The Radix Ecological Sustainability Center

Scott Kellogg.jpg

Scott Kellogg and his daughter on the site of the future Radix Center.

Scott Kellogg wants to teach you to live greener and be more self-sustaining -- you know, grow your own food, raise a little livestock.

Hey, city dwellers -- this means you.

Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew are the founders of the Rhizome Collective, a center for community organizing and urban sustainability in Austin Texas, and the authors of The Toolbox for Sustainable City Living.

Now they live in Albany, and they're building a space called The Radix Center to teach city dwellers and suburbanites alike to do everything from compost with worms and grow porch mushrooms, to collect rainwater and raise their own fish.

Scott says not only is this possible, you're actually going to enjoy it.

So what is the plan for the Radix Center?

We want to use the space as a demonstration site for ecologically sustainable tools and technology. We want to teach people to have more control over life resources -- chiefly food, with the ultimate goal that they be replicable. Our first structure will be a greenhouse. We'll teach people to compost with worms, remediate soil in their backyards, grow their own food, raise small livestock like chickens and goats, collect rainwater and raise fish and plants in ornamental ponds.

We've acquired a half acre lot in the south end of Albany on the corner of Grand and Warren Streets. We've gotten a use variance for the property and we're applying for a permit to construct a 20 x 60 greenhouse -- that will be the first building on the property. We actually got permission to keep some small livestock -- chickens and goats -- as well.

Raise fish in the city?

Sure, if people have small yards, they can put in ornamental ponds and create an aquaculture where they raise fish and aquatic plants.

There's a lot you can do in the city. You can grow mushrooms on the porch or in the bathroom. You can compost with worms. You can have a backyard or rooftop garden You can collect rainwater in barrels. Rainwater is rich in nutrients like nitrogen -- commonly added as fertilizer. Collecting rainwater also helps to prevent sewage overflow. Albany, like a lot of old cities, has a combined sewage and storm system, so when there is a flood you have raw sewage -- so if people collect rainwater in barrels it will also help to prevent those overflows. In Austin the city started giving people $500 tax rebates for installing rainwater collection systems in their homes.

You're up against a lot, aren't you? Inertia, folks who think this is not really mainstream enough for them. It can be hard enough to get people to recycle, but it sounds like what you're talking about will take a lot of time and effort.

It doesn't have to. You know, when I was growing up, I remember environmentalism meant sacrifice. It meant being a less bad human because humans were destructive creatures. But we're trying to get away from that paradigm. Humans can be beneficial partners with our environment and ecosystems. We can improve the health of ecosystems while meeting our own needs -- that is what permaculture is about.

Not everybody has to do everything. We 'd like to see people do what they are passionate about -- what they are drawn to the most. Maybe that's composting or growing gourmet mushrooms. Maybe it's a small garden or ornamental fruit tree, maybe it's collecting rainwater in a barrel. It's not about it being a chore, its about loving what your doing and taking pleasure from it. And once people start they will see how much joy it gives them and it will snowball from there .

I think when people start to see these systems at work they will appreciate them and want to do more. And the Radix Center will have actual functioning examples of how all this can work. Once people see it, it makes it more possible.

Texas and Albany are pretty different places. What makes Albany a good fit for something like this?

In a lot of ways this will work better in Albany, because Texas is so dry. Here you have rain year round and relatively predictable weather.

I think Albany has a lot in common with many other so-called rust belt cities. It's a little different because it's the state capital and the economy is better than, say, Detroit, but it's in with the second tier post-industrial cities -- places with negative population growth that are not exactly booming. But within these place there is opportunity to create this template for sustainable living because you don't have the same economic pressure you'd have in New York City or Vegas. Land prices are more affordable. In Detroit, where they have this urban prairie, people are transforming huge pieces of land.

Also, living in the Northeast, we're close to other population centers so word and information about this can be disseminated widely, and people are willing to travel here
and learn. And it being the state capital gives us the opportunity to lead the way and show that cities can be reinvented for the 21st century.

We can do a lot with a greenhouse. In the 1800s New England was exporting veggies to Florida because of greenhouses. They used to be incredibly common throughout this region, and that needs to be brought back. Greenhouses are a huge key to extending the growing season.

You're starting with the greenhouse, but what is the long term plan for the center?

We've got .6 acres, so eventually we'd like to build our house and a workshop space and the rest will be gardens and a chicken coup. We hope to bring our goats down there as well. Inside the green house we'll have an aquaculture system raising catfish and watercress. It will convert waste from fish into the nutrient for the plants. In addition to that we hope to have a worm composting system and have mushroom cultivation and numerous garden beds and sustainable heating technology -- keeping chickens indoors because they give off quite a bit of heat, bio thermal heating.

We're also hoping to work with the government to help change laws and create incentives for people to do these things -- creating tax credits, making it legal to keep livestock -- that kind of thing.

How will you support the center?

We started with some help from grants, but we want to get away from that. We'd like to support ourselves on what we can grow and on educational programs. There are places like Growing Power in Milwaukee that is self sustaining. And there's a wonderful organization in Holyoke, Massachusetts called Nuestras Raíces (Our Roots) that runs a restaurant serving locally produced food. So it is possible. You can sell to restaurants and co-ops. And then there are educational programs where we'll teach school kids and adults how to do these things on their own.

Why should city dwellers learn do these kinds of things?

We see ourselves in a time of uncertainty with climate change, economic insecurity.
Eventually we will have to make a transition to a society that consumes less. Bringing food and water production back into cities, where more than 50 percent of the world's population lives, is a good way to do that. So it's important to teach people to be more be more self reliant.

Some might say the message that we will have to make this transition is a little alarmist.

You know, honestly, I think the message I have is much less alarmist or extremist than what we're getting from more mainstream environmentalists.

Everyday we're bombarded with bad news about climate change and species extinction. You begin to shut down after a while because you feel so helpless. What I'm offering is an alternative. Yes, there are problems like this and they need to be addressed, but the way to go about it is that changes can be made and it can be a fun and rewarding process.

We can sort of see this as an adventure -- the next stage of human evolution in history. If you compare that to the more mainstream message, it's rich in hopefulness.


So excited for the Radix Center in Albany! I like Scott's viewpoint that ecological sustainability shouldn't be a chore list with 100 to-do items on it.

I went to his class on growing mushrooms at The Furnace a few weeks ago. It was a really fun experience, and now I've got a small baggie of straw slowly turning into mushrooms. Really cool stuff, and it sure makes me want to grow more.

I really can't wait to hear more about this project! And to sign up for some classes!

This is right up my alley. Although I gotta admit, the line about growing mushrooms in bathtubs made me chuckle. Reminds me of the gym showers back in high school. They had mushrooms growing too. But it wasn't a good thing.

I love this idea. People often think that they can't participate in a self-sustaining lifestyle if they live in a city, that a farm in the country is necessary to live green. I like that they want to teach people to work with the resources they already have access to, and to improve their lives in small ways. I think then it's less overwhelming, and may be more easily accepted.

This is a little way's back in the archives, but the construction has been going well and I made a short animation of the last couple weeks.

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