Focus on Sustainability: Valley Permaculture Alliance

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Doreen Pollack, executive director of the Valley Permaculture Alliance, talks about the variety of educational programs her nonprofit offers to help people live more sustainable lifestyles.

Announcer: In the far southwestern corner of the state, where interstate 8 enters Arizona from California, is a monument to a time-worn spot where countless before us have crossed the mighty Colorado. Native tribes such the Mohave and Cocopa once lived here. Europeans arrived in 1540 when Spanish soldiers took row boats along the river of good guidance. In 1700 jet with it missionary father KINO spread Christianity and made maps here after a journey from Sonoma along the devil's highway. Soldiers at camp Yuma protected people and steam ships plied the Colorado, hauling goods shipped up from California. Railroad began crossing the river at Yuma in 1877. It's hard to even catch a glimpse of the Colorado river and the place many came to cross it. Yuma crossing.

Ted Simons: Tonight's focus on sustainability looks at the valley permaculture alliance. It's a nonprofit that teaches valley residents how to compost, garden, harvest rain water and raise chickens in their back yards, all in the name of sustainable living. Here to tell us more is Doreen Pollack. She's executive director of the valley permaculture alliance. Good to have you here. Let's define some terms here. What is permaculture mean?

Doreen Pollack: If you think about taking the word and dividing it in half, permanent agriculture. So it's really about the whole notion of living more sustainably with harmony in nature. How do you create a agriculture or even culture that will have more long lasting effects?

Ted Simons: OK. What does sustainable urban living mean?

Doreen Pollack: We have picked a word "Urban" in our mission statement because really most of the folks that come and participate in our programs are from the valley area. So they are not people who have many acres out in the outskirts of town. They are people who live in master planned communities or live in historic neighborhoods who have just a normal sized lot and they want to do something on that lot where they can grow their own food or catch rain water and use it in the garden. So we are really focusing on folks that don't have a lot of lands.

Ted Simons: When we hear about, in your website you talk about interdependent of human and natural eco-systems, what are we talking about?

Doreen Pollack: Those are pretty fancy words. Really what it means living in harmony with nature. If you think how things happen in nature there's no beginning and end. When the leaf is on the tree and it falls on the ground and decomposes it becomes nutrient for the tree. And the tree grows and makes new leaves. There's interdependent in nature and things all work together in harmony.

Ted Simons: How do you do that? You got a house. You got the small plot of land. I think we have some video of you at, I think it's your house with a small plot of land. You are using rain water here. No, this is actually water from your washer. This is composting. I'm sorry. This is composting.

Doreen Pollack: Right. Composting is really easy to do for folks. Composting is nothing more than taking what comes out of your kitchen, the ends of your tomatoes and carrots and vegetables and fruits and coffee grounds and Egg shells and putting them with some grass in the container. Mixing them up little bit, putting water it in like you might make some spaghetti with sauce, make sure it's combined and let it sit for a couple months and voila, you have your own fertilizer.

Ted Simons: You have a lot of your own fertilizer.

Doreen Pollack: Exactly.

Ted Simons: Yard clippings and mulching from -- you mow the lawn and instead of throwing that stuff in the garbage, you --

Doreen Pollack: Kill the house plant that can go in there. Even the fur from your dog. If you have a dog and it sheds a lot, you collect all that fur and throw it right in your compost. You can reduce the amount of waste you put in your trash by 40% by composting.

Ted Simons: How long does it take? How long does it take from the grass clippings that go in --

Doreen Pollack: Anywhere from six weeks to three months depending how much you want to be involved. I am a lazy gardener. So it takes mine about three months because I don't get in there and mix it up a lot.

Ted Simons: So you have to keep mixing I and keep things moving.

Doreen Pollack: Once a week get a pitch fork, toss it around like dressing a salad. That's it.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about water now. I think again we have some video of water coming from your washer.

Doreen Pollack: Yes.

