Another Cincinnati West-Sider Going Green

It’s pleasant to hear about another person living where I grew up succinctly explain why it makes sense to ‘go green’:  “Unfortunately, sustainability is often far too politicized so that most who oppose “going green” are either underinformed or have confirmation bias. This shouldn’t be a political issue. The issue should be a blend of finance, ethics and risk management.”

Daydreams of Assembly

There is certainly no shortage of ideas for grassroots community development. Even in Cincinnati, Enright Ridge Urban Ecovillage and Our Harvest Coop stand as unique pursuits of sustainable communities not just in Cincinnati but nationally. Similarly, Good Guy Loitering, which seems to have roots in Cincinnati, is a novel take on community engagement

Writing from BLOC Coffee Company in Price Hill, I notice a posting for a monthly community potluck. “Bring a dish, or don’t…eat with friends, or enemies” reads the flyer. It seems that more and more are growing dissatisfied with the types of assembly or association available to them or, at least, more are stepping up to offer alternatives through business ventures, intentional communities, etc. Is it possible that we’re returning to some legitimate capacity for community care and participation? I suspect so. Yet, the inertia of seek-private$$-and-disassociate-from-community is behemoth.

I’m entering into an era of experimentation, seeking an alternative to dissociation from community. Our ecohouse project is an obvious manifestation of this, representative of the best intentions for living with others for Robbie, Nick, myself and others. This ecohouse project is the convergence of a number of rough utopian ideas in response to the anomie, environmental devastation, and inequality of modern urban life.

Sketching out an utopian vision for the ecohouse in Mt Auburn is exciting and necessary work. We talk of utopia to feed our excitement for this work and to bait our day-to-day thoughts, discussions and actions. I am fortunate, first, for the capacity to daydream and second, for the opportunity to enact and facilitate some pieces of that daydream. For Enright, for Our Harvest, for the Earnshaw Ecohouse and for all utopian pursuits, I daydream of enduring support and enthusiasm and overwhelming participation to overcome inertia.

Suggested reading: The People’s Playground @Jacobin Magazine

Wintertime Irons in the Fire


Been spending a lot of time outside the past few days.  Built a fence (way in the background), dug some post holes, coppiced the walnut tree (it felt great to be swinging the axe again!), fixing the large fence there, and putting the finishing touches on the coop.  I’ve been learning a lot and am thankful for my friends and family for helping out and being patient while I’m learning-and-doing.  Only got the beard caught in the drill one time.  So far so good!

Keeping My Cool About Refrigerators

Refrigeration is bad ass. I usually think of meat-packers or the old brewery district in Cincinnati when thinking about impacts of refrigeration but it turns out it revolutionized a lot of industries: nurseries, sugar mills, chocolate factories, manufacturers of paper, glue, soap, perfume, and even tea companies use refrigeration.

Refrigeration is a technology. That sounds silly to me but it is. Some form of refrigeration has been around since at least 1,000BC: In China people would cut and store ice in caves or dig holes and line it with straw or other forms of insulation. Even before that, spices, salt, dehydration, and drying were just a few techniques people have used (and continue to use) for thousands of years prior to refrigeration to preserve food.

Is your fridge running? Mine is. It’s called the General Electric Profile. I haven’t spent much time thinking of this particular fridge but, I like it I guess. The energy star website tells me that my fridge uses 1,335 kiloWatt hours (kWh) annually. What the hell does that mean? What makes a kilowatt? The US Energy Information Administration says that on average it requires 1.09 pounds of coal to produce 1kWh. OK, so if my fridge uses 1,335kWh and it takes 1.09 pounds of coal to make 1 kWh, how much coal does my fridge use in a year’s time? 1,335kWh/year x 1.09 lbs of coal/kWh = 1,445.15 pounds of coal. That means 1,445 pounds of coal is required to keep my fridge running every single year. Damn.


If you live in Ohio, 86% of electric generation is provided by coal. (Coming in second is nuclear power at only 10%.) So, where does this coal come from? In Cincinnati Duke Energy is probably your energy provider and they like to use coal. If you spend any time along the banks of the Ohio River, you’ll see barges full of coal traveling by on their way from West Virginia, where coal is mined. Conventional mining these days includes a process called ‘open pit mining’ for the PC crowd but I prefer ‘mountain top removal’. Over 400 mountains are on the list to be destroyed or have been already.

Over the holidays a family member asked me, “Well, what do you care if those mountains are gone?” Well, I’ve spent some time in the Appalachian Mountains. For our senior trip, some friends and I chose to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. At 18 years old, 4 of us did a 200 mile trek, and for the first time ever we were on an extended trip by ourselves, in the wilderness, away from our parents, trying to be men (even as we were passed by a family with 2 small children– the youngest of which was a 9 year old boy!)

This is how one effectively eliminates soil, bedrock, and herds of trees, commonly referred to as “forests”.

