FAIRFIELD — The fire-burned apple orchard is ripped out. The junipers are gone. The eucalyptus trees are ground up mulch and sit in several massive piles behind the horticulture building on the Solano Community College campus.
The land is ready for the next steps – land leveling, an irrigation system and planting of 46 fruit-bearing plants that wait at a nearby nursery.
It’s a sign of progress toward a dream that the Horticulture Department has coveted. The progress is owed largely to one woman, Louise Yarbrough, and the help of her daughter, Debra Russo.
“It’s exciting . . . we have someone in the community recognizing the program,” said horticulture instructor Ken Williams before the ceremony. “We look forward to them helping us fulfill our dream.”
Yarbrough, 80, has her roots in plants, so to speak, and has pledged to help the college’s Horticulture Department fulfill its dreams for an expansive sustainable horticulture project for the students.
Because of that pledge, dozens of people, including four generations of Yarbrough’s family, college administration and political dignitaries, came out Monday night to watch the woman who is usually behind the scenes stand in the limelight.
The “Louise Wilbourn Yarbrough Horticulture and Plant Science Institute” was officially dedicated to the woman who usually stood beside her husband, the late Billy Yarbrough, in their philanthropic endeavors – largely geared toward children.
“To me, what makes this so special is that everything in the past was done in my dad’s name,” Russo said. “He was kind of the face of the family. This is the first thing . . . that she’s being recognized for with her name.”
An avid gardener, Yarbrough, who sat quietly at a back table with some of her family during the initial part of the evening, said the attention was a bit “overwhelming” and called herself a “farm girl” when asked what appealed to her about gardening.
“It’s peaceful . . . you really don’t have to think about anything,” she said. Besides, she joked, “I hate housework.”
She remembers traveling from Oklahoma to the Suisun Valley to help pick the crops at her grandparent’s place. That enjoyment of gardening and the background in farming, plus the family’s longtime philanthropic desire to help the county’s children, is what led Russo and Yarbrough to realize the horticulture project was a perfect fit for Yarbrough.
It was an opportunity to help students and hopefully keep them in Solano County once they’ve joined the workforce, Russo said.
“That’s our hope . . . to keep the kids in Solano County,” she said.
Yarbrough has already spread her love of gardening to her great-grandchildren, Keely Heil, 10, and Kennedy Heil, 13. Both Fairfield residents are professed “green thumbs” and help their great-grandmother in her garden, which includes a variety of plants and vegetables. Kennedy called the dedication in her great-grandmother’s name “very special” to Yarbrough.
“I think she’s wonderful,” Keely said.
The replanting of the orchard is just the initial piece of the project that will eventually include the expansion of the community gardens, an adaptive horticulture area, a botanical garden and a sustainable planting area. Woven together by paths, the project plans also call for a farmers market, a greenhouse, animals, a museum dedicated to farmers, and weddings in the botanical area.
When her mother saw the plans, they realized it was a good fit, Russo said.
Yarbrough made the initial steps possible by hiring a grant writer, which enabled the college to get a $9,500 grant from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CalFire, to get the orchard project moving. Another undisclosed dollar donation was given to the college Monday night.
Russo said they want to keep the project’s momentum going but want to ensure that people stay involved.
“We don’t want to make this a 20-year project,” she said. “We want it to be a two-year project.”
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.