Neighbors and partners will co-create a carbon sequestering community food forest & resiliency center to create local food and jobs.
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
In our context, it is important that we acknowledge that El Sobrante is indigenous Huichin, Ohlone land that we know as the San Francisco Bay Area. First among the many local groups with whom we intend to collaborate for this project is the local Sogorea 'Te Land Trust, who are guiding us in honoring indigenous land and its original people, as well as working together to bring the vision of this project to fruition.
Like many in the region, I have chosen to live in this area because the land is located in a sub-tropical, Mediterranean climate which means food and jobs can be grown for the community year round. I personally have lived on different areas of this land for 9 years and it is the place where my partner and his family grew up.
For four years, we as neighbors have seen and dreamed of the untapped potential of the land around us as an opportunity to grow something positive for our community and world. A group of us neighbors have organized and joined together to co-create a carbon sequestering community food forest and resiliency center. For over three years La Colina Community Circle has been meeting monthly, building a community support network, sharing resources, and designing a community food forest for our neighborhood and the surrounding area. We are galvanized to find creative solutions to a lack of local jobs, healthy food, and public spaces.
Ultimately, what makes this place so important are the people who live on and around the land.The Community Food Forest can be a nexus for deepening human connection to the earth that is much needed in these times. With this connection we can collaborate in choosing what to plant and work together to see that the local community has balanced and nutrient-dense produce available to it.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
El Sobrante in relation to San Pablo Bay
Currently,El Sobrante has under utilized land and the La Colina Hill Community Food Forest and Resilience Center is located in a wildland-urban interface and perfectly positioned to be an educational space as well as an ecological buffer to homes and wild lands alike amid the ever-present threat of fires in CA. The 6 acres of land for the proposed project are part of a larger ecosystem comprised of chaparral and non-native grass lands, with woodlands and inhabited homes above, and homes and businesses below the site. The site is also important to the local watershed and would historically feed part of San Pablo Creek which is just across San Pablo Dam Rd, the main thoroughfare of El Sobrante.
Generally this land is semi-rural and suburban with large open spaces of chaparral and woodland regional parks. It has a diverse population mirroring the larger Bay Area including Latino, Indigenous,European-American, African-American, East and South-Asian community members.
El Sobrante has a history of farming and ranching which continues today with local stables and small farms. The annual street fair and parade, visible from the proposed site, features several troops of horses from local stables and cattle are ranged on the local regional park land. El Sobrante is characteristically rural and the opportunity for agricultural projects has attracted many residents who practice homesteading and small scale animal husbandry.
El Sobrante has an average rain fall in the low twenties of inches mainly coming between November and March. The rest of the year is typically dry, although coastal fog rolls into the area throughout the early summer months. High winds are common through the summer months as cool coastal air travels east up a canyon towards higher elevation. The combination of fog, clouds, and wind keeps the summer temperatures low. The temperature occasionally ranges from the 30's during some the winter nights (with some frosts and the occasional freeze) to the 80's or 90's in the summer. With this Mediterranean climate, various annual vegetables perennialize here including peppers and kale.
The Bay Area in general is ideal for growing an abundance of fruits and vegetables from cold-hardy, to sub-tropical varieties. This Mediterranean climate means the growing season is extended to most of the year, which has the potential to provide food and jobs for the community year round.
There is no local or organic produce available in El Sobrante stores and other shops in the area are not easily accessed without a vehicle because of limited public transportation. Over 60 El Sobrante residents who came to a Contra Costa County Envision 2040 meeting led by the county supervisor, expressed that they wanted a farmers market in the central area of the town. This area is technically a food desert in that residents need to travel far to buy fresh healthy food.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Current challenges in our community include a lack of infrastructure, and the lack of access to locally grown produce. Urbanized citizens demonstrate a type of disconnect from the earth,its processes and our human relationship to it in a phenomenon known as nature-deficit disorder.This disorder affects people's behavior, especially the behavior of children. Nature deficit disorder can sometimes go in tandem with nutrient-deficient and high-carbon-footprint, or processed food diets.
In our community, this manifests in folks unawareness of local small farms; many do not know how to prepare or utilize fresh foods which are growing all around us; many do not know how to access local produce.
The cost of living in the Bay Area is at an all time high, there are many people without housing. Contained in this cost of living is the cost of food, let alone healthy organic local produce. In the shadow of the tremendous wealth of the area, there is great economic disparity: the number of people forced to live on the streets and children that are suffering from malnutrition are examples of this disparity.
A major challenge for our immediate neighborhood has been the financial requirements for the creation of the community food forest. We live in a working class neighborhood and there is not disposable income to front for the community food forest and resiliency center, let alone traditional residential landscaping.
Along with the lack of financial resources, future challenges for growing local food and sustaining a food forest are going to include water. We are already a dry climate with ever dropping water-tables, erosion, and soil runoff. Generating water saving solutions will take time and money.
