For years, Green Mountain College has collected garbage at the dining
hall and brought it to the farm for composting. Students were also
interested in finding a way to compost leftovers that can accumulate in
residence hall kitchens, according to GMC sustainability director Aaron
Witham. So Aaron challenged students in the Green Job Corps program
(a group of work-study students committed to improving sustainability
on campus) to devise a solution. “I encourage students to set ambitious
goals that have quantifiable outcomes, so at the end of their work
experience they can say their jobs had a really meaningful impact,”
Aaron said. Prior experiments with compost collection bins in residence
halls had mixed success—if not picked up and emptied regularly, the
bins could attract flies and emit odor. So students Rob Dunn ‘14 and
Erin Fulmore ‘13 turned to nature’s expert composters: earthworms.
They developed simple vermiculture (the practice of raising worms for
composting) bins made out of vented plastic buckets, plastic tubing
and plastic bottles. Constructing six of the units cost only $100. The
buckets, filled with shredded paper and populated with worms Aaron
raised at home, became mini soil-producing machines. Liquid waste
called “compost tea,” a nutrient-rich liquid that, when diluted with water,
makes an excellent fertilizer, collected in the empty plastic bottles.
For chemistry professor Sue Sutheimer and Tom Sykes, old houses and
classic architecture are very lovable. But old homes often come with a
catch. “We both love old houses, but Tom had one and it was an energy
nightmare,” says Sue. Their answer? Build an energy-efficient, super
insulated, geothermally heated house modeled after an 1820’s-style
Cape Cod home. Although the rocky nature of the soil in Vermont isn’t
always conducive to geothermal, their Poultney house sits on a reclaimed
quarry that was filled in with soil years ago, allowing for rock-free digging.
Geothermal made the most sense in maintaining the architectural fit of
the house while still using clean energy. “The government offered tax
incentives [for geothermal], and we didn’t especially like solar panels all
over the roof. I thought geothermal was pretty cool,” said Sue. Six 500'
tubes buried two meters underground bring 47-degree water into a heat
exchanger that both heats the house and furnishes hot water. If it is zero
degrees outside, they only have to heat from 47 degrees up, cutting their
energy bill in half. “My idea of sustainability is that everything you can do
sustainably (and can afford), you should do,” Sue said.