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5/31/11

Pipsqueaks Are Loosed On The Bay

Good mornin' from the bay!
Summer nears, so we are back to Raising Pirates.



And to help the Chesapeake Bay, we're (finally) growing oysters!


We arrived a day later than usual, as we hung back in Richmond for a going away party for a German family as they prepare to return to Europe. On the drive down, the slanted evening light gave new perspective to these old homes I've photographed for years as we sped by... I keep photographing the same homes, over and over, year after year, but never tire of it: something makes me think that sadly some of these homes and farms might not remain in my lifetime... I hope I'm wrong...



Oh. But wait. Y'all are here to hear about construction progress on the prefab home - off grid, zero energy systems installation progresses!




There was no grading this week because of the intermittent rain.
The rain has started to fill the cistern, but we were surprised it wasn't filled more. As everything, we will take a closer look and make adjustments, if necessary, over the week.

Handsome Husband and Max pressure tested the solar loop, and found 2 of the 3 pumps were leaking... sigh. So they sealed and will retest and make adjustments if neccessary.  Adjustments, adjustments, adjustments.
They finished the water filtration assembly, which did not need an adjustment, but only because it is not test-able yet.

This week grading around the prefab house's home site begins. Where it will end... I... don't... know.
In the meantime, we are letting the childrenz loose on the seas and sandbar.



As with everything in the world: May they not sink, but swim.
Cheers!
Pipsqueak, loosed on the bay.
Helicopter Parents we t'ain't.

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5/27/11

Two Outta Three T'Ain't Bad... Richmond's Urban Chickens Saga Counts One Loss

I promise off grid zero energy prefab house kit construction updates will resume after this civic update.

My childrenz earned another Kid Scouts badge as they headed in with me to meet with another board of supervisor to discuss legalizing urban hens. What's Kid Scouts, you say? Well, we kinda made it up.

Urban hens increase a community's livability, sustainability,
and coop tours even raise money for good causes and increase tourism.
Raleigh's Tour D'Coop raised over $5,000 and 3,000 pounds of food for
their local food bank this year!

Two of the supervisors with whom I have met have given us their support. Today, a third did not, saying he doesn't "want the farm in the city." I reminded him hens have always been in Henrico and have a long urban history in the region. He then said he didn't think many people would support it.
(**Please let your RVA representatives know you support chickens!** Really, it DOES make a difference.)

It was a very good civics lesson for the children, who were on good behavior.

In the end, he dismissed our data: http://www.slideshare.net/CampusBookstore/chickunz-v6
No matter how much we presented facts (it would take ten hens to make up the poundage of the average lab, they produce less waste, less noise, and their droppings improve the soil while dogs' do not, for example), he just repeated "but we don't want the farm in the city." Amy Carol Randolph and I countered that hens were not just for the farm and that there is a long, long history of hens in urban areas, that other cities recognize this and have changed zoning accordingly (over 500 cities & towns last year!).

Amy Carroll Randolph consoled, "Well, two out of three ain't bad..."



But it's not acceptable for citizens who desire to be more sustainable, affordably, while improving their soil... Speaking of soil quality, there was an article on 13 year cicadas emerging in the paper. I noticed all the areas were more rural... Not that I want a bunch o' cicadas, but I recall my summers filled with them growing up in Richmond, and can't help but wonder if it's because these suburban lawns have been nuked so much with pesticides these recent decades that cicadas, who incubate in soil, no longer appear in more urban areas. Most homeowner lot's soil is no longer useful here.

I had a AnyoneChemicalLawnXYZ representative stop by my home this week. "Oh, no, we don't do chemicals, we grow FOOD!" Mr. Chemical agreed, "Oh, yeah, if you're growing food you don't want to be sprayed!" I wonder if my neighbors who hire lawn services know that, as most of them have a little plot o' summer tomatoes for their children. And: If he agrees you don't want it on food crops, why would you let your children run on this turf barefoot? Your pets? Why is THIS legal to spray with an organic neighbor downwind?

I have a meeting with a forth board of supervisor next week. We know the fifth does not support us.

