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  • Geothermal is exactly what it sounds

    like: heatinG usinG the Ground. And its becoming pretty trendy for new homes to utilize geothermal technology as a sus-tainable, green way to heat their homes and save on energy bills.

    But what you dont typically see is whats happening at Down to Earth Garden Centers Eau Claire location: The greenhouse at Down to Earth isnt that huge, but its a completely sustainable environment that take advantage of geo-thermal.

    They installed geothermal in 2010 in partnership with their neighbors Water Source, a water and heating company that specializes in geothermal.

    Ben Polzin, Down to Earths VP of retail operations said their system works in tandem with a little added insulation in the lower level and open ventilation on every side of the greenhouse to make for a completely sustainable way to grow plants efficiently with low energy costs. Whereas in a typical greenhouse, heat-ers are in the air heating downward, trapping a lot of rising heat near the top of the building, geothermal effectively heats from the ground up.

    Heat rises, so if youre starting half way up already, only x-amount of that heat is getting down where its usable, Polzin said. Its heating as it goes up.

    Basically the way geothermal works is its a self-contained unit deep under-ground that water gets pumped through.It goes through several loops under-

    ground until it warms up to about 55 degrees, then gets pumped back into the unit, which then uses friction to heat it up further, and pushes it out under the floor of the greenhouse which radiates up through the greenhouse.

    But really, its the combination that makes the difference.

    Most greenhouse walls have two-layer polycarbonate walls, but Down to Earths has a third squished in there for the bottom three feet or so, which allows the heat from the ground to stabilize a bit before going up.

    Then instead of using fans, the green-house has giant ventilation doors on each side of the building, which allows natural

    breeze to come through. The ventilation is the big thing,

    Polzin said. Theres none of those big, huge, electricity-sucking fans, and the exhaust shutters its all-natural. Its quieter for the customers and yet we still get good airflow.

    Without hard-and-fast insulation in the greenhouse, it makes sense to get your heat in the most efficient way pos-sible so that youre not sucking down energy to just release the heat into the air.

    And it actually keeps the plants pret-ty dry too, which is usually pretty essen-tial. Sure, they have to modify the way they water, but it means that plants arent

    sitting in water all day, which isnt great either.

    If theres a drawback to geothermal, its the involved installation process. Basically, its costly you have install an additional backup heater and tear up the ground but Polzin said its worth it for how they use it. They luck out in the fact thats not a huge greenhouse.

    They seem to be on the upswing of a trend, if not setting one themselves.

    House-wise, I definitely see it as a trend, he said. A lot more people are putting it in their houses. Its a very effi-cient way to heat a house. Greenhouse-wise, its not catching on yet.

    VolumeOne.org July 24, 2014 34

    greenGO

    ENERGY FROM THE EARTHA NEWLY POPULAR WAY TO

    KEEP THE LIGHTS ON CAN ALSO KEEP OUR PLANTS GROWING

    by Eric Christenson

    AN

    DR

    EA P

    AU

    LSETH

  • VolumeOne.org July 24, 2014 35

    greenGO

    POPULARITY DOOMS YARD WASTE SITEEau Claire Countys pilot program offering free disposal of yard waste has been popular we mean really popular. Too popular, in fact. The program, which began in the spring, will end on Tuesday, July 29. That means if youre reading this magazine hot off the press, youve only got two more chances to get your grass clippings, leaves, and other yard waste over to the disposal site on the west side of Jeffers Road. (Collection times are 7-10:30am Tuesdays and 1-5pm Saturdays.) According to the Eau Claire County Recycling Program, the county can no longer afford to keep accept-ing such refuse. County recycling coordinator Amanda Haffele told the Leader-Telegram in June that the amount of yard waste that residents brought in far exceeded estimates, meaning in the end it will cost two to three times the $2,000 budgeted to haul it away. She added that the pro-gram will be re-evaluated for next year, and that the county may seek addi-tional funding from grants or the city. Its important to note that the July 29 cut-off only applies to yard waste: The Jeffers Road site and its coun-terpart on Highway Q in the town of Seymour will continue to accept brush meaning big stuff like branches and stumps through Nov. 8. To learn more about other yard waste disposal options, go to tinyurl.com/lkzmgrw.

