Santa Barbara Ecological and Edible Garden Project

SBEE Garden Project

Creating Community Resilience through Diverse Edible Gardens




 Food Literacy

What is SBEE?

Learn about our new program that creates community resilience through diverse edible gardens.



Get Your Free Tickets

Join the SBEE Garden Project for a free evening talk with Brock Dolman. Brock will be sharing his extensive experience working on watershed resilience at the local, regional, and international scales.

Learn we can begin to restore our watersheds, successfully engage with regulators, and address water insecurity as we continue to experience climate change impacts.

Brock will be highlighting success stories from around the world with practical examples and inspiring stories.

It’s time for a Re-hydration Revolution! We can all participate in creating a more water resilient Santa Barbara County.

Brock Dolman is a co-founder of the Sowing Circle, LLC Intentional Community & Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, where he is a Director of the Permaculture Program, Wildlands Program and the WATER Institute in Sonoma County, California.

Brock is a wildlife biologist, permaculture designer and watershed ecologist who has worked as a Permaculture educator and consultant internationally and widely in the U.S.A. Brock has co-facilitated over 80 Permaculture Design Certificate Courses since 1995. He has been a lead instructor on two IPC PDC’s: IPC8 PDC in Sao Paulo in 2007 and IPC11 PDC in Cuba in 2013.

Brock completed his BA in Agro-Ecology & Conservation Biology in 1992, graduating with honors from the University of California Santa Cruz with the Biology Department and Environmental Studies Department.

Food Sovereignty for Santa Barbara

Join the SBEE Garden Project for the Food Sovereignty for Santa Barbara webinar on Wednesday, March 2nd, 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Explore the relationships between economic, housing, language, and indigenous sovereignty in our food system with Gopal Dayaneni, Sarah Habib, Sarah Koyo Moreno, and Melissa Nelson.

Click Here to Watch Presentation in English

Click Here to Watch Presentation in Spanish


SBEE Garden Project

Supporting and Honoring Biological and Cultural Diversity through Ecological Edible Gardens

Santa Barbara City College, Explore Ecology, and five community partners have teamed up under a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to create the Santa Barbara Ecological and Edible Garden Project (SBEE Garden Project), a network of community permaculture gardens that promote biodiversity, increase access to locally grown food, and foster a connection between the community and ecosystems. 

Partner sites range from school gardens and youth centers to community gardens and homes. The sites include the SBCC Permaculture Garden, Explore Ecology School Garden sites, Mesa Harmony Garden,  Santa Barbara Boys and Girls Club, El Centro, Youth Drought Project, and the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. 

The broad array of sites and partners will connect K-14 students, teachers, the public, and local researchers around the critical issues of ecological health, water conservation, restoration of native habitat and biological communities, and the production of local, healthy food. 

The SBEE Garden Project will offer environmental education opportunities for our community. Stay tuned for our upcoming lecture series, workshops, and webinars.

School Gardens

What A Plant Needs


Mesa Harmony Garden

Mesa Harmony Garden is a volunteer-led non-profit that was established in 2010 to
create a community food forest on previously vacant church-owned land in the Mesa neighborhood of Santa Barbara. We have planted over 100 fruit trees, and built a committed volunteer workforce that includes people i n their teens through to their 80’s. We often host groups of volunteers, including students from City College and UCSB, the Newcomers garden club, and workplace groups. In 2019 we saw over 1400 hours of volunteer service, and in the first nine months of 2020 had delivered nearly 1500 Lbs. of fresh produce to the Food Bank. As an official project of the UCCE Master Gardeners, we benefit from the direct involvement of Master Gardeners in our work and, when circumstances permit, host educational events every month that include practical workshops and discussion groups with expert panels. We’re currently exploring options for online workshops. Mesa Harmony Garden is a mature food forest, a demonstration site where City College students, among others, can discover at first hand the potential for urban landscapes to be regenerated, and become biodiverse and productive with healthy soil, well-managed water, and no chemical inputs. The community that created and maintains this site has some unique insights into what works in our neighborhood, with the additional benefits of Master Gardener involvement, and a respected presence in our community. The garden sees many potential benefits from our involvement in this partnership. Our main hope is to be able to extend our ability to influence members of our wider community – not just in their own gardens, but also in reimagining the potential for other spaces in our community to become biodiverse havens of natural productivity in emulation of Mesa Harmony Garden.

