Sustainability Tour

Photograph by Michael Amsler

Daily Acts: Trathen Heckman spreads the good word.

Tour of Duty

Sustainability Tour is home-grown ecotourism

By Sara Bir

Throwing some hot dogs on the grill and sitting back on the lawn chair, margarita in hand, might be fairly typical Memorial Day weekend festivities. An equally relaxing but much more proactive alternative is the Sustainability Tour taking place Saturday, May 25, which highlights local applications of permaculture.

“I started studying this because I wanted to get exposed to the doom and gloom and figure out what our lives cost,” says Trathen Heckman, the 31-year-old Monte Rio resident who organized the tour. “You get too focused on that and it gets kind of overwhelming, so I started studying what all the different solutions were.”

Heckman’s initial idea for the tour was inspired by the people he met while studying and volunteering with different organizations in the North Bay. One of those was the Permaculture Institute of Northern California, an educational and research organization in Point Reyes that promotes sustainable technologies and methodologies.

A contraction of “permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture,” permaculture “looks at what nature does and copies nature,” Heckman says. “Permaculture is not this crazy, labor-intensive thing; it’s just working within nature’s needs. You can keep the resources on your land. That’s a big aspect of it.”

Finding sites for the tour wasn’t difficult, Heckman says. “It was just looking at people who were already in my life and figuring out a way to showcase what they are doing.”

Because of the distance covered–the tour begins in Sebastopol and ends in Monte Rio–participants won’t be riding bikes but will be riding in alternative energy vehicles. “Bikes are obviously a lot better than cars, but if we were going to use cars, I figured we’d try to focus on alternative energy solutions, like electric and biodiesel and vegetable oil.”

The tour starts at Laguna Farms, a Community Supported Agriculture farm in Sebastopol. Participants will get a chance to pick a few veggies and reconnect with food at its source. “There’s some really great local organic food. Laguna Farms is also using solar energy and wind energy, and they just converted their tractors to run on vegetable oil. So they’re beyond organic,” says Heckman.

The next stop on the Sustainability Tour is right down the street. “Eric Ohlson has a permaculture site that’s an urban scale, so it’s what can you do in a backyard in the middle of downtown Santa Rosa, or anywhere. We’ll go through setting up a worm bin so you can compost your food scraps, different solutions that you can apply in a small space.

“From there we’ll go to Ocean Song outside of Occidental, to a naturalized conventional home with earth plasters and natural paints, and also some cob and straw-bale projects.”

The tour ends at Heckman’s home, where the focus will be on medicinal plants and erosion control. Heckman shored up his yard, a ferociously steep, shaded redwood hillside, with an attractively textured series of urbanite rock walls–broken recycled concrete. “To make concrete, first you have to break apart the earth, then you have to heat it to 2,500 degrees, so it’s really energy-intensive as far as global warming. To reuse it seems pretty ideal. The concrete is a thermal mass, so the sun heats it up and it draws extra heat for other plants to be able to make it here.”

Alternating with the steps that wind across the hillside are herbs and edible plants: arugula, lemon balm, rosemary, calendula, yarrow, chamomile, borage, huckleberries, blueberries, currants. “Two or three years ago I would have walked out here and thought, ‘Oh yeah, lots of flowers and rocks.’ Now I see food, medicine, . . . wonder.”

Heckman, formerly a full-time snowboarder and computer programmer, recently published the first issue of his zine, Ripples, which focuses on reclaiming daily acts and bringing greater awareness to our lives.

“Have you ever seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?” he asks. “Willy Wonka says, ‘Come and live with me away from all the wangdoodles, snozzwangers, and rotten vicious kinits.’ We have nowhere to go–this is Wonkaland. I don’t see any rotten vicious kinits, I just see good people in a bad system. Sustainability, to me, is about helping heal that system and show fun, good alternatives.”

The Sustainability Tour runs 10am-4pm, Saturday, May 25. Bring a lunch. Reserve space by May 18 by e-mail ([email protected]) or mail (Daily Acts, Box 826, Monte Rio, CA 95462). $10-$20 donation. Call 707.865.2915 for information.

From the May 16-22, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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