Ted Simons: And again, how does that work? How do you make that water do other things?

Doreen Pollack: First of all you have to be careful what soap you use. I am now using soaps that are very low in sodium. My washing machine pump will actually force the water through some PVC piping that's been put under ground. It comes out of like drip irrigation parts and it really waters a basin that sits around my fruit tree. So my washing machine water and the amount of wash I do throughout a year will provide my citrus tree with half the water it needs each year.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Doreen Pollack: I am using that much less municipal water which is higher in salt because it's drinkable, potable water.

Ted Simons: What about folks who are raising chickens and I think -- on your website someone was raising little baby quail in their back yards. First of all do you need a permit for something like that?

Doreen Pollack: You don't need a permit but you do need permission from your neighbors and I suggest to everyone that they check their city. Because each city around the valley does have some different requirements. For example, in the city of Phoenix, you, if you have neighbors within 80 fees feet of where the chickens will live you need to ask for permission. That's not a hard thing to do. If you've got a good relationship with your neighbors, you just say, look, I'll bring you a couple eggs every so often. Raising chickens is a big, big deal. Matter of fact, last year we held our second annual tour de coops, which is a tour of backyard chicken coops, 650 people on a cold and rainy Saturday toured valley backyard chicken coops.

Ted Simons: When you tour these backyard -- what are you looking for? What kind of ideas work? What don't work so well?

Doreen Pollack: How does it fit into my life? Is the coop going to take up my whole backyard so my dog no longer has a place to play? My kids no longer have a yard? No. The coops can be tucked in amongst your landscaping. We had a woman who has a very lovely coop that has a chandelier hanging it in. You can make it fit your decor or as simple as a lean-to.

Ted Simons: These are classes that people can take? Things they can learn through classes they can take through your organization?

Doreen Pollack: Yes. We do about 100 classes a year. Probably right about 20 different classes from things -- if you think about our classes they are all at like the 101 level at a University. Very entry level, things like how do I garden, how do I grow my own food? How do I compost? And how do I do rain water harvesting?

Ted Simons: For folks in more desert environments, some folks live in irrigated lot areas, some folks halfway between. Some are way out in the desert. Anyone can do this?

Doreen Pollack: Anyone can do this. You just need to know the practical matters and how to do it. We teach people how to take their living situation and their conditions and apply the steps that will make it work.

Ted Simons: Valley permaculture alliance, how many members do you have?

Doreen Pollack: Over 6,000.

Ted Simons: My goodness!

Doreen Pollack: We have got really great website, it's almost like a social media site. They can talk to each other. They can post questions and they answer each other's questions. They have pictures and videos of the things they are doing in their yards. So people learn from each other as well as from our classes and events.

Ted Simons: And how many, could you give is -- what's the average member? Give us a demographic of the average member.

Doreen Pollack: I would say the average member is someone like you and I. We have also seen families with children. We have had young people. But they are people who, many of them have their own home. Maybe they don't own their home but they have property. A few apartment dwellers but most people have yards which they can do things. So they have got some money to spend on classes. Although I will tell you our classes are really reasonable. They are only $15 for 90 minutes so most people find it really fits into their weekly budget.

Ted Simons: Last question. You have seen increased interest over the years?

Doreen Pollack: My goodness. Yes. Our class membership has really grown and about 50% of all the people who attend our events and classes are first-time into getting into gardening.

Ted Simons: It sounds like great stuff. You must enjoy your work there with the valley permaculture alliance. It looks like fun. Thanks for joining us.

Doreen Pollack: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Wednesday on "Arizona Horizon," get the latest from the state capitol in our weekly legislative update and remember Tri-corder devices from star trek? A U of A student is developing a work model of the sensor scanning apparatus. That's Wednesday on "Arizona Horizon," 5:30 and 10:00 right here on eight HD. That it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Doreen Pollack:Executive Director, Valley Permaculture Alliance;

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