Last Words

This was one of the most rewarding classes I’ve taken this semester, and most of that is due to its applicability beyond the course. The class was structured around the ideas presented in the textbook and Holmgren’s principles, which were discussed during a fraction of class time. While that was all very standard, what made the class especially entertaining and memorable was the time we spent actually observing the principles in action. We visited quite a few locations that employ popular permaculture structures, such as the Campus Farm with its herb spiral and Chiwara R&D Lab with its hoophouses and hugelkultur. Going to the Nichols Arboretum and learning about the practical uses of various herbs also distinguished the class as especially rewarding. But finally, the class was most special in the way it pushed us students to rethink and reconstruct our lifestyles. For me, I never would have known about or visited the Ann Arbor Farmers Market or the People’s Food Co-op if it weren’t for this class, nor would I have realized that my waste and consumption are really unnecessarily high for a 17-year old girl – obviously I shouldn’t be using up 3.7 planets.

Admittedly, this class was a bit of work for a 1-credit class, but I don’t mind the blogging. It’s the first time I’ve ever blogged, and it was a fun experience at least. I liked having to go to the Farmers Market and the People’s Food Co-op and snapping pictures there as well. Class outdoors also was one of the most refreshing parts of my week. I did not like reading the textbook; however, as this is an educational course on permaculture, I realize it was a necessary component of our learning process. In general, the class and its workload were pretty well-designed and thought out properly, but I might suggest cutting down the external reading, such as the textbook and magazines, and instead discuss them during class time, which was definitely more educational for me. 

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The EcoQube

One of my favorite websites to visit when I need (“need”) to waste time is reddit.com…and recently I found out there’s a subreddit for permies, r/permaculture. While browsing some of the more popular posts on r/permaculture, I came across the website for a Kickstarter project called the EcoQube, which is a desktop ecosystem that grows flowers and herbs.

This picture of an EcoQube is taken directly off of the Kickstarter web page. It is NOT mine.

The idea for an EcoQube originated with two UC San Diego students, named Eric and Kevin, whose love for aquarium systems has spawned their own company, Aqua Design Innovations. As you can see, it’s a very beautiful, multifunctional home decoration that is, as most permaculture structures are, low-maintenance and self-sufficient. It is an object built for both fish and plants to survive, and taking advantage of the function-stacking principle to sustain the cube. In simple terms, the fish excrete waste, which is then purified by a filter which uses the plants, before finally being turned into fertilizer by a built-in aquaponics system. There is no need to change or replace the filters, the water remains clean as possible, and its immense efficiency is all compacted into one small, aesthetically pleasing cube.

Personally, I’m very impressed by the careful design and thought put into this structure, and the beauty of the end result. While permaculture structures are undoubtedly efficient, I don’t always find them visually appealing (hugelkulturs anyone?), but this EcoQube combines both physical attractiveness and functional efficiency.

Here’s the link to the Kickstarter project webpage:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kevinzl/ecoqube-desktop-ecosystem-that-grow-flowers-and-he

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The People’s Food Co-op

Last week I visited the People’s Food Co-op! There are really diverse, expansive arrays of organic, local food products.

Such as this one:

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There was plenty of fresh produce in a section connecting the cafe and the store. The cafe was pretty packed.

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Also in the connector passage between the cafe and the shop is a salad/soup self-serve bar. Everything looked fresh and delicious – and it tasted great too! There were free samples; the one I tried was wild rice with autumn squash.

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The shelves of the store were stocked with items of all kinds: dry pasta noodles, packets of tea, fruit preserves, various types of flour, homemade peanut butter, and more. The store was filled with only natural, healthy products free of chemical alterations, pervading a sense of wholesome goodness throughout. They were having a special on holiday flavored tea – 2 for $5 – so naturally I spent the remaining $5 in my wallet:

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The People’s Food Co-op was a generally uplifting place to be; even if I didn’t buy anything, it was worth the walk to take a look around the store/cafe.

Edit: I can’t figure out how to make the text the same size. </3

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Waste Journal

For me, waste was anything I threw into the trash can or recycling bin.

Thursday, November 28th (Thanksgiving):

-a few noodles

-one apple core

-two small ribs

-two styrofoam plates

-one plastic cup

-three plastic forks

-one paper cup

-two napkins

-plastic wrapping on a tube of lipstick

-one bag of popcorn; empty

-one bag of popcorn; burnt popcorn still inside

-one plastic Ice Mountain water bottle, 16.9 oz

-one square of toilet paper (used to wipe off make-up)

Friday, November 29th:

-two styrofoam plates

-four styrofoam bowls

-five plastic forks

-one plastic spoon

-two napkins

-cake frosting

-a small, squished piece of pumpkin pie

-one can of Sierra Mist; empty

-one bag of popcorn; empty

-shavings from an eyeliner pencil

-one square of toilet paper

Saturday, November 30th:

-the box to a Marie Callender’s chocolate cream pie

-the box to a Michelina’s microwavable chicken fettucine alfredo meal

-two plastic cups

-two styrofoam plates

-two napkins

-three plastic forks

-Hershey’s cookies and cream chocolate bar wrapper

-half of a Chinese pastry

-two bags of popcorn; empty

These results were obtained over Thanksgiving break, during which I went to many people’s houses to dine and therefore used much more plastic ware than usual. (Additionally I had the luxury of hibernating pretty much the whole day during break so that resulted in less consumption and waste on my part.) Generally my plastic/food waste is low when I eat at the dining halls at Umich, and most of my waste comes from snack food wrappers, such as Fiber 1 bars or popcorn (I really should eat less popcorn), the tissues I use to wipe my fingers of the oily junk food, and the toilet paper I use to wipe off make-up. I can definitely cut down on the snacking – it would reduce waste and be sooo much better for my health.

