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Vision becomes reality for 21 Acres

  • Written by Deborah Stone

New center to be a community venue for education on farming,

sustainable living and energy and water-saving systems

The wait is almost over. The 21 Acres’ Center for Local Food and Sustainable Living is nearing completion and soon the public will get to take its first peek at what is one of only four Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) projects in the state.

The facility, which was constructed solely with environmentally-friendly and low-impact materials, was designed to challenge conventional wisdom about buildings.

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The 21 Acres’ Center for Local Food and Sustainable Living. Courtesy photo
All energy requirements of the structure are integrated, resulting in a building that will use 30 percent or less of the amount of energy that standard construction allows.

Rather than relying on external utilities, it will instead model energy self-sufficiency.

Features of the building include energy efficient lighting, geothermal energy systems, natural ventilation, composting toilets, a gearless traction elevator and a substantial solar panel array.

An earth berm will provide underground food storage areas for cellared products, while its slope will host an edible landscape containing a variety of fruit, vegetable and herb gardens.

The top of the berm will serve as an upper courtyard and gathering place for visitors.

Capping the building is a living roof comprised of gardens, which will support a responsible stormwater management system.

Benefits of such a roof are numerous and include improved air quality, temperature regulation, building insulation and reduction in water usage, among others. It will also provide an educational laboratory for the community to learn about the issues surrounding water reuse and conservation.

Additionally, a portion of the roof will function as a culinary and medicinal herb garden.

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The living roof, which will not only help mitigate the impact of construction on the surrounding land and reduce the building’s future water use by up to 25 percent, but will also provide an educational laboratory for the community to learn about the issues surrounding water reuse and conservation. Additionally, a portion of the roof will function as a culinary and medicinal herb garden. Courtesy photo.
Around the center, a drainage ditch has been dug that will become a seasonal pond or rain garden with native plants and grasses surrounding it.

Within the center is retail space for the sale of local organic foods in the style of a year-round farmers market co-op, a commercial grade community kitchen and ample classroom space available to the public.

The cutting-edge facility aims to be a community venue for education on farming, sustainable living and energy and water-saving systems — all tools that residents can hopefully use in their own homes in an effort to make a positive difference in the environment.

The center has been the vision for 21 Acres’ Board President and Acting Executive Director Gretchen Garth since acquiring the property from King County in January, 2005.

She says, "The impetus behind it has been to put infrastructure back in place so small farmers can earn a living wage. The growers we work with provide pesticide free, almost emission free and certainly more nutritious food for the human body, so we need to make sure small farms stay in business."

She adds, "Then when we knew part of the infrastructure was a permanent structure for retail to support food sales, we started gathering information on green buildings and decided rather than building a cement block, to create systems within the facility that would demonstrate new technologies, as well as conserve energy and water."

The project, which cost nearly $7 million, was mainly funded through a donation from the Human Links Foundation.

Contributions from other foundations and organizations, as well as grant money from King County, were also instrumental in the creation of the center. There were a number of challenges involved in getting the center built.

Garth notes that in constructing the facility, the materials and systems used were unfamiliar to many in the field, causing the process to be both slow and expensive.

And King County’s permitting process proved to be lengthy and expensive.

"We had to go through it twice because we downsized," says Garth.

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Workers install solar panels on roof. Courtesy photo.
The original plan for the center included two wings with a total space of approximately 16,000 square feet. For economic and financial reasons, the scope of the project was altered and reduced in size to include one wing at about 9,000 square feet.

There are many plans for the use of the center. Brenda Vanderloop, of Vanderloop Communications, who is the public relations consultant for 21 Acres, says, "In regards to the educational component, different series of classes will be offered under the growing, eating, living umbrella. They will be what we call ‘integrated learning’ courses dealing with such topics as the environment and energy and sustainable cooking."

She notes that the community kitchen, which boasts low-energy efficient appliances and materials, will be available to area chefs interested in leasing the space for their own classes.

And the classroom areas can do double duty as event space, available for lease to organizations, professional associations and local groups.

The farmers market co-op, which is scheduled to open next spring, will be member-based, but also open to the public. It will specialize in organic and sustainable-based foods grown within a 300-mile radius.

"It will have more than just fresh produce," emphasizes Vanderloop. "We’re talking seafood, grains, meats, dairy products, etc. It will be a true market in a café-style environment."

Another interesting feature of the center is a kiosk that will serve as an educational tool about the unique aspects of the building, types of courses available, information on the various farmers in the co-op and more.

"This is a creation that stems from a partnership with Cascadia Community College and PSE Bonneville Foundation," notes Vanderloop. "The kiosk is intended to be an interactive tool that visitors can use to get information on the center and all its happenings."

Garth views the center as playing an integral role in the community. She notes that part of the facility, by definition, is a school that will demonstrate new and easy ways of doing things that people can use to improve the quality of their lives.

She explains: "21 Acres has been called a laboratory and it is a place where people can look at new technologies, ideas, data, see a living roof and a composting toilet. It provides a place to create and time to think. It’s also a place where people can re-connect back to where their food comes from — starting with good soil, the seed in the ground to the amazing meal or product that’s been created. All in one place."

The community is invited to an open house at the new center on Friday, August 26, 4-7 p.m. There will be tours of the building, special remarks by internationally known culinary and television personality, and award-winning author Graham Kerr, along with local food and refreshments provided by Trellis Restaurant’s Executive Chef, Brian Scheehser. For more information: www.21acres.org.

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