Normally when someone takes off north from the Bay area on a day trip, the usual destinations are the wineries in Sonoma or Napa, maybe Sears Point for a little racing action, or a beautiful coastal drive. However, being a gardening geek, I had another destination. Hopland’s Solar Living Center.
I was in the Bay area spending the week with my mom before the BlogHer Food weekend, where Diane and I would be giving a talk on photography. Unfortunately Diane was stuck at home for the week to take care of business, so she didn’t get to share in the fun, but I did steal some fruit for her while gallivanting about (she’s a guerilla fruit snatcher in her spare time 😉 ).
Hopland’s Solar Living Center, located a couple hours north of San Francisco, is a non-profit renewable energy, permaculture demonstration site. They have about 12 acres where they have designed their facilities as an example of how nature and man can work harmoniously in providing our comforts and shelter.
Being a food aficionado, it may have seemed weird skipping past Napa and Sonoma’s wonderful wineries and restaurants to go check out a sustainable living demonstration site. However, Hopland had peaked my curiosity since Mom first told me about it many years ago and it seemed like a great opportunity for a Moment of Discovery. Diane and I aren’t looking to revitalize the 70’s and the free-love ways, but we are always seeking ways to become more self-sufficient.
Not knowing quite what to expect (I didn’t do any research before going – just basing my desire to visit on Mom’s experience) I arrived at the Solar Living Center with curiosity and an open mind leading my thoughts. Like many areas just north of S.F. in late September, it was hot, but as we drove into the Center, the sight of figs and quince amongst other fruit trees with a gentle pond laced by willows sweeping its edges, my body began to relax in the heat and draw from the coolness of the trees’ shade.
There were the expected solar panels and a few wind mills, but they seemed to be a mere piece of the puzzle, rather than the primary focus. The focal point was of a grander scale, utilizing many of nature’s gifts simultaneously and in harmony, rather than relying on one or two to help provide for us. Grape arbors surrounded the main building helping shelter and cool the summer’s heat while also providing delicious snacking. Solar powered water pumps generated a soothing stream of water which branched off into a drip ring in the courtyard in front of the main building, providing further relief from the heat using evaporative cooling principles.
From the buildings’ designs, materials, orientations, and outside landscaping virtually everything had a purpose and use in allowing nature to provide human comfort. It was a wonderful example of permaculture.
Back home we had been utilizing some of the permaculture concept in our garden, trying to plant and design so things were mutually beneficial, but after visiting the Solar Living Center, it has inspired me increase our knowledge and the use of the permaculture ideas. I like the thought of being efficient with what nature provides us and in developing naturally harmonious relationships. We’ve done it a bit in our garden through use of beneficial insects, recycling trimmings as mulch, and other individual aspects in the design and functioning elements of the garden. This mindset is some of the inspiration for our edible garden, but there is so much more potential to the garden and knowledge to find.
What are the ways to recycle greywater (bath, dish, and laundry water) to be cleaned and utilized as irrigation water for us at home? What plants help protect and provide beneficial qualities for other plants? What can we do to improve our mini-ecosystem in our home and backyard? There are hundreds of questions streaming through my mind.
The Solar Living Center had a great bookstore, making it an excellent opening resource for my revitalized quest, but we’d love to hear some of the things other people have done to help create a healthy ecosystem in their gardens and homes. And if anyone has questions about permaculture and such, we’ll do our best, or maybe other readers can help answer the questions.
Solar Living Center
13771 S. Highway 101
Hopland, CA 94559