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Interview with NikiAnne Feinberg, Director of the School of Integrated Living

Homesteading Photo Collage

The School of Integrated Living (SOIL) inspires people to live responsible and creative lives by providing experiential education in integrated living and regenerative systems. Its programs educate empowered, skilled, and conscious leaders dedicated to creating radical change and healthy reciprocal relationships.

SOIL was founded in 2013 by NikiAnne Feinberg and Lee Walker Warren, two experiential education leaders and residents of Earthaven Ecovillage near Asheville, NC. NikiAnne builds cultural health and resilience by helping people discover their gifts and match them to community needs. She sees School of Integrated Living as one node in a web that connects us to ourselves, each other, nature, and the resources we need for village building. She is also a nature-awareness facilitator, outdoor educator, project manager, community leader, and village builder. She builds cultural health and resilience by helping people discover their gifts and match them to community needs. NikiAnne coordinates, facilitates and leads educational experiences emphasizing service learning, nature connection, and building community for groups of all ages in the U.S. and abroad.

You “build cultural health and resilience by helping people discover their gifts and match them to community needs.” Can you elaborate on what you mean by cultural health and offer some examples of how you help people discover their gifts?

I believe our modern world is suffering from disconnection disorder. We are disconnected from the sources of our lives (our food, electricity, building materials, water, etc.), the impact of our choices, our emotions, our bodies, our relationships, and ultimately ourselves and our inherent unique gifts. A healthy culture is connected — to ourselves, each other, and the natural world.

My work is devoted to increasing authentic connection in the world.

Everyone comes into this world with a unique gift to offer. I strive to help people get in touch with their authentic selves, articulate life visions, and design lives founded on those visions. One of my greatest joys is looking into the eyes of someone who is on fire for life and has found a deep sense of rootedness in themselves, their community, and nature.

Do you see the community as the Hero more than the individual these days?

A healthy community is like a forest ecosystem: at any given moment, it contains individual trees and plants that are at different stages of succession. Likewise, the Hero or Heroine's Journey involves a sequence of transformative experiences, and a community includes individuals at different stages of that journey of initiation. Community itself is not the Hero or Heroine, but instead the ecosystem that contains different initiation journeys.

What kinds of new traditions and rituals are brewing at the School of Integrated Living? Are pagan and transition movement components involved in this process?

We think about culture and tradition like seeds: they carry the library of all the lineages they come from, but they also adapt in every generation to new conditions and needs. We carry on different traditions, ceremonies, and rituals that we've learned from our mentors and elders, as well as innovating our own layers on top of them.

In the traditional Roman sense of “rural”, SOIL does include some pagan elements. As a rural community, we practice land-based and agricultural rituals that draw from the ecology of our surroundings. Some of our elders and teachers have also given us rituals that are pagan in the sense used by the New Age community. Our practices include rituals from the Druidic and Goddess lineages, as well as rituals from the Dagara people learned through Sobonfu Somé, Mayan rituals learned through Martin Prechtel, and Lakota and other Native American traditions shared by various elders and teachers.

Another strong lineage represented at Earthaven (and thus SOIL) is the Wise Woman tradition, which teaches us to deeply inhabit our bodies, feel our emotions, and nourish ourselves and each other. All of these traditions share a connection to the earth-based practices of our ancestors, who knew how to align themselves with the whole world.

All of these lineages are preindustrial and non–Judeo-Christian. However, they are carried in a spiritual ecology cooperative with Judeo-Christian beliefs and practice. We are consciously moving towards a spiritual polyculture that includes and interconnects with all spiritual lineages, as long as their practitioners are willing to work together. One of our founding goals of Earthaven is to encourage an atmosphere in which diverse spiritual practices can thrive.

Earthaven is not explicitly based in the Transition Town movement as set forth by Rob Hopkins. However, it emerges from the same early stages of permaculture and solution-based thinking.

To me, Nature is both a place and a feeling. A hike and a blog, so to speak. When I say SpiritNature, what do you think of?

It sounds like “SpiritNature” is your word for the living mystery that others might call Gaia or life-force. In our modern world, we can become disconnected from our own essence and the essence of the living world around us. Most indigenous and traditional peoples believe that everything is alive. We have to be reminded of that through sacredness, and often nature provides that sacred connection.

“School of Integrated Living (SOIL) inspires people to live responsible and creative lives by providing experiential education in integrated living and regenerative systems. Its programs educate empowered, skilled, and conscious leaders dedicated to creating radical change and healthy reciprocal relationships.”