What's interesting to me is the two who do not support urban chickens both grew up with poultry farms, and proclaim it disgusting. You have to ask yourself, "Well, were your hens kept in a hen house all pooping on each other in the dark? Because yes, that's disgusting. But if your hens were raised on pasture, just like a few back yard hens would be on grass, well, that's *not* unsanitary at all. I have no qualms about my children climbing into a pen with over 500 chickens at our dear friends pen at Ault's Family Farms!"
My childrenz, with over 500 birds. Does this look gross to you?
So Richmond: Talk "green" with Mayor Jones, Thursday, June 9, Carillon, 6-8 p.m.
Let the mayor know that for you, sustainability is not just about LEED points but includes food rights and Chickunz!


From the Sustainability Plan intro:  www.richmondgov.com/sustainabilityplan

"What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is generally defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In Richmond this means ensuring a clean and healthy environment; a competitive economic advantage; and fair access to livelihood, education, and resources for community members now and into the future."
Where is the fair access to humanely raised, healthier, affordable food? Only the more economically advantaged can afford to buy $4 eggs from healthy grocers or farmers markets. Sustainability is not just about LEED points, folks. Currently our community's needs are not met for the ability, or our future generation's ability, to have access to healthy, backyard eggs as a resource for our families.

The pictures on Frog Bottom Farm's recipe page look
much more purty but TRUST ME this is delish!



I tried to stave off my exhaustion this week with a healthy, delicious, raw kale salad from our friends at Frog Bottom Farm, the best raw kale recipes ever. As usual, I didn't follow directions and kinda combined all of 'em, probably. Dollops o' tahini, avocados, rice wine instead of apple cider, toasted sesame seeds instead of sunflower, no dates, more soy, garlic, lemon, kale, carrots from Mrs. E, all thrown into a box and shaken, SHAKEN up. Yum! (Note: the kale tamps down overnight and I just keep adding more kale the next day, stirring and shaking it, somehow the sauce stays strong & tangy regardless!)

P.s. If you are an architect / in urban planning, I point you to Rachel Flynn's last comments as she leaves Richmond. There's a lot to discuss.

And yes, our Prefab Home updates continue following this post!

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5/23/11

Well The Rapture Might Not Have Happened, But There Was Plenty Going On At The Zero Energy Off Grid Prefab House Kit!

I  think The Rapture happened!
We're there! Who knew? Paradise is called... Virginia.






Today the sun shone brightly, so apparently *everyone else* left in the world happily made hay, clouds danced across blue skies, we visited, and lovely gentle breezes, filled with sniffs of clover, honeysuckle, and the deep damp quiet smell of tall pines cooled and refreshed us all despite the heat and sun in the fields.


There has been much progress on the off grid zero energy prefab house kit while I've been gone.
While I was whoopin' it up in New York surveying what's happening in the modern furniture world at ICFF, they buried the rainwater cistern, Max has finished connecting the radiant heat loop, pipes lead towards the future natural pool, drain tile is in the ground, sewage pipes have been run.




Prefab House Kit : Off Grid Zero Energy Construction Update

Speaking of that natural pool, as I was telling Mrs. E, our Amish friend: it's our one unexpected extravagance. But we thought about it and considered: With no air conditioning... maybe I wouldn't say extravagance but an investment in good respite.


Prefab Home, Off Grid, With Passive Solar Functionality


But first: Come drive in to the land with us, taking the back roads once you pass (The Real) Farmville! We finally stopped at a stand we've eyed many times as we traveled odd hours, and... this time they were open, and ohhhhhhh myyyyyyy gosh: The Bakery!


A real bread maker, you know, the way it used to be done, the way it should be done, the way it still is done in storied cities like Paris and New Yawk, yet also right here in (The Real, did I mention there's A Real) Farmville.

Take a gander:



In front, here's Thistledown Farm! Offering fresh, local fruit, vegetables, canned goods, honey, Amish egg noodles from a neighbor, sugar snap peas, eggs, cheese... and if you whine, yer fine(d). I'll let the proprietor tell you all about it, herself:


Thistledown Farm And The Bakery, In Farmville.

