Turning Over Many New Leaves

When individuals commit to change it’s often said they are turning over a new leaf. For Benicia Community Gardens that process involves a lot more than just one leaf. Perhaps a whole forest is more apt. The organization, dedicated to community, the environment, organic gardening, local food and healthy eating, is branching out in a big way, perhaps the most noticeable being its new name. After a long period of reflection, the Benicia Community Gardens (BCG) board of directors changed the name to Sustainable Solano, a name that embodies a larger aim of promoting healthy living on a regional basis.

Marilyn Bardet

L: Elena Karoulina
R: Connie Harris, CEO Solano Community Foundation

Executive director Elena Karoulina said the new name recognizes BCG’s growth and evolution. “We’re so much more than gardens. There is a future and need for this in our county and that’s what moved us. It’s a leap of faith,” she said. However, she assured Sustainable Solano has not turned its back on Benicia where key programs have taken root and inspired. In fact, BCG programs will remain a strong component of the expanded organization as it evolves. “Benicia is our key root. It was all born in Benicia. We want people to feel proud of that,” she said.

The Organization’s Evolution

The organization started out small since its first community garden, Swenson Garden, was established in 1999 near the Heritage Presbyterian Church. A second community garden, Avant Garden, got underway at First and D Streets, and then an orchard was created. Both gardens are centers for gatherings, cooking classes, landscaping workshops and hands-on learning. The group also established food forests in backyards, a lecture series and began work on a food coop. It was the water-saving features of the backyard gardens that prompted Solano Water Agency to propose the organization create similar gardens outside Benicia.

Casting a Wider net

In 2017, Sustainable Solano plans to establish three gardens in Fairfield and two in Vallejo, possibly on public property, such as a school or park. In this time of transition, the board and many volunteers’ focus will be on developing programs and strategies for sustainability efforts throughout Solano County.

Karoulina said that work will take place in four major areas, including building a local economy that meets the needs of all people, regenerating the environment, promoting social justice, and promoting a culture in which people can reach their full potential. The last aim resulted in the group’s December “Awakening the Dreamer Symposium” designed to give insight and inspiration for transforming despairing conditions facing the world today.

Marilyn Bardet

Mission of Pachama Alliance to “change the dream”

Upcoming Workshops & other Programs

Sustainable Solano will further this goal with an upcoming seven-week course called “Game Changer Intensive.” Sustainable landscaping efforts will continue, as will monthly tours of Benicia’s backyard gardens, cooking classes, and a speaker series. The bigger aim is to build community, and inspire healthy lifestyles good for people and the planet. Everyone is welcome. “Each of us is an activist,” Karoulina said. “We want to give people opportunities to participate in something bigger than themselves.”

Welcoming Public Participation

The group has its own website at sustainablesolano.org, where more information is planned for the coming months. Details on Benicia Community Gardens programs and schedule of upcoming local events are still at beniciacommunitygardens.org. For more information and to get involved with Sustainable Solano, go to these websites, or send an email to info@sustainablesolano.org.