The Mountain Times

°F Sun, April 20, 2014

Central Vermont's Most Popular Weekly Newspaper

Green Mountain College class designs home for Champlain Valley Native Plant Restoration Nursery

POULTNEY-As Americans look for creative ways to grow their own food in community gardens, vacant city lots, or reclaimed suburban land, access to water, electricity and an adequate storage area for tools all present imposing barriers.

Twenty Green Mountain College students and their instructor Lucas Brown embraced this challenge by creating a garden shed for the Champlain Valley Native Plant Restoration Nursery, which is moving from Whitehall N.Y. to the GMC campus in Poultney.  This original open building system was designed with the idea of mass customization in mind. The class hopes to create a system that can be adapted anywhere, whether it be a farm or a community garden. In this vein, they have named the system Occupy Vacant Lots, or OvaL Shed. They built and designed the 9' x 14' shed from scratch on a budget of $4500.

Brown, co-director of the College's Renewable Energy and Ecological Design program, was looking for a direction to take his most recent Environmental Design/Build class for the fall 2011 semester and was inspired by a conversation about urban farming on the way back from a trip to Indiana. His students interviewed community gardens and shed makers around Vermont to investigate current designs. Jamaica Cottage Shop in Jamaica, Vt. provided particular inspiration by walking the students through height restrictions that they would encounter were they to move the structure as well as outbuilding delivery methods, costs and materials.

Students created initial designs, then brought together elements they liked from each design into a group drawing. This design was then presented to the entire class which decided what elements would best serve their client, the Champlain Valley Native Plant Restoration Nursery.  

Construction began in mid-October and materials including foundation stones, the wood siding from a local mill, and bees wax for finishing the wood were sourced locally. Other purchases of hardware, lumber and roofing were obtained from Williams Hardware in Poultney and Gilmore Home Center in Castleton. Using off-the-shelf materials and simple tools was important, as the class is releasing the open source plans allowing anyone to construct the shed.

Sustainable systems include a solar thermal water heater, rain water catchment through the use of a butterfly roof, cellulose insulation, and beeswax and linseed oil sealant. Students designed an open building system using a post and beam frame and "FatWalls"-plug-in walls with a built-in purpose such as a greenhouse. The walls plug in to any available space and can be rearranged as needed and new walls with different features can be added. Utilities run through the columns to simplify moving and rearranging the walls. The entire structure has been built so it can be broken down into panels that will fit in the back of a small pick up truck allowing the user to easily break down and move the structure avoiding expensive moving costs.

The permanent site of the OVaL shed will be on the west side of campus where it will serve as a water source, work area, greenhouse and storage shed for the Champlain Valley Native Plant Restoration Nursery whose mission is to produce high quality container-grown seedlings from local seed stock for restoration and buffer plantings in the Champlain Valley.

In 2002, The Nature Conservancy created the Champlain Valley Native Plant Restoration Nursery in cooperation with the Poultney-Mettowee Watershed Partnership.  The goal of the nursery is to produce seedlings from local genetic stock for restoration and riparian buffer plantings. The plantings will help stabilize stream banks (reduce erosion), restore native plant communities (clayplain and other floodplain forests), re-establish connectivity of habitat along riparian corridors, improve water quality, and prevent the spread of non-native plant material in the landscape.

Tagged: Green Mountain College, Champlain Valley NAtive Plant Restoration Nursury, Ecological Design