While reading Chapter 8 of The Carbon Efficient City, I was instantly reminded of the experience I had living with an Albanian host family when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. This chapter about on-site life cycles recognizes early on that “in cities outside the United States… the need for compact, decentralized, resource efficient infrastructure has spurred innovation and implementation” of technologies that cycle vital building flows such as water, energy, food, and waste. The pictures below illustrate some of the very simple innovations and adaptations utilized by my host family toward this end.
While food wasn’t a major focus of this chapter, it is a major input for a residential household and its production significantly increases opportunities for on-site life cycling. Like many Albanian families, my host family engaged in some subsistence farming in order to generate much of that input on site, and also utilized the basic green house structure seen at the bottom left in order to capture solar energy so that they could extend their growing season. Beyond that, the irrigation ditches seen here feed into simple sewer ditches, and while that does not recycle water use on the site (Albanians are not at all conservative with “free” water), it does improve the operation of the uncovered, pumpless surface sewage system. Last, the buildings seen in the background not only harvest solar energy with their solar hot water heater, but they are built in a simple way, section by section, allowing domestic labor/capital to slowly be reinvested in the site in the absence of an available line of credit.
While not harvested on site, the woodpile seen here is indicative of the common strategy of wood combustion as a means of saving electicity–in Albania, it’s cheaper to buy (oftentimes illegally forested) wood for heating/cooking fuel than electricity. The chickens seen here are a clever way of recycling food waste which gets fed back to them, in addition to the corn that will soon sprout on the land in the back.
Once the flock of chickens is established, it becomes a life cycle of its own, generating eggs and meat for the family. It never occurred to me that an entire group of chicks could be pinned by simply tying their mother’s leg to one place.
While I’m skeptical of the human and environmental health impacts, philosophically I appreciate that the family’s garbage was burned on site. Doing it off of cropland and keeping the chickens from pecking around the melting plastic would definitely be preferable.
Visiting my host-family later that year in August, I was delighted by the remarkable transformation that had occurred in their backyard. In the background on the left, you can see an Albanian hay bale. Feed grasses are piled throughout the growing season and held in place with a post, then covered with a tarp. These grasses are then fed to grazing animals throughout the winter.