Are you finding jobs for your graduates?

SOIL has a strong professional partnership network that offers graduates access to local and global opportunities, as well as continued growth, support, inspiration, learning, and economic vitality.

However, SOIL’s programs are not intended as vocational training programs. Instead, we help participants gain skills and exposure to sustainable lifeways, which helps them identify appropriate career paths for themselves. We aspire to connect participants with the next steps in their lives towards permaculture or related vocations, which can include additional education, mentorship, reading, and research.

Is SOIL’s mission about survivalism?

Surviving in the presence of extreme climate change, economic collapse, and political turmoil is certainly one of the threads that we pursue, but we don’t consider ourselves as “survivalists.” We have a positive vision for a sustainable human future, and we actively seek the strategies and scales of action necessary to grow that desirable future. However, we are realistic about the risks and challenges we are likely to face in the future, and we embrace creative solutions and lifestyle choices for survival in the face of these challenges.

Are there folks that do not support your mission?

When SOIL first began we had people who wanted to see our mission in action and were holding back to see if we were serious and could be effective. Now that we’ve served over 500 students in four years and have a great track record for quality education, those initially skeptical folks are now some of our biggest supporters.

Please share some stories concerning “radical changes.”

Etymologically speaking, “radical” means root. From that truest meaning of radical, we believe our programs help people source their lives from a rooted place.

Going back to the Heroine’s Journey, the definition of radical change depends on the difference between where someone is now compared to where they came from. I’ve had the privilege to bear witness to many people stepping into their power and taking responsibility for their lives, their choices, and inevitably the larger world around them. The space, safety, support, and mentorship we offer allows the people to emerge into their most creative and expansive selves.

To share people’s individual stories out of context and relationship wouldn’t do them justice. It’s very difficult to define what radical change looks like in someone’s life if you’re not that person. What is radical to one person may not be to another. We do follow up with our participants to help them keep implementing the lessons, tools, and practices gained over their learning experience in their ongoing lives.

Does this mean that you are, in general, preparing your community for an alternative future without the electric company and other traditional utilities? What are the ramifications of this strategy in your mind?

We are preparing ourselves for a different type of future; one that might not have the luxury of relying on cheap oil as we do today. The ways that future might play out are quite complex and not totally controlled by our choices. We do have choices though; we make them every day. Earthaven Ecovillage has chosen to source its electricity from the sun and water as a means to take responsibility for the power it uses. To learn more about its newest solar technology- a solar powered micro-grid, check out Home Power Magazine.

What the future looks like is partly depends on the choices of individuals, communities, and governments, as well as the way in which technologies develop. At Earthaven, we are certainly trying to provide a baseline of electricity for the things that electricity is uniquely suited for. One of our dreams is to be a small-scale, bio-regional model of alternative energy systems to empower bio-regions and communities nation-wide to become energy independent.

One of the elements in my New Myths is re-wilding. This is about old tools and new spirit and adventure in Nature, right?

To me, it’s about giving thanks to the various traditions, and elders who shared knowledge so that we could be here today. It’s about consciously stewarding and applying the embedded wisdom of the seeds we carry appropriately into our modern world.

The word “old” in our society implies outdated or defunct. Instead, we’d call these approaches “living tools” or “traditional tools”.

At SOIL and Earthaven, we strive to connect with and hold nature from an indigenous mindset. To us, “indigenous” means people who are from a place, who think of nature as their home. As humans, we are a part of nature—albeit a very unique one—and we are truly a part of natural ecosystems. Although being in nature can be fun and pleasurable, we also think of nature as a teacher. Nature is our home. Nature is where we go to when we die. Nature is our food, friend, and predator all at once. That’s the relationship with nature that we are coming from.

NikiAnne builds cultural health and resilience by helping people discover their gifts and match them to community needs. She sees School of Integrated Living as one node in a web that connects us to ourselves, each other, nature, and the resources we need for village building. She is also a nature-awareness facilitator, outdoor educator, project manager, community leader, and village builder. She builds cultural health and resilience by helping people discover their gifts and match them to community needs. NikiAnne coordinates, facilitates and leads educational experiences emphasizing service learning, nature connection, and building community for groups of all ages in the U.S. and abroad.

