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Healing Appalachia

Sustainable Living through Appropriate Technology

Al Fritsch

Publication Year: 2007

Healing Appalachia is a practical guide for environmentally conscious residents of Appalachia and beyond. It is also the first book to apply “appropriate technology,” or the most basic technology that can effectively achieve the desired result, to this specific region. Authors Al Fritsch and Paul Gallimore have performed over 200 environmental resource assessments in thirty-three states. They bring this knowledge to bear as they examine thirty low-cost, people-friendly, and environmentally benign appropriate technologies that can be put to work today in Appalachia. They discuss such issues as renewable energy and energy conservation, food preservation and gardening, forest management, land use, transportation, water conservation, proper waste disposal, and wildlife protection. They pay close attention to the practicality of each technique according to affordability, ease of use, and ecological soundness. Their subjects range from solar home heating to greenhouses, from aquaculture to compost toilets, from organic gardening to wildlife restoration and enhancement, and from solar cars to microhydropower facilities. Their discussions of each topic benefit from the knowledge gained from thirty years of practical experience at environmental demonstration centers and public interest and educational organizations. Each section of the book includes details on construction and maintenance, as well as resources for locating further information, making this an essential volume for everyone who cares about the future of Appalachia.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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pp. v-x


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pp. xi-xiii

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pp. xv-xvi

We would especially like to acknowledge all who helped make this book possible, especially Mary Davis and Robert Davis for editing and resource documentation, Mark Spencer for his diagrams and photography work, Warren Brunner for the use of photos from his Appalachian collection, and our Web site and...

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pp. 1-26

The Kentucky hills have enchanted me from my earliest youth.1 I had to help with farm chores, including milking, from age six. Often during these years I would look out of the cow parlor to the east and see the rising sun over the wooded Appalachians in Lewis and Fleming counties. That sight of the sunrise over the...

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1. Solar Photovoltaics

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pp. 27-37

Many applications of photovoltaics (PVs) are touched upon in this chapter: domestic electricity, energy-conserving lighting, PV accessories such as water pumps, and “net metering,” a procedure for integrating solar-generated energy into an electric grid system, thus reducing the cost of self-contained solar systems. Other chapters deal with such topics as passive solar heating of...

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2. Microhydropower

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pp. 38-47

From earliest times, diverting water for irrigation allowed indigenous peoples to expand food growing into drier areas. Flowing water has been tapped for power for grinding grain and later for mechanical uses such as sawmills. As Norman Brown notes in his book Renewable Energy Resources and Rural Applications in the Developing World, the history of small-scale hydropower development...

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3. Wind Power

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pp. 48-58

Wind power is far from new. In the seventeenth century, England had ten thousand windmills of 10 to 20 horsepower each; in the same period, twelve thousand wind machines were operating in the Netherlands, primarily to reclaim inundated cropland.1 In the nineteenth century, American wind devices were mostly found on the prairie and on individual farms, where they pumped...

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4. Wood Heating

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pp. 59-69

Wood, like solar and wind energy, is renewable and may be an Earth-friendly secondary heat source. The wood user feels a certain control over the heat source, especially when public utilities falter and fail. Burning wood gives a sense of coziness and satisfies the basic human instinct to be mesmerized by fire. The sight of wood smoke curling in the winter valley and the smell of wood...

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5. Solar Heating Applications

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pp. 70-78

Sunshine is in plentiful supply in Appalachia much of the year. As of now, solar energy is free for all to use. It warms the Earth and delights our souls, allows plants to grow, and gives us light by day. In solar heating applications, the basic methodology is to capture the sun’s rays, convert them to heat, and retain that heat as long as possible through heat-storage systems and specific conservation...

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6. Shade Trees and Windbreaks

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pp. 79-88

The most natural and aesthetic way to cut cooling and heating costs for Appalachian buildings is to plant and maintain exterior vegetative cover. This involves selection and nurturing of properly placed trees, shrubs, vines, or other dense vegetative growth, as exemplified in the ASPI nature center shown in figure 6.1. Energy-conserving landscaping can play a major role in domestic...

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7. Food Preservation

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pp. 89-99

American gardeners are skilled in growing bountiful crops of nutritious produce, but so often plenty comes all at once in late summer or early autumn. The bounty means giveaways to neighbors, relatives, and the needy—and still there are extra beans, corn, squash, tomatoes, or another crop that was over-planted. Some growers are tempted to follow the example of...