Increasingly devastating wildfires have become a terrifying reality for our region. Fruiting plants are already exhibiting confusion due to climate change causing them to flower during the wrong season. This potentially impacts the productivity and health of the plants. We have already seen very poor air quality caused by forest fires up north and fires at the near by oil refineries. Over time this pollution will impact health conditions of both humans and wildlife.
Because the site borders a wildlife corridor, there is the challenge of protecting the food producing area from hungry wildlife.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
The community food forest and resiliency center will produce and provide local chemical-free, nutrient dense, culturally relevant food. This produce will be made available to all with sliding scale options for those with lack of financial resources. Growing this food, some of which can be processed into value added products, will create jobs for the local community.
We aim to reconnect people to the land both in literally having them touch the soil but also to understand where their food comes from and how abundant this land can be by having them participate in the process of growing food from seed to table. Our vision is to facilitate this connection to the earth with workshops, skill-shares, and open farm days.
Water challenges will be addressed by implementing bio-swales to slow, spread, and sink water into the ground as well as harvesting rain water with rain barrels and cisterns. This irrigated landscape (with rainwater and some municipal water) will reduce the fire hazard in contrast with the dried weed patches that currently exist here most of the year.
Capturing the water in the ground instead of letting it run off and overwhelm the local creek, is a solution to mitigate erosion and run-off.
The food forest itself will improve air-quality for the immediate area as well as drawing down carbon from the atmosphere and locking it in the regenerated soil.
Having funding will enable us to enact our vision of planting a community food forest, creating the community resiliency center, as well as protecting that food forest from wildlife browsing with fencing and border planting of California native habitat plants.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
Creating a beautiful and abundant space as a symbol of a community's resilience is our first objective. The benefits that would naturally flow from such a project are endless. As community members who understand the urgent need for greater and more strategic resilience on a changing planet, our higher objectives for the project are limitless.
As an organization of fifteen plus committed neighbors and community partners, we are interested in building a local network which connects the community and which demonstrates the benefits of investing in each other. Our project will provide a model for others, this network of care and community outreach will be a template for future successful projects.
Cultivating food for community use, together with operating a community bulk purchasing arrangement for other foodstuffs, will inevitably create more abundance and self-reliance within our town. In a similar way, we expect there to be a greater quality of trust and connection within our community, attributes crucial to our vision of resilience and mutual aid as a means to species adaptation to climate change.
Having residents more connected with the earth through the food forest, walking to local shops, and eating local nutrient dense food, will help people get exercise and obtain greater physical and mental health. Providing some of people's needs in the immediate local area will reduce driving and pollution, build the local economy, sequester carbon, feed people, provide a walk-able food forest agricultural park and community gathering space at the resiliency center. Through the classes, workshops and skill-shares people will become empowered from their relationships and from the knowledge that they can grow food as well as how to become more prepared for collective adaptation to climate change.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Proposed space for La Colina Hill Community Food Forest
As a group of organized neighbors from La Colina Hill in El Sobrante we have joined together to co-create a carbon sequestering community food forest and resiliency center. Inspired by indigenous knowledge and by our shared skill sets as a community, we are uniquely poised to transform the landscape and economy of El Sobrante and the world at large.
Over the last several years, our neighborhood group has been meeting, and among other community projects, has been planning this community food forest and resiliency center. We have members involved in the project who are skilled in engineering, construction, cooperative purchasing and management, agroforestry, sustainable farming, food preservation, systems-design and permaculture.
Our vision is to make use of one acre of unused land comprised of sections of multiple adjoining properties, along with an adjoining five acres of undeveloped, fallow open private land. This project, utilizing no-till farming and a local workforce, will grow fresh local produce to be made available to the immediate population of El Sobrante. While community food forests have become a growing trend in the US with the examples of the Atlanta and Seattle food forests, we envision our neighborhood food forest and resiliency center going beyond this trend as a replicable model for any community of homeowners or municipalities near unused lands. Funding will allow a small team of us to support other communities in generating similar projects around the Bay Area. Thereby creating a ripple effect of local food, land regeneration, human connection, and carbon sequestration.
Creating and maintaining a neighborhood food forest means creating local, small scale food security without the high fossil fuel and water consumption of traditional agriculture. Our project will consist of the installation of infrastructure, trees shrubs and herbs, necessary for establishing a food forest accessible to neighborhood volunteers and community partners. We will be setting up rain barrels, using earthworks/bio-swales, installing drip irrigation, fencing, CA Native plants and regenerating soil.
The network of rain cisterns that we will connect to homes uphill from the food forest will allow us to use collected rainwater to use through the dry season. With the fifteen households in our neighborhood who have offered their land and participation, we will make an oasis bloom. We will myceliate this regenerative model out to other communities of the Bay Area and beyond.
The central tenet of our neighborhood initiative is community resiliency. In these times of climate dysregulation, the foundation of human resiliency will mean regenerating soil. Regenerating the depleted soil means spreading one to two inches of living compost. In so doing, we will also increase and regenerate soil biology by adding locally made co-composted bio-char as well as a custom mineral mix based on detailed soil mineral analysis. We are specifically conscious of the carbon-capturing potential for this project. As previously demonstrated by the nearby Marin Carbon Project, these practices are known to enhance and accelerate the transfer and storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide to soil and biomass carbon. This will increase our food production at the same time it accelerates carbon sequestration, all through the process of creating healthier soil.
