Mike and I recently hopped on a bus to take a “Sustainable Landscapes Tour” in a neighboring county. Over an 8 hour period, we made 6 stops at a variety of sites including parks, offices, a community garden, and a farm. It was encouraging to see that even in the middle of a shopping center district, individuals and organizations are taking the time to build and landscape in a way that reduces energy use, and conserves and cleans water. Here are a few highlights of our day.
We saw a number of rain gardens throughout the day, which are designed to treat runoff from buildings, streets, parking lots, and other impervious surfaces. These gardens are specially designed and look like a sunken garden. The size and shape can vary. When rainwater hits impervious surfaces, it picks up pollutants such as car exhaust, pet waste or lawn chemicals. The rainwater which drains off of these surfaces is often so high in contaminants that fish would die if this water were used in an aquarium.
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But if rain gardens are placed to catch this rainwater, the water is cleaned and filtered naturally before draining into nearby lakes and streams. Flooding is also a major concern in this county, and rain gardens help to slow the flow of water after a heavy rainfall. They allow 30 percent more water to soak into the ground than a conventional lawn.
The two office building we toured were designed in ways to maximize natural lighting, so that lighting in the buildings is often not needed at all.
The most unusual site of the day was a building – a Wellness Center – with a green roof. By green, I mean covered in plants. 6000 of them. The plants help to slow runoff and provide insulation. Most of the plants are different types of sedum, and rainwater is enough to keep the plants alive – no irrigation is needed.
One of our stops was a non-profit, educational dairy farm. The cows are mostly grass-fed and are frequently moved to new pasture. Most of the herd are Jersey cows, well-known for high quality milk. I asked the director of the farm if they ever plan to offer raw milk products and his answer saddened me. He said, “No, I’m too afraid.” I mulled this over all day, wondering how it came to be that raw dairy has been more vilified than any other food. People have been sickened and have died from virtually every type of food that is available. When spinach, or cantaloupe, or even beef causes illness, no one suggests that these foods be declared illegal. No one stops selling them, except for short periods of time when they are taken off the market after a scare. All of these illnesses are caused by improper handling of the food, or unsanitary conditions, the same causes of any illness from raw milk. Why is raw dairy treated differently? Why are people afraid? While people have been sickened from raw milk, more have been sickened by pasteurized milk (see this chart). Ok, I digress, but I think that this little statement made more of an impact on me than anything else that day.
At the farm, we also saw:
Although the photo below is nothing exciting to look at, it is an important feature at many of the sites we visited – green parking. A parcel of land is leveled, a durable plastic grid is placed down and filled in with gravel. This is covered with soil and seeded with grass. This provides mud-free parking in a grassy area that also provides good water drainage and is cooler and more attractive than conventional parking lots.
We also made a stop at a community garden that day. What was unique about this garden was that many educational opportunities are provided here to teach gardening to both children and adults. There are a number of demonstration gardens, and an orchard to teach pruning and other tree care. The garden also has a flock of chickens. Participants take turns caring for the hens, and in return, they keep the eggs which are collected each day. I’ll leave you with a few photos taken at the garden. Thanks for joining me!