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My Ecological Footprint

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According to the footprint calculator, if the world populace adopted my lifestyle, at least 3.7 planets would be required to sustain everybody. I was actually surprised by these results, since after measuring my waste recently I realized how wasteful I really am, and expected the number of planets to be higher. 

For this questionnaire I went back in time and treated it as if I were living in my senior year of high school because I figured trying to estimate my energy usage here would be too difficult and inaccurate, whereas I have a pretty good idea of my house’s energy bills this past year. For me/my family, the main source of impact on the earth was in the services category, which I’m assuming encompasses heating, running water, and electricity services. Next came food, which was not at all surprising to me. While my meat consumption is relatively low, I have an unfortunate addiction to packaged foods which probably skyrocketed my waste/energy levels, considering there are numerous steps to the final product.

I don’t want to take the results from this footprint calculator too seriously, though. Since I used data from my household last year, it was hard to distinguish between how much of the impact on the earth was from solely me, and what was from my family collectively. Additionally, since my lifestyle has changed drastically now that I’ve moved to college, I’m sure I’m at least a little eco-friendlier this year. I walk everywhere now, I recycle more, and I keep my electricity usage as low as possible. There’s definitely room for me to improve, such as eating locally grown food and less packaged junk food; hopefully this year will see an execution of these changes to my lifestyle.

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Crash Course in Permaculture [Op-Ed]

The first semester of my freshman year at the University of Michigan is only halfway through, yet I think I know already which classes I’ll be missing most. I started the year expecting to create countless indelible memories, but it had never occurred to me that those memories would include standing in a stranger’s backyard and eating his plants – all in the name of learning about permaculture, of course.

If I’ve learned anything from this regrettably short class – other than swiss chard is tasty and fennel seed is not – it’s that permaculture is easily applicable and sustainable long-term. At the Chiwara R & D Lab, located in Ann Arbor suburbia just next to the University of Michigan’s central campus, I gleaned my first taste of the practices of permaculture. The backyard of Chiwara appeared to be in disarray, but upon closer inspection I could see there were actually very distinct patterns and formations which the plants were arranged in.

In one area of the space there were small beds of plants with arches over them and white covers lying to the side. These, my teacher explained, are called hoophouses (perhaps more formally known as polytunnels), which act as miniature greenhouses. The hoophouses not only retain heat when the environment outside is at a lower temperature, but they also provide shelter for the crops from harmful weather conditions.

Another structure I witnessed at Chiwara was the hugelkultur, a massive mound comprising of a variety of plants, lots of branches, twigs, leaves, and layers of topsoil. The hugelkultur is a manmade replica of nature’s nutrient cycling systems, which allows it to retain moisture and soil fertility as well as improve drainage.

Later, at the Michigan Campus Farm, I was also able to traverse an herb spiral. The concept behind herb spirals is to confine as many herbs as possible in the coiled area; the Campus Farm boasts at least fifteen different varieties of plant within the herb spiral. They are incredibly space-efficient, and in turn, require little effort for maintenance. Their productivity is only increased by the fact that the herbs grow back every year.

While all the instances of permaculture in practice I saw were in relatively small doses, the principles can be applied on a larger scale as well. In areas of Michigan like Detroit, where urban decay is rampant and consuming, executing permaculture principles could be impactful in the campaign to restore the city to green glory. Hugelkulturs especially are easy and perfect for urban lots, for example, and efficient in that they incorporate waste materials; they would make great embellishments to community gardens. In addition to providing a way to sustainably cultivate the land, permaculture-based gardens heighten aesthetic value, contribute to a sense of communion with the land, and serve practical food uses.

“Permaculture isn’t a field of study; it’s a lifestyle,” my teacher always likes to say. And it’s true. By implementing these small, yet permanent changes to our lifestyle we create a great difference – the (Pure) Michigan difference – to the world around us.

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Annoyances

One of the most admirable efforts of the University of Michigan is its attempt to gear students toward a more energy-conserving lifestyle. The hybrid buses are amazing, the dual function flushes on many toilets is great, the solar panels are brilliant…but that one dryer in a bathroom full of girls rushing to get to Great Books lecture in the morning? Not so wonderful.

Who has the time to stand in a line to dry their hands by air dryer? It’s very inefficient (in terms of time conservation in relation to drying capability) and quite the annoyance, especially when the bathroom has a few people in it. I know most of the girls in my hall just simply walk out of the bathroom, hands dripping wet all over the door handles, rather than wait by the dryer until the girl before her is finished.

Having only one dryer in the bathrooms is inconvenient – but that’s just what it is, an inconvenience. It’s no major problem, merely an annoyance that we have to deal with. Compared to the countless squares of paper towel this dryer eliminates (as well as the energy saved when we are discouraged from drying our hands at all), this annoyance is perhaps a small price to pay for a greater, global good.

On a related note, here’s an article that explains why we prefer small luxuries now instead of prolonged environmental well-being for the future. It’s an interesting read; check it out if you have time! http://science.time.com/2013/10/21/why-we-dont-care-about-saving-our-grandchildren-from-climate-change/

Note: Picture displays about two more dryers than we actually have in our residential halls.

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