Goodbye 2016 – Hello 2017!

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!mitchdenice_20160924_0469

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.


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Support the EcoRanch

We just signed up on Amazon Smile at the following link:

If you choose to shop, and you shop online, do so with Amazon Smile.  Amazon will donate 0.5% of your purchase to the Flagstaff EcoRanch.

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Carbon and Water Offsets

Hi Everyone.

As 2016 winds down, I hope you have all considered offsetting your carbon and water use for the year.  We use Terra Pass and just offset 27,000 lbs of carbon for transportation and home electricity use and 37,500 gallons of water.  Here is a great description of carbon offsets, here is a link to the carbon calculator to get you started, and finally here is a link to the water offsets.

We all make impacts to the planet, and buying these offsets doesn’t excuse those impacts, but it does make us more aware of what we use and what we waste.  Adding economic incentives can help reduce our overall consumption while making positive impacts to the planet, businesses, and the people that are a part of both.  We hope that you can reevaluate your carbon and water use going into 2017 and try to reduce your use each month compared with your use in 2016.


Carbon Offset Certificate


Water Offset Certificate

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Summer is Flying By

August already!  The garden is looking great, the bees are settled in, and we’ve been working away out here at the EcoRanch.  Our interns, WWOOFers, and volunteers have been tirelessly weeding, taking care of pests, and harvesting.  We’ve been battling the high temps and lack of water but the monsoon rains are here in full force and the plants are loving it.

We are sad to see Assoumou, our current WWOOFer leave, but he is about to begin a new adventure visiting family in the Ivory Coast where he will help his father establish a farm.  He has really helped us out and we have been able to get caught up on all the behind the scene things like emails, paperwork, planning, networking, and other jobs.  We hope he can take some of the skills he learned here and apply them to a new environment.  Our interns Gabe and Mike will be finishing their hours in a few short weeks as they return to the hustle and bustle of classes at NAU.  They will be replaced by two new interns for the fall semester, Meaghan and Micah.  Gabe and Mike will be teaching them all they have learned and the goals will be to continue maintaining plant health, harvesting, and closing the the farm for the season at the end of October.

Below are some photos for your viewing pleasure.  We hope to see you soon.


Drying Sage


Drying Garlic


A safe new set of stairs!



Our first attempt at growing oyster mushrooms.  Thanks Mycocats of U of A

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Thanks to the Sustainable Botany Class

Yesterday I gave a presentation to Dr. Pollak’s Sustainable Botany course at NAU about WWOOFing and the influences it had on the development of the EcoRanch.  The students asked a lot of great questions, then we spent a few hours in the Shand Garden, the experiential garden the students run, weeding,watering, and picking cherries, raspberries, kale, onions, and garlic.

Today, those same students visited the EcoRanch and toured the site.  After the tour, we cleaned the chicken coop, tested our soil moisture levels, turned the compost, and watered.  We ended the day with a delicious raspberry/cherry crisp, yep the same fruit from the Shand Garden, while enjoying the view of the San Francisco peaks.

Thanks for the conversations and the hard work.

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Non Profit Grocery Store

Check out this link:

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Getting Caught Up…Summer Interns and Volunteers

Bed preparation and planting got off to a slow start this season due to some unforeseen circumstances, but we are back on top of things…thanks to all the extra hands we had over the last few months.  Bugs are under control, the compost is cooking between 150 and 170 degrees, and the kale is rocking and rolling.  Today we pulled 163 lbs for Local Alternative and their Tepa Burger, Flag Family Food Center, and anyone else looking to buy kale.  Thanks to all the volunteers (Hannah, Madison, Emma, Justin, Kayla), classes, our newest WWOOFer, Assoumou from Philly, and our summer interns Gabe and Mike.  You can read a bit about them below and you can see some of the recent photos from the EcoRanch.


“Gabryl Sam, a senior at Northern Arizona University is one of two interns at the Flagstaff EcoRanch. He is studying Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Global Sustainability. Originally from a small town located on the Navajo Nation he moved to the Flagstaff area in the fall of 2012. He loves the outdoors and appreciates the beauty of the natural world. What he hopes to gain from the internship is to build a foundation to promote sustainable living through agriculture.”


“Michael Vaughn is from Phoenix, AZ and is receiving a BA in Environmental Studies, with an emphasis in Global Sustainability at Northern Arizona University. He is 24 and loves sports, movies, and exploring the outdoors. He is currently interning at the Ecoranch to learn organic and sustainable growing techniques. He hopes to take knowledge gained at the Ecoranch and implement it into his personal and professional life.”


