Reuse & Recycle
The Bullitt Reservation demonstrates the ultimate practice in sustainability: reusing the land and building of this former town poor farm (and later summer estate). During construction, the building was stripped to the framework and rebuilt from the ground up. Nearly 90 percent of the materials from the farmhouse were reused or recycled.
Visit the Bullitt Reservation.
Jane Roy Brown is a writer and Trustees member based in western Massachusetts.
From the superinsulated concrete basement floor to the cement plank siding to the reflective metal roof, painted a light shade so as not to collect excessive heat, the building will be a model of efficiency, and will meet the guidelines for LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. (The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program verifies that a building incorporates measures that achieve certain levels of energy savings, water efficiency, emissions reductions, indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. The Doyle Center is gold-certified and the Center for Agriculture and the Environment is also on the way to gold certification.)
The heating system may draw the most curiosity: the building uses a new, more efficient model of air-source heat pump, a technology much like air conditioning. Instead of burning fuel to generate heat, a heat pump simply moves warmed air around. In optimal conditions, an air-source heat pump can deliver up to three times more heat energy than the electrical energy it consumes. “The house has no furnace – no propane, no oil,” Quigley says. “Inside this air-tight shell, you can set the thermostat at 68 degrees, leave for the night, and it will be exactly the same the next morning, with little or no heat being added to the system.”
When all is said and done, Quigley will have recycled or reused every stick of material removed from the old farmhouse – the kitchen counters and desks, for example, are made from reused boards. Quigley will also have disposed of some not-so-pleasant surprises discovered along the way. “We found several cases of insecticide in the basement,” she says. “It turned out to be DDT. Boy, did I have a hard time getting even the toxic waste-disposal site to take that off my hands.” She laughs, then shrugs at
the vagaries of history. “Well, at least whoever bought that stuff originally didn’t end up using it.”
A Hub for the Highlands
The retrofitted farmhouse will serve as an education, meeting, and demonstration center, with the building and surrounding land delivering the primary lessons.
“Sharing and interpreting the energy conservation features for homeowners will be a large part of what we do here,” says Wendy Sweetser, director of The Trustees’ Highland Communities Initiative (HCI), which promotes preservation in rural western Massachusetts. The new center will provide office space for HCI and for the local Hilltown Land Trust, which recently entered into a long-term partnership with The Trustees.
Sweetser says she is excited about the many possibilities the property holds. In addition to showcasing innovative techniques for small-scale food production, such as permaculture (perennial agriculture), she says, “We’ll be using the land and one of the barns behind the house for more hands-on programs. This will be an opportunity to demonstrate ideas that we’ve been discussing with local landowners for years, from controlling invasive species to managing land to capture and store carbon from the atmosphere.”
Sweetser adds that traditional pursuits such as hiking, skiing, walking, and bird watching have not been forgotten: “The Bullitt Reservation connects with several other conservation lands in the area, which have the potential for a connected network of trails reaching to The Trustees’ Chapel Brook and Bear Swamp reservations in Ashfield and the DAR State Forest in Goshen. We are working with local trail groups in four towns to make that vision a reality.”
Visitors to the Bullitt Reservation can also learn more about poor farms – places where towns housed and cared for the poor in their community, and where the farm residents grew and raised some of their own produce, grain, and livestock. It’s a concept that, strange as it may sound, is not that different from some current ideas taking hold, which focus on building community resources and connecting neighbors in a common cause – in this case to sustain the transition to a post-oil economy. “We will explore ways to live and work that have less impact on the land, ideas such as creating a community root cellar, wood pile, or vegetable garden,” Sweetser says. “We want this place to be a local, community-wide resource.”
After all, a property fit for paupers and ambassadors should aim for nothing less.