A sustainable lifestyle is possible in the city.
That’s the message of a new book, the “Toolbox for Sustainable City Living,” written by Albany couple Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew.
Kellogg and Pettigrew aim to teach urban dwellers to garden, compost and manage waste, despite limited access to land and sun, and they promote recycling and salvage as an alternative to buying new goods.
With more than half the world’s population living in cities, the couple believes that sustainability can no longer be thought of as something that applies only to forests and fields but as something that anyone can practice, anywhere.
“It’s important to begin the work of transforming the urban environment,” Kellogg said. “There’s a lot of potential space for food production.”
Kellogg and Pettigrew practice what they preach.
They live in an apartment heated by an old wood stove salvaged from a nearby building and installed with the help of friends; Kellogg made the chimney usable by lining it with flexible stainless steel tubing. A gas heater serves as a back-up source of heat. In the kitchen, a large plastic bin contains red wiggler worms that feed on food waste such as banana peels and coffee grounds, creating a nutrient-rich soil in the process. This is known, Kellogg explained, as vermicomposting.
Kellogg said it’s easy for city residents to vermicompost “because it doesn’t requires access to land or sunlight.” Also relatively easy to do is create a mushroom log — to grow mushrooms, either for food or medicinal purposes, on a log by mimicking the natural process of fungi growing on dead trees.
To create a mushroom log, Kellogg recommends drilling holes into a log and inserting plug spawn — small wooden dowels that are colonized with fungi and can be purchased from specialty suppliers — that will inoculate the log.
Published by Boston-based South End Press, “Toolbox for Sustainable City Living” is an easy-to-read, 200-pluspage guidebook that teaches people how to grow vegetables, maintain a free-range chicken coop, collect rainwater that can be used for gardening, drinking or other household uses and even how to build a composting toilet.
“You can start with something really simple,” Kellogg said.
Many of the projects in “Toolbox for Sustainable City Living” are fairly basic, but they do require time and effort. Growing vegetables, for instance, is work. Kellogg and Pettigrew, of course, believe that investment is worthwhile. “The payoff is going to be more in the long run,” Kellogg said.
“Toolbox for Sustainable City Living” came out in July, and Kellogg and Pettigrew have supported themselves through book tours and presentations. “A whole component of our mission and purpose is to get this information out to as many people as possible,” Kellogg said. “A lot of people can’t come to a class, but you always have the book to refer to.”
Much of their philosophy is based on permaculture, a design system that emphasizes the use of ecology as the basis for designing integrated systems of food production, housing, technology and community development. The idea is that humans should care for the earth and interact with the environment in mutually beneficial ways.
Kellogg got involved in activism at 18, eventually becoming involved with groups such as Food Not Bombs, which collects waste food from restaurants and grocery stores and uses it to prepare free meals for needy people.
“I was able to develop critiques of every social system in the world,” Kellogg said, discussing his youthful activism. “I could tell you what was wrong with everything.”
The problem, he said, is that he didn’t know what he was for. But he gradually figured it out, looking to the pioneering work done during in the 1960s and 1970s to promote and create sustainable communities for inspiration.
“I felt another world was possible, and I could tell you what it looked like and how we could be producing our own food,” he said.
Like Kellogg, Pettigrew got involved in activism at a young age. She spent time in Chiapas, the poor Mexican state that is home to the revolutionary group the Zapatistas, working as a human rights monitor and had always had an interest in environmental issues. She and Kellogg met while protesting the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington.
In 2000, they founded the Rhizome Collective, a nonprofit sustainability training center based in an abandoned warehouse in Austin, Texas. They lived there year-round for years but began spending more time in the Capital Region — Pettigrew grew up in Saratoga Springs, while Kellogg is from Connecticut — after their daughter was born in 2006.
Although they are still involved with the Rhizome Collective, much of their work is based here, and their goal is to build a center for sustainable education on a vacant lot in Albany.
Pettigrew and Kellogg, both 34, live in an apartment in Albany’s Mansion Neighborhood. This neighborhood already contains some of the sustainable living features the couple wants to build in the Capital Region. For instance, free-range chickens live in a fenced-in yard across the street from their apartment; although the chickens are owned by the Albany Free School, an alternative school where students direct their own learning, they are cared for by a chicken collective comprised of local residents.
With concerns about high gas prices, global warming and food scarcity beginning to mount, Kellogg and Pettigrew believe people are more receptive to their ideas and more interested in changing their lifestyle.
The big question, Kellogg said, is how to have more access and control to the earth’s essential resources, such as water and energy. “We’re not just waiting for the government or a corporation to bring these things to us,” he said. “We can begin doing this work today. We can begin building a sustainable infrastructure, with an emphasis on justice, and making sure this is not just a novelty for the middle class.
“It’s about creating intensely cultivated, sustainable societies in as small a place as possible,” Kellogg said.
They also feel that it’s important to work with neighbors and build intra-dependent communities where people help and support each other.
“This is not an individual survivalist mindset,” Pettigrew said. “This is about community.”
Kellogg agreed. “It makes cities more livable, enjoyable places to be,” he said.