engagement from everyone, what caught my attention the most was the level of engagement that his son (one of the youngest people in the room) had about the topic, and how full of curiosity he was. Given that he is the next generation, I see a bright future ahead of us.

For the second and third workshop, I had the pleasure of hearing from Kathleen Huffman, who proudly shared with her audience that she was from Oklahoma and that she still said things like “Ya’ll”. After a couple chuckles from the room, she shared her experiences of growing up on a farm in Oklahoma, with wind mills, and the ways that her upbringing shaped her future. Throughout her talk, we got to see pictures of how she transformed her own backyard and  learned about her design process.

She shared how everyone can become more sustainable simply by changing our way of thinking and “finding better ways to take care of the soil in ways that makee sense for our needs”. As the presentation continued, it became clear that Kathleen was passionate about creating systemic long-term solutions for the world, and that the way she approached solutions was shaped by her own lived experiences.

In both workshops, Kathleen shared tricks she learned along the way that had helped keep her garden pest free like using coffee grinds from a local coffee roaster to take care of slug problems and using worms as little workers of her yard. As I saw her audience quickly writing notes and ask questions, I realized that one of the things I appreciated most about hearing her talk was her narrative and how she approached issues by observing and doing her research.

The principles of permaculture are Earth care, People care and Fair share ,and it is exactly these principles that both Jeff and Kathleen embody in their Sustainable Landscaping classes and efforts. Though they both come from different walks of life and relate to issues differently, one thing was clear: they both authentically showcase their love for the land and their belief in mixing the old and the new in order to create present-day solutions. And, while one of the main goals of creating a sustainable landscape is to conserve water, by attending these workshops, I gained so much more than tips to reduce my water usage. I got to see how two different passionate people use their authentic narrative daily to showcase solutions and to increase the possibilities of what the future can look like.