SBCC Gardens

SBCC students from Environmental Science, Biology, and Environmental Horticulture courses will continue the development of two on-campus organic, native habitat, permaculture gardens and link them to surrounding garden programs at El Centro, Mesa Harmony Garden, and elementary school gardens. These gardens provide active learning environments, fresh local produce, workforce training, and paid job experience for our students. Explore Ecology will work with SBCC faculty and staff to connect the SBCC gardens with existing standards-based education taught at surrounding elementary schools.

El Centro

The Lower Westside Community Center, “El Centro”, will work with the local community to develop a food-producing, native habitat garden that reflects the cultures and needs of the community as part of its Somos Semillas Food Sovereignty Program. El Centro was granted access to the dormant “Parque De Los Niños” garden plot after a year of organizing and coordinated efforts with the City in 2019. From 2019 to 2020 the Somos Semillas community has engaged with the lower westside neighborhood to learn more about the needs of the community before developing the site. In 2020 a partnership with the Permaculture Program at SBCC was developed where students will engage in a resilient community design process with the Somos Semillas Garden Committee to support the neighborhood in developing the garden. This project will support the local community to create an educational program for the garden that combines local and indigenous ecological knowledge and lessons, environmental science, and ethnic studies.

Youth Drought Project - Community Food Forest

SBCC students and faculty will help design and install a permaculture garden in the front yard of a nearby residence (home is private, but the project is made available to the community). SBCC and Explore Ecology will help develop educational components for community members who visit the garden, including material on the environmental benefits of this type of garden for native species, water retention and run-off prevention, resistance to drought, and production of fresh produce. Materials would also include guides for creating one’s own garden and links to community organizations that can assist in the process.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s mission is to conserve California’s native plants and habitats, which are the foundation of our biological diversity. The Garden’s Conservation and Research department works to understand the nature and distribution of this biodiversity, to protect and recover our region’s rare plants, and to restore well-functioning habitats. Native plants are an integral part of sustainable gardening systems everywhere, providing resources for both pollinators and beneficial pest control insects, thus reducing the need for pesticides and imported European honeybees. Since 2013, the Garden has been promoting the value of native plants on farms, and studying which native plants support which insect pollinators in our region.

For this project, Garden scientists will work with SBCC interns, land managers, and the rest of the team to gather insect pollinator specimen and photographic data, and learn more about plant-insect interactions in the project gardens. We’ll compare garden to garden, season to season, before adding native plants to after, and learn a whole lot about which plants support which insects, which will help to guide and improve this practice going forward.

Santa Barbara Boys and Girls Club Garden

Santa Barbara Boys and Girls Club Garden: With the assistance of SBCC students and faculty, the Boys and Girls Club youth and staff will rehabilitate their existing garden space to include storm water catchment, a native pollinator garden, and raised-bed food production, connecting the garden habitat to the existing riparian zone through a habitat corridor and decreasing run-off pollution from the buildings and parking lots of the facility. Explore Ecology will help develop ecology and food-system education for children and families that use the facility.

Explore Ecology School Gardens Program

Explore Ecology’s School Gardens Program connects children to nature using gardens as outdoor classrooms. Our Garden Educators teach students how to grow organic food in elementary schools throughout Santa Barbara County. Surrounded by plants, pollinators, and nature, students learn about seeds, planting, cultivating, harvesting, composting, cooking, and nutrition.

For over 25 years, Explore Ecology has been a vital force for garden education, providing schools and youth groups with on-site gardening and composting lessons, teacher trainings, garden consultations, and Garden Curriculum.

For this project Explore Ecology will devote an additional hour per week at six Santa Barbara School District schools and host family education nights at each site. Our educators will work with SBCC faculty and staff to connect their gardens with existing standards-based education taught at surrounding elementary schools. We will also develop educational materials for all of the sites to link their gardens with garden education in local schools.


Volunteer with SB Garden Network

Coming Soon!


Food Sovereignty in Santa Barbara Workshop

Explore the relationships between economic, housing, language, and indigenous sovereignty in our food system with Gopal Dayaneni, Sarah Habib, Sarah Koyo Moreno, and Melissa Nelson.

Watch the English version of the workshop here.

Watch the Spanish version of the workshop here.

Monarchs and Pollinators Workshop

If you missed our workshop on Zoom with Charis van der Heide and Denise Knapp, Ph.D.  watch it here! 

After you view the workshop, please fill our our survey! Thank you.

Watch the full workshop here.

Watch the talk by Charis van der Heid.

Watch the talk by Denise Knapp, Ph.D.