Willi Paul is Principal of Willi Paul Studio and founder-publisher of Magazine. He contributes interviews, articles, new myths and workshops in the sustainability, permaculture, transition, sacred nature, new alchemy and mythology spaces. Connect with him on Facebook, LinkedIn and

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Flint Families Paying for Still-Unsafe Drinking Water


Imagine being asked to pay to poison yourself and your family. Sounds ridiculous, right? Residents of Flint, Michigan, feel that is exactly what the government is asking them to do. Their water has been unsafe to drink for several years.

Residents have been drinking bottled water donated by the government, charities and celebrities. Some even bathe with bottled water because they do not trust the tap water is safe, regardless of what the government tells them. Trust has been broken and fear and suspicion run amok.

How Did This Happen

In 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder discovered Flint’s finances were a disaster. He appointed an emergency manager, and Flint was placed in receivership. The emergency manager’s job was to get Flint’s finances in order. Part of the effort to save the city money was to remove Flint from the Detroit Water Department, which it had been using for decades.

Flint paid to have water piped from Lake Huron, as did many communities in the surrounding region. Anti-corrosion chemicals were routinely added to the water to keep the pipes from leaching hazardous metals into the water. In 2014, the emergency manager switched Flint’s water source from Detroit and Lake Huron to the local Flint River.

In doing so, they failed to add the necessary corrosion control treatment. Lead, rust, and iron leached from the pipes into the water. Residents could even see it coming from their taps. Lead exposure can cause permanent mental and physical damage, especially in children. Other residents suffered Legionnaires’ disease, causing death in a dozen cases.

How Can This Be Fixed?

Water is treated before it arrives to our homes. One of the most common methods is called flocculation. Flocculation, in simple terms, is getting the particles suspended in water to stick together, so they can be easily removed through filtration. This process can also be used to test water to determine what is polluting it.

Anionic flocculation refers to using negatively charged ions as a polymer. Adding what professionals call a 30 percent anionic flocculent can help determine what's wrong with your water. Knowing what is causing the problem is important. Keeping it from happening in the first place is essential. That was the biggest problem with the Flint crisis: not treating the water before it was delivered to the local population.

In Flint, it’s too late to treat the water in some places because the pipes are too corroded for safe drinking water. Fixing it would be costly and time-consuming.

What Has the Government Done for Flint?

The government is continuing to address the safety of Flint’s water. Since 2014, Michigan has spent $41 million on tax credits for Flint residents, which essentially paid for their water. The state has provided bottled water and filters for the tap water. It has tested and assured the safety of the water, as long as it is filtered. Filters and filter replacement cartridges will continue to be provided by the government.

However, on March 1, 2017, Michigan ended these tax credits because it claims tests show Flint’s water to be comparable to other cities in regard to the acceptable levels of metals. Flint’s water was tested in the hundreds of parts per billion range, when an unacceptable level would be 15 parts per billion. The state claims Flint’s water tests as being below the action levels for lead and copper, and it is safe to drink if a filter is used.

Most Flint residents feel they should not have to pay for water that is not safe to drink from the tap. The mayor and local officials agree, and they feel the residents should be given tax credits for a longer period of time.

Plans for the Future

Flint would like to remove itself from the Detroit Water Department again, but it wants to do so carefully and safely. Genesee County is constructing the Karegnondi pipeline, which will get its water from Lake Huron to serve Flint and other surrounding communities. However, the Environmental Protection Agency feels Flint is not ready to safely connect to a new water supply.

There is still too much work to be done in Flint when it comes to assessing the condition of the pipes, testing the water in specific areas and replacing pipes known to be unsafe.

In the meantime, it’s Flint residents who have to pay for potentially poisonous water. Is it fair to make them pay for water that can’t safely be drunk unless it is filtered? Many would leave Flint if they could, but who would want to buy a home in Flint now?

Photo by Catt Liu

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living and has an especially strong passion for helping others increase their mental health and happiness by improving their daily productivity and positivity. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts oProductivity Theory. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Host an Earth Day Celebration

Scott Sporleder  Earth Day 2 of 2

Photo by Scott Sporleder

Earth Day is a unifying gathering that brings together all walks of life to celebrate our planet, activate change, and work together to build an abundant future. It’s a celebration of community and the environment around us. And for us at The Ecology Center, there is no better place to gather together and give back to the community than the garden!

Ready to dig in? Follow this step-by-step to bring Earth Day to life in your own community.