How can you not love them?!? Again, it's a family venture and A., the ten year old, clearly did not mind spending the day helping his mom and doing his job. Like my children. Like our Amish friends. It's so good to work hard, and enjoy it.

Then we continued on, bouncing and swaying over swingy, sway-y back roads, past Hampden-Sydney...

We arrived at the zero energy off grid prefab house.
Excavation everywhere, pipes and cistern excitement to ooh and ahhh at, and inside, a mess.
In case you're wondering why we are no longer issuing social invitations right now, here's what we arrive to these days:



While we began to clean up, the children kept busy recycling the discarded systems equipment boxes into Kitty Houses and Hats That Can Carry Stuff And Protect You From The Sun.  In our family, we call discarded stuff TOYS.




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They are also using the rainwater plumbing to play a rousing game of "telephone."



SO, while we're digging and excavating and grading and doing whatnot, they have disconnected the solar. 

That means I'm back to telecommuting on mah tractor battery, folks!

I may be disconnected from solar power, but I never feel disconnected from our community here.
Besides: I now have a swarm of stink bugs to keep me company thanks to breezy open doors during construction. Our stinkbugs (I claim 'em because we are resignedly fond of them at this point?) are gravitating to that big light above the dining table as I sit underneath, on my computer, and type. They swarm into the light, wipe out, then skid back out to land... on my shoulder. On my computer. In my hair.

Live stink bugs in my hair: it's like the modern take on the 1920s gecko.
I'm just ahead of the fashion curve.
Dazed from the light, they careen off and do backflips on the table. A faint citronella eroma emits in their distress.


Lessee. We have Frank and Steve and Oscar and... what. Of *course* stink bugs are all male in my mind. But they're really quite friendly; I'm just not a clique-y person and... they are. Disdainfully, now bored, I note: Stinkbugs are like a fraternity. And I have no desire to join. Buzz off, boys.
So, gently captured and carried, out they go, tossed on their rears, into the dark.

In the meantime, I am doing my favorite night thing: listening to the frogs, and the elusive yet always persistent whipowill in the woods. I'm always so glad, and grateful, each spring, when they're back.

The next morning, I conquered The Hill.



As the day progressed, the clouds gathered, then it rained.
It didn't just drizzle, it poured down rain!
Excited, we watched the cistern fill!


Handsome Husband Explains The Rainwater Cistern And Filtration



Later, with dread, we saw neighbors' hay still in the fields. : (
Here's hoping the next days are dry and super sunny and that mold stays away.


Here Pipsqueak #1 explains how the WISY rainwater vortex filtration works:


A Child Describes The WISY Rainwater Filtration
Now back from the weekend away in the off grid prefab house, the sun is out and the day, bright.
It's hilarious, as we pull in and unload, because *every* neighbor that was ever afraid they *might* ever hear a chicken cluck is out for the day power washing, pesticide-sprayin', and weed wacking. It's like they think,

"Wow it's a beautiful day so let's go get out the power tools and gas our way through!"

It's kinda funny except now we're on Hour 2...
I'm glad we were away most of the day listening to birds and cows!

[Later]
It seems the noise and waste and pesticides we witnessed upon our short return to a nice Richmond afternoon disturbed my eight year old and he decided to confront Catherine and Glenn Vanderspiegel directly. From what Handsome Husband pieced together, apparently he decided to stalk them. This is what I gathered from the eight year old, after the fact:

Little Boy: Calls Glenn Vanderspiegel over to the property line to receive his message. Which is carefully written, neatly folded in his back pack, everything construing the Importance Of His Mission, whereupon he decided to stalk then confront them.
Glenn Vanderspiegel: "What is this about?"
Little Boy: "Chickens."
Glenn and Catherine Vanderspiegel: "Chickens are illegal, you can't have them. We don't want to hear about it. When they're legal, you can have them."
(Little Boy, later, to me: "Mrs. Vanderspiegel looked really angry. I saw Mr. Vanderspiegel spraying his bushes with chemicals and on his patio and he got it on the outside dinner table. Those chemicals could get on them. But I saw Mr. Vanderspiegel in the alley and I think we could be friends.")