I did another 200 mile section of the Appalachian Trail 6 years later with one of the original members of our senior trip when I got out of the Air Force. (On this trip I randomly stayed at the home of that same family which we met 6 years earlier. I happened to have my old journal with me and was rereading it when I realized that it was those very same folks I had met all those years ago. Say whaaaa…)

Needless to say I have some very fond memories of those mountains. I don’t want them destroyed and shame on me for participating in their destruction. The fridge is our biggest electrical consumer in the house here. So, by unplugging it, we’ll be able to put a huge dent in our electrical consumption AKA coal burning AKA known-carcinogen-emissions AKA electricity bill.

Food preservation and refrigeration have been around a long, long time. Electrical fridges for mass production have only been around something like 100 years. I’ll have to ask a scientist but, I’m pretty sure that people were eating before the advent of refrigerators. While living in the woods in northern Maine, to keep our perishables from perishing we’d simply fill up a cooler half-way with well water, which is naturally chilled from the earth. Inside the cooler we’d create a shelf above the water line to put our food on. Stick the cooler somewhere in the shade and simply change the water every 2 or 3 days. Bam! At the house I even have a cellar (which stays at 55F year-round) to put my cooler in! Bam! Bam! By substituting the mechanical convenience of a fridge with a couple of used coolers and a minute amount of labor, I can stop over 1400 pounds of coal from being burned.

Now, do I think that this is significant in any way to Duke Energy? That Mr. Duke will be knocking at my door with a bouquet and a tip of his hat, asking us to please continue using electricity? No, not in the least bit. Mr. Duke doesn’t wear hats. Do I think that on a personal scale that this is a significant achievement? Yes. By unplugging only one appliance, I am stopping over 1400 lbs of coal from being burned!  That’s a pretty big plug.  (Three-pronged if I’m not mistaken.)  Its importance is also important because this is only one action which is part of a whole collection of behavioral changes, technological substitutions, and shift in mentality which will affect a different way of viewing the world and participating in it. No hard feelings, Mr. Duke. Give my best to the Mrs.


Sources: All were accessed on 25 December 2014.  Happy Holidays!

A Wendell Berry primer for community health.

“If the members of a local community want their community to cohere, to flourish, and to last, these are some things they should do:

1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?
2. Always include local nature-the land, the water, the air, the native creatures-within the membership of the community.
3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.
4. Always supply local needs first (And only then think of exporting their products, first to nearby cities, and then to others.)
5. Understand the unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of “labor saving” if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination .
6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of the national or global economy.
7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.
8. Strive to produce as much of the community’s own energy as possible.
9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.
10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community for as long as possible before it is paid out.
11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, teaching its children.
12. See that the old and the young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, nor necessarily and not always in school. There must be no institutionalized “child care” and “homes for the aged.” The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young. .
13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or “externalized.” Whenever possible, these costs must be debited against monetary income.
14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.
15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, leaving people to face their calamities alone.
16. A rural community should always be acquainted with, and complexly connected with, community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.
17. A sustainable rural economy will be dependent on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.”

From Wendell Berry’s “Conserving Communities” in Another Turn of the Crank (pp 19 – 20)

What is an Intentional Community?

I’ve never really liked the term ‘intentional community’ to be honest.  I’ve always felt that it was some dirty hippie re-branding the term ‘commune’ first into ‘compound’ and now into ‘intentional community’.  But as I thought about what the house was, and what it is transitioning into the term grew on me.  Personally, I think that the house should be called “The Cincinnati Chapter of the Branch Davidian Cult” but everyone else said, ‘Nah’.  Whatevs.

Let me start with a brief history of the house.  For the past few years it’s been a share house with individuals renting out rooms and sharing the common areas like the kitchen, bathrooms, etc.  Everyone in the house is different in their own unique way, with their own points of view, and their own stuff going on like work, school, and friends.  The common thread amongst everyone in the house is simply that they all live in the same rental property.

But, what if you could change that?  What if you were able to get like-minded individuals all together?  I’m into gardening, living off grid, and all that green stuff.  What if we could bring people like that together; where we’d compliment each others’ way of living and provide support and optimism to some things that people think is weird (like collecting rainwater and filtering it into drinking water).

So,when I talk about re-seeding the front lawn with native wild grasses, or when we’re unplugging the fridge (this house’s single biggest user of electricity) and storing our perishables in a cooler in the cellar, I don’t get googly eyes like I do from most everyone else ever that is presently living in America.

I suppose all of that is just a way of saying that rather than living with strangers, you can live with people who think about things the way that you do, who want to live simply, and who like to do the same things that you do.  That’s all I feel an intentional community is.  People living together, not just because they all happen to be in the same city or that rent is cheap but, because they intentionally want to live together.

In theory of course.  In theory.  It all looks good on paper and sounds nice.  But it’s all about finding the right people.  And I think in a city of a million people, I’ll be able to find 5 or 6 others who feel and think the same way I do.

The front yard and the avenue.

This Tuesday we’ll be meeting with John from Our Land Organics for a landscape consultation. I hope to spend the majority of this consultation exploring ideas for the front lawn. The public face of the ecohouse, a thoughtfully designed front lawn will announce our ecologically conscious household and demonstrate alternatives in landscaping that improve property aesthetics and function.

