It’s a new year and Benicia Community Gardens (BCG) is planting seeds of opportunity for the community to grow and embrace healthy sustainable food. So much is going on to promote good eating and organic gardening that executive director Elena Karoulina has a hard time containing her excitement. New backyard gardens, community potlucks and a speaker series are just a few of the things in store. “This is a growing, evolving, wonderful grassroots movement,” she said.

The Benicia Community Gardens program has grown from its first community garden, Swenson Garden, on a plot near Heritage Presbyterian Church, to its second, Avant Garden, at First and D Streets in the heart of the downtown. Both are centers for community gatherings, gardening, classes, workshops and hands-on learning. Dozens of families belong to the gardens, learning how to grow their own food in healthy ways. Further, with a city grant, numerous food forests are sprouting up in backyards around the city.

As the new year gets underway, BCG is providing even more opportunities for people to learn about growing their own food, and to put organic produce, grass-fed meat, honey, eggs and other healthy food on their tables. The overall aim is to promote permaculture. As Karoulina explains, the term refers to a philosophy and goal to mimic nature and create sustainable ecosystems. Just as forests provide food for all its creatures, so can food forests in backyards and other settings provide the food people need, she said.  

Toward that aim, BCG will offer practical advice on sustainable gardening through its lecture series. Karoulina said speakers are part of the Benicia Sustainable Backyard Program. Permaculture and fruit tree expert John Valenzuela of Marin County will speak on Discovering Fantastic Fruit for Our New Weird Weather at 10am, Saturday, Feb. 6 at Swenson Garden behind Heritage Presbyterian Church, 1400 East Second St.

Further, with dozens of volunteers getting their hands good and dirty in the soil, more sustainable backyard gardens, or permaculture food forests, will be created this year. Installations in February consist of creating greywater collection, irrigation and mulching systems and planting gardens in selected backyards. February installations take place on Feb. 13 and Feb. 20. Information on how members of the public can participate in these efforts are posted on BCG’s website a week before the events.

The new year also brings a new name, reach and vision for the popular What’s for Dinner? program designed to promote gardening and access to healthy, local food. Under its new name, Benicia Community Table, the garden will host monthly potlucks with speakers offering educational and practice advice on sustainable living. Those events will take place at 6pm the third Wednesday of the month at Heritage Presbyterian Church. Following the potluck and the speaker, group members will then discuss how to nurture the seeds of a longer-range project—the establishment of a food co-op. Overall, the goal is to bring people together and build a movement  for good food on the tables of families throughout Benicia.“We felt there was a need in the community for a place to meet and connect with each other,” Karoulina said.

Benicia Community Gardens is an all-volunteer group. For more information on its mission, projects, events and how to get involved go to or check out the group’s Facebook page at