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Wednesday, April 19, 2017 • Whidbey News-Times

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School districts fueling alternatives

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A supplement to the Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017 • Whidbey News-Times

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Gardening green doesn’t always mean organic By JESSIE STENSLAND

jstensland@whidbeynewsgroup.com

There are plenty of shades of green when it comes to gardening. Gardeners can go completely organic and chemical-free, to be sure. But people shouldn’t beat themselves up if they use Miracle Grow or a little bug killer every once in awhile, Whidbey Island master gardener Toni Grove says. “Plants don’t know where nitrogen comes from,” she said. “There’s kind of a myth to being organic.” Tim Lawrence, WSU Extension Island County director, agrees. He said gardeners can consider themselves “green” and still use chemicals, as long as they take safety precautions and use them as directed. He said to avoid getting chemicals on blooms in order to protect bees and other pollinators. The key to true green gardening, Groves said, is twofold: composting and weeding. Grove maintains both a compost pile and a worm bin at her home on South Whidbey; she urges all gardeners to follow her example. They are both a great way to handle yard clippings and a variety of

household waste, from coffee grounds to apple cores. The result is rich, fertile earth that can be used in the garden. Grove is particularly gung-ho about worm bins. All it takes, she said, is some sort of box that can drain, bedding material — even wet newspaper will do — and a handful of the right kind of wigglers. Just add some plant material. “It’s wonderful,” she said. “They do all the work.” Weeding, however, does take some elbow grease, but it’s a fundamental part of green gardening. Pulling weeds by hand means that chemical controls aren’t necessary. And it also means that gardeners are actually out in their gardens; they will be able to identify problems early on. Grove is actually a professional weeder. She works for Mary’s Weeding Service, a company that cleans up yards and gardens all over Whidbey Island. The employees see plenty of gardens taken over by weeds. The key to weeding, she said, is simply to keep at it. Weed a little bit every day, or as often as you can. Horsetail, for example, is one of the most annoying

and persistent of all weeds. The best way to deal with it, she said, is to continually pull up the plants as they emerge from the dirt. Eventually they will grow weaker and less weeding will be necessary. Grove’s advice is similar in dealing with the everpresent threats of slugs and snails. Gardeners need to keep up with the sticky little nuisances. She tries to find them when they’re young, and squishes them. In addition, she suggests that people cut away snail habitat, which can be overgrown bushes or even pieces of wood on the ground. She said plants should have space between them so sun and wind can make snails’ lives uncomfortable. There are tricks to avoid the use of chemicals. Grove puts a little dish soap in water and gently washes aphids off leaves of afflicted plants. Some people sink beer cans in the ground to lure and drown slugs. Gardening stores sell ladybug and praying mantis larvae, which is a fun way to introduce beneficial bugs to a garden. Grove said she’s very selective about using herbicides and pesticides, but she does use them occasion-

Photo by Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News Group

Master Gardener Toni Grove, who works for Mary’s Weeding Service, weeds a garden in Coupeville. She said weeding is a fundamental part of green gardening. ally and wisely. She’s more likely to use chemicals on flower beds, for example, than on vegetable gardens. “I’m mostly green because I’m cheap,” she said. Grove warns that green gardening, and really all gardening, involves work. “Cut things, dig things, work the soil, look for things,” she said. “Keep on it. That’s the greenest thing you can do.”

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017 • Whidbey News-Times

Oak Harbor takes lead in fuel-saving bus fleet By DANIEL WARN

dwarn@whidbeynewsgroup.com

Francis Bagarella identifies as many things: a community member, a schoolbus driver and the transportation director for Oak Harbor Public Schools. Yet calling him a pioneer is as good a descriptor as any. Bagarella was the first transpor tation director of any Washington state school district to introduce alternative fuels, namely propane, to his fleet of school buses. “Here in Washington state, Oak Harbor has been recognized as the leader in introducing propane buses to the bus fleet, so I get a lot of calls from people from Eastern Washington and down south,” Bagarella said, noting that they all wanted to know how the propane-fueled buses were running. Some people questioned the initial decision to bring propane-fueled school buses to the state, due to decades-old misconceptions about the amount of horsepower that can be expected from the vehicles, he said. These days, however, propane-fueled buses are just as viable as their predecessors, and much better for the environment, Bagarella said. As far as fossil fuels are concerned, state lawmakers have imposed strict regulations that ensure the use of clean-burning diesel, but Bagarella said propane is king by comparison. “Our goal was to go green ahead of time, so I got my first propane bus,” Bagarella said. “I think it’s