So What’s Permaculture?
by Penny Livingston-Stark

Is it possible to create more abundance in our lives, develop an intimate relationship with the natural world and, at the same time, address our ecological crisis? Does “permaculture” offer a key?

Permaculture is a practical set of ecological design principles and methods for human settlements which can be applied to the urban, suburban and watershed scale. Permaculture principles provide a way of thinking that enables people to establish highly productive environments that provide for food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs. These principals are rooted in careful observations of natural patterns and can be applied to all climates and a wide variety of cultures from indigenous to technological.

(Backyard permaculture design, Santa Barbara, CA)

Bill Mollison from Tasmania and David Holmgren from Australia developed the concept of permaculture in the 1970’s. As there was no term at the time for sustainable culture they coined the term “permaculture” to articulate the notion of “permanent agriculture”.  It evolved into the notion of “permanent culture” as culture and agriculture reflect each other. In other words, how do we as a human species sustain ourselves, provide for our needs and the needs of the environment for an indefinite period of time? Permaculture was first taught as an applied design system by Mollison in 1981. Permaculturists design agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the stability, diversity, and resilience of natural ecosystems.

The permaculture designer gradually discerns optimal methods for integrating water catchment, human shelter and energy systems with tree crops, edible and useful perennials, self-seeding annuals, domestic and wild animals and aquaculture.

The excess or waste products from plants, animals and human activities are used as nutrients to benefit other elements in the system.  Plantings are arranged in patterns that can catch water, filter toxins, absorb nutrients and sunlight and block the wind.  Particular associations of trees, perennial vines, shrubs and ground covers known to nourish and protect one another, are clustered together.  Ponds and other elements are constructed in patterns which maximize their edges to take advantages of the increased biological activity at the intersection of two ecosystems.

The implementation of a design requires proper sequencing and flexibility so that changes can be made as observation and experience bring new understanding.  Creating a permaculture environment is a gradual and long-range process. Permaculturists also use “quick-start” techniques like covering weedy or compacted areas with a “sheet compost” – laying on newspapers, cardboard and straw, watering thoroughly, then making little planting holes in the mulch, inserting soil and seedlings and letting the worms, bugs, fungus, micro-organisms and roots do the rest.

Permaculture adopts techniques and principles from disciplines and traditions, old and new, such as indigenous land use and food systems, natural building materials like earth, straw, stone and bamboo as well as renewable energy systems.

Permaculture Ethics

Permaculture is based on the following three ethical principles:

  • Care of the earth
  • Care of the people
  • Sharing the surplus

The ethical basis of permaculture rests upon care for the earth – provision for all life systems to continue and multiply, including access by humans, domestic animals and wildlife to resources necessary for their existence, not the accumulation of wealth, power, or land beyond their needs.  “Give away surplus” is a permaculture maxim.  Observing the general rule of nature – that cooperative species and associations of self-supporting species make healthy communities, permaculture practitioners value cooperation and recognition of each person’s unique contributions rather than standardization and competition.

The Promise of Permaculture
The concept of permaculture grew from an awareness of ecological crisis. Permaculture generates a vision of people breaking free of the dying system and using the land around their homes intensively to provide for more and more of their basic needs. Requiring less labor over time frees one for more creative and socially responsible work.  The more productive the areas adjacent to people’s dwellings become, the more feasible it is to preserve the remaining natural forests and other wild lands from destruction.  Permaculture activists are working to lay foundations for the gradual emergence of self-reliant cooperative clusters – communities of villages.

