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Venkappa Gani started as a hobby gardener, but since moving to a new house has expanded his hobby to his entire lawn. His organic garden now stretches around the sides of his Austin, Texas, home and into the front lawn. Gani has an engineering background, and is a senior life member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). He's put his studies to good use, earning several awards, including the Green Garden award from the city of Austin and the 2005 Texas State Gardener of the Year Award. The project started with Gani’s organic backyard garden that he began when his house was nearly completed. If city ordinances allowed, he would take his quest for self-sufficiency further. "I'd keep a cow, too, if I could," Gani says.
Because of Austin’s warm climate, he has been able to landscape with edible plants to produce flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruits year-round. His impressive list of fruit trees includes new citrus trees as part of a microcitrus project, an olive tree that will bear its first fruit this year, and a rare Texas native: a jujube tree. As a gardener, Gani was well aware that during the summer months the area typically receives little to no rainfall and he would need a way to irrigate his food-bearing plants if they were to survive.
It just so happened that the city of Austin had started rainwater harvesting rebates to help with the initial cost of tanks and barrels for home rainwater-harvesting systems. Gani jumped on the opportunity, investing in two 1,500-gallon tanks he uses to provide his plants with water during the dry months. The two tanks are arranged side by side, each one receiving water from one side of the house’s roof. Because the fence is just tall enough to block the tanks from view, neighbors have no reason to complain about the large system as an eyesore.
The next logical step to continue on his path towards sustainable living was obvious in Gani’s mind: solar energy. Austin’s warm and sunny climate once more played an important role, making the choice to harvest solar energy an easy one. The city of Austin helped again, providing rebates for approved home solar projects. Gani’s plan was approved, and since 2005 he has harvested enough energy to provide for his own needs plus some extra that he uses to earn credits for darker, winter months.
Gani’s philosophy and reasoning behind his sustainable lifestyle is simple: “Collect food to eat, collect water to drink, and collect energy to use.” His efforts have also brought him substantial savings, which he estimates to be nearly 75 percent in his energy costs alone. For Gani, the savings go far beyond the pocketbook — he also considers the impact his energy savings have on global climate change.
His sustainable lifestyle has not gone unnoticed, as his neighbors have embraced and come to visit the household often. Gani also continues to invite groups from various organizations to his home so he can teach his model of sustainable living. To those interested in following in his footsteps, he says, “I am not here to say it is always easy and ideal, but enjoy it. I have no other advice than to say ‘Do it yourself.’”