the future… In my humble opinion, I think it’s the best way to go.” The school district’s long-term goal is to convert all its buses from diesel to propane, except for the trip buses, which have more storage space for sports equipment and the like. Propane-fueled buses have a longer life expectancy, are the safest thing on the road, save money in manpower due to lower maintenance, have a minuscule impact on the environment and are much quieter than their diesel counterparts, says Bagarella. “We only see ourselves going greener, and I think the community will be better for it,” he said. “They’re much quieter; when you’re stepping on that accelerator you don’t get that big loud diesel noise going through the neighborhood. “Now you won’t be able to hear the bus go by, unless the brakes squeak.” Families may not hear the buses, but they will certainly feel the positive impact of the district’s transition to propane, Bagarella said. “Our whole intent is always to be good stewards of the taxpayer money — the more tax dollars I save, the less I have to take out of the general fund,” he said. “That money can go to classrooms.” Due in part to government and car-dealership incentives, Bagarella said the Oak Harbor Public Schools transpor tation department is reaping a financial harvest from its green fleet. “Last year, we were able

Photo by Daniel Warn/Whidbey News Group

Francis Bagarella, transportation director for Oak Harbor Public Schools, points out the marker indicating which buses in his fleet are powered by propane. to save $35,000 by using propane,” he said. Bagarella was first inspired to bring propanefueled school buses to Oak Harbor after attending Central Washington University’s summer training program for managers of student transportation systems. At the training, Bagarella discovered that he could help the environment and save money at the same time, so with district approval, he purchased that first propane-fueled school bus in 2010. Now, Oak Harbor Public Schools has 11 propane buses in its fleet and Bagarella said he plans to purchase three more next

year. Glen Gordon, transportation director for the state of Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said his department encourages the use of alternative fuels. “Propane is another option for school districts,” Gordon said. “We like it when a district chooses alternative fuel options — it works out for the districts who do and is a lot cleaner for the community.” The Coupeville and South Whidbey school districts are also making choices to go toward cleaner-energy buses. The Coupeville School District currently has one propane-fueled bus in its

fleet, and it approved the purchase of a second at a school board meeting last month, according to administrative assistant Julie Hunt. South Whidbey School District facilities director Brian Miller said the district doesn’t have propanefueled vehicle but does have a hybrid-electric bus. “It uses regenerative braking that saves a lot on energy when stopping and going, as school buses tend to do,” Miller said. Bagarella recently expanded the positive impact that his growing fleet of propane-fueled buses will have on students. “We’re one of the only fleets that actually has a

large wheelchair bus,” Bagarella said. “So bus 21 is our bus that we use whenever we have a field trip that has a kid in a wheelchair.” In the past, the transportation department had to use two buses — one for the student in the wheelchair, and one for the rest of the kids. Now, thanks to propanefueled bus 21, all the students get to sit together. “The thing that got me was being able to see the smile on the kid’s face, knowing that he was with his classmates,” Bagarella said. “We’re always looking to accommodate folks. “We do a lot in this district with limited resources.”

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Sustainable living can have rewarding results By EVAN THOMPSON

ethompson@whidbeynewsgroup.com

Linda Bartlett didn’t sugar coat it: Adopting a sustainable living style isn’t always easy. Bartlett, co-owner of Rosehip Farm and Garden in Coupeville, said the days are sometimes long and grueling and that it’s usually not glamorous work. “I think people have this sort of romantic vision of living on a farm,” Bartlett said. “We see it with customers and they’re like, ‘This is so beautiful.’ We love living like this and the reality of it is that there are long days and it’s a lot of work. “It’s harder than most people think. You have to take a really active role and make a lot of decisions along the way.” Bartlett believes sustainable living practices include living as lightly on the land and planet as possible, being responsible for waste and improving the land to pass on to the next generation. Rosehip Farm and Garden is operated primarily on solar power, while the co-owners minimize their usage of fossil fuels. They also don’t use tractors and prepare their garden beds manually with digging and broad forks. “It can be slowed down and a little more costly, but it feels better and right in the end,” Bartlett said. Bartlett said other benefits of adopting sustainable living practices include improving the local farming industry and its effectiveness in combating climate change, better drainage, reduced tillage and greater water retention. While what Bartlett does may seem arduous, there are little things that the average person can do to lend a hand to living more sustainably. She said reducing packaged items, buying products in bulk and even changing out energyconsuming light bulbs all qualify as sustainable living lifestyles. Bartlett also recommended people become more knowledgable about the food they purchase and where it comes from, while also not supporting the foods they don’t want to see in the market. Kelsi Franzen, a marketing, education and outreach coordinator for the Whidbey Island Conservation District, also believes that the average person can make an easy