He never got to hand them his note, but this is what it said:




I see he noticed the Vanderspiegel's backyard fountain and water waste, ha.

I had a big post ready for a few weeks from now, but it appears my eight year old has prematurely let the cat out of the bag, unfortunately, to our pesticide-spraying, weed-whacking, weekly-lawn-service-crew-of-five-or-more-people-at-once-going-full-blast-with-gas-blowers-and-mowers-and-whackers-for-hours neighbors: Local government has 'come 'round.
The illegality of chickens nears it's silly end. At least in our neck o' the woods.

More on that later.
I was just going to get another flock without saying a word, let them discover it, stew on it for awhile, stress out, then indignantly make the call to complain that they *might* have heard a cluck if they listen really, REALLY hard to then find out... Richmond came round.

Keep your fingers crossed.

And p.s. Here's the thing. These neighbors are going to think I'm a witch and sent that child out to annoy them. We have no time for people like this but we believe in politeness.

Where was I? Here I am, on my laptop, like I have been since our return, typing. I just absentmindedly saw him go into the back yard as usual and got the report back, later, from the child.

I *am* supportive of an eight year old's dedication to take (he said it took him two hours to write that note so he spent at *least* fifteen minutes on it, ha, carefully thinking of his argument and writing it down) the time to write down his thoughts, create his agenda, then screw up the courage to approach adults he *knows* does not support him, and with no parents looking over him to protect him.

Pipsqueak #1, I applaud you, sweetie. That took guts and determination and planning.
I admire your cheery outlook, and your determination to hangdog-gedly stalk (you just might make a good hunter yet), thinking you can just educate and it will be better. I love you so much, child.

I am looking forward to passing on this story to Mrs. E, my Amish friend, because she has been particularly bemused by our urban chicken saga *and* we were just discussing yesterday Pipsqueak #1 and his proclivity for being a little too "all over the place, needs to pay attention." He paid attention all right, and is seeing that mission through.

Good luck to ya, kid.

Who knows. Maybe no one cares. But pipsqueak, you'll learn from this, surely, whatever happens.


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5/19/11

Prefab Debate - My Take

If you haven't heard, (and I hadn't until yesterday) there was supposed to be a debate on the "green-ness" of prefab house kits vs. conventional building on Treehugger this afternoon, but the arrival of one of the debater's baby has postponed it to next week (congrats!).  I am looking forward to listening in on what they say.


As you know, our passive solar prefab house kits at Green Modern Kits, Green Cottage Kits, and Green Cabin Kits are much more (purposely) bare-boned than others. That is for several reasons, starting with the fact that more complete turn-key prefab is beyond the financial grasp for many and does not embrace local reuse / a frugal mentality.

I thought I'd take a moment to discuss my own thoughts on our own prefab house models and why I think they're "green."



Because they are made with SIP, the energy efficiency is assured.
Your contractor needs to seal up any areas not covered with SIP (around windows, etc.), but that is certainly less time and cost than 1.framing a home,  then 2. doubling back to then insulate the whole house.

Because our prefabs are meant to be finished with local labor, it lowers the cost of the prefab home as
1. there is less to ship
2. you can make each line item decision with your contractor based on your style, locale, desired function and budget.

By using local labor, costs are in line with what you would pay in your community vs. flying in a team from afar to put it together.

You also leave green building skills and knowledge within your community.  Most of the people with whom we've worked had never worked with SIP, or built a passive solar house.


We build based on need. My salary doesn't depend on "moving X units of product" a year. People come to us for a house, because they need one; we don't build to sell. Our business model is also made of several revenue streams, so we are not dependent on build, build, build.

And when we say our house cost $100,000ish, that *is* our end cost. For us, the consumer. I am not going to build and flip, exponentially increasing the price for the second buyer. So you can transparently see the cost *to the consumer* for an energy efficient, off grid, zero energy 1,200 square foot prefab house, because that's what it costs to build a house of that size in our area.