Compost Cooking


New tomatoes…Thanks Peggy


3 sisters




New bean and pea trellis from the interns


Harvesting Kale


30 of the 163 lbs


More harvesting


Sold to Local Alternative…Good luck in your new life as a veggie burger!

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NAU ENV 490 Capstone Students

This blog is well overdue.  In the chaotic end of the semester and frantic start up of the EcoRanch activities, I never got around to writing our deepest appreciation for our two capstone groups that helped us out through the Spring semester.  We had two groups of four students working to promote the mission and vision of the Flagstaff EcoRanch.

The first group, the Grant Research and Writing Team (Jordan Pynes [Team Lead], Andrew DePaoli, Addison Guevara, and Eleanor Krueger) were tasked with researching grants applicable to the EcoRanch’s mission.  The group had to find 10 applicable grants and choose one from this list to apply for.  This allowed them many opportunities to explore the grant writing process, promoted collaboration within the group, and offered opportunities to explore how the EcoRanch operates and functions.  The group decided the best option, given their NAU deadlines, time constraints for the EcoRanch and its current goals, was to apply for a grant with APS for a greenhouse.  The greenhouse would allow the EcoRanch to grow more starts and be more autonomous.  We would have space to grow tomatoes and other warmer climate plants while extending our season.  After this, students created a poster to present at the UGRAD Symposium at the end of the semester in The Dome.  Unfortunately, we weren’t awarded the grant, but we are prepared to apply again in the future.

The second group, The Produce Production and Community Development Team (Greg Samaniego-Morris [Team Lead], Kaeli Frechette, Madison Corey, and Kelsey Morris) were tasked with increasing our community outreach.  The group had to reach out to at least 10 businesses, organizations, or community groups in town to see if there were opportunities for collaboration, primarily in the area of donating/growing/selling food.  The group had to choose 2 groups and identify a functional timeline, identify all stakeholders in the collaboration, identify each groups’ needs, explain how it would promote the mission of reach entity, and problem solve any potential issues/problems that could occur.  From this project, we developed a new collaboration with The Toasted Owl.

The Toasted Owl and the Flagstaff EcoRanch are proud to collaborate in creating closed loop food systems here in Flagstaff.  The Toasted Owl will be using some kale purchased from the Flagstaff EcoRanch.  The EcoRanch kale is grown without synthetic additives right here in at the base of the San Francisco Peaks.  The Flagstaff EcoRanch, in return collects approximately 300 lbs of pre consumer food waste each week from The Toasted Owl, to build compost, amend the raised beds, and to feed to chickens.  Together, we are working to create a more local and secure food network.

At the end of the semester, the group also created a poster for the UGRAD Symposium. This group won first place for the best poster overall and each member received a $100 check!  Congrats to you all!

Thanks to Angie Moline and Taylor Joyal for mentoring and advising these students throughout the semester and for helping to support the Flagstaff EcoRanch.

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Hopilavayi Summer Enrichment Camp

Thanks to the Hopilavayi Summer Enrichment Camp for visiting the EcoRanch.  The students were in grades 1 through 6 and came with a lot of energy.  This is a 4 week program that teaches the Hopi language through cultural activities. These were some of the most respectful, well-behaved, and curious students we have had visit the EcoRanch.  Thanks to the teachers (Debbie and Rachele) and especially their parents!

We toured the EcoRanch, discussed the different types of plants we grow, dug into the compost, and spent a lot of time learning about bees.  The kids ate radishes (which most of them didn’t like) and different types of lettuce.  After our tour, the kids attempted to catch the chickens and those who did, learned how to properly hold them.  We had a refreshing lunch on the porch where we practiced separating our finished lunches into compostable material, food for the chickens, recyclables, and trash.  We look forward to having you all out next year!


Learning about composting and decomposition. Photo courtesy of Cortiella Photography.


Learning about plants and bugs. Photo courtesy of Cortiella Photography.


Learning about our local climate and protection for the plants. Photo courtesy of Cortiella Photography.


Learning how to safely hold chickens. Photo courtesy of Cortiella Photography.


Rocky anyone? Photo courtesy of Cortiella Photography.

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Thanks to the PREP/JUMP Students

Thanks to the hard work and sweat of the PREP/JUMP program.  “The Program Realizing Educational Potential (PREP) at Northern Arizona University offers students from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to prepare for a future career in the health professions.”  The students and their teachers toured the EcoRanch and then helped weed, turn compost, bury drip lines, plant starts and seeds, spread compost, remove invasive species, and haul wood.  You have helped us more than you know and we hope to have you back again.

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