Having regenerated fertile soil, resiliency relies on meticulous management of water resources. Our communal farm space will include proven techniques for water retention and a diverse network of fruiting trees, shrubs, ground covers, perennial vegetables, annual vegetables, and California natives. Our design of ground covers, shrubs, and an over-story of fruit and nut trees will work together in an interconnected food forest system. We will create hugelkultur beds used to maximize space usage, conserve water, and as a proven means to prevent gophers, voles and skunks from invading the perennial and annual vegetable beds.
Another of our water saving features will be the installation of a major network of interconnected bio-swales used to capture limited rain and slow spread and sink it into the ground. These swales or "ditches" on contour with the land will be back-filled with wood chips and other carbonic matter and will double as walkways and as slow-release water retention.
Economics and Diet
Our primary interest is resilience for our community in El Sobrante. While showing our commitment to indigenous relationship to land by paying the Shuumi Land Tax affirms our intent to restore balance of people with nature, living on a precarious planet also means that we must aim to create economic resilience. Our Resiliency Center we visualize as a center which provides job training, eco-literacy, value-added products and cottage industry support, besides acknowledgement of the historical and still living history of the Ohlone people and the agricultural heritage of the area. We have experienced and see that caring for land and growing food with the vision of permaculture, has the ability to connect humans of all types and strengthen community bonds. A food forest off La Colina Hill offers many benefits to the broader community: access to healthy nutrient dense food, cleaner air, skill sharing, solutions to nature deficit disorder, local employment and education opportunities around farming, ecological resource management, and sustainable living. We will hold educational workshops, volunteer workdays, and seasonal festivals on site. With the abundance of food harvested we will be able to supply a local market: incidentally, a lot just down the hill from the community food forest has been recently zoned to permit a farmers' market and community center. Income from these markets will help pay for supplies and personnel to run the food forest.
Environmental benefits of this project include: soil regeneration, carbon sequestration, water conservation, recharging groundwater, air pollution abatement, erosion control, air quality improvement, reduced traffic, reduced storm-water runoff, improved physical and mental health. Our project will create an interconnected food forest that will yield many ecological and health benefits. Our food forest will reduce the need for trucking food across the state and country, as well as creating shorter trips for our residents to receive this food. It will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions with regenerative farming practices which lock carbon into vegetation and the soil. Additionally, it will reduce carbon footprints through local conservation and the no-waste principles of permaculture and natural building.
The technology we wish to deploy is a deep attribute humans rely on, one that is already embedded in the land we are fortunate enough to occupy. Ultimately, the technology we plan on using is nature’s own design: photosynthesis. The oldest technology we have for drawdown of carbon are forests. Carbon sequestration is the natural process in our environment in which atmospheric C02 is taken up by trees and other plants through photosynthesis and stored as carbon in the trunks, branches, leaves, roots and in the living soil. This technology will not only draw down carbon, but will provide shelter for insects and wildlife as well as food and jobs for the larger community. In our dry climate with the ever present threat of fire, the community food forest as a moist oasis in a dry area will also help create a buffer to fire.
A result of the La Colina Community Food Forest and Community Resiliency Center will be strengthening one our greatest resource of these times: the resource of one another and human connection. Through the creation and ongoing maintenance of the Community Food Forest, unlikely partners will come together for a common goal and bridges will be built to carry these ties forward into the regenerative present and a future we co-create. Cooking and gardening workshops will also be held at the center, as well as general skill-shares such canning and fermenting and the repair and reuse of broken household items. We will also provide resources for the community about other local farms and classes in the area and how people can get involved.
These connections with the earth and each other will help reduce nature-deficit disorder, create local jobs through the ongoing care of the food forest as well as the harvest and production of value-added products.
We anticipate broad community involvement in this project after receiving positive feedback at an event led by our county supervisor, “Envision Contra Costa 2040,” where we presented these ideas. Ultimately we aim to work with municipalities and local organizations to write an ordinance for the creation of multiple public food forests in Contra Costa County with the goal of reducing our carbon footprint, restoring biodiversity, preserving historical agricultural legacies of our area, bringing food and job sources closer to home, as well as reducing commute burdens on local citizens.
With appropriate funding and with the cooperation of Contra Costa County, our Community Food Forest and Resiliency Center will help resolve an array of the challenges we face in a region known for economic precariousness. The Resiliency Center will be a hub where people can trade and share resources, and buy affordable nutrient dense, culturally relevant produce and value-added products as well as bulk dry goods, thereby reducing economic insecurity in our community.
With the financial resources made available, the Community Food Forest and Resiliency Center will be a reality. These financial resources will have ripple effects into the future in terms of the livelihoods, health and well-being of residents of El Sobrante, not to mention the fact that the project will have long standing impact on reducing climate change.