Sprouts, Solar Power and Stormwater: Three Local Projects to Watch

3385711993_be44a92a72.jpgNeed a dose of inspiration from your own backyard? Keep an eye out for these innovative and practical community projects, which were among the coolest I discovered over the weekend at the Seattle Green Festival.

Out of the Food Bank, into the Garden
Despite a long growing season, a bountiful network of nearby farms, and a bevy of active and dedicated organizations devoted to ending hunger, Seattle-area food banks share a complaint with food banks around the nation: there's never enough fresh produce on hand. Although local efforts like Solid Ground's Lettuce Link and Community Fruit Tree Harvest help bring fresh fruits and vegetables to the people who need them most, demand continues to outpace supply. Seeking a long-term solution, Todd Hunsdorfer, sustainable business coordinator at the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS), saw an opportunity to help food bank clients learn to supply their own produce.

His idea blossomed into South Park Fresh Starts, a program that will soon begin supplying Northwest-friendly vegetable plant starts to the Providence Regina House food bank, and offering classes and workshops to teach food bank clients how to plant and maintain a vegetable garden. Local residents and business have been supportive, already donating gardening tools and even planting containers for Seattleites who don't have access to their own patch of dirt.

Hunsdorfer worked with undergraduate students in the University of Washington nursing program to survey food bank clients about preferences, and selected a list of vegetables and herbs that not only will thrive in this climate, but that also appeal to clients' tastes. The plant starts -- which include cherry tomatoes, tomatillos, green bell peppers, lettuces, cilantro and brocooli -- could be ready for distribution as early as the end of April. Once clients start growing their own produce, he says, the vegetables and herbs they harvest for themselves will add an overall 4 percent to the amount of food Regina House is able to offer.

A Community Unites to Build a Greener High School
Gayle Hoffman, who is earning certificates in solar/photovoltaic design and zero energy building practices though Shoreline Community College's Zero Energy Technology program, thought that solar would be a natural fit for the new campus at Shorewood High School. The school is currently in the planning phases of completely replacing all of its aging buildings with healthier, more energy efficient structures.

Because the plans for the new school haven't been finalized, Hoffman and fellow students designed a versatile freestanding structure, roofed in solar panels, that could be incorporated into a building, an outdoor pavilion area, or another part of the final design plan from contracted firm Bassetti Architects. The solar structure features 30 photovoltaic modules, and Hoffman says that, if built, it would be capable of providing an estimated 6,500 kWh per year of energy for the school. While students and teachers enjoy the summer months off, the segments will be hardest at work, generating power that can be sold back to the grid.

Inside the buildings, Shorewood students have also raised their sustainability profile. According to Hoffman, who regularly volunteers to share her expertise in Shorewood classrooms, "The 9th graders used to do volcano projects in science class. Now all 9th graders do renewable/nonrenewable energy projects." The curriculum is changing to keep up with the times. Here's hoping that students will be able to learn on a campus that doubles as a renewable energy laboratory.

Rain Gardens 101: Check Out Local Demos and Classes this Spring
Pollution from stormwater runoff is one of the biggest preventable threats to the health of watersheds in the Puget Sound region. Rainwater that washes over roofs and paved surfaces regularly overloads the local wastewater channels, sending a rush of combined sewer overflow (CSO) (which is every bit as nasty as it sounds) into Puget Sound and other waterways.

2864460308_509ee6c450.jpgOne of the best ways to combat CSO is to let nature work as intended, by nurturing green spaces that soak up rainwater and allow natural filtration to take place. There are many ways to do this, and we've written about them often on Worldchanging. But although you might not be ready to build a bioswale, install a green roof or green wall, or add a wastewater filtration pond to your community, rain gardens are a solution within reach for nearly anyone with outdoor space for planting -- even if your thumb is relatively light green.

The team at Seattle-based non-profit Stewardship Partners knows how valuable rain gardens can be. They are working to secure space to install up to six demonstration rain gardens throughout the city – in both residential and public areas – that will help spread awareness of this smart natural solution.

Want to get involved? You can learn the basics of designing, planting and maintaining a rain garden – and earn yourself an invitation to help install one of the demonstration gardens later in the seaon – by enrolling in a free hands-on workshop presented by Stewardship Partners this spring. Though there will be courses offered in nearby Pierce and Thurston counties through mid-May, the last course currently scheduled here in King County is Thursday evening, April 23 in South Seattle. For more details or to register, contact Becky Abbey: ba[at]stewardshippartners[dot]org.

Photo credits: "Baby Lettuces" by flickr/meganpru, and "Rain Garden 4" by flickr/eXtension.org, Creative Commons license.

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