TRANSITIONING OUT of non-sustainable models

There’s a common expectation amongst those interested in our project to think we have state-of-the-art “green” infrastructure; we don’t. This is of course due to a lack of information available from our end, so I want to fully disclose where we’re at in terms of infrastructure. Bottom line: we’re getting there, but we have a long way to go and we have to do it together: facility administrators, artists in residence, local community and funders. It’s about sharing knowledge and resources towards a common goal.

Water Supply

The quality and volume of the water available for domestic use has increased thanks to an additional water tank for underground supply and an improved upkeep of the filtration system for above ground supply. Still, we are in need of better equipment to utilize the water more efficiently, and we have to keep limiting our capacity to only 10 people per residency including administrators, otherwise we constantly run out of water. This is ironic because Guapamacataro means “place surrounded by water” and indeed we are, we just need more knowledge and resources to improve the infrastructure.

Most importantly, we have to take proper care of our water source, the natural springs about two kilometers away. Native and non-native invasive plants like tule and water lily are choking the springs, and trash and detergents polluting the water. Again, slowly but surely we’re winning the battle: art projects have served a great deal to inform the community and get people to cooperate.

Wastewater

Up until February of 2009, all wastewater went directly into the backyard and the river that surrounds it. As an immediate measure, I built a septic tank to contain it. This year we plan to implement a couple of composting toilets and start separating the gray water for irrigation purposes. Again, it is a process. Here the main obstacle has been the lack of resources to reconfigure the piping that is already in place, deep beneath the thick old walls. Ultimately, we want to build a biodigestor to generate biogas from human manure and use it for cooking, so that we not only properly process human waste, we take advantage of it!

Comfort and Sanitation

Before I started the project, you could not open a drawer in the bedrooms without finding mice droppings in it, and the humidity in the house was unbearable. Conditions have dramatically improved simply by using the house more often and allowing plenty of air and sunshine to come in every day. In addition, funding and resident’s fees have allowed us to hire cleaning and maintenance staff more often, which in turn has provided extra income and increased the living conditions of the community as well. Still, much more needs to be accomplished: better furniture, roof leaks repairs, new cookware, solar power implementation, etc. We are also dealing with an ironic result: as low-income community members are earning more income due to the project, they are wanting to implement “better” infrastructure for their own houses. Replacing their old composting toilet for a WC is top priority. The two social groups are evolving in opposite directions! Here communication is key. In the coming months, I plan to conduct several village meetings to discuss everyone’s needs and how to best adress them without a negative impact on our natural resources.

Trash

When I first decided to take action back in Summer of 2006, all trash (food scraps and plastics alike) went into a huge pile on the yard, which was then periodically burnt into the atmosphere. Slowly but surely, we are reducing our trash volumes, clearing up the trash pile, and properly processing different types of waste. Since then we have established a compost, which has already sprouted a couple of avocado trees and provided plenty of rich soil; plastic bottles and aluminum cans are being recycled in town; we produce far less trash by buying locally produced, un-packaged goods such as fresh cheese, milk, bread and produce; and a trash truck comes by once a week to take all other trash, which only amounts to about two large bags per week when we have a full house (sixteen to twenty people).

It has been suggested that I hire two “guys” to clean up the remains of the trash pile once and for all a couple of days before the next residency, so that when people arrive it’s all nice and clean. Instead, I like to do a little bit each year with the artists and the community. It’s a process; we’re all part of the learning and the healing. I don’t care that it takes longer or looks messy…we brainstorm about ways to utilize that trash and not generate more, instead of just transferring the problem to the municipal dump. I like to think that this approach is better in the long term because a lesson is learned from experience, and we instigate innovation. Learning by doing.

In sum, the site is just beginning to transition towards an ecological and sustainable model. I have to keep remembering that the project started only four years ago; abuse of the site has been going on for centuries! In order for the project to grow in the desired direction, we need all the expertise and resources available, so I invite you to get involved!