The general plan is to see how many function we can stack into our front yard. I assume some balance must be struck between diversity/number of functions and the health of the whole system. On the far side of realizable goals, I imagine a community compost and seed depository accompanied by a little library. I’m considering the front yard to be a bridge into the neighborhood.

credit: Our Land Organics

Update: John’s consultation and recommendations helped to give some form to our ideas for the front yard. The foundation of the design plan is a central swale/berm that follows the natural contour of our lot. This swale and berm will manage outflow from two downspouts on the front of the house, reducing the amount of runoff into the street. The contour of the swale will serve as a path from the driveway to seating area and provides a context to the front yard for further landscaping and new opportunities for interaction (people-people and people-landscape). This spring we’ll host a public landscaping party to begin implementing parts of the above plan – stay tuned!

The Aqua Water: Part Uno

I’ve spent the past few weeks seriously looking into how we’re going to get this house off-grid:  Producing our own electricity, finding a different heating source besides natural gas, and disconnecting ourselves from the water system.  It’s exciting and overwhelming all at the same time!  Let’s just talk about water:

The average American uses about 100 gallons a day (in Cincinnati we use about 85 gallons per day).  So, for a house of 4 people, that’s a total of 400 gallons of water used!  And less than 1 gallon is for drinking water.  How is that possible?  Who uses that much water?

I spent the better part of a year up in northern Maine and our source of water was a well equipped with a hand pump.  No way anybody pumped 100 gallons of water out of that thing a day!  You wouldn’t have anywhere to put it.  The most I ever pumped out at one time was to fill a 5-gallon bucket for doing my laundry.  Twenty more five gallon buckets?  Get outta here.

It turns out that most of that 100 gallons gets used up while we’re taking a shower.  Most shower heads use about 3 – 4 gallons of water per minute.  If you take a 10 or 15 minute shower, that’s anywhere from 30 – 60 gallons of water.  It adds up fast, huh?  While up in Maine, we’d go swimming in the river.

Purifying water from the Ohio River is an energy-intensive process:  Pumping the water.  Adding chemicals to coagulate the sediments.  Adjusting the pH.  And adding chlorine and fluoride.  Cincinnati is also fortunate to have an extra process which most other cities don’t:  using a giant activated carbon filter which helps to remove organics.  It’s essentially a massive Brita filter.  Why do we have one?  Because the Ohio River is so damn dirty.  The Greater Cincinnati Water Works also maintains 2 treatment plants, 24 pump stations, 33 storage tanks, and 3100 miles of water mains.  Lastly, they test the drinking water 600 times a day (which is way more than bottled water).

It’s all great that they do these things but I’m not into all of the coal and oil that is used for filtering water and maintaining the infrastructure.  I want to minimize my water footprint first and then eventually install our own water catchment and purification system.

Currently, here’s the things I’ve been doing to save water:

  • Now that it’s winter, I’m not as sweaty and can reduce the number of showers that I take.
  • Also, taking shorter showers.
  • Yellow-let-it-mellow.
  • I installed a 55 rain barrel for all of my gardening needs.  It has never even come close to running out of water and I love watering my plants.
  • I keep a bucket in the shower to catch gray water to flush the toilet with.
  • And just always being kind of “on”.  Being aware of my water usage.  Being present and in the moment.  I mean, as best as I can do being’s I’m such a space cadet sometimes…

I’d say that none of the things that I’m currently doing has diminished my quality of life either.  I’m still clean and living the same life I have been with a few minor tweaks.  Everything’s great!  That’s all for now.  Next time I’m going to write about biosand and activated charcoal.  SWEET.

Little Happenings

Today I mowed the lawn.  Hopefully it’s the last time this season!  And maybe forever – I found out that Cincinnati allows for native grasses to be planted in place of this short green grass which is commonplace.  I’m excited to tear up the lawn next spring and sow some Cincinnati grass wherever we won’t be expanding the garden!

I also harvested the broccoli (yes!), cleaned the garden up, and threw down some green manure which will hopefully take hold before the frost hits.  Then I got to meet the new neighbors across the street.

Planting, harvesting, and meeting new neighbors all in the same day.  Hell yes.


As we begin the process of revamping this charming turn-of-the-century house into an off grid community-oriented home, all sorts of theoretical and pragmatic questions are raised: Which water collection/filtration system is going to work best through the winter? What are the city/county/state laws in regards to drilling a well? How does a hammer work? But I continue to research and ask questions and slowly the questions become settled.  I realize that they won’t be fully answered until each respective project is individually seen through.  I’m comfortable with this long path full of learning opportunities which we’ll be living and working in knowing that so long as we keep on truckin’ we’ll get there.

Currently, we’ve been preparing the house for winter: putting plastic over the windows, replacing weather strips, and raising the median house temperature by expelling a lot of hot air as we go on and on about all the low-energy and highly-sustainable actions we’ll be bringing to the house and Cincinnati. For now though, I’m mostly figuring out what’s going on with this hammer situation.