    MAYO EAU CLAIRE WINS ECO AWARDMayo Clinic Health System is one of the biggest institutions in Eau Claire, and it produces some of the biggest and most impressive recycling figures as well. Mayos Eau Claire campus recycles 16 tons of glass, plas-tic, and aluminum; 700,000 pounds of paper; and 5,880 pounds of batter-ies annually. In addition, more than 45 tons of the facilitys food waste are composted each year. These recycling efforts as well as the use of energy-efficient heating, cooling, and lighting helped Mayo Clinic Health System win the 2014 Practice Greenhealth Emerald Award in June. According to Practice Greenhealth, an industry group, the highly competitive award recognizes health care facilities that have achieved improvements in their mercury elimination, waste reduction, recycling, and source reduction programs. Mayo, it seems, is striving to keep both patients and the planet healthy.

    LOCAL GROUP LOBBYS IN WASHINGTONThe Citizens Climate Lobby is a national organization aimed to encour-age lawmakers to take the environment into account with their legislation. Recently, a number of Wisconsin chapters have popped up, including one here in Eau Claire. Specifically, the Citizens Climate Lobby petitions for the fee and dividend or revenue neutral carbon tax. The tax would be placed on fossil fuels, proportionate to the emissions those fuels would expel when burned. A few locals made their way to Capitol Hill recently to lobby our legislators and others for the local chapter. You can learn more about the organization at CitizensClimateLobby.org.

    QUICKNEWS

  • VolumeOne.org July 24, 2014 36

    i am, by traininG and education, a

    professional soil scientist. I dont, however, feel much like a scientist. I lack the ability and the patience to be a scientist. A scientist can tease apart biological or chemical construc-tions into their components, analyze the data, then break apart those com-ponents until the systems unlock their secrets. No, I much prefer to look at constructs as a whole, call them black boxes, webs, systems. When I give presentations on soil health (my area of interest), I rarely refer to bacteria, fungi, or nematodes by individual spe-cies names. Instead, I talk about inter-actions among the groups. I stress the living, breathing co-dependence of all the creatures that make up the medium that most people see as inert. I dont take the system we call soil apart, but I stress that what goes into the system doesnt come out the same way.

    My approach is not unique or origi-nal. Yet, in spite of the fact that a thriving community under our feet is no secret, most people see the soil only as a means to an end: a place for plants to grow, a convenient foundation to anchor roots. And because the soil (or dirt, as many people refer to it) is only a convenient intermediary, its not worth much attention. The health of the soil means nothing. After all, it is inert and how can you address the needs of a brick?

    In reality, the soil is anything but inert. It is teeming with micro- and macro-organisms, and the nutrients they make available to plants. But because the soil is not an obvious inte-gral part of the health of the plants we grow, pesticide and herbicide appli-cation by gardeners and commercial growers is done freely. Thats not to say that people use these chemicals carelessly or indiscriminately. There is a great concern for environmen-tal protection among the audiences I lecture to of both surface water and groundwater. But when I talk about soil as a natural resource, one that we are losing at an alarming rate, most people tune out. It will always be here, so the reasoning goes. And if it disappears, there will be something to take its place. And there are countless books and websites devoted to growing plants without soil: hydroponically, in

    hay bales, in raised beds composed of compost and cardboard. So even if we dont have natural soil, we can always make it or find a substitute. Technology comes to the rescue.

    In spite of our ability to grow back-yard vegetables in raised beds of card-board, or in hay bales, or hydroponical-ly, the fact is, as a civilization, we are dependent on the 6 to 12 inches of soil we have under our feet. In that 6 to 12 inches, we grow most (about 85 percent) of the food we consume in this world.

    That makes life pretty tenuous. And for the foreseeable future, we need soil - to grow the wheat, soybeans, corn, and cotton that we use for bread, cooking oil, sweetening agents, food stabilizers, and clothing. We also need that soil for grazing the animals destined for milk-ing and eventual slaughter.

    So what constitutes healthy soil? A healthy soil is teeming with

    micro- and macro-organisms. There are trillions of bacteria in an acre, mil-lions of fungi, thousands of nematodes, thousands of arachnids and worms. The interaction of these organisms with each other and with the environment, make it possible to break down plant

    residues to