“Unattended children will be given an espresso and a free puppy,” says the sign by the store cash register at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland, California.
Well, there might not be any environmental impact to that, right? That’s what I think while wandering through sustainable items I’ve never seen before. The Solar Living Institute uses a ‘Sun Frost’ refrigerator with Krypton gas to store its juices. They also sell hand-powered blenders and compost toilets priced at around $2,000 with accompanying how-to manuals, such as “Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.”
And that’s just the beginning.
The property has a do-it-yourself walking tour that role-models how our environment could look if only we integrated far more recycled materials and renewable energy into our daily lives. First and foremost, the Solar Living Institute boasts the largest number of solar panels on a private property in California and they are hooked up to the deregulated electricity grid. Having taken only eight weeks to construct, the solar panels generate approximately 160,000 kW hours of AC electricity each year.
Beyond the use of solar, the entire Institute displays innovative items for a sustainable world. They have a biodiesel fueling station where you can fill up your car with recycled vegetable oil or use the electric vehicle charging stations. Several small buildings, including the earthen greenhouse are made of cob: a mixture of strawbales, clay, and straw infill considered ‘low-impact’ materials that replace wood or concrete.
A solar water pump takes water from the pond to irrigate the organic farm, limiting the use of potable municipal water. The parking lot uses gravel rather than oil-based asphalt, while reeds and grasses on either side act as bioremediation, that is, they filter metals and pollutants that drain in from the parking lot. Then there’s the Great Wall of Hopland made of more than 100 rice straw bales and meant to block out the noise coming from Highway 101.
The Solar Living Institute also emphasizes that innovation, science, and art to go hand-in-hand. They’ve created a rotunda that is a solar calendar, a tree house, a sundial, and through some brush they have old automobiles turned into planters for large oak trees. A bamboo pyramid is pruned in the shape of Egypt’s Cheops pyramid and there’s even a solar powered carousel during the summer. The top ‘wow’ items on my personal list are the solar oven and the tiny eco-lodge.
Then ‘weird’ bathrooms located right next to the pedal power bike generators are probably the most impressive. Inside, the toilet tank lids come from the Sonoma County dump. The toilets use only 1.4 gallons per flush and the men’s urinals have an oil based fluid trap. The sinks use grey-water and the bathroom wall partitions are made from recycled milk jugs and plastic bottles. The soap is organic and then there are paper towels that are… okay, well… something like the espresso and puppies, I suppose.
Family friendly and worth the visit for everyone, the Solar Living Institute has classes, workshops, tours, welcomes youth interns, and most importantly, takes any visitor into a world that is possible.
Address: 13771 US-101, Hopland, CA 95449