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NOLS Goin' Green
By Lauren Edwards
“The Garden Prjoect” at NOLS Alaska.
© Grant Williams

NOLS is best known for its nationally renowned wilderness education that teaches Leave No Trace (LNT) ethics for traveling in remote places. But the LNT ethics that NOLS practices and teaches in the backcountry aren’t confined to the wilder-ness classroom. NOLS is becoming more and more environmentally conscious of how they approach this ethic right in town. By recycling, restoring old buildings, creating energy through solar power, and harvesting food, NOLS is taking a practice-what-you-teach approach to reducing their impact on the environment.

At NOLS Alaska, employees Johanna Divine and Ellie Van Visse started what is called “the garden project” back in 1999. The garden consists of two vegetable gardens and one herb and flower garden and supplies the kitchen with approximately 1,000 lbs. of fresh organic produce from June through August every year. “This project decreases the cost of shipping food from the Lower 48, which includes the fuel for transport and packing,” explains NOLS Alaska kitchen manager Alex Papasavas.

NOLS Alaska also recently purchased a Prius, a hybrid gas/electric vehicle from Toyota. The average gas mileage for the Prius ranges from 45-55 miles per gallon, but perhaps more notable, the emissions from the car total a mere 10 percent of what the engine produces. The car will mostly be used for running errands into Anchorage, and picking students up at the airport.

At NOLS Mexico, the desert dictates much of how the branch operates. All drinkable water is driven into the branch from town (which is 18 miles away). Shower water comes from a gray water source, meaning that the gray water is a bit salty, but nonetheless used for watering all the plants on the property. Since the shortage of water is such as factor, the toilets are all self-composting.

The branch in Mexico also uses another unusual composting technique — pigs. Every season, two piglets join the branch and eat scraps leftover from the kitchen. At the end of the year, the pigs get pretty hefty, and everyone at the branch gets a pretty big feast. Now that’s recycling your food!

Other NOLS branches are “going green” as well. The NOLS Patagonia caretaker’s house was built with straw bales. Its thick walls help reduce heating costs, and many locals have taken to the same type of architecture. NOLS Teton Valley has converted an old Mormon church for their headquarters, and NOLS Yukon is located in a converted warehouse made of used materials.

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