By Evan Davits
Often when we think of self-sufficiency and sustainable living, the first images that come to mind are not tall buildings, large houses, congested neighbourhoods and heavy traffic.
From such images, sustainable living and self-sufficiency can seem virtually impossible. With movies and TV shows constantly depicting the end of the world, it’s difficult to imagine how one might save it. But it is possible. Several individuals, companies and organizations in Edmonton are realizing self-sufficiency in many different ways and are slowly changing the way Edmontonians view living more self-sufficient lifestyles.
Local architect Shafraaz Kaba is a major partner at Manasc Isaac, a company devoted to designing sustainable, high-performing buildings in harsh climates. Kaba recently designed and built a net-zero ready, completely off the grid home in Edmonton in which he, his wife and son live all year long.
“As an architect, we are always testing new ideas,” Kaba said in an interview with Troy Media this past October. “We are creating little experiments for ourselves to prove that something is possible, or to prove different materials work together.”
Kaba and his wife Serena documented the project, called “Chasing Net Zero,” on a blog of the same name.
The home is a tall, long structure of some 2,400 sq. ft. that is equipped with solar panels facing the south to capture as much of the sun’s rays as possible.
Kaba’s home is designed and built in ways that eliminate waste and make the home sustainable and gentle on the environment. The home is made with concrete floors which are part of the building’s passive solar heating design—absorbed sunlight warms the floors during the day and the heat is released at night. Kaba’s home makes use of salvaged materials, such as mirrors and doors from older and freshly demolished homes. The tall design of the building creates more space to plant gardens and the home doesn’t get any colder than 16 C in the winter, which is not bad for a house in Edmonton with no furnace.
Since 2007, net-zero homes have been popping up in almost every area of the city. The neighbourhoods of Riverdale, Mill Creek and Belgravia have all seen net-zero homes erected in recent years. Home building companies such as Landmark Homes are capable of building every new home as net-zero ready.
However, changing the types of homes we live in is only the beginning of realizing self-sufficiency. If true self-sufficiency is defined as surviving with absolutely no outside support, then the ways we satisfy our thirst and hunger and even our connections with the outside world need to be examined and questioned. In reality, it’s almost impossible for anyone, especially city dwellers, to be entirely self-sufficient. Most of our food is purchased at a grocery store, we drink water from the tap or a plastic bottle and we connect with people using electronic devices.
Still, this doesn’t mean that living a more sustainable, healthy lifestyle does no good in the city. In fact, the more self-sufficient each one of us is, the better our efforts are for the environment. Most of the food we buy at the grocery store, including native fruits and vegetables, are often transported thousands of miles before they end up in our shopping carts. The impact on the environment is astounding and a lot of it is unavoidable.
Here in Edmonton, the Kaba family collects rainwater behind their home to use to grow fruits and vegetables in their garden in the spring and summer. Edmonton’s harsh climate in the winter is one main deterrent to maintaining and relying on gardens. But there are ways around this inconvenience, such as canning and cold storage.
Another reason most Edmontonians don’t grow their own food is simply because they have no room. A lot of urbanites live in apartment buildings or townhouses that offer little to no space to plant gardens. Nevertheless, an organization called Sustainable Food Edmonton offers locals the opportunity of becoming part of community gardens, where members of the community share accommodations and space to grow gardens they would have otherwise been unable to grow.
If community gardens are still not a viable option, there are countless places to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables, such as local farmers markets, where one can even purchase eggs and meat products.
This past August, the City of Edmonton approved a yearlong pilot project allowing an initial group of Edmontonians to keep chickens in their backyards. The Urban Hens Pilot Project will run until August 2015, at which point the city will decide whether or not to allow all Edmontonians the option of raising chickens in the city.
So far, the project has met with an equal amount of support and criticism. According to a retweet by River City Chickens, around 40 per cent of Edmontonians disagree with allowing residence to have chickens.
— Kevin Kossowan (@kevinkossowan) August 14, 2014
Regardless of the support, if city council votes in favour of allowing Edmontonians to have chickens, it will be yet another feasible option for residence to become more self-sufficient.
There are limits to self-sufficiency in cities, but there are more options than a lot of city residents realize. It all comes down to sacrificing comfort and convenience, which is something a lot of city dwellers refuse to do.
Those of us with the means to make a change need to do so. It is possible. If each of us chose to be a little more self-sufficient, imagine what kind of city we could be living in.