the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Archive for Agritecture : Woven Lea Farm Thesis

Farm Community & Culture

The world is becoming very multi-cultural and globally connected. The scale of communities is drastically changing. How can rural maintain a distinct culture and connected community.  If we look back at the farming community it has traditionally be centered around a few key pieces of infrastructure. For example the Church or the School or the Feed Mill. If we look at what that looks like in the diagram below you can see that in 1878 in Middlesex County there are many schools and churches and feed mills and the scale of the community is approximately 2km radius.

1878n Middlesex County, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2008

Now clearly this is due to the limits of transportation (horse and buggy) as well as density in population in rural areas (average farm size of 100acres).  But these three buildings provided clear centres for community to gather, meet, exchange information, build relationships and support each other.  The life of a farmer can be isolated and difficult without the support of neighbours and friends. Neighbours help each other out and provide advice and information for other farmers. In the past these things happened via the architecture of the Church, School, and Feed Mill.

Over the past 130 years alot has changed.  The average farm size has grown (800 acres), the population density of the rural landscape has decreased, the truck is our form of transportation.  This has dramatically changed the landscape.  If we look at Middlesex County in 2008 we can see the average community radius is 10km around the nearest church, school or feed mill.

Middlesex Community 2008, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2008

Approximately 80% of the schools and 50% of the churches have disappeared. Without going into the religion discussion, we can all acknowledge that church attendance has declined. So how does the rural community maintain connections, share information and gather in today’s world? The rural community is being streched to a scale which threatens its unique culture and ties that bind it together.

What is the architectural building that connects us today? Could it be that knowledge and experience is shared via social media? Is this a way to connect with your neighbour everyday and keep up in our busy world? Are shared facilities a way to maintain community, like shared bio-digesters, compost piles, or tractors? How do you maintain a good community connection with your neighbour and how could it be enhanced?

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Hay and Straw Storage as Insulation?

I'm sure you've heard of straw bale houses, but did you ever think that you could use your straw and hay storage as insulation for your farm buildings? Straw and Hay makes a great insulator because it is full of air pockets, air being a great thermal break that does not allow heat to be transferred to sensitive areas like inside barns where animals are living. By strategically locating hay and straw storage on your farm you can save cooling and heating costs for barns and houses depending on your farm needs.

Winter above, summer below, Image from Barns and Outbuildings and How to Building them

This technique dates back to the pioneers who settled and started farming.  A simple wooden structure would be placed in the pastures and covered with straw of hay. This would then provide shelter from the sun in the summer, and be a supplementary feeding for animals out to pasture.

Winter-hay and/or straw storage, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2009

summer-no hay or straw storage, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2009

We can also take this principle and apply it to a winter situation.  As hay and straw are collected in through the summer and stored for use during the winter, strategic storage can provide wind breaks for barns in the winter. Keeping the prevailing cold winter winds away from the barn walls can significantly reduce heating requirements for the sensitive chickens or piglets. By also adding an extra layer of insulation the heating that is put into the barn stays inside longer.  Not only that, but the convenience of having straw or hay located close to the feeding and bedding area is a bonus.  As the hay and straw get used through the winter you are left with an open barn again that can take advantage of natural ventilation and prevailing summer winds.

With a little bit of planning this simple strategy could save you money on heating and ventilation costs over the long term. And this strategy costs less to install than bigger fans and bigger heaters up front. Please feel free to add comments and critiques on how this might be adapted to work for you on your farm.

I will walk 500 miles … to get a glass of milk?

copyright Krista Duynisveld 2009

The diagram above illustrates the scale of milk production in Southwestern Ontario. Only 67 processing plants process all the milk in Ontario for delivery to grocery stores and your table. Imagine your neighbour is a farmer, even if this neighbour is just outside of town. Your milk travels at least 120kms to a processing plant and back to a grocery store even if that neighbour is merely 10km away!  For some of you reading this you may not even know a dairy farmer because you have no connection to him/her when you pick up your milk.

There are 254 milk trucks in Ontario (DFO, 2009) driving around everyday collecting milk and delivering to processing plants at least 30km away.  Not to mention to trip back to the grocery store and then to your house.  1 litre of milk will travel approximately 70kms to get to your table. Thats alot of food miles over a year, and a lot of oil used.

Is there a way to create a more local system of processing and connection back to the dairy farmer who lovingly gets up every morning to milk his cows?

Want to see more?  This work is part of my Master’s thesis.  Taken from a portion that looked at the various ‘ecosystems’ that made up the rural and farming culture of Southwestern Ontario.  Please check it out on page 38 of my thesis (please give it a couple of minutes to load).

About the Agritect

They say you can take the girl away from the farm, but you can't take the farm away from the girl.  I left the family farm in 2002 to pursue a career in architecture and came full circle in 2008 when I started my master's thesis on architecture and agriculture: agritecture.

A few definitions (taken from Google definition):

ag·ri·cul·ture/ˈagriˌkəlCHər/

 
Noun:
The science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Middlesex County.  As a child I was fully immersed in the family farm. I very quickly realized that farmers are more than just farmers, they are contemporary Renaissance Men, understanding business, accounting, management, science, biology, ecology, mechanics, electronics, buildings to name only a few.  But farming is not only a science, its a lifestyle choice.  Its hard work! But is also the fresh air, the morning dew, the view over the land you work, seeing the first sprouts break through the crust of the field. Farmers are the caretakers of the land and the architects of the rural landscape.

ar·chi·tec·ture/ˈärkiˌtekCHər/

 
Noun:
  1. The art or practice of designing and constructing buildings.
  2. The style of a building with regard to a specific period, place, or culture.

The transition into architecture was not difficult (except for the city life). The architect is not unlike the farmer, they too are a Renaissance men (or woman in this case), skilled in many disciplines and big picture thinking. Using creative problem solving skills, the architect can think about a design in many different ways (including ones you might not think of) in order to find the best solution. Architects are trained  to manage many disciplines and many streams of ideas, problems, complex systems, and information. My education trained me in structure, ventilation, lighting, electricity, costing, etc. Not only are they trained in technical systems, but they also integrate culture, beauty, site and user specific needs into their thinking about buildings and design. All this information is then combined into one simple solution that assists the users of the building in terms of budget, energy costs, ease of use, and pleasantness of experience.  That is a good architect.

ag·ri·tec·ture/ˈagriˌtekCHər/

Noun:
  1. The art or practice of designing and constructing farming buildings with regard to the specific place, culture, and science of farming.

When I began the undertaking of my thesis on agriculture and architecture, I had an advantage; I knew the story from both sides.  I understood that a barn, house, or farm design, needed to be absolutely practical, it had to make economic sense, but I also knew how to make it energy efficient, personal, and as moving as the traditional bank barns. After the completion of my thesis I knew that working in the rural and agriculture sector is what I wanted to do. I am the agritect.

I am currently practicing architecture as an intern architect in the Waterloo Region and will soon become a fully licensed architect.

This blog is a resource, portfolio, and exploration of the sustainable relationship of agriculture and architecture. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in working with me.