turn around in their life to live more sustainably. It all depends on the size, scale and scope of a person’s sustainable ambitions, she said. Franzen said that simple choices like eating local foods and supporting local farmers can reduce one’s carbon footprint and help contribute to the long-term viability of farms that use sustainable living practices. She also said that the sustainable living community holds each other accountable and acts in the best interest of each other. Franzen believes that if people take steps toward living more in sync with the resources their area has, it would be more effective. “To me personally, there’s a certain appeal with knowing that I’m contributing to the long term viability of the community that raised me, instead of diminishing it,” she said. The best sustainable living practices Franzen has seen on Whidbey Island are those that use the resources and opportunities available to them to maintain their forested and agricultural lands. She also added that the conservation district is readily available to assist people with conservation and management practices. Eric Conn, co-owner of Full Cycle Farm in Clinton, believes that some difficulties or costly ventures can actually be avoided by utilizing natural energy practices, such as passive solar energy, as well as being strategic with the design orientation of houses and farms. He said

Photo by Evan Thompson/Whidbey News Group

Linda Bartlett, co-owner of Rosehip Farm and Garden in Coupeville, works on her garden on a recent afternoon. that a misconception about sustainable living is that it requires extensive power through solar arrays. Conn uses what is known as passive solar energy, which simply comes from the reorientation of windows in a home to coincide with the sun’s position. It is both a money-saver and a perfect fit for the Pacific Northwest and Whidbey Island, Conn said. “In the history of our country, we tend to overpower things with over-efficiency,” Conn said. “Using natural energies allows things to work easier without needing as much energy to make it happen.” Conn also said that while

his farm’s fruit trees elicit the presence of slugs, their ducks feast upon them and later lay eggs. The ducks don’t need to be fed with grain, while the eggs can be used to the farm’s benefit, Conn said. “There are a great deal of homeowners that have these forest and agricultural lands that are really maintaining them,” Franzen said. “I believe Whidbey has a lot of the character that we all value.” Sustainable living practices can actually have a worldwide impact, too. Elizabeth Wheat of Skyroot Farm in Clinton said that if every farm across the world increased the stored

organic matter in their soil by about 2 percent, it would nullify all of the carbon that’s been released into the atmosphere since the beginning of industrialization.

Wheat admits that while the idea would be difficult to accomplish on a large scale, it would lead to a food system that combats climate change instead of helping it.

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Page A16

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 • Whidbey News-Times

Sustainable building taking an industry lead By KYLE JENSEN

kjensen@whidbeynewsgroup.com

Home builder Brad Hankins says 30 years ago nobody cared about building sustainably. The idea of “green” building wasn’t even around back then. These days, sustainable building is not only a growing trend; it’s what construction heavy-hitters are pushing to their customers. “Sustainable construction is gaining in popularity, but I still would put it in the trend category,” Hankins said. “We’re not quite where we need to be yet, but we’re making headway. Green building came around only 20 years ago and it’s been popular for probably the last decade.” Many constr uction companies, like Bayview’s Gemkow Construction, are filling out the paperwork to become a certified green builder or are consciously employing sustainable building and remodeling practices, such as Hankins’ small company Design Build Brad. Many companies aim to adhere to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines, which lay out ways for larger building jobs to be more

efficient. Both Gemkow Construction and Design Build Brad say using those customs can be good for business, as more clients look to lessen the ecological impact of their residential or commercial space. There are a number of ways in which “green” building takes shape, even before ground is broken. John Rogers, superintendent and project manager at Gemkow Construction, says it starts with the building materials used in a job. The weight of construction materials has to be considered, as lighter objects will drive down transportation costs and ultimately reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the transportation of the materials. Locally sourcing goods also minimizes emissions, as fewer miles are clocked during transportation. Quality insulation leads to a more sustainably built space and leads to higher energy efficiency. Hankins says anybody looking to build green should also use a metal roof, which he adds is one of the key ways to minimize a building’s environmental impact. Metal roofs aren’t petroleum products, and don’t pollute

