On September 11th – National Day of Service and Remembrance my employer, Outerwall (the company behind Coinstar and Redbox), joined forces with 21 Acres and Growing Veterans. We spent the day working along veterans and the staff of 21 acres weeding, mulching, and other necessary farm chores. I think I speak for many of my co-workers when I say “getting our hands dirty is a far cry from what we do on a regular basis” and “it was a blast”.
The mission of Growing Veterans is simple, “To empower military veterans to be responsible stewards, leaders, and participants in their community” (from their website). Growing Veterans is a young non-profit, but they have come a long way in the last year. The programs consist of their main farm in Watcom County, outpost partnerships (such as their relationship with 21 acres), and peer support. Their organization is not only working to help veterans reintegrate and thrive, but to also make an impact with sustainable agriculture.
Director, Chris Brown, along with several other veterans were on hand to help and lead us during this volunteer event. Hearing their stories throughout the day was inspirational.
Melissa, the Assistant Director of Facilities, was kind enough to show me around 21 Acres once our volunteer event was over. Her personal story was almost as interesting as the farm story. She started her career as a Graphic Designer, but lost her job when the economy took its recent dive. When Melissa starting thinking about what to do next, she was drawn to sustainability. She dabbled in sustainability earlier when working with Burning Man where she suggested they use solar power (in lieu of generators) to power one of their camps. So, off to Edmonds Community College she went and right after completing her studies she was offered a job with 21 Acres.
21 Acres is a farm situated in Woodinville, Washington (just 23 miles from Seattle). If you didn’t know any better it would be easy to miss as you drive by, but once you make the turn into its driveway you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The entire farm is actually 20.87 acres, five of which is used by 21 Acres as their certified organic farm. The farm also includes two community gardens, a youth garden, and the Veterans ½ Acre (these gardens are not certified, but 21 Acres asks that everyone participate in organic practices). The 12,000 square foot building on 21 Acres houses their business offices, year-round market, several community rooms, and a commercial kitchen that they rent to small businesses to produce local products.
The 21 Acres building itself is a marvel of green practices and has been certified LEED Platnium by US Green Building Counsel (this is the highest rating available). Everything about the structure is “green”, but the part I was most fascinated about was the fact that they are not connected to city sewer or a septic system (wow…right?). Their bathrooms are on the second floor to take advantage of gravity which pulls the waste into their composting system. These are not the composting toilets that I was familiar with, in fact they were not much different than regular toilets except for the fact that you “flush, do your business, and then flush again”. They use nearly no water and the flush includes an organic soap to both clean and lubricate the bowl. When I was shown the composting units on the first floor, I was amazed by the fact that there was absolutely no odor. Before using the compost 5-10 years will pass and many tests of the compost will be done.
21 Acres takes advantage of other “green” practices, for instance all heating comes from radiant floors, their water and air are heated using geothermal energy and their back-up water heaters are rarely used.
Ventilation is done the natural way (meaning there is no air conditioning). I was surprised to learn about there being no air conditioning because the building was quite cool. Melissa showed me tunnels that lie under a hill of dirt that bring air into the building. The
air then passes through Hepa filters and then UV filters before entering the rest of the building. Because of this process the air within in the building is extremely fresh and clean. Another savings is that CO2 sensors have been installed in every room. As more people enter a room the carbon dioxide (CO2) raises and this information is used by the ventilation system to know when to “turn on the air”. This eliminates unnecessarily cooling of rooms that no one is using.
As for lighting they rely on ambient light as much as possible and the building is designed to take advantage of that. When I was there, very few lights were illuminated. Even something as small as the countertop material is “green” and made with recycled paper and natural resins.
So, you might be wondering what we did that day. I personally spent several hours, along with my co-workers, weeding one of 21 Acres bioswales. Aaron, the 21 Acres employee who worked with us, said he did most of the weeding of this area by himself last year and it took him weeks. We were able to help him get it mostly complete in just a few hours. He was very grateful.
“A bioswale is a shallow depression created in the earth to accept and convey stormwater runoff. A bioswale uses natural means, including vegetation and soil, to treat stormwater by filtering out contaminants being conveyed in the water..”
Other teams weeded gardens, picked vegetables, and mulched various areas of the farm. Our day ended with a reflection exercise to highlight the moments that touched each of us during the day. It was my first time participating in a volunteer event through work, but it won’t be my last.
Growing Veterans – If you are interested in learning how you can help click here.
21 Acres – If you are interested in learning how you can help them click here (this is about cash donations, but I know they appreciate volunteers too). Their local market is open year round, for its address and hours of operations click here.