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8. Edible Landscaping

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pp. 100-112

The lawns around Appalachian homes often look like those in most other parts of America, although they may be smaller, because of limited space. They are decorative but not necessarily beautiful. What is often overlooked is that lawn space can be beautiful when turned into edible landscape. In place of decorative lawns the same land can be used both for recreation and for...

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9. Intensive and Organic Gardening and Orcharding

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pp. 113-123

Inhabitants of parts of rural Appalachia suffer during winter from lack of fresh, nutritious produce; many urban and rural poor areas also lack sufficient gardening space. In place of healthy food one often finds a high percentage of shelf space in Appalachian food stores devoted to junk food loaded with excess salt, saturated fat, and processed sugar. Obesity, diabetes, and...

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10. Regional Heritage Plants

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pp. 124-133

It is no accident that the Cherokee refer to the southern Appalachian mountains as “the birthplace of all the plant people.” The genetic material passed on in plants and animals through generations is an evolutionary heritage, a natural equivalent to sacred songs, ceremonial dances, and the solemn passing down of cultural traditions on the human level. Nature in an...

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11. Solar Greenhouses and Season Extenders

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pp. 134-147

Solar greenhouses are fascinating models of energy and food self-reliance in different parts of Appalachia, merging food production and heat energy production into aesthetically pleasing architectural creations. When attached to existing buildings, these greenhouses are able to share their surplus heat during winter months with the adjacent space. Thus they have the potential to convert...

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12. Wildlife Habitat Restoration

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pp. 148-159

Wildlife has been struggling to hold on to its habitat in many parts of America; the demise of the passenger pigeon and the destruction of the bison herds on the Great Plains apparently were not strong enough warning examples, although some groups sprang up to advocate conservation and preservation. Wildlife groups followed in the wake of conservationist movements of the early...

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13. Nontimber Forest Products

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pp. 160-169

Applying appropriate technological concepts to Appalachian forests involves the choice of what is to be harvested or removed (this chapter) and actual harvesting practices (see chapters 14 and 15). Let’s review the types of nontimber forest products (NTFP) and discuss decision-making processes related to their gathering...

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14. Silvicultural Practices

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pp. 170-179

Trees are a critical resource, and any action that diminishes their health and well-being is an attack on the vitality of Earth itself. Trees may appear robust on an individual basis but be part of a forested community that suffers from neglect; unsustainable harvesting practices; fragmentation through highways, development, and logging roads; introduction of invasive exotic plant...

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15. Wildcrafting

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pp. 180-195

Wildcrafting is the practice of gathering or extracting specific native plants or parts of those plants (seeds, stems, leaves, roots) for practical purposes—processing, selling, or utilizing them for one’s livelihood. This is a general definition; the term is not found in Webster’s New World Dictionary, but it is defined in legal, economic, and political documents and discourse within and...

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16. Constructed or Artificial Wetlands

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pp. 196-206

Eastern America has suffered from a sizable loss of its natural wetlands and bogs in the past two centuries. Some estimate that as much as 60 percent of American wetlands were destroyed during the period of major European settlement. The destruction has occurred through ditching for agricultural drainage, road building, and other development projects. During much of this...

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17. Land Reclamation with Native Species

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pp. 207-216

Appalachia has suffered much from various forms of land disturbance, which have included farming on steep slopes, overharvesting of timber, and the surface mining of coal. As a result, the land is prone to severe flooding because of the removal of the sponge of the forest cushion, landslides, drops in the water table, the fracturing of aquifers, major erosion, and siltation of streams...

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18. Retreat Cabin Sites

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pp. 217-227

The need for rest and reflection is a basic component of the psychic and spiritual health of all who seek to be Earth-friendly. Those of us who see the importance of a wholesome environment for a good quality of life realize that we need an ecologically sound atmosphere where we can meditate, pray, come into balance with nature, and refresh our souls. We do not deny that...

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19. Energy-Efficient Passive Solar Design

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pp. 228-237

This chapter deals specifically with solar shelters; others deal with solar-generated electricity, space/water heating, and gardening. Low-cost residential shelters can be built by individuals who want to be free of mortgage and energy bills while enjoying comfort, coziness, and environmental harmony. Solarized structures in the temperate zones, whether residences or institutional...

