- Environmental crusader
- Formed Sacramento Citizens for Sustainable Landscapes
- Board Member, EcoLandscape California
There is palpable energy in the room when you are talking with Sue Gage Jennings about absolutely anything to do with conservation of water, the soil and other natural resources. She is a wellspring of information and ideas and willingly shares her “story” and vast knowledge of practices aimed at preserving our ecosystem. When we asked how she shares her passion with others, we opened the flood gates, so to speak.
“Passionate” does not begin to describe Sue’s commitment to teaching, talking and writing about healthy, diverse and water-efficient landscapes, as she believes “all things are connected.” She goes to great lengths to make this information available to anyone, (whether in her own east Sacramento neighborhood, Kansas or Canada!), via one of her web sites such as www.sacgardens.org , teaching classes on healthy water-conserving landscapes, including food gardens or her most satisfying (personally and professionally) favorite—a tasty and beautiful combination of the two—the sustainable, edible urban landscape.
It was, however, the outdated 1941 Sacramento City Front Yard Landscape Code—and a serious aversion to mandatory front lawns and water waste—that really kicked her community spirit and love of diversely planted, water-efficient gardens into high gear.
In 2004, Sue became aware of a nearby Sacramento resident who had just been fined $900 for allowing her (Junior Master Gardener) son to plant two—yes, two—tomato plants in her front yard. This transpired because this resident was blessed with an incredible canopy of shade trees in the backyard of her home that prevented any sun-loving vegetable planting. A hotline had been established by the City that allowed neighbors or anyone driving by an “offensive front yard landscape” to actually call anonymously and report “abuse” of the ordinance. Essentially the ordinance said only lawn or low ground cover, a few shrubs and a tree were allowed to exist in the front yards of Sacramento homes. Sue contacted the resident with the offending tomatoes and decided it was time to take action.
Over the next three years, Gage Jennings attended scores of City Council meetings (including giving many PowerPoint presentations) to strengthen her pleas for change, talked with hundreds of residents in her area and wrote and received thousands of emails from others with the same mindset. There were conversations and discussions about creating more than just a yard, but true natural habitats full of site-appropriate plants, soil nurtured by non-chemical means, birds and beneficial insects.
Water conservation was very high on her priority list—there is no way to estimate how many suggestions and tips she can give just on saving water. A recent blog post on her web site speaks to one of Blue Thumb’s top tips for water savings: “MULCH helps to maintain balanced soil temperatures, increase water infiltration and retention, prevent soil compaction, control erosion, reduce weeds and improve soil texture…”
And finally, on April 3, 2007, the ordinance was changed: The Sacramento City Council adopted new front yard landscape code language allowing sustainable diverse landscapes of the residents’ choice with no restriction for fruits and vegetables. This was a clear signal that Sacramento had committed to making the city more sustainable. Sue wrote more about the experience: “Valuable city resources are currently being directed towards programs for water conservation, water quality (toxic lawn chemical contamination of our rivers and streams) and green waste management. Diverse urban landscapes in Sacramento’s front yards will not only address crucial environmental issues, but will help the City meet its sustainability goals.”
Today you will find Sue with her hands full as always, whether it is public outreach for food security through home and community gardens, teaching natural resource conservation or perhaps doing some volunteer work rescuing and feeding injured birds and animals for organizations doing “wildlife rehab.” (She confided to us that her favorite work here is feeding “the pinkies”—birds who have not yet gotten their feathers.)
This seemed to be the appropriate place to end the interview since we had been fully immersed in Sue’s passion and frankly, were nearly worn out from the volumes of information she managed to give us in a little over an hour! But knowing that she is such a fine steward of her personal property and that she has adopted responsibility for positive change wherever she goes, we feel she is a most excellent addition to our list of Blue Thumb Ambassadors.