Get Started

 1. Align Earth Day to your Existing Efforts

 Earth Day is an opportunity to illuminate existing eco educational initiatives. Invite local schools, gardens, and community members to join together for hands-on workshops, nourishing meals, and gardening.

2. Choose a Garden

 Community gardens are at the cornerstone of our modern village. Ask your local gardeners about schools, libraries, and organizations about potential sites.

3. Invite Your Community

 Reach out to family, friends, and neighbors through newsletters, postering at local shops, and going door-to-door!

4.Create the Program

Earth Day is about celebration! Below is our proposed Earth Day activities to rejuvenate yourself, your community garden and your community. Grow Food. Eat Together. Make Art.

Grow Food

5.Building Community Around the Garden

Organize on-site workshops where folks from the neighborhood can get their hands dirty weeding, harvesting, and watering. Simple solutions really can create big changes.

6.Garden Activities

With soil, sun, water, and a few reimagined resources, you can reinvigorate your community garden in collaboration with the neighborhood. Every harvest is a meaningful opportunity to savor the season with friends and family.

7.How to Participate if You Don't Have a Garden

Don’t have a garden? Try your hand at creating a mobile container garden or gather together community at a neighborhood park to inspire reconnection to the natural world.

Eat Together

8. Hosting a Potluck

A potluck is an engaging way to share the harvest and nourish community. Gather together friends and family to create arrangements from native flowers, cook seasonally inspired meals, and celebrate local food.

19. Sourcing Local Food

Searching for a farmers’ market near you? Download the Farmstand App to your phone to easily access the closest market in your community.

10. Seasonal recipes to Inspire You

Jennifer Sherman of Chez Panisse shares a few of her favorite recipes below!

Make Art

11. Creative Projects for Children of All Ages

Family friendly projects for Earth Day include a tie dye station, block printing, and making seed balls. Set up a kid’s corner with pillows, blankets, and a smattering of coloring books and create a music station with instruments that will invite every participant to join in a jam session or share a song.

12. Community-Based Creativity

Reach out to local makers, musicians, muralists, and movers to share their skills. Art is a vital part of healing our relationship to the land so dig into the act of co-creation.

Stay Connected

13. Share Your Story

Share your story with us on Instagram by using #weareearthday to tag photos from your thriving Earth Day Festival!

14. Keep in Touch

Earth Day really is every day! To continue to stay engaged and inspired, follow us @theecologycenter or check our our website for resources and recipes. You can also sign up online to receive our latest ‘zine “How To Make Earth Day Every Day.”

The Ecology Center is a non-profit eco-education center focused on creative solutions for thriving on planet Earth. You can find our complete Earth Day Toolkit here.

Evan Marks is founder of the The Ecology Center, a non-profit eco-education center focused on creative solutions for thriving on Planet Earth. The Center works to inspire communities around simple solutions that empower individuals everywhere to be part of the solution. Follow The Ecology Center on Instagram and Facebook to learn about what you can do to build a thriving world. Read all of Evan’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The March Towards Zero Waste

Unilever Zero

With spring around the corner, it’s the when many begin clearing out the clutter which has so easily accumulated through the year. Sometimes it can be challenging to find a home or new use for unwanted items through charities, yard sales, recycling, auction sites, and other means. Many businesses and industries are engaged in an ongoing similar strategic game on a much larger scale. Today, many are working to reduce waste and some have set goals to become designated as zero waste to improve the company’s bottom line, while conserving valuable resources including water, energy, and land.

What exactly does zero waste mean? Many corporations have their own definitions for zero waste which can make things confusing. The U.S. Zero Waste Business council (USZWBC) founded in 2012, observed the issues with not having a certification program for zero waste. “It was like apples and pineapples,” says USZWBC founder Stephanie Barger, Director of Market Development at the Green Business Certification Incorporated (GBCI). “It was all over the place. There really weren’t standards and guidelines on what zero waste meant. That was one of the reasons businesses came to us.” The definition of zero waste for third party certification requires that no waste go to a landfill or incineration facility.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is employing change in helping others protect the environment with a systematic approach that builds on the basics of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle to evaluate the entire life cycle of products. This process, called Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) seeks to use materials in the most productive way with an emphasis on using fewer materials and products while reducing toxic chemicals and environmental impacts throughout the material’s life cycle.

