Hiram College

This is part two of a three-part series by Hiram students writing about community resilience and what they’re doing and learning as they explore the concept.

Authors: Jonah Lynd-Porter and Mike Skizenta


students receiving instructionOne of the themes of building community resilience we have been focusing on is re-skilling:
the teaching and learning of timeless, practical, and increasingly endangered skills.  Re-skilling is important for ensuring that communities are able to provide for their basic needs, but also because knowing how to do stuff is just plain satisfying and fun!  To this end, our class spent a day at Kelly’s Working Well Farm (KWW) in Chagrin Falls.

For three years now, Kelly (and her friends and family) have been working hard to turn an abandoned property into a wonderful place for the community to visit with animals (so far that includes chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, guinea hens, and ducks) and to learn all kinds of important skills.  While there, we got an overview of the many kinds of skills KWW provides opportunities to learn (including gardening, food production and preservation, cooking with local seasonal ingredients, natural building, pond building, green roofing, beekeeping, soil building, and more).

students receiving instructionWe spent most of our visit learning about the differences between natural and conventional building—partly through hearing from natural building educator “Uncle Mud,” and partly through actually building green roofs on two of Kelly’s newest small buildings. A green roof is an extension of the existing roof involving a water proof and root repellent layer, drainage system, a lightweight growing medium, and plants.

Green roofing is an excellent way to maintain your internal shelter temperature, absorb and save more water, and cut down on energy consumption.  This not only has financial benefits, but it also has direct environmental benefits through water management and temperature regulation.  Green roofs, for example, reduce storm water runoff.  And on a hot summer day, black asphalt roofs reach over 200 degrees, while green roofs are around 120 degrees.

The pond liner was already installed on the roofs.  Our job was to haul up straw bales and buckets of a soil manure mix (a resource which came right from the farm).  We spread out the straw and then distributed the fertilizer on top of that.  Kelly was going to follow with some seeds of short prairie plants.  This might sound like an unpleasant duty, but as someone who has helped to shingle a black roof on a hot day, this was actually a lot better.  And with all of us working together, the job was done in no time!

roof roof roof

The labor itself was more pleasant, but Uncle Mud also explained  the many other benefits of green roofs: they are less toxic, longer lasting, and cheaper than shingle roofs.  And because the weight in his system of green roofing is about equivalent to the typical three-shingle layer a house is built for, it easily applicable to other places, including Hiram.  Green roofs are especially suited for flat roofed buildings, which Hiram happens to have plenty of.

If we were to do our homework and find that it was feasible to turn some of our flat-roofed or lower pitch roof dormitories into green roofs, it could help to drastically cut back on heating and cooling costs. That could also work with other academic buildings, which are climate controlled all day, every day throughout the year.  That is a lot of energy waste we could reduce, and all with a bit of dirt and fertilizer and some seeds.

It is all too easy for individuals and institutions to get stuck in the same old habits and activities they have performed for years. But, with some thoughtfulness and planning, it is possible to break out of those habits.  France recently did so by legislating that all of the nation’s new buildings must include green roofing or solar panels.  There are numerous potential  innovations Hiram could capitalize on; and doing so would benefit the College by cutting costs, reducing waste, and making Hiram an all-around more appealing place to live and attend school at.

If we were to do a better job at “walking the walk”—planfully doing the things that reflect what we say we value—we can not only make Hiram more sustainable, but we can make it more resilient too.  A healthier, more beautiful, and better place to live overall.