Tour, fair bring sustainability home

There’s a lot of talk about sustainability these days. Sustainable gardening, sustainable communities, sustainable buildings – the list goes on.

Some people take little steps toward a more sustainable lifestyle, such as bringing their own grocery bags when they go shopping. Others change their lifestyles completely.

Take Frieda Morgenstern and John Brinton, for instance. When they began building a new home in 2006, Morgenstern was determined to live lighter on the earth, as she puts it. So the couple built a straw bale house, put solar panels on the roof and radiant heating in the floors, and abandoned the traditional American cement driveway surrounded by a green lawn.

On Sept. 20, Morgenstern and Brinton’s Manito Park home is on the Green + Solar Home and Landscape Tour, which is one of more than 50 events planned in September by Community-Minded Enterprises to raise awareness about sustainability.

Dan Baumgarten, executive director of Community-Minded Enterprises, which sponsors Sustainable September, said the idea behind the monthlong awareness campaign begins with the urgency he feels when he thinks of preserving the earth.

“I am in my late 50s and I grew up in a time where we never used to worry about sustainability,” Baumgarten said. “Now we realize that nature will not sustain itself, and that’s unbelievably difficult to get your mind around.”

To those who say sustainability is just another buzzword, Baumgarten says people will be forced to see the light sooner than later.

“When gas prices went up all of a sudden, people began to get religion,” he said. “I hope Sustainable September will create awareness of the crisis we are facing. To respond to it is tough medicine, but we are all in this together.”

Sustainable September events cover a broad range of topics, such as going green with a business and eco-healthy child care. And most of the events are free.

“It’s about creating awareness of the crisis,” said Baumgarten.

The Sustainable September luncheon on Tuesday has sold out.

On Sept. 12, Main Avenue will be closed between Division and Browne streets for a Main Street Fair lasting all day with music, booths and tours of the still under construction Main Market Co-op. Baumgarten said there will be a special event for young people that day called Sustainable Uprising.

“Hopefully that will be a place for younger people to connect and talk about these issues,” he said. “Lots of young people care about the environment and sustainability – we just want to provide an opportunity for them to hook up.”

The Green + Solar Home and Landscape Tour is focused on new construction and renovation, as well as on gardening practices that are a better fit for the natural climate here.

“I hope people will take their time when they come by our home,” said Morgenstern, who’s preparing a handout that describes her straw bale home. “This house is incredibly feminine, with its soft curves – it’s like it embraces you when you walk in here.”

Brinton said their power bills routinely run one-third of what their neighbors pay.

“On a 97-degree day, it never gets more than 75-76 degrees in here,” Brinton said, standing in the living room on a recent hot day. “No, we don’t use air conditioning. And the floor heating is excellent in winter. We don’t have any cold spots anywhere in the house.”

Brinton also said the hot water generated by the rooftop solar panels frequently becomes burning hot in the summer.

Morgenstern said that recycled and reclaimed materials – like old doors and funky stained glass windows – have been used throughout the home.

The backyard garden is a true gem.

“It was a brutally hot pit when we moved in,” Morgenstern said. “So we have planted for shade and for beauty. And we use soaker hoses to water the plants, to minimize evaporation.”

Coneflowers, roses and herbs are planted in a beautiful mix under towering sunflowers and a few fruit trees. Hummingbirds zoom in and out of the yard all day. There are tall ornamental grasses, but no traditional lawn.

“I’m just opposed to grass lawns and all their upkeep,” said Morgenstern.

Morgenstern wanted a xeriscaped yard when she first started working on the garden three years ago, but fell in love with gardening in Spokane, creating a yard that’s a compromise between water preservation and beauty.

“Yes, anyone can do this, if you have six hours a day to dedicate to your yard,” Morgenstern said, laughing. “It takes some planning, but my plants are growing so fast that I already have lots of starts to give away.”

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