In Tennessee, some of the top industrial performers in waste reduction are members of the Tennessee Green Star Partnership (TGSP). The Tennessee Green Star Partnership is a voluntary environmental leadership program designed to recognize industries in the state which are committed to sustainable practices. Through a survey about zero waste, the Office of Sustainable Practices received input from the TGSP partners on what zero waste means to them and their company’s achievements as well as progress toward achieving the goal. They confirmed that the definitions for zero waste are not uniform and many showed interest in learning more about waste solutions. From those responding, approximately half are either zero waste or have greater than 90% diversion. All respondents have waste reduction goals and most have specifically identified zero waste as a priority.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation through the Division of Solid Waste Management and the Office of Sustainable Practices is working to provide a new tool which could be instrumental in helping reduce waste and even assist with the zero waste goals. The Tennessee Materials Marketplace is currently in development and will provide a cloud based program offering a match type service for those needing products and those with products on hand. We will provide more information on this program as it becomes available. We are excited to be a part of the “march” to zero waste.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Bartering: Turn Economy Upside Down


Can bartering turn economy upside down? 

Long before money arrived to complicate our lives, bartering existed as a local-centered, community-based, viable economical system that worked with startling simplicity: trading what you have for what you don’t.

While I’m not naïve enough to believe we can opt out of the money economy altogether – the modern world is too populous and complex for that – bartering can still work exceedingly well in small communities with close-knit personal relationships where people choose to earn less, spend less, and support each other rather than a large chain-store or a mega-farmer.

The beauty of bartering is in its flexibility, personal approach and, last but for me certainly not least, its freedom from tax.

If I, for example, have some backyard-grown organic eggs to spare, I can trade them for some cheese from my neighbors’ home dairy, vegetables from someone’s garden, and so on. By doing so, I’m supporting a traditional, community-centered economical system, forging connections and exercising a creative mode of living. It’s completely win-win, and it bypasses the money economy entirely.

Sell of Swap?

It doesn’t have to be an either/or question, either. Sometimes people are willing to barter or sell. For example, right now we have two adult pure-bred Brahma roosters, one of whom we are willing to either sell or trade for a few chicks or pullets. If you are open to bartering, you might mention it when putting up an ad about something you plan to sell. Some people are short on cash but might have something else – product, livestock, skill – you would be happy to accept in exchange.

Will Tax Collectors Frown Upon This?

This is highly speculative, but I do have a disturbing notion that, as sustainable communities grow and people turn more and more to bartering as an alternative economical model, the tax authorities might not like this. I mean, how can they? Any model that encourages people to buy less is supposedly bad for the economy (or at least, economy in its current state) and prevents the system from ripping people off. We live in an area where many small farmers supposedly don’t earn enough to support themselves, but I know they swap part of their produce rather than selling it, which enables them to register less income, pay less tax and stay financially afloat. To me that’s fair game as I know these are modest, hard-working people who certainly aren’t turning in boatloads of cash, but what’s the legal status of this? I honestly can’t tell.

Therefore, bartering works best as a discreet arrangement between discerning people. We may never know when the tax hounds sniff out the trail of bartering and decide it isn’t legit.

Swapping Skills

Products are not the only thing that can be exchanged; it is also possible to swap skills and services. For example, my husband, who is a computer whiz, received four beautiful pigeons from someone who needed his hard disk restored. It is possible to trade piano lessons for yard work, fix a chicken coop in return for a plumbing job, provide childcare in exchange for home-cooked meals, and anything else you might think of. The important thing is that both parties should agree and feel they are getting a fair bargain.

Online service-swapping boards and forums are a wonderful place to begin and can connect like-minded people even if they don’t live very close to one another. Try it; you’ll be a winner in many ways – saving money, reaching out to awesome like-minded people and developing creative negotiation skills.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Living At High Altitude



We have lived at 9,800’ elevation for almost 20 years and residing at high elevation is physiologically different than living at sea level. Our body reacts much differently at this altitude than it does at sea level. Going from near sea level to anything over 7000’ elevation our bodies go through a noticeable change.

Altitude Sickness

In addition to the beautiful majestic mountains and pure fresh air there is a diminishing amount of oxygen that our bodies need to operate efficiently. There is a condition known as altitude sickness which can be temporary or long lasting. Not everyone will immediately adjust to the ‘thinner air’ regardless of their physical fitness and may suffer headaches, lack of energy, dizziness, nausea and trouble sleeping. Altitude sickness can be moderate to severe. In the severe cases it is best to quickly get to a lower elevation.