Photo Provided

The Fredley House, one of the most sustainable homes Design Build Brad has constructed, utilizes open spaces and natural light and used entirely recycled wood. runoff like asphalt roofing shingles. “The rest of the planet seems to use metal or tile for roofing,” Hankins said. “Nobody else uses asphalt, but the U.S. does.” One of the most significant ways to be more ecologically friendly in a construction job is to recycle on site. Recycling during a building job wasn’t common practice in the past, but more building companies are beginning to real-

ize the percentage of waste in landfills that stems from construction sites. Hankins says if anyone were to go to the local dump, they’d notice most of the junk comes from job sites, with “maybe only food packaging” rivaling the amount of trash that comes from building. It’s a simple solution to a larger industry issue. “Post-consumer waste from construction is the number one landfill ingre-

dient, so anything that you can do to minimize that waste has a big impact in the overall picture,” Rogers said. With remodeling jobs, utilizing the existing materials to “deconstruct rather than demolish” is key to efficiency, Hankins said. His company, Design Build Brad, saves all that they can in a remodeling job, such as the old siding, floor boards and whatever old wood he can find. He says

wood use for building from 50 years ago was higher quality than what is typically found today and has a longer lifespan. He added that a key thing to look for while remodeling is figuring out how to open up spaces rather than adding more square footage onto them. To live within a smaller envelope — the walls, roof and floor — is the way forward for sustainable building. “A big part of sustainability is to live within a smaller envelope,” Hankins said. “Fundamentally, a 5,000-square-foot house is not going to be sustainable, even if it’s LEED-certified.” According to Hankins, builders will need to build smaller in the future. As building costs continue to rise along with the human population, people around the world will need to better utilize smaller spaces. Open land to build on shrinks by the year. He says people are getting on board with sustainable building and living practices, but there’s a long way to go. “Sustainability is a lifestyle, and that’s where we need to move toward,” Hankins says.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017 • Whidbey News-Times

Page A17

Land clearing can be environmentally friendly By JUSTIN BURNETT

jburnett@whidbeynewsgroup.com

It took about five minutes. Five minutes and the machine cleared a 50-foot by 20-foot wall of manhigh blackberry bushes and small trees. All that was left was a layer of mulch. “You can’t beat that,” laughed Clinton property owner Troy Yale. “I was going to do it myself; it probably would have taken me a week.” Yale hired landscaper Bruce Bell to clear a few acres of his rural property off French Road. Like many parcels on Whidbey, it’s overrun with heavy brush and invasive species, including blackberries. He wanted them gone but didn’t want to overly tear up the property either. Bell was a natural choice. The South Whidbey business owner has earned a reputation for “green” land-clearing practices, specifically with his mulching machine. Attached to a rubber-tracked loader, the device resembles a street sweeper but behaves like a lawnmower on steroids. Its large steel teeth make short work of brush and trees up to 12 inches thick, yet the machine is still small enough to weave in and out of heavily forested areas. What’s left behind is a mulch that can be as fine as “sawdust,” Bell said. The machine is an alternative to heavy machinery that can do

Photo by Justin Burnett/Whidbey News Group

Bruce Bell makes short work of a wall of blackberry bushes and small trees at rural property in Clinton. His mulching machine is easier on the environment than bulldozers or other heavy equipment as it doesn’t remove a layer of top soil and is effective at selective clearing. It also eliminates the need for burning or hauling, leaving behind a layer of mulch. a similar job but at a heavier environmental price — usually the removal of a top layer of soil — and without the cleanup. After clearing, property owners usually have to pay for removal of debris and or burning. The mulching machine requires neither. “You’re getting the best of both worlds,” Bell said. Goats are the super-green method of property clearing,

one that many on Whidbey have turned to. But these living, breathing munching machines can’t take down larger trees, and their work takes time. Bell says he can usually clear an acre in about two hours for about $1,600; costs and times can vary depending on variables such as terrain or hidden obstacles like tire rims that even the mulcher has trouble digesting. Bell set up shop in 1994 after

a long career in retail sales. He bought the mulching machine about 10 years ago as way to break into the clearing business, but doing it in what he says is a more environmentally friendly way. “It’s really important to me to better Whidbey Island,” he said. While private property owners make up the bulk of his business, he’s also been employed by organizations such as the Whidbey

Camano Land Trust. Jessica Larson, a land steward for the nonprofit, said Bell was hired to clear about five acres for the Dugualla Bay restoration project on North Whidbey and about three acres for restoration of the Waterman Property on South Whidbey. Larson said Bell’s work was desirable for several reasons. Saving a layer of top soil and avoiding the need to burn aligns with the trust’s environmental values. Similarly, the machine is small enough that it can avoid native species; Bell took the time to walk through the properties with land trust project leaders to mark plants that should be spared. The result was successful, selective clearing. Larson also noted that blackberries are no fun, not for the organization volunteers who often are tasked with their removal, or herself. It’s tough and grueling work that takes a long time. “They’re kinda the bane of my existence,” Larson said with a chuckle. Along with the mulching machine, Bell also has a flail machine on a digger that produces a similar result. It’s attached to an extendable arm that can reach places the mulching machine can’t, such as steep inclines or slippery hillsides. Bell’s business is based in Freeland, but he does work all over Whidbey Island.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017 • Whidbey News-Times

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