What a crazy year 2016 has been for the world! Well, now that things are finally slowing down, I think it’s a great time to fill everyone in on our 2016 accomplishments. We’ve had another great year, working with students of all ages, planting and eating lots of delicious food, working on projects, and planning for 2017, which by the way…Happy New Year!
Again, we have felt the love and acceptance from the Flagstaff community. Students, neighbors, friends, interns, and WWOOFers have donated 1924 hours of volunteer service helping us plant, harvest, clean coops, turn compost, work in the soil, learn about plants and their pests, and develop new partnerships and resources for us. This year we had three groups of NAU capstone students work with us.
The first group got us organized with 10 different grants we are eligible to apply for and organized submission dates, requirements, and ideas. Then they applied for one grant through APS. Although, not funded, the group learned a lot about grants and the EcoRanch learned a lot about the preparation and planning it takes to get awarded.
The second group helped increase our community outreach. They started a composting program with Toasted Owl and laid the ground work for a future collaboration with the YMCA. Along with our composting program with Flagstaff Collective Coffee Co., formerly Higher Grounds, we were able to collect over 10,000 lbs of preconsumer food waste and spent coffee grounds, which we turned into valuable compost. That compost is now buried beneath the snow, feeding the worms and microbes, ready to support a new crop of high elevation adapted plants in 2017. Unfortunately, those two programs are not currently functioning due to some schedule issues on our part and the challenges of winter with water and decomposition rates. We hope to reignite these programs in the spring.
Our third group developed a Self Guided EcoRanch Nature Tour. They made a pamphlet that visitors and Airbnb guests can use to tour the EcoRanch and learn about Ponderosa Pines, collecting rainwater, making compost, the Fort Valley area, and the San Francisco Peaks. They even created a virtual tour using Google Earth that you can take on our website by clicking here.
We also worked with four NAU student interns. Mike, Gabe, Micah, and Meagan were summer interns that helped manage our plants. Without their involvement, hard work, and dedication to our vision and goals, we would not have been able to grow 2192 lbs of produce.
Each year we grow kale for Local Alternative to make Tepa Burgers, donate extra produce to local food banks and shelters, and eat a bunch of delicious food. But this year was a bit more stressful. We decided we would try to grow all the food for Julie and I’s wedding. We used all the information from the previous year’s interns, figured out what would grow well, and developed a vegetarian menu we thought would be hearty, delicious, and provide enough variety. One of our great friends, John Christ, owns Wil’s Grill, a local catering company specializing in BBQ (he actually interned for us a few years back renovating and insulating our chicken coop and building gates and fences). We approached him and asked if he might be able to help design a menu with the produce we could grow. He was up for the challenge and followed through with amazing food. Many of our families and friends approached us throughout the night, telling us how amazed they were that they could be so full and so satisfied from a vegetarian meal! Way to go John and everyone at Wil’s Grill! Thanks for an awesome spread!
Every year we have classes and school groups take tours of the EcoRanch in order to observe the sustainability practices they learn about in class put into action. They have the opportunity to ask questions, get their hands dirty, and use the data we collect to continue their learning experience. This year we were visited by NAU’s Sustainable Botany and Environmental Ethics courses, Hopilavayi, PREP/JUMP, and Gulf Stream middle school.
We participated in the Festival of Science this year and visited an 8th grade MIT-e Biology and Engineering class at Sinagua Middle School and a freshman AP Human Geography class at FUSD. We gave presentations in Sustainable Botany, Environmental Health, and Upward Bound at NAU, and were interviewed three times by graduate and undergraduate students working on various types of environmental research.
On top of all this, we were able to renovate our kitchen, cut down, split, and stack 12 pine trees to increase the solar gain on the house, renovate the Airbnb bathroom and kitchen, built a new set of stairs outside for Airbnb guests, put new gutters on our barn and wood lean-to so we can catch more rain water, built a stage, benches, and trail for the wedding which will now be part of our self guided tour and nature trail, repaired fencing, started 2 new bee hives, and got our chickens healthier and happier by improving their flock (they laid 1946 eggs in 2016!)
Unfortunately, our monthly average energy use increased this year by about 300 kWh/month despite the fact that we have been decreasing our energy use each year for the last three years. When looking at our data, we can attribute that to more friends and family staying with us, more Airbnb visitors, more house projects using more power tools, the wedding, and most importantly, the fact that we decided to stay on the main floor this year. If you remember, we replaced our roof in October last year because it had no insulation….seriously….none at all. We had an r-value of about 4.6, which was from the wood, tar paper, and shingles. We were able to replace the roof, partially because of leaks, and we upgraded the insulation to r-24 (six inches of foam iso-board). That really helped keep a lot of heat in, but we still needed to rely on small electric heaters in the bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchen. The past two years, we would move into the Airbnb space which is much smaller to heat and maintain.
Although we are using more energy this year, it will be interesting (and a challenge) to see what methods we can implement over the next coulpe years to reduce our energy while living on the main floor. Whether that’s upgrading the electric heaters, making thermal drapes, or getting a more efficient wood stove, we’ll find out, but we’ll also be sure to tell you how we did it.
We used about 4,000 gallons less water in the house this year as compared to 2015 and 2014. This year also allowed us a full years worth of irrigation data since we were donated a water meter last year. We used about 30,000 gallons over a six month period which, based on 2015 data, we can assume we used about 20,000 gallons. These data give us a baseline in order to continually reduce our water use. That being said, we are currently working with an intern, Chaz Walters, who is redesigning a more efficient and more accurate drip irrigation system which incorporates a blue tooth regulator and blue tooth moisture sensors. We plan to collect more accurate data on each raised bed, monitor our irrigation system more closely, and make more use of our 4,600 gallons of rain water capacity. While Chaz is designing this system, we are working with another intern, Chris Kocay, to seek grant funding through Flagstaff Foodlink and WWOOF to help fund these projects.
We did save and reuse just over 7,700 gallons of water this year alone (29,456 gallons since 2012) 3,700 of which irrigated native plants and shrubs using our recently approved grey water system (thanks Coconino County).
Last, we keep track our our waste throughput, meaning all of the trash and recycling we produce. In the end we made 0.9 lbs per person per day here at the EcoRanch (up by 0.1 lb from 2015). The average American produces 4.4 lbs per person per day so we are still way ahead of the game but again, we hope to drop that to about 0.6 lbs in 2017.
We’re excited to see what 2017 brings us. We have hopes for grant funding, new partnerships with schools, teachers, restaurants, nonprofits, and students. We hope to continue to share what we do with all of you and that you can make it out to visit us. Even though we are an educational nonprofit, with each person who visits, we feel that we learn more about the world and ourselves. We love when people visit, share stories and knowledge while working outside in front of the San Francisco peaks, soaking up the sun, watching the birds, hearing the buzzing of the bees, and most importantly laughing and learning about the natural world around them.
Happy New Year, enjoy the snow, and see you soon.