Photo by Maddie Schroeder
Before hiking more than a mile to class each morning, junior Kelly Fernandez deposits the waste from her breakfast into the compost bin that sits on her front porch.
Later, Fernandez will roll the bin to the vegetable garden along the side of her house and use the compost as fertilizer. The garden, covered with layers of straw and tarps to protect the plants from harsh weather conditions, currently grows garlic and other plants that can thrive in winter weather.
Although that may seem like an unfathomable routine to many Ohio University students, it is common for Fernandez and the other residents of Ohio Ecohouse, located behind The Ridges at 8133 Dairy Lane Road.
Ohio Ecohouse was created by Ohio’s Office of Sustainability to teach college students about sustainable living in a hands-on way. The residents of the house earn one credit hour for living there and taking part in weekly class sessions. Residents pay the university about $450 per month to live in Ohio Ecohouse.
“It’s an opportunity to learn how to live sustainably … and see how you can combine your own interests and live a sustainable life, but specifically for your college years,” Fernandez says.
Although living in Ohio Ecohouse doesn’t drastically change her day-to-day routine, there are certain things Fernandez must do differently because she lives there.
“You do have to be mindful of the fact that it’s a chemical-free house, so you would take some extra time making your cleaning products,” she says. “You don’t have to, but you can make your own beauty products and figure out better ways to cook things.”
A bulletin board in the kitchen of Ohio Ecohouse displays a variety of recipes for homemade cleaning products, beauty products and dinners made with locally grown ingredients, as well as guides for how to live efficiently.
“For example, you can flush your toilet with a flusher, but we get water from a rain bucket and use that to flush, so a chore is getting the water,” Fernandez says.
The rain collects in a bucket beneath one of Ohio Ecohouse’s two solar panels. Once collected, the water can be quickly thrown into the toilet bowl to trick it into flushing without using additional toilet bowl water.
Ohio Ecohouse residents try to find innovative and eco-friendly ways to go about their lives rather than being mandated to do specific tasks, Fernandez says. They achieve that goal through weekly meetings with Annie Laurie Cadmus, Ohio Ecohouse adviser and director of Sustainability.
“The whole Ecohouse project is to show the campus and community that living sustainably looks like normal living,” Cadmus says.
The class syllabus changes by semester depending on the residents’ interests, Cadmus says. They have covered topics such as water conservation, where natural resources come from and food consumption. Due to the cold weather, they will likely talk about energy conservation in the winter.
“Because the topic is so giant, we are able to make every year look a little different,” Cadmus says. “Last semester, we spent a lot of time on food; it was a particular interest of the residents.”
During spring semester, Ohio Ecohouse residents teach the students on the sustainable living floor in Luchs Hall about a topic of their choice, Cadmus says.
“We augment [the] program by giving them lessons and combining with sustainable living floor,” Cadmus says. “They led a workshop on living sustainably in an apartment. It’s important in the second semester when they’re more comfortable with what they’ve learned.”
During their weekly meetings, Ohio Ecohouse residents learn how to make environmentally conscious decisions, such as creating their own natural cleaning products, using the plants in their garden to make medicinal salves and preparing their garden for winter.
The residents also learn how to use the natural resources and appliances in Ohio Ecohouse to better aid the environment. For example, the shower in the house is equipped with a button that stops water flow but maintains the temperature, so water can be saved when one is shaving or using conditioner, Fernandez says. The water is partially heated by a solar panel located in the side yard of the house. Whatever can’t be heated by the solar panel is done by a water heater.
Residents may also opt to hang their clothes to dry, use the wood-burning furnace and dry dishes by hand to be more environmentally friendly.
Fernandez says she could never go back to living the way she did before living in Ohio Ecohouse.
“Every house should be an Ecohouse,” she says. “It’s not too much out of anyone’s way to live [like that], coexisting with the Earth.”
Living in Ohio Ecohouse is incredibly different from the conventional college experience. As Fernandez says, “It doesn’t feel like college at all.”
“It really has incorporated the environment into my life on a level I never thought possible,” Fernandez says. “I don’t walk out with headphones anymore; I walk to listen. It definitely has changed my social life a lot. It’s a really good sanctuary before shooting out into the world. It doesn’t exactly isolate you, but it puts your social life in a different spectrum.”
Although she has chosen not to live in Ohio Ecohouse next year, Fernandez is thankful for the time she spent living there.
“It’s a special place for sure,” she says. “I’ve learned that if you pay attention in nature and just take some more quiet time, it really affects your life.”