Some Key Permaculture Principles

  • Observation – One must have a clear understanding of their immediate environment and the surrounding bio-region to create appropriate designs. Micro-climates (warmth, sun, moisture etc.) and other unique features of an area can be discovered and used to enhance the design.
  • Native Plants – Since native plants are bested adapted to and integrated within the local ecology, they are preferred over exotic plants. However, carefully selected “exotic” plants can and should be used for particular purposes such as food production when there are no equivalent native species.
  • Perennial Plants – Where possible, perennial plants are favoured over annuals as they can become long term members of an urban plant community and generally require less labour and resources than annuals. In addition to the many species of fruit, berries, nuts, and herbs that do well in Edmonton, there are also numerous perennial greens that can be harvested throughout the growing season to be eaten in salads, soups, stews etc.. Annual vegetables and herbs, however, also have an important place in an urban permaculture system.
  • Relationships – Plants in a permaculture design are carefully selected and situated for the relationships they will have with other plants and other elements in the system. Diverse plants with diverse relationships are desired. These relationships will create a “synergistic” effect, creating a thriving ecological community.
  • Elements – All elements of a permaculture design will have multiple functions. For example, a selected tree may provide shade for a sitting area, berries for food, habitat for birds, screening of an undesirable view, and may build the soil by fixing nitrogen, thereby supporting the plants grown around it.
  • Functions – All functions are supported by multiple elements. For example, food will come from many plants, not just one or two. Many different plants will be used to attract a variety of pollinators and other beneficial insects. Water will be harvested and retained in a variety of ways, thereby reducing demand on city water and ensuring that the system will continue to thrive during times of drought.
  • Zones – As a tool for site analysis and planning, permaculture considers every system to be comprised of five “zones”. In brief, “Zone 1” is closest to the house and includes those elements that are needed most on a day to day basis (i.e. kitchen herbs and vegetables) . Zones progress away from the house to less intensively cultivated or harvested elements all the way to Zone 5” which is “wildland” left for birds and other local wildlife.
  • Resource Use – Permaculture systems strive to use as few external “inputs” as possible and to produce as little “waste” as possible. Natural resources such as sunlight and water are absorbed and maintained within the system as long s possible. Composting and mulching are used extensively to maintain and increase soil fertility. When outside “inputs” are required, they are preferably sourced as locally as possible and are ideally “waste” from the surrounding environment.
  • Stacking – Plants incorporated into a permaculture landscape are “stacked” both in space and in time. Plants will be chosen to occupy the following 7 layers; below ground (i.e root crops), ground cover, herbaceous plants, shrubs, small trees, tall trees, and vines. Similarly, thought should be given into the long term development of the landscape over time, ensuring that the system will be thriving many years from now.

Home-Scale Examples of Permaculture
Permaculture is just as relevant and useful for the city-dweller as it for a small farmer or alternative community. Some very basic examples of how permaculture principles and design can be used in the urban setting include:

  • Water Harvesting – Collecting run-off water from roofs, redirecting it to trees, shrubs and beds, and storing it in rain barrels for later use is an easy, economical and highly beneficial practice. Water can be further retained within the home landscape by using mulches, close plantings and by ensuring a high level of organic matter in the soil.
  • Perennial Plants for Food – Most urban dwellers equate growing food with a square vegetable patch in the back corner of the yard. Nothing could be further from the truth! There are abundant possibilities for growing a tremendous amount of food-producing perennial plants in cities. Fruits, berries, nuts, perennial herbs and perennial greens can all be included in an urban permaculture landscape.
  • Composting and Mulching – There is no substitute for home grown compost! Intensive composting allows for the recycling of resources within one’s permaculture system and contributes greatly to soil fertility, structure and long term sustainability. Specialized composting techniques such as “sheet mulching” can facilitate the generation of larger amounts of compost within the growing beds themselves. Regular surface mulching also contributes organic matter to the soil, retains moisture, inhibits weed growth and reduces soil erosion and soil compaction.
    • Use of Microclimates – City dwellers are blessed with numerous microclimates within their own yards. South facing walls, for example, can provide an excellent location for heat loving plants like grapes, tomatoes, or peppers and can also be good locations for extending the growing season. Lettuce and other greens, for example, sown in a passive cold frame on the south side of a house can produce a harvest in late March or early April and as late in the season as the end of November or early December. Microclimates can also be created by such techniques as mounding up soil for an herb spiral which will have both hot and cool, wet and dry microclimates as well as creating additional surface area in the same amount of space.
    • Plant Selections and Placement – While the post card picture of suburbia includes a large lush lawn with 3-4 shrubs, 2 trees and a couple of flower beds, urbanites are discovering that their own yards provides them with enough space to incorporate many diverse plant species. In the permaculture design approach, all of these plants will have a particular purpose and will be placed in careful relationship with other plants.
    • Forest Gardens – Mature forests occupy all available space with lush growth. “Forest gardens” model themselves after natural forest eco-systems but focus on plants that provide food, medicines and other resources. Urban yards can also take advantage of the possibilities of using vertical space to make up for what they lack in horizontal space. All 7 layers (root, ground cover, herb layer, shrubs, mall trees, large trees, vines) can be occupied by plants that offer not only beauty but food, medicine, or other benefits as well. When appropriately designed for a particular bio-region, forest gardens provide an abundance of food in a way that is self-perpetuating, self-fertilizing, self-mulching, self-watering, self-pollinating and highly resistant to disease.

Learn and Grow

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Growing Gardens, Changing Lives

Acres Planted
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