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.