Diminishing Oxygen At High Elevation

After about 7000’ altitude the saturation of oxygen in our body tends to plummet. The body needs to adapt to the lower amount of oxygen available and that can be either short term or long term depending on the individual person. Some people’s bodies adapt to the lower oxygen levels more quickly and they can perform normally after a short period of time. In other cases some do not adjust well and we see those folks carrying around portable oxygen bottles to get the necessary oxygen their bodies need to function properly. It is claimed that some people who live at higher elevations have a lower mortality rate and have less obesity but I surmise that could be attributed more to outdoor physical activity.

Physiological Changes At High Altitude

We have noticed that we both breathe deeper which is possibly related to the thinner air at this elevation. Initially it slowed us down but not so much now. We also noticed a slightly faster heart rate which is probably attributed to the blood being pumped to more vital areas of the body. In short if you visit or live at higher elevations be prepared for bodily function changes. When Carol visits family in Florida she notes that she sleeps less but more soundly and her energy level is significantly increased at sea level. When she returns to the mountains she goes through a process of altitude adjustment.

Gradual Increases In Altitude

Over the 20 years we have lived at this altitude our bodies have adjusted and readjusted allowing us to function normally. We have seen people abruptly move to the mountains and not be able to handle the physiological change and continually having to struggle with the lower oxygen amounts. Getting a headache driving over a mountain pass could be an early indicator of being more prone to altitude sickness. We suggest to family and friends who come to visit that they take their time and proceed in incremental stages in order to give their bodies time to adjust plus drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Anyone Is Prone To Altitude Sickness

For those who wish to live full time like we do at a higher elevation it would probably be a good idea to visit first to make sure your body can adapt to the thinner air. We had a family member visit once who ended up with altitude sickness and was sick and miserable until returning to a lower elevation. It is hard to determine who is prone to altitude sickness until they actually get sick with it. In some people it can be severe and even life threatening.

High Altitude Living Requires Adjustments

We have seen people retire and move to the mountains and have no problems. We didn’t have any significant problems but then again others have experienced lasting problems. We recognized almost immediately upon moving to this elevation that we had to slow our pace down and that has remained constant for the past 20 years. We noticed a change in our breathing initially wherein we took deeper and more breaths.  Moving to the mountains as a couple can be especially perplexing if one person ends up with altitude sickness and the other does not. Going for a hike or mountain bike ride with one person lacking the stamina to keep up can be a problem.

Realistic Self Evaluation

Before moving to the mountains it is important to make a realistic assessment of your physical condition. If you are out of shape, grossly overweight or fatigue easily at sea level it is likely that living at higher elevation won’t improve matters. We observed one person who had visions of long walks through mountain meadows when in fact they was in such poor health they couldn’t take a short walk at sea level. They had visions of fishing mountain streams for native trout without realizing that going along a mountain stream can be treacherous and difficult. Unrealistic expectations and not making a proper assessment of physical conditions may put a total damper on living at higher elevation. If it can’t be done at a lower elevation it will not be any easier at high elevation.

Mountain Living Is Exceptional If You Can Handle the Altitude

Mountain living at higher elevation is everything anyone could expect it to be with fresh air and beautiful vistas and it is outdoor living at its best. Unless you want to carry along an oxygen bottle to help you get the needed oxygen your body needs it is best to make a proper assessment of your physical condition before hand. A physical can’t determine if you will get altitude sickness or not but it will reveal if other body systems are all functioning well.    

Before purchasing land and a home/cabin in the mountains only to find out your body won’t adapt to the higher elevation can be costly. A week or two visit to the area of choice at the higher elevation should be sufficient to know it there is a potential physiological problem or not.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray who live with their four German Shepherd Dogs in a small cabin heated by wood stove go to:

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State-of-the-Art Composting Facility at Ohio University Leads in Green Technology

In 2009, with my retirement from Ohio University looming over me, I didn’t think my personal involvement in the construction and startup of a Class 2 compost facility on Ohio University’s campus would develop into such a large operation. Class 2 compost (according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency) consists of yard, agriculture, animal, or food waste, plus a bulking agent.

To get this project underway, thousands of yards of dirt on the campus’ periphery had to be moved to prepare the site, and then many yards of concrete were poured to construct the base of a metal pole barn, which would eventually house the composting machine.

