Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sustainable Living at Sadhana

I arrived at Sadhana Forest about two weeks ago. The forest is just outside of Auroville. The idea of the project is to recreate a patch of Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest. This area has ben so extremely overlogged and overused that the are has become extremely infertile, in parts complete desert. This was an area that once housed a vibrant forest and provided habitat to animals like elephants and tigers.

The main need for the area is to capture water. The surface vegetation was destroyed an all the topsoil washed away. So now it is hard for surface vegetation to grow at all, and as a result rain just runs off the surface out to the ocean. It doesn't stay in time to enter the water table or provide even surface vegetation with much water. The soil is a dense clay with well worn pebbles. From what I understand the dense clay indicates intense biological activity in what has become a human-made desert (as are many deserts of the world).

Mostly this means building trenches, holes and and hills to stop the water from flowing down the hill. Instead of running away it is held in puddles. This gives it a chance to percolate into the ground. In the six years that the 70 acre project has been here they have raised the water table by about 6 meters, which is rather a lot.

This is the garbage facility for about 100 people. There is no waste from the kitchen since the vegetables are brought in reusable packages which the farm takes back with them. The only real waste is people with their random food packages or something. Maybe a few inner cores of toilet paper rolls and tissue paper. Anyways there isn't much. Drinking water is provided by a bulk filtration system (a "dynamizer" made by a company in auroville) and people reuse their bottles.

The toilets are dry composting toilets. There is one hole for poo, and another for pee. There is a pan which people can use to collect pee if they don't want to go pee first before taking a shit. The toilets are used in a squatting manner, as is traditional in India. This takes a bit of getting used to but it's fine. Many people don't use toilet paper, instead washing with water (with the left hand) as is apparently custom here. Then people wash their hands twice and eat only with the right hand. Sawdust is poured on top of the poo to keep flies down and produce good compost.

We stir the poo every day which produces a rich looking blackish sawdusty compost which we can use to fertilize the trees in the area. Ultimately they are looking towards using it to grow food. The waste must sit for at least a year to be used for human food. Then it is good to use it on food plants where the edible part does do not come into contact with it. This is important because to really have an ecosystem waste must be recycled. The current typical system of treating human waste like a toxic substance to be thrown away by any means necessary is very ecologically unsound.

Sadhana Forest is off the grid. The only available electrical power comes from solar and bicycle energy. Apparently it is not the greatest area for wind. The bicycle is used on about 30 days of the year only, and used only for power to run the office and water pump. The water pump fills a water tower which then provides drinking water and water for washing hands. While I was here we used the bicycle system a lot because it was raining for basically a full week There's usually drums and other instruments to accompany the people pedaling :-).

The Rocket Stoves shown here are used for cooking. In terms of culinary experience they are quite limiting. They essentially are only used to heat pots so that means some very limited roasting and anything else that is cooked must be made in a pot. So we eat a lot of dahl, rice and porridge. These stoves are rather clever, the wood is fed in not at the base level of the fire but higher up. That way the coals can fall down and create a really good bed. The smoke rises up and surrounds the pot. The fire chamber is insulated by brick which increases temperature and efficiency. The stoves are quite cheap, in fact there is a nonprofit distributing them for free. We recently got even larger stoves because there are more and more volunteers coming to Sadhana.

Here's the handwashing station. Aviram, one of the people who started the project, is quite proud of this. It's just a pot with a nail in the bottom, and a bottle of liquid soap. He calls it a "15 Rs technology". It's easy to wash your hands with about 200 ml of water. Lather with liquid soap, scoop some water into the pot with a hole in it then use the running water to rinse.

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