Making projects with local materials

Dickson Symon , Valeri Werpetinski, Edward Zimunya, Kