Monday, December 8, 2008

My Reflection

Well in this class I learned a great deal of things, and had a blast doing it. When I was a kid my father and older brother would always were building things and working with wood and other things. When I was a little girl, I was right there with them try to build things as well. I was very interested in carpentry. When I was getting older I learned to appreciate all the work they did when I was little. Now I enjoy picking up a hammer and nail. More recently I've gained a great interest in building this myself and not buying it. When I signed up for this class last spring I thought that I would learn more and have fun but still be safe. I was right, but the class has been right down to what I was looking for. After looking at the semester and what we did I feel like I should be in carpentry.The first thing that comes to mind when reflecting on this class is all the hard work we all did to start the New Barn. Just because we did not have the 2nd permit we as a class help others out and started to build parts of the New Barn. I feel that there were a few classmates that wanted to do all that we could to get as much as the New Barn done before snow falls or it get to cold out. I also feel that motivation was good in most of the class. I do have to say my motivation at first went down but I was still having fun. I liked getting up on Friday mornings and having class time outside at 8am. It just got the whole class to the New Barn site and working together. When I was down there getting my hands on some tools and getting all dirty. Seeing parts of the barn being built was great.I liked how Mick was trying to find other projects for the class and he did a great job. We got an opportunity to work at MOFGA and the Alpaca Farm as well as our own farm. I liked how we got to work with the local community as it was important to help others when needed. I am really glad to have been involved with this class. I was able to participate in tons of this for class. In this class I learned that safety glasses and hard hats should be worn around Mick and how helpful his is to the one that may not know how to use a tool.
I am thankful for the time we spent putting in to the New Barn but not seeing it right now. I know for me it wasn't but because of my inexperience in what we were talking about. Sometimes when people were talk I would just try and listen. Mick wanted us to know about Environmental Citizen.
I really enjoyed this class, even though there is still not a New Barn. I feel like I have made a difference and learned more about new things. I can’t wait to see the frames come out of storage and the barn actually being put up. I would take any class that as this much hands on at Unity College. I think being a part of building the new cottages for students is a great idea. I hope the New Barn just finished before a other class like this happens.

Thank you to all that made barn time fun!!!

Erin Balcom

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Although I was anticipating an experience completely different from the one I had, I learned a great deal, and had a good time doing it. As a kid my father was always building things and working with wood, but as a little girl, I wasn't that interested in carpentry. As I've gotten older, I've learned to appreciate his work a lot more and enjoy picking up a hammer and nail. More recently I've gained a great interest in green building specifically. When I was signing up for classes in the spring I thought that these two attributes would be included in the class. I was right, but the class has been far more complicated than carpentry and green building.

The first thing that comes to mind when reflecting on this class is the fact that we didn't build the barn. I wanted to have hope for it, but after looking at the syllabus and watching weeks go by still without a permit, I knew we wouldn't be building this barn. My classmates bring up a good point, that after this was established, after we knew we wouldn't be building a barn, our motivation went away. Friday mornings, outside, at 8am, in November, is not my idea of a good time. Though when I was down there, getting my hands on some tools, and seeing parts of the barn being built, I was content.

So the barn wasn't built, what did we do? I almost feel like our class turned out to be a better Environmental Citizen class because we couldn't build the barn. Mick was challenged to find other projects for the class and he did a great job. My classmates and I had opportunities to work at MOFGA and the Alpaca Farm as well as our own farm. As an environmental citizen, reaching out to our local community is as important as helping our own. I am really thankful to have been involved with the activities that I was able to participate in. In this class I've learned that sheep can't move when resting on their lower back, safety glasses will always be worn around Mick, and I've learned how much lumber 5 ladies can move in an hour and a half (those involved know what I'm talking about).

Obviously there's more to it than that. I am thankful for the time we spent in the classroom. I think about Trey's comment, specifically about the students not being actively involved with the dialogue at 8am in the morning. I know for me it wasn't always because of the time, but because of the inexperience in what we were talking about. Sometimes when conversation was going on I was so focused on just listening and trying to form my own opinion on everything. Trey also said that he felt our class was more engaging than most of his other classes; I would completely agree with this statement. This is another reason the conversation sometimes took me off guard. Mick really wanted us to think about what it meant to be an Environmental Citizen and everything that's included in that title. I'm not saying I haven't been forced to think about challenging subjects, but never anything quite like this. I enjoy being challenged and thinking about different aspects of life I don't necessarily come across every day.

I really enjoyed this class, even though it didn't always fill my expectations. I feel like I have made a difference and learned a great deal. I look forward to the time those frames come out of storage and the barn actually goes up. I would also like to see many more hands on classes like this at Unity College. I think being a part of building the new cottages for students is a great idea, but wholeheartedly agreeing with Trey, they definitely need to look more grown into the environment, not glass and cement boxes. I enjoyed having the architect come in and having him discuss green building techniques, personally I would have liked to see more of this.

Thank you,

Saturday, December 6, 2008

some reflections-

I have been thinking about this class some, and decided that I should utilize this tool to share some of my thoughts with all of you. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings on any of this.

This class has been interesting in a variety of ways. I came into it wanting a better understanding of mortise and tenon joinery, and I feel like I got that. I understood the basic concepts; I just wanted some practice with the actual construction. Making some bents and thinking about it made me feel much more capable with the process, and I intend to use that capability in my construction projects. It was great to use the mallets and chisels, which is something they do not teach you if you work modern construction now. In that way, I feel like I got what I wanted from this class.

After the first day or two of actual class time, I was pretty excited about some other aspects of the class as well. I wanted to hear what my peers had to say around some of the philosophy and materials that we would be working with. In retrospect, that aspect of the class was something that I feel could have been much improved upon. I know that it was an 8am class, but the dynamics are something that I have noticed in many, if not all, of my classes at Unity.

Real education is not passive. It is not like television. If it is approached that way, it is either totally ineffective or, at best, simple indoctrination. Somehow our culture has developed the opinion that mere presence in a classroom constitutes learning. In the same way that mere presence in a church service does nothing to nurture or develop spirituality, just being in a learning environment teaches one nothing. As students, we need to engage. We need to step forward and challenge what we are being taught. To simply accept what is told us in the classroom is doing ourselves a great disservice, and frankly, it seems like a pretty boring experience for student and teacher alike.

We, as a body of students, have every bit as much if not more influence over the effectiveness of any given class as our professors. If we choose to blindly accept whatever our teachers say to us, the chances are very low that we will even remember it 5 years from now, let along have an educated opinion on the matter. Beyond that, if we do not actively engage in our education, it is not that interesting to be in school. Boring classes are the result of disinterested learners as often as they are the result of poor instruction. Especially in a class like this one, the material is so relevant to our lives that it seems rather tragic to let the opportunity to develop our thoughts and opinions on the matters slip by so passively. This class was about how we approach work in our lives. It was about what we think our government’s role in the workforce and economy should be. These questions are extremely relevant to everyone in our society.

My energy level at 8 am is pretty low, but I pay a lot of money to come to school. I can sit passively and not engage and not learn for free, why would I pay to do so? I know that this class is required, but if anything that should mean that we are more interested in what it has to say. The curriculum of this class is the material that the administration and faculty of this institution have decided that every single person who graduates should have been taught. I came to this school because I felt like the administration and faculty’s philosophy was pretty close to my own. The required classes are a chance to really hear what their priorities are and pick their brains a little.

I should say that there has been more engagement in this class than in many I have taken here, so part of this thought process is not based in this course specifically. Mick did a pretty good job dragging opinions and thoughts out of a bleary-eyed group of sophomores. This thought has more to do with some of my philosophy of work relative to education. Education should be a lot of work, and our behavior as students provides a pretty good insight into our philosophy of labour. This is higher education, and no one is going to hold our feet to the fire. We and we alone dictate the degree of our participation and involvement, and that in turn dictates the quality of our education. To a student, the study of work should be the study of how to approach learning. Unity is a school that it is possible to float through. I have heard peers say flat out that they are buying a degree, and it honestly makes me want to scream.

I don’t mean this as an attack. I did hear some of my peer’s opinions in this class, and I enjoyed it a great deal. I just think that we could have gained a lot more from it if we had all engaged more and challenged some of the ideas we were working with. Education does not have to be boring. In fact, I personally rarely find boring education educational.

As students, we are here to change and grow. No one expects us to have totally solid, unshakeable philosophies. If we wait until we know we are right to speak, we will never grow and never learn what is right. We need to speak our thoughts as they come in order to gain other perspectives on them and see them more clearly. Most of the time I speak I don’t know what I’m talking about, in that I don’t have a complete belief system that I know is correct. I said in class that I thought we should live under a total tyrannical dictatorship. I don’t really believe that, I just wanted to put it into the conversation to see what my peers thought. I said it because I wanted to hear why that thought was wrong, and why consensus or democracy can be as effective and efficient at protecting the environment. As people and especially as students, we don’t need to have the right answer to every question. We need to be comfortable saying something that we are thinking in the moment and seeing what that looks like when other people think about it.

We are capable of creating a dynamic, engaged, mutual educational setting here. Every person in this class is a competent, bright individual. Why not take that and push it? Why not hone and temper our thoughts and beliefs until they can cut through the artifice and ignorance that has become so prevalent in our culture? When someone says something we disagree with, let’s not let it slide. Let’s explore the idea and see where it holds up and where it does not. Then we can gain a real understanding of our opinions and the opinions of others.

Beyond this, I noticed that as it became apparent that we were not, in fact, going to build a barn, the momentum and excitement of the class sort of crashed and burned. I know I was pretty disappointed. I think that in the future, all the red tape needs to be cut before a class like this is offered. It was certainly educational in one way to have the barn not get built, but it was not very good for morale at all.

I agree with Nils that a similar class to build the cabins would be a great idea. The conceptual design that Rick showed us did not really appeal to me. The principals that it was demonstrating were phenomenal. Solar heat, thermal mass, good insulation; these are all great things. But the buildings need to fit the ecosystem, and perhaps it was just the way they looked in the software, but those glass and grey boxes were not something that I would like to see in the woodlot at all. I would be more in favour of a couple of natural building styles using local resources. Cordwood, straw bale, lime plaster, post-and-beam, stonework, these are the things that this ecosystem can provide. Why not work with those, and have more organic buildings that fit the woodlot? Cement is terrible stuff; I don’t really want big cement and glass boxes out there. Why not explore how to make Earthships fit into this ecosystem?

I enjoyed this class a lot. I liked the content and the things we discussed; I really enjoyed those Gary Snyder poems. Thanks to everyone in it, it was fun working with you.

Quasso regimen, carpe iter.

trevanion j grenfell

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Greeting y'all,
I realize this blog is a bit delayed but I've been thinking allot about the proposed idea of Unity students building some more cottages and I thought I'd use this blog to reflect on that, as well as the presentation done by the student architect (name escapes me) who plans to help us with the design.
I really like the idea of Unity students building some new cottages. We need more school housing anyway and the only way the school can really make it happen in an acceptable time frame is by using student labor. Unity College is supposed to be all about field work ant that's a great thing since it seems to be the most effective, even if often time consuming, way of learning. Like the Chinese proverb goes-" I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand."
I also really appreciated the guest speaker, student architect, who came in to class and gave a really awesome presentation. I thought his use of visuals, particularly the preliminary computer design of the cottage itself, was a great way to keep us morning-dead college students attention. Which Mick reminds us, every now and then, isn't actually all that easy. I especially appreciated learning about concepts such as passive solar heating, which was illustrated in the computer design where the simulated light shifted inside the cabin as the months of the year past by, finally filling the entire college with light/solar heat during the chilly winter time. Learning about organic space made me interested in someday building my own home using this style of design. I've felt for a long time that the traditional "square" building style is optically boring and often not the most effective use of space. Organic space is all about a continuous/flowing feel with not trapped spaces and creating a sense of mystery that should pull you through the building, wondering whats around the bend. When done right this is a method to actually connect the person with the design. I knew nothing about Floyd Right before this class and the man is credited to coin organic architecture where the house actually becomes part of the building sight, with each building being as unique as its natural surrounding. I thought right away of Hobbit houses in the Shire. Course these aren't necessarily underground which gives the designer a great range of creativity withing the setting.
Overall I learned allot about an architecture style that I thought only existed in the fantasy world and was introduced to a very Unity fieldwork class idea that I completely support and would very much like to be a part of.

Keep it sustainable peeps...
-Nils B.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Conceptual Bent

Evening fellow barn builders-

I realize that this particular bent is neither within our time frame nor necessary for this building, but I spent some time trying to come up with a way to have four beams intersect at 90 degree angles on top of a single post tightly, and this was what I came up with. If the beams coming in from the top right and bottom left of the picture were put in place first, than the flat half of the butt end of the other two beams (the bottom, in their cases) would hold the tails tight against the pins, and the same in reverse. Just playing around with post and beam concepts. I think that what we will do is probably have the posts rise straight up to the ceiling, which allows us to simply have 4-way mortise and tenon attachments, with a 1/2 inch or so taken out of the post all the way around to give the beams a lip to rest on. Is there some glaring reason that my bent would not work or that my concept of what we should actually do is mistaken?

quasso regimen, carpe iter.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Favorite Pic of the Day

Today's favorite pic goes to Trey. Every bit of his closed off yet thoughtful posture screams quintessential Trey and I find this insight to be striking and hilarious.

Making a Tenon

Our project for the day was a bit of trial and error to see which sizes for the mortise and tenons fit best to make a solid brace. In the above shots we were working on perfecting the tenon.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hoof trimming

As should be clear by now, the whole purpose of the practical side of this barn project is to provide for better husbandry for the college's farm animals. Part of that is regular and proper care of hooves.

Here's Meredith and Ian tackling a couple of our sheep's hooves. Not an easy job to learn, hard on your back, but necessary unless you have very wild sheep that climb a lot of rock.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A bracing experience...

Inset cross bracing is old-fashioned but very sturdy. Learning to do it well takes some patience, and you have to be handy with tools.

In Yorkshire, if a worker is clumsy, we call him "cack-handed," a term that comes down to us from ancient Anglo-gaelic and is best left untranslated.

Our barn-builders proved, for the most part, not cack-handed at building frames and cross-bracing them. We still have a few frame sections to make, but it won't take long next week to finish.

The practice at chiseling out insets for cross-bracing will stand us in good stead when chiseling out mortices.

I ordered the 6 by 6 and 6 by 8 lumber for beams and posts, dug out and sharpened my framing and skew chisels, and will buy a new auger bit today.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Favorite pic of the Day

And Nils wins my favorite pic of the day award for 9/12/08. This was while a group of us were watching Nils attempt to remove a flat tire off of a trailer. He eventually got it.

At Work Sep. 12, 2008

Here are just a few photos of the work we did on Friday morning, week 3

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Some shots of our workday at MOFGA last Friday.

This MOFGA barn-raising has been fairly high pressure. With the fair coming so soon, they needed to get the building finished. That was good and bad for our barn-building class. On the one hand, they got to see how chaotic and dangerous a place a construction site is. On the other hand, everyone becomes rapidly aware of how important teamwork is, and how even the ground crew all have essential work that keeps the whole project moving.

MOFGA personnel were not wearing hard hats, at least not all of them. I couldn't control that, although I tried to get all the Unity College workstudy students that were working for MOFGA to wear them, even though they were not under my direct supervision.

But in these shots, if a person is wearing a hard hat, they're a member of our class.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

On the job at last!

Here's a series of photos of our work day activity Friday.

I hadn't intended to have students doing such advanced work so quickly, but since we will be delayed somewhat in breaking ground by waiting for the DEP permit, and since MOFGA Facilities Manager Verne LeCount was asking for help, it made sense for our first big workday to be helping Verne and his crew finish off their barn.

That was good because it meant that the students who signed up for this got to work right away on a real building, and a real job site with all its hazards and need for safety consciousness.

The new MOFGA barn is a pole building, in which the foundation is cedar poles set in the ground. MOFGA, in a specialty I haven't seen anywhere else, scarfs the cedar into 6 by 6 hemlock posts, attaches 10 or 12-inch hemlock beams about ten or twelve feet on center, and eight inch hemlock rafters. Our job was to help fit the purlins to the rafters in time for the metal roof, in time for the Fair in three week's time, and once done with that, to build the stalls.

Everyone worked hard, including the old man, who got more than his fair share of what my good wife calls "Mick-yoga," stretching and sweating in strange contorted positions on the roof.

Several students went aloft, and also learned to wield a nail-gun. I had not intended to teach the use of air tools, since they are inherently dangerous, but the job of fitting purlins is more dangerous with a hammer and nails, for which you must use two hands, than it is with a nail gun, which only needs one, leaving you a hand free to help keep your balance.

All went very well. We had a great crew and good team work, and knocked out Verne's purlins in double-quick time, with no safety incidents.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ground plans now in

The ground plans for the DEP Permit have arrived. Civil engineer Boyd Snowdon went over them yesterday with Roger Duval and myself.

I'm not going to post these online as I don't have electronic copies, but we will go over them in class during the first week.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Toolroom and workbenches

These are the facilities we'll use for the first phases of building the barn. Having a properly planned out, electrically wired, and well-lit working area will keep us safer, help control and safety-check our tools, and give us a dry place to work so we can still make progress if it rains.

Here's the toolroom/stockroom.

A dayglow "shadowboard" will help make sure we don't lose tools or leave them out in the rain. When a tool is missing, its dayglow outline lets you know. This saves money on lost tools, and helps you get into a routine of checking tools as you put them properly away.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Cleaning out the barn

Here's a series of shots of today's farm project: cleaning out the Womerlippi barn with the small 12 HP Kubota tractor.

It's a small barn, so you need a small tractor. I'm a big guy, so I look pretty silly on a tiny japanese tractor. But it works well.

This is a custom-designed system, and the barn, the tractor, the pig sty and the garden all work together in linear fashion, a compost assembly line. We will build a similar system into the new college barn.

The material being "cleaned out" is actually being prepared for use, to be prized as next year's main agricultural input to the garden and potato patch.

This is deep bedding for the sheep from last winter. We use a modification on a European farm system called "Swedish deep bedding," that I learned about in ecology class field trips as a schoolkid, in which fresh bedding is added each week to cover last week's accumulation of manure. This doesn't smell bad like a regular barn does, and it helps concentrate the soil nutrients and capture fertility that is otherwise lost. The sheep do their deep bedding job for about 5-6 months of late fall, winter and spring, after which the pigs and chickens get to go at it. The pigs have been working it over now for about four months, and so we started to clean it out a few weeks ago, but it's getting very concentrated and ripe and even just a little smelly for the very first time, and is attracting flies, so it's time to move it all out!

Deep bedding is a great system for a small farm/garden combination, especially if you use a secondary processor like our pigs. You'd think that pigs would be upset to have to live in and sleep on used sheep bedding, but they love it, and dig and root in it for all kinds of unmentionable piggy treats, which keeps them happy pigs. They really enjoy the day we push out a fresh pile of bedding into the yard, and Ophelia, the livelier pig, goes skipping around in it like a piglet.

The Kubota tractor can move around in the 20 by 30 foot barn, especially if it has no rototiller or other rear attachment on, and so it does most of the heavy work. Still, cleaning out the edges and corners is hard work. About two hours was all that was needed to get 3/4 of the material out into the outdoor sty, where it will compost rapidly in what remains of summer. Next spring we'll till the finished compost into the garden using the bucket loader and the custom Kubota tiller that came with the tractor. There'll be too much so we will put some in the herb garden too, and possibly gives some away to the neighbors. That seems to me to be a lot less work than cleaning it out weekly, and a superior compost product is the result. The Kubota uses a small amount of diesel -- less than half a gallon -- to do this job.

Although I am a little tired from my exertions. Nicely so. That green gym workout again.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Work begins!

This is the kick-off for our barn-building project. Students in a second-year general education course will build a small animal barn to shelter our college sheep herd, and provide housing for pigs, chickens, cattle or indeed any other small scale sustainable livestock project the college might like to pursue in the future.

The barn will also help make sense of our composting system, which has always had problems, mostly due ton the high volume of waste. By feeding pre-consumer kitchen and garden waste to appropriate animals like pigs in a controlled barn-based system, we can reduce the volume of waste, and its attraction to undesirable critters. Barns also help collect and concentrate animal manure and bedding for use in gardens and on fields. It's a lot easier in general to make good compost if you have a barn.

I wanted to be well-organized for the beginning of class, because nothing can be quite so disheartening for students than a project class that uses up three or four of the first few weeks in organizing, making plans, and in mundane tasks like getting materials to the site. So hopefully, if I do my work well, everything will be in place when class starts. Students will have to study safety precautions and regulations for a little less than a week, but then, on the first Friday of term, they will actually get right down to practical work.

First job was to take the existing animal shelter, a pole barn, and prepare it for use as tool storage and as a temporary workshop where we can still get things done if it rains. I almost forgot to take a photo of this first job, but remembered a few minutes into my work, and here's the shot (above).

As you can see, although sturdy, this run-in shelter doesn't do it's job well. It's enclosed on three sides only, so the snow blows in unless you use ugly old tarps like the ones on there right now. It's hard to clean out, because you can't drive right through with a loader. And it's built on clay soil, which is by far the worst feature. Clay acts as a seal for water so it doesn't drain, and so you get wet conditions, which damages the animals' hoofs and makes them prone to hoof rot. Our sheep had bad hoof rot this year, which didn't clear up until they'd been on the dry sandyn soil at MOFGA for a week or so. And I almost lost my shoe today to the boggy spot right in front of the black tarp.

None of this is the fault of the FFA students, who built this shelter with the help of the club advisors. Back then, before the college had the Agriculture Food and Sustainability degree program, all they had to work with was a tiny bit of club money. The students wanted a college farm, and this is how it started. They had the guts to get it going, but with so few resources, this was the best they could do.

Well, as a job site workshop, it'll do just fine. The animals have been removed (to MOFGA -- see the Sustainability Activities page for details), except for our Hampshire ram "Mikey", who's king of the back pen for now, and the fence and gates in the home pen have been taken down and removed, leaving a wide open space where the new barn will go.

Today we took down the tarps on the old shelter, removed some of the feeding equipment to make room for shelves and a workbench, and wired the building for shop lights and electrical outlets. Tomorrow we'll keep working on benches, and make a locking toolroom.

Any Environmental Citizen students already in the area for fall semester who'd like to help are welcome to come down to the site. I'll be working regularly this week and next. I'll generally be on site at 8am or 8.30 (depending on whether this is a day the sheep need moved (at MOFGA) or not, and on any other UC commitments).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Monday, August 4, 2008

Syllabus posted

The syllabus for this class is now available at my course documentation page right here.

Email me with any questions at


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Plans for the barn

The concept drawing is in! If you want to see the paper copy, come by my office. This is the front elevation. Thanks to Dave Minnis the architect for making these excellent drawings for free. Thanks to Roger Duval for asking him to do it.


Course list complete!

Students signed up for this class at record speed, and by the time Kayla checked the computer this morning at 12.30 am, just a few minutes into end-of-First Year pre-registration, it was full. Before dawn even!

Below is the list of students, so you can begin to make friends and post to the blog. Student leaders are to the right. The syllabus will be posted here before the beginning of summer, and an email list serve will be provided so you can email to all the students, students leaders and instructors.

Student list:
Balcom, Erin E (Erin)
Behn, Amber S (Amber)
Berry, Charlotte A (Charlotte)
Boyle, Quinn Patric (Quinn)
Brummel, Jessica (Jess)
Collins, Meredith A (Meredith)
Dorsey, Tiffany L (Tiffany)
Duncan, Paul M (Paul)
Elting, William M (Will)
Hammond, David M (David)
Jaroche, Casey D (Casey)
Lavoie, Jessica E (Jessica)
Milligan, Patrick C (Patrick)
Peabody, Anna R (Anna)
Ryan, Alicyn N (Alicyn)
Saylor, Ian Micheal (Ian)
Shepard, Kiera M (Kiera)
Smith, Amanda L (Amanda)
Vorpagel, Kyle L (Kyle)
Webber, Brandon M (Brandon)

Food waste missive

I always like it when students jump in and help out with the sustainability work. Aaron just sent this out to the listserve, without needing to be asked.

Awesome, Aaron.

This just in! The Unity College cafeteria is throwing away/composting approximately 800 pounds of food every week! This equates to about 20% of the total food production. The total budget, for food per year, for the cafeteria is approximately $260,000.00, twenty percent of $260,000.00 is $52,000. A twenty percent waste margin is considered to be acceptable. Though it is an acceptable margin it still represents a large sum of money, and a large amount of the waste is from students throwing away food they do not eat.

This is a pertinent issue for all students eating in the cafeteria. $52,000 of your food budget is going into the compost bin or the dumpster. In a perfect world there would be no waste, but this is not a perfect world.

It is not the end of the world. What can you as a student eating in the cafeteria do to reduce your waste?

  • Take less food your first time through the buffet line
  • Offer suggestions for improvements
  • Respond to surveys
  • Get on the dining services committee
  • Volunteer with the compost crew
  • Use your work study in the cafeteria

Just remember you can always get seconds. The average student takes 20oz of food and throws away 4 of those ounces. Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach. Limit the amount of food you take, to what you know you can eat. Give the cafeteria constructive feedback. Do not be afraid to use the suggestions box by the door to the cafeteria. The staff also sends out survey periodically, but it is no good to them if they receive limited and single sided responses. Also the compost crew would love to have extra help to pick up the food scraps and take it to the compost piles. And the cafeteria can almost always use work study help. If you are not using your work study, consider using it in the cafeteria. With extra help the staff can implement more programs to limit and reduce waste.

We all attend a college with a mission towards sustainability and environmental excellence. I understand that not everyone that attends Unity College cares about the environment the same way. If “saving the planet” is not of concern to you; maybe saving money is something that concerns you. Whatever it is that concerns you as an individual; I would challenge you to do something about it. Make some noise. Do something to help yourself and your community. Make a conscious effort to reduce your waste and others will follow.

Aaron DeStefano

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Sheep replace lawn mowers in Turin parks

Ewes-ful lawn-mowers at the Womerlippi Farm

We used our little Unity College FFA Farm club herd of Hampshire sheep to mow the Woodsmen's field for part of last year. It was a little controversial, because (somewhat woodenly) the summer farm staff were supposed to ask the Woodsmen and didn't. They also added cows, which are less careful with their manure, plopping it around the place in big plops that are hard to break down. And they allowed the grass to grow tall, after which the animals just trample it down.

So the Woodsmen's coach got mad at the farm staff for messing up the field.
I was at home spending two months building a barn and not watching the shop. The FFA Farmers got a bad rap, and I had to apologize on their behalf to the Woodsmen's coach. Ouch. But everything was fixed by the start of the school term.

This little spot of trouble should not be seen to prove that properly used sheep and properly trained shepherds cannot produce good results. And the use of sheep to mow lawns is still by far the best and cheapest system. Back in the day, when the Europeans invented the country park in the 18th Century, sheep were the primary mowers of lawns, and if you wanted a close cropped sward, you had to have close-cropping sheep. It was only in the 19th century that the Victorians invented the lawnmower, right about the time they invented the suburb. Suburbanites wanted lawns but had no time to manage sheep. Sheep kept on grass produce less methane, and can import fertility to the lawn if managed with that in mind. A rotational grazing system is best. Mobile electric fencing can be used to control the level of grazing. Aimee and I do this at home, and only use our lawn mower, or a scythe, for whacking the unpalatable weeds the sheep can't eat.
If properly controlled, sheep crop grass very nicely, as you can see from the results in the Womerlippi Farm picture above, and sheep manure is broken down very quickly in high summer.

So, if you come to Unity College this summer, expect to see the odd, seemingly out-of-place sheep. It's really the lawn mower that's out of place. (Sorry, Ivan.)

Sheep replace lawn mowers in Turin parks

Tom Kington in Rome

The Guardian

In a bid to keep its municipal lawns trim while saving money, the city of Turin has done away with lawn mowers and brought in 700 sheep to graze in two parks.

Turin police blocked roads last Thursday as the first flock moved in to tackle the Meisino park, part of a two-month stint which city officials say will save €30,000 (£24,000) on gardeners' fees.

Shepherds brought up the herd, carrying 16 newly born lambs belonging to the flock, which will now be left to graze at the park on the city's outskirts until the grass is cricket-pitch smooth.

The scheme was tested last year with cows and sheep, but the cows were not invited back after leaving behind too much dung.

"I came here last year as well and it worked out really well," said shepherd Federico Tombolato after leading his flock back into Turin. "The city saved money and kept the park clean, while I saved money by not having to rent fields to graze my sheep."

A second flock is scheduled to descend today on the Sangone park. In both parks the sheep are kept in fenced-off sections and then moved on when the grass is trim. Signs will be erected to inform park goers why hundreds of sheep have temporarily replaced joggers and dog walkers.

After the two-month stay in the city, the sheep will be withdrawn to Alpine pastures for the summer.

Needed: The brown stuff.

Exploring the problems of dirt and manure up close and personal

This came up the other day. It's a sub-set of the question "Why would we want a farm at Unity College." As is the sheep post below.

Lots of Unity students are vegetarian because they worry about the way animals are treated in the factory farm system. And if you ever went to a CAFO or similar, you'd be disgusted too, and would begin to worry. Unless you were a completely thoughtless individual. I hate to see animals confined in crowded, squalid quarters.

But the most stable human ecological adaptive strategy since hunting and gathering is the mixed farm system, in which manures and rotations are used to maintain fertility. There are hundreds of regional versions, but the one I practice at home with my wife Aimee (who is vegetarian) uses winter shelter (a barn) to concentrate manures and bedding for processing (composting) and delivery to the garden. Animals need winter shelter in Maine anyway, especially for raising young. This is very effective, and we even get two different kinds, sheep manure and chicken manure, which have different nitrogen levels and are good for different uses, (although so far we haven't gotten to the point of separating them into different compost heaps, but I'm going to be working a lot with compost this summer.

It's possible to use vegetable material alone to build compost, but you must bring some new material into the cycle. You can't just add the waste material from your garden to a pile and expect to maintain fertility (another application of the Laws of Thermodynamics). If you import a lot of outside food to your kitchen, and waste a lot to your compost heap, and cycle your own manure (your poop!) into the garden, you might just make out on the basis of the outside food. But otherwise, even using your own waste as manure, you will see a steady decline in your system fertility, and have to import some material from some other source, likely industrial, with associated climate emissions. Most nitrogenous industrial fertilizer is made using natural gas as the primary input to provide energy to take nitrogen from the air. You can also do this with a cover crop or green manure, which too will import nitrogen from the atmosphere. But animals provide real manure, the fertility of which is imported from self-maintaining mixed pastures and forage crops. To be successful, the pastures and hayfields have to have nitrogen-fixing plants too.

I remember the Amish fields in western Maryland. The native soil was reddish-brown, but the Amish farmer's fields were coal-black from years of manuring.

This is the best argument for mixed farming systems in Maine and in fact anywhere where cold weather is a factor (and thus concentrated manure from winter housing). In my home country of Great Britain, this system has been sustainable and sustained for 2-3,000 years at least. Here in Maine, it has lasted so far for 210-250 years (at the most). In practice, you don't need to mix systems on the same farm. I know lots of people who farm or garden organically, but get their manure and other inputs from off the farm.

My wife, the vegetarian, imposes one condition on our system. I must be the one to slaughter the animals, and I must do it at home. No transportation of terrified creatures allowed.

Generally, by the time the time comes around for the pigs, fat lambs, or whatever, she is ready for me to do the deed.