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20. Natural Cooling

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pp. 238-251

Before the advent of mechanical air-conditioning, natural cooling techniques were used in residential construction as a matter of course in Appalachia. Higher elevations of the region were cooler and became a favored destination during hot, muggy summer seasons. Virtually no residence at higher elevations with some natural shading requires mechanical cooling at any time of the year...

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21. Native Building Materials

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pp. 252-275

A basic appropriate technology principle is to construct with materials that are close at hand. Importing marble to build a Taj Mahal may be an activity of the superrich, but in some ways, modern American culture imitates this practice by choosing to use imported (nonlocal) plastic, siding, asphalt roofing, and particleboard. Is it any different for those who seek to be environmentally...

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22. Cordwood Structures

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pp. 276-285

Rural America, especially in the forested eastern portion, has used its native wood for a wide variety of building purposes: red-oak-framed tobacco barns, chestnut-sided homes, and cedar shake roofs. While some of these have passed, or are passing, from the scene, native wood is still available and is a long-lasting building material when protected; it continues to be in favor in...

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23. Yurts in Appalachia

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pp. 286-295

The yurt, a circular domestic dwelling (house or tent), is traditionally found on the rural steppes of Mongolia. In that part of the world the structures are made from animal skins and poles and held together by cords wrapped around the circumference of the building just below the eaves. The cords hold the walls and roofing rafters firmly in position, much like barrel hoops hold...

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24. Simple Modes of Transportation

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pp. 296-307

Transportation is the most difficult Appalachian appropriate technology area to treat. Older transportation modes and networks (footpaths and rural roads) are not appropriate for modern needs; modern road conditions are unsafe for biking and walking; and cars and trucks use too many resources. Any choice we make seems to compromise our growing sense of...

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25. Composting and Vermicomposting

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pp. 308-318

Composting is the process of recycling discarded organic materials in a natural manner so that they will return quickly to humus, which can be used to assist plant growth. Compost, a product of the action of microorganisms on organic matter, is a dark, friable material similar to the dark portion of untilled soil. The process of creating compost has been known for thousands of...

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26. Composting Toilets

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pp. 319-330

Compost toilets process human waste into a nutrient-rich fertilizer for use as a soil amendment. Risks associated with water-borne waste disposal, including contamination of ground and surface waters and the spread of disease-causing bacteria, are virtually eliminated by the aerobic decomposition of waste material in the closed-container composting toilet, where...

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27. Recycled, Salvaged, and Deconstructed Materials

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pp. 331-339

A critical component of being Earth-friendly is to respect materials and treat them properly. Recycling gives more life to used materials that might otherwise be discarded. But isn’t it correct that nothing can be totally discarded on Earth? Affluent people sometimes act as though what they throw away no longer exists, although it may impose burdens on the less affluent who have to...

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28. Ponds and Aquaculture

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pp. 340-349

Large and small bodies of water are essential for American rural communities. They provide flood control, recreational opportunities, potable water reserves, dependable barge transportation, some hydroelectric power, and aquatic life. For instance, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) lakes, along with private and public lakes, provide these advantages for residents and visitors...

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29. Cisterns and Water Catchments

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pp. 350-360

Appalachia, like much of eastern rural America, has known the benefits of cisterns from the time of pioneer settlements, even though springs and wells were the principal sources of domestic drinking water. These cisterns, when protected from surface contaminants, provided a dependable source of water, especially during dry times. Today, cisterns remain a source of drinking...

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30. Irrigation and Water Conservation

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pp. 361-370

In normal years central Appalachia is blessed with about 47 or more inches of rainfall, ample for most domestic and commercial needs in the region. However, the people of Appalachia descend from pioneers who labored to carry buckets of precious drinking and washing water from a spring or hand pumped their water from a cistern. The pioneers’ offspring may easily forget...

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pp. 371-390

This final chapter does not attempt to predict the future of Appalachia in any way, for that is impossible. Rather than try to predict the future, let’s try to influence it for the better. Our region needs to improve in quality of life, environmental integrity, and economic health. Appalachia does not stand in isolation but is part of a nation and world seeking environmental...

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pp. 391-398

Is it right to talk about friendly or appropriate technology trends in the twenty-first century without discussing communication technologies? These technologies include the cell phone, the personal computer, and the Internet, which have dramatically altered the present-day world. More than any others, these three have made a profound impact on the movement toward...


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pp. 399-421


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pp. 423-435

E-ISBN-13: 9780813172170
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813124315

Page Count: 456
Publication Year: 2007