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Hands-on Sustainable Living Classes at Pima Community College

By Wendy Sweet

In just a day, you can learn to harvest rainwater, bake in an outdoor earthen oven, or build an adobe or straw bale home. In other words, in just a few hours you can learn how to live in harmony with nature. All this and more is available right here at Pima Community College, which offers a series of classes on sustainable living. You’ll find out how to live a healthier life, protect our natural resources and create buildings that are in harmony with nature. “You’ll learn how to use natural materials and live with the environment in a way that is comfortable for you,” explains David Miner, Community Education Coordinator at Pima. “You’ll be taught how to design your environment to increase your self sufficiency while making the least amount of changes to the land.” If you learn best by doing, you’ll be glad to know a number of these courses are hands-on workshops. In fact, Miner says the hands-on classes are the most popular.
Pima Community College offers a variety of sustainable living classes during its winter, spring/summer and fall sessions. These are non-credit classes, with the majority of them one-day workshops. “A few of them are done in partnership with Tucson Botanical Gardens,” says Miner. “For example, “Xeriscape Gardening” provides an overview of low water use landscaping. In “Vegetables from Monsoon Rains” you’ll discover which vegetables you should plant to best take advantage of natural rainfall,” he explains.
“Members of the Tucson Permaculture Group teach many of the other classes,” Miner says. “Introduction to Building with Natural Materials” is probably our most popular class,” he notes. “We offer this class every session, and it always has a good turnout. It’s a totally hands-on class – you actually build a small structure (such as a garden wall or bench). You see the process from start to finish in just a day. The natural materials include straw bales, adobe and cob, which is mud with straw. You don’t need a lot of skill to build a house with these products, so it’s easy for a homeowner to do it by themselves (or with the help of friends and family!),” he observes.
“In the class on “Rainwater Harvesting Systems,” you’ll actually build a small water catchment system; in “Earthen Baking Oven,” you learn how to make a very efficient dome shaped oven for outdoor cooking,” explains Miner. Other classes include “Low Cost Shade Construction,” “Natural Paints and Finishes,” and “Designing a Home for Low Utility Bills.” “Ideas in this class vary from low cost – such as planting a tree to provide shade – to more expensive options such as using solar panels,” says Miner. Another idea for low cost shade construction involves covering a patio with slats that if installed at the correct angle give you sun in the winter and shade in the summer.
“The class on “Growing and Harvesting Food in the Desert” teaches you about composting, mulching and earthworms,” says Miner. “We also have a cooking class that focuses on plants in the desert that you might not expect to provide food. For instance, did you know you can grind up mesquite pods and use the meal as a flour replacement? You’ve probably heard of the prickly pear being used in recipes, but in this class you actually learn how to prepare it,” he explains.
“The sustainable living series began about five years ago, and we are continually adding classes,” Miner says. “We want to cover all the areas of sustainable living – including food, transportation, energy, building and landscaping,” he notes. “One of our new classes is” Socially Responsible Investing,” in which you’ll learn about investing in funds or companies that are socially conscious and environmentally responsible. Another new class – “Where Are We Headed with Solar Energy” – will teach you about developments in solar energy and how to become less dependent on the power grid.”
To learn more about the PCC Sustainable Living Series, click on www.pima.edu or call 206-6579. Publications listing all the classes are mailed out each session; you can also pick up a schedule at any local public library.

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