October offers Benicians a chance to participate in two spirited events with important ecological overtones. The first, the groundbreaking ceremony for the Benicia Community Garden’s downtown location, coincides with Global Climate Action Day (1o.1o.1o). The second, a high-stakes tree-identifying contest for Benicia Youth, is one of many activities gelling around Benicia’s Arbor Day. 

It’s official: Candi Estey, www.esteyrealestate.com, gave the Benicia Community Garden a six month renewable lease for the property on First and D Streets for twenty dollars a month. This bargain came with the proviso that the garden must be movable, and Benicia Garden Members plan to install only a water hook-up, and a picnic table. The groundbreaking ceremony takes place on October 10, a day environmentalists from the website www.350.org suggest be “A Global Work Party” against climate change: through their participation, attendees will be joining a movement in spirit with groups who are undertaking environmental projects all over the globe. 350.org is led by author and environmentalist Bill Mckibben, www.billmckibben.com, author of The End of Nature, Eaarth, and other works describing the ecological threats posed by global warming.

But dire threats don’t require dour parties, and members of the Benicia Community Garden are planning a lively event that focuses on the joys of sustainable living. As Benicia Community Garden’s Marilyn Bardet says, “we will have a groundbreaking ceremony—which will mean shoveling some compost. But as Larry Lamareux and Emmalyn Tringali and I were discussing this, we decided we needed to do something that was much more celebratory. We coined a name for the event, the First Annual Harvest Festival dance. And we’re having a 40x40ft tent, and we’re having square dancing.”

The event, open to all ages, aims to emulate some of the charm of old-time harvest festivals while providing a platform to educate visitors about gardening. Seating will be confined to hay bales, games will eschew computers for sack races, and the festival is hiring an emcee to lead the assemblage in a few rounds of square dancing. Other attractions may include a solar cooking demonstration, farm fresh apples and pears, a pumpkin patch, and a performance from the Caterpillar Puppets, caterpillarpuppets.com. A few informational tables will be on site, including one for “Ennovations,” a group that offers energy and water audits for homes. There won’t be any large meals dished out, but picnickers are welcome.

“The money for the festival comes from VIP funds already allocated for climate action,” says Bardet. The money will go toward the 40×40 foot tent and to the talents of the square-dancing emcee. The event runs from 1-4 in the afternoon. Not only is it free, but you might just walk out of there with a free pumpkin.

Six days later, on the 16th, visitors are invited to the City Park to celebrate Arbor Day with food, music, and a guided tree tour. This day will be particularly special, because October 16 marks the end of The Great 2010 Benicia Tree Science Challenge, a month long contest open to Benicia students in grades 5-12. The contest, put on by The Benicia Tree Foundation, www.beniciatree.org, entices students to photograph, identify and index as many local trees as they can within a month for the grand prize of a brand new iPad. All entries are due midnight of the 15th. Runner-ups will have to settle for a compensatory knowledge of plant taxonomy. During the celebration there will be a raffle for a variety of prizes, including a signed copy of David Allen Sibley’s The Sibley Guide to Trees. Also, on the 15th, the Benicia Tree Foundation will plant its first of a thousand planned trees on private property on Semple Crossing at 5pm.

If it seems odd to celebrate trees on a date when, in much of our nation, most trees have lost their leaves, it’s permissible nevertheless. Arbor Day is probably the most popular holiday without a standardized date; states choose their own, and cities are free to do so as well. Last year Benicia held their event on March 14.

Wolfram Alderson, executive director of The Benicia Tree Foundation, says that this Arbor Day Celebration “came about as a collaboration between the City and the Rotary Club.” Next year, he says that the Foundation will assume full responsibility for the event, its date, and all the festivities. They’re sure to set the bar high for themselves with this year’s celebration.