Sustainable Watch

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), July 27, 2008 | Go to article overview

Sustainable Watch


Byline: Jill Aho The Register-Guard

In the eight years Jan Spencer has lived at 212 Benjamin St., he has torn out his driveway, eliminated all the grass and built a chicken coop. He calls his creation "edible landscaping."

Spencer recently led 14 friends and neighbors on a bicycle tour of his River Road neighborhood to see what innovations people who use all or most of their yard space to grow food, keep chickens and produce solar power have made.

"These are all kind of models for food production and energy and rainwater," he said. "These are all ways people are going to take care of their needs as we move into a constrained future."

Spencer collects rainwater from his roof in 1,600-gallon water storage tanks. He then uses the stored water to provide moisture for his extensive garden. He said he doesn't buy fruits and vegetables at the store, instead growing a variety of plants including a fig tree, kiwi vines, tomatoes, rosemary and countless others.

He transformed his house to include a sun room that takes advantage of its south-facing orientation to increase the amount of passive solar heating it can provide to the living space.

"Eugene is rich in pioneers of culture change," Spencer said.

The second stop was just a few doors down at the Rev. John Pitney's house. Pitney created a program called "That's My Farmer," in which 16 faith communities encourage their patrons to support local farmers through Community Supported Agriculture. Most often people who join CSAs pay for a subscription package at the beginning of the growing season and get a box of fresh fruits and vegetables every week.

Pitney has owned his home for nine years. In that time, he has installed two solar racks which feed energy into his house and the grid system whenever he produces more than his home is consuming.

Each rack produces about 1,200 kilowatt hours a year; that's about one-third of his energy use, he said. He also has a solar water heater.

Pitney often has open houses and invites people to tour his yard. "Part of the reason why our family chooses to do what we do is to be visible to others," he said.

A few blocks away, the group stopped at Dharmalaya, the home of meditation teacher Ravi Logan and his family. Explaining to the group how he has arranged his backyard, Logan said, "We tried to make use of resources that are immediately available."

That means sunlight, water and organic materials, he said. His property holds a home, a bath house and a meeting space for meditation and yoga, among other activities.

Dharmalaya came under scrutiny by the city last year in a dispute about land use permits. The center, the city said, was holding too many public activities. The city finally backed down and Dharmalaya has resumed small-scale offerings. …

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