Hauled by semi truck from Ottawa, Canada, the enormous composting machine was unloaded by crane and placed on the concrete pad. At times I wondered, “How’s this machine going to work?” But eventually, day-by-day, the entire process starting coming together like a huge three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

Green Energy and Water Features

The vertical posts were installed and metal siding attached. For power, electricity was connected and the solar array installed. Today, the Ohio University composting facility also boasts a solar thermal system and waste oil heaters that uses leftover oil from the university’s facilities operations.

Skylights provide indirect lighting. The entire facility is self-sustainable. With a 10 kilowatt-per-hour system built in 2009 and a 31.1 kilowatt-per-hour system added in 2012, the solar array produces more energy than is used in the operation.

I asked a lot of questions. It was my job. As assistant director of grounds maintenance, ultimately my department personnel would be running this facility, so it was my job to assemble all components necessary to get this operation up and running. I became very involved in this process and my interest was piqued.

Slowly, the facility came together. The rainwater-collection cistern that provides all the water for the facility’s operation was installed, earthen ditches called bio-swales were emplaced, and the extensive leach field laid.

The University bought a truck to haul all pre- and post-consumer food waste to the site. The truck would also bring the wood chips that were needed for the waste bulking agent. By pre-consumer waste, I mean fat trimmed from meat, potato peels, lettuce cores, cabbage cores, and dough leftover from baked goods. Post-consumer waste included items not consumed in the dining hall like banana peels, apple cores, etc.

Another part of my responsibility was training the waste facility’s employees. This was a monumental endeavor. The job training all seemed very technical at the time but with repetition everything became easier to understand and we learned our jobs well.

Funding the Innovative Facility

Where did the money come from for this expensive project? Funded in part by a grant from the Division of Recycling and Litter Prevention with the Department of Natural Resources, the original 2009 start-up costs totaled nearly $350,000, with an overall cost of $800,000.

Annie Laurie Cadmus, OU’s director of sustainability describes the composting program’s role as “Diverting organic materials from the landfill, then transforming that waste into essential nutrient- rich soil amendment.” She adds, “Currently, this processed amendment is used on intramural fields, community gardens, and campus flower beds.

Ohio University is one of the nation’s most environmentally sound campuses.” The facility, she continues, “affords opportunity for research studies and educational components such as soil analysis, and sociological impacts.”

Steve Mack, the university’s facilities management director, in a recent interview tells me that, “Testing of biodegradable dinnerware, made from corn-based resin or cane fibers, is ongoing, as well as food containers. Recent success has been shown using Polylactic Acid (PLA) service ware.”

How the Composting Facility Works

Steve Mack details the sequence of the composting process to me. Here are the main steps:

1. Food waste and wood chips (bulking agent) are hauled into the facility via Schaefer carts (plastic bins with wheels).

2. The metal in-vessel compost machine is loaded with food waste and wood chips, at a ratio of 2:1 by weight. Once mixed thoroughly the material enters the enclosed processing structure.

3. For the next 14-15 days through a controlled process of airflow, moisture levels, and a regulated temperature (ranges between 120-150 degrees Fahrenheit), a constant mixing process initiates the breakdown into an organic matter. As a result of this organic matter breaking down, there is little or no noxious odor emitted due to bio-filter control.

4. After the two-week period of processing through the vessel, the material is removed and placed into a static pile for continued decomposition. This pile is frequently blended to assist in the removal of unwanted non-biodegradable matter.

5. From there, the material is placed in a large field in linear rows where for the next 90 to 180 days, the material continues to decompose through a sifting process every 10 to 14 days.

Prior to my retirement in 2009, with the system up and running, I began to realize how important this one aspect of sustainability was being realized. I played a small part in the completion of this phase and felt a measure of accomplishment, both for myself and the university.

In 2012, the facility was expanded to process an additional 8,000 pounds daily, thus extending the daily composting output to 12,000 pounds.

Steve Mack explains where the expansion’s funding came from, “A grant was provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in the sum of 1,088,571 dollars. The university committed an additional 579,646 dollars of matching funds for the expansion and related costs.”

As of the writing of this article, records indicate the compost program has yielded almost 1.6 million pounds of compost since 2009.

Dave Hamill retired from Ohio University in 2010 after serving as Assistant Director of Grounds for 14 years. His university tenure began in 1985. Dave is also an alumni of Ohio University having majored in Education and minoring in Science. Subsequent to his retirement, his interest in travel writing and photography was piqued. In November of 2016, he spent a month in Asia meeting with fellow travel writers and photographers who enjoyed ancient sites to explore. Dave is married and has two daughters and resides in Albany, Ohio.

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