North America’s First Urban Earthship Lands in Calgary

by Nanci

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Click this link to watch a video about the building of this earthship:

North America’s first urban earthship lands in Calgary


A radically sustainable structure made of recycled tires and cans is set to help Canada’s largest urban agriculture farm produce even more food for Calgarians in need.

What is believed to be North America’s first urban earthship — an approximately 500 square foot eco-friendly structure located on Grow Calgary’s 4.5-hectare pocket of land, just west of Canada Olympic Park — is nearing completion.

Even in the dead of winter when Calgary’s temperature dips below 20 degrees Celsius, the earthship greenhouse will allow Grow Calgary to do what the non-profit organization does best: grow food for Calgary’s less fortunate.

“It’s going to dramatically impact our capacity,” said local food activist and Grow Calgary founder Paul Hughes.

“It’s going to have a massive positive net impact on our operations. We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time … This is really outside the box for Calgary.”

The earthship at the Grow Calgary farm in Calgary. The earthship at the Grow Calgary farm in Calgary. MIKE DREW / POSTMEDIA

Volunteers first started building the unconventional structure out of upcycled, salvaged and donated material in 2014, but soon ran into issues with city building code rules.

Grow Calgary successfully appealed a demolition order and applied for the proper development permits and volunteers, led by project lead Scottie Davidson of EcoNerds, got back to work on the project this summer.

“I’m really proud that this group fought through the heavily layered, deeply entrenched bureaucracy to make this happen. We had a bulldozer ready to plow it. That’s what the city wanted to do,” Hughes said.

Over the weekend, volunteers nearly finished closing in the structure, which still needs some aesthetic work before it’s officially complete.

Constructed out of old tires rammed with earth, cans and bottles that act as bricks, and featuring systems including solar panels, earthships have the ability to treat and recycle greywater, generate electricity, produce food and regulate temperature.

The concept originated in New Mexico in the 1980s and was invented by American architect Michael Reynolds, who visited the province two years ago to help build Alberta’s first official earthship on rural land near Lethbridge.

While the self-sustaining structures are typically homes that people live in, no one will live in Grow Calgary’s earthship, which means it doesn’t include the electricity or sewage systems prominent in other earthships.

Instead, the project that Hughes and Davidson believe marks the first time an urban earthship has been completed in North America will regulate its own temperature and be used primarily for early germination.

“The whole square footage is for food production,” Davidson said.

Grow Calgary’s earthship boasts two distinct growing areas and unlike most earthships, which are private residences, the one-of-a-kind structure will be open to the public, Davidson said.

Beer cans and old tires were used in the earthship greenhouse.Beer cans and old tires were used in the earthship greenhouse. MIKE DREW /POSTMEDIA

Grow Calgary believes all Calgarians should have access to healthy, local food and since its creation in 2013, the urban farm has donated pallets of fresh produce to organizations including the Calgary Food Bank, the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre, Inn From the Cold and the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter.

Hundreds of local school classes have come to the farm to volunteer and learn about food, and Hughes said the earthship has provided an opportunity to teach children and teens about repurposing and upcycling.

“When we show kids (the earthship), they’re fascinated by it,” Hughes said, noting the school groups have a common response to the unusual structure.

“This is the coolest fort ever!”

Article written by Annalise Klingbeil of the Calgary Herald

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