Seed Office Warehouse: Building With Salvaged Materials

This is part of a series of blogs about the building of a new seed office headquarters for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE).

You couldn’t tell at a glance, but beneath a labyrinth of woody vines and bushes, piles of large structural steel units lay, slowly sinking into the earth. Here they slept in their coma of non-use, the occasional rodent family or insect colony the most prominent sign of life around them.

At one point in the history of Acorn, the intentional community that SESE calls home, previous members worked in demolition, with the perk of being able to take home any building materials that they wanted.   During this time, they encountered some notable finds, namely enough steel columns, beams, girts, and purlins to comprise the major structural components of a steel building.

This was over a decade ago.  Every so often, Acorn members would prod at the pile, rediscovering the find for themselves and entertaining grand notions of reassembling them into a useful structure.  In one such instance, the urge to do so was particularly tenacious; with the unfurling plan to build SESE a seed office headquarters, an adjacent warehouse would further advance our long-term goal of centralizing all of SESE’s functions into one area.  Prompted by this latent possibility, member Paul decided to ask a local steel building expert to look at the piles and advise us accordingly.

It was confirmed that we had enough trusses to put up a building, but that our components were a Frankensteinian compilation of two or three dissimilar buildings, and that at least some of the parts of the building had already been once salvaged and pieced together, further obscuring its configuration.   We were advised that working with a salvaged building, especially if we were trying to do it ourselves, would likely be much more complicated and frustrating than we could foresee.

The cost of buying materials for a stick-frame barn was within our means, and it would be much easier to assemble.  However, in line with our general values, the practice of just buying something new in the name of convenience, with the accompanying high embodied energy and heavy environmental impacts, made us cringe.  We figured if anyone was in a situation that favored reusing resources at hand, it was us—we have both the values to compel us and the labor to make it happen.  Although reusing salvaged materials such as giant steel beams is less of a trademark to the sustainable building movement than that of sinuous earthen structures or living roofs, we reasoned that insofar as sustainability is concerned, little can beat building with a pile of slowly rusting materials in your backyard.

Hence the challenge was born.  Stay posted for details about the first step of the building process: the foundation.

 

Heirloom Gardening for Biodiversity

We all know biodiversity is a good thing. But how does gardening with heirlooms promote biodiversity? And how can you garden with biodiversity in mind?

We think of biodiversity on three levels: genetic, species, and ecosystem. All three apply to your garden or farm, no matter its scale.

Heirloom Vegetable Genetic Biodiversity
Pungo Creek Butcher dent corn, Yellow Fleshed Moon & Stars watermelon, Cosmic Purple carrot
Genetic Diversity

  • Heirlooms may carry genes that provide disease resistance or other useful traits we don’t even know we need.  Preserving heirloom varieties maintains this “gene bank” as insurance against future plant diseases or other threats.
  • Genetic variation within a planting gives that crop resiliency to cope with the unexpected – we may lose some plants, but we can build stronger varieties by saving seed from those that survive. To maintain diversity within a variety, we save seed from a large number of plants.
  • Traditional plant breeding with open-pollinated (OP) varieties builds biodiversity by creating new genetic profiles with each generation.  It also allows us to explore unexpected mutations – with plants, mutations often aren’t bad.  A mutation is simply a shift in the genetic code, sometimes with unexpectedly good results.

Species Biodiversity Mixed Herbs and Vegetable Production
Mixed herb and vegetable production.
Species Diversity

Just growing a lot of different kinds of plants creates species diversity in your garden.  But you may not be aware of all the benefits you’re getting. Ecologists correlate species biodiversity with productivity. That means more diverse systems produce more biomass.  And that means more veggies for your table!

Many modern varieties are bred for monoculture conditions.  Heirlooms are already adapted to gloriously biodiverse, ecologically grown gardens, like those of our ancestors.

And biodiversity of one type, like the plants in your garden, tends to come along with increased biodiversity of other species, like beneficial insects and micro-organisms in your soil – which compete with or prey upon garden pests and help control their populations.

Tan Cheese Pumpkins
Tan Cheese and other Moschata types thrive where other winter squash succumb to pests and disease.
Ecosystem Diversity

Your garden is unlike anyone else’s.  Celebrate it!  Instead of trying to grow things that aren’t suitable for your garden, seek out what is uniquely adapted to where you live.  You may find that you don’t miss growing Buttercup winter squash – which may not handle pests in the Southeast – because you can grow sweet, long-storing Seminole pumpkins – which don’t produce well in areas with cool nights.

Rather than bemoaning a garden that doesn’t fit the commercial “ideal,” seek out the heirlooms that have been developed over generations, right where you live.  Ecosystem diversity creates what foodies call “terroir” – the food grown where you live is unlike food grown anywhere else.

A Design Team for Southern Exposure’s new home

This is part of a series of blogs about the building of a new seed office headquarters for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE).

To help propel this encompassing project into reality, Paul assembled an SESE HQ Design Team.  My name is Darla Eaton, and I’ve been working on the Design Team since November, 2010.  Thus far, my primary modes of participation have been researching the cost, sustainability, and practicality of various building materials, gathering information on the most appropriate energy systems to meet our needs, and networking with professionals in the industry to help facilitate instructor-led sustainable building educational opportunities.  I’ve participated in an array of building projects including building a place to live, refurbishing community centers, and building maintenance, almost all with a strong emphasis in sustainability.

When I first joined the team, we were faced with a seemingly infinite supply of questions: What spaces in what configuration should comprise the general layout?  What alternative building materials are sustainably available to us?  What energy systems can we employ that have low energy input, both up front and over time?  How much will it cost?

Think you can help?  You’re probably right!  Most of the members on the Design Team, including myself, are new at this.  If you have expertise in any field related to sustainable building, and you’d like to discuss our project with us, shoot us an email.

Darla Eaton
darl...@gmail.com
Design Team Member

Saving the Past for the Future