And finally? Many, many people don't have access to contractors who have an appreciation for passive solar or energy efficiency. By purchasing our prefab house kits, you ensure 1. the custom architect (that they might not be able to otherwise afford) can send their aesthetic vision and passive solar design out to areas they would not otherwise reach and 2. the efficiency power is put in the hands of the consumer, not a developer saying "you can choose X, Y, or Z, and that's all we offer."  YOU decide on the sink, YOU decide on the systems, you even get to pick the door handles, honeys.

We plan on passing on our own off grid, zero energy prefab house kit and homestead on to our family, for many generations. The average developer-builder only lives in their model home long enough to resell it... is that green?

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5/16/11

ICFF 2011 : Part 2 And RVA Thoughts On Brooklyn's Waterfront


Between ICFF excursions, I had some time to explore Brooklyn's waterfront with my family. Richmond should hop on the train to see this up close and personal, honeys, there's a lot they could learn from it. There is park after park with mile after mile of riverfront access, bike lanes, shops...

Everything is walkable.
They even invested in gorgeous riverfront furniture so that their community can lounge and enjoy the view.

Miles of bike paths, clearly marked...

Multiple public access points to the waters edge...

We even found some darling children eager to sell us homemade souvenirs, maybe they're Urban Amish Kids!
; )



...and every weekend, a flea market where people can connect with farmers, local craftspeople and, shop, eat, laugh, congregate and enjoy riverfront life.



For you architecture enthusiasts: Check out these architectural tees by Brooklyn's Live Poultry I found at the Brooklyn Flea!







Now Brooklyn riverfront wasn't all rosy, honeys. Eager developers hurried to erect high density buildings before making sure there was a need, and now there are projects just sitting there (this one for two years now!) half-constructed, now owned by the bank:
*Doh!*
But let's talk more about ICFF!
There I was, at the end of a random aisle, stepping aside to send some strange tweet or such, when my ears picked up the conversation at the booth behind me: I turned around, and there was Trufig.
Trufig's mounting platforms / blank outlets / HVAC vents not only let you blend in unused outlets and hide your cords, but the platforms & outlets are extremely energy efficient, important for tight envelope prefab house kits!


I stopped at Takumi Shimamura's sustainable works booth.

I wish more children brought the same lunch pail / bento box to schools year after year, with real cloth napkins and real utensils in real recycled durable materials... and in these containers it would not be just frugal, and zero waste school strategy goodness, but STYLIN':
More LED light options, just fyi - where you celebrate the bulb and not the shade: Plumen.
They are supposed to last about 8 years.


Charming graphics on fabric and tea sets by Josephine...


Materials:
Suberra, made from remaining cork bark in the wine industry, turned into a durable surface!

3form's ReMix, with no PVC, repurposed Ecoresin that fuses scrap into a panel:

I see that on this second post there's actually not a lot of furniture posted!
And then, these Must Read ICFF pieces emerged:
From Design Sponge: Thoughts On This Year's Show:


And a thoughtful response: From The Bohmerian. (Note I had mentioned Brooklyn & it becoming a craftsman local mecca yesterday...)

I am looking forward to discussing these many good points with my friends...
We Need Design Hope On A Rope.
Someone Out There Is Still Swinging Optimistically In Design... most likely in Brooklyn.
(From the Finnish exhibit New Finnish Design - Urban Design Scenarios PechaKucha opening Friday...)

With C, I met up with Akemi Tanaka and my dear ole room mate-turned-Huge-Industry-Fashion-Designer, P. 
P & C [V was sick that night : ( ]

(You might recall P, Miz Fashion, who came to visit and I waited until she was out of cell phone coverage to break it to her the off grid prefab house still had no running water, heat, and that she'd be using a composting toilet! Ha! SHE STILL SPEAKS TO ME!)

And then it was back to The Barn.
And back to Virginia.
As I sadly step through the drizzly Brooklyn streets, it's if my heart recites Goodnight Moon except I softly say Farewell, New York, Farewell My Beloveds... 


Goodbye, Barn!
Until ICFF next year.

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