At first glance, the yard on the corner of 8th and B streets looks like any other neatly kept, early spring garden in the cozy west Petaluma neighborhood.
Clean gray river stones frame newly budding fruit trees, mature kale and chard plants pump out their nutritious offerings and a flowering quince attracts buzzing bees. But, on a closer look, the garden reveals a deep level of organization: it’s a food forest that mirrors the different levels of plants found in a natural forest.
The ground is covered with succulents that conserve water and out compete weeds, beneficial plants like yarrow and artichoke surround the fruit trees and feed the soil and there’s a living canopy that helps shade and protect the bee boxes when they need it most. There’s also a serpentine “hugelkultur” raised bed made from interwoven wood and compost — an ingenious German technique that remarkably conserves water and improves soil health.
Everything in this small space was planted with intention and, as longtime Petaluman Tiffany Renée, a designer and custodian of this permaculture garden, explained, the goal is to reap multiple yields from limited resources. In this case, the yields include an abundance of produce and a place for the community to gather and learn.
“The average person would have probably thought of putting up a five-foot fence because there’s no privacy,” Renée said. “Instead, we’ve chosen to engage with our neighbors and ask ‘why is this important?’ ”
To Renée and her husband, Jaimey Walking Bear, who moved to the property in October 2014, the garden is important on many levels. It’s the cornerstone of their homestead, which they call “8th and Bee,” and a gateway to a larger online project they’ve named the Resilience Guild.
Like many avid gardeners in Sonoma County, Renée and Walking Bear, who reside in the 1920s-era home on the property, discovered the wealth of knowledge within the community about sustainable agriculture and building “resilience” and wanted to share it. The pair has harnessed their backgrounds in event organizing, talent management and web development to create a blog, photo and video gallery and an online course called “Tierra: Online,” a series of conversations with experts including Trathen Heckman of Petaluma-based sustainability nonprofit Daily Acts and Sara McCamant from the Sebastopol’s Ceres Project on topics including permaculture, soil science and seed saving.
Renée, Petaluma’s former vice mayor, said she comes from a family of green thumbs, and has always been a bee-lover and gardener. In 2011, she completed an intensive permaculture training course through Daily Acts, which expanded her gardening knowledge and, she said, informed her work as an elected representative.
Her experience in community organizing and her passion for growing plants of all sorts (including indigo for the local Fibershed movement) have found a literal home in the 8th and Bee project.
Walking Bear, on the other hand, is a more recent convert to the gardening faith.
His family moved to Petaluma when he was 3 and, as he explained, gardening was mainly about weeding — something he didn’t want to have anything to do with. However, after working for most of his life in the “non-stop” world of restaurants, retail and tech, he said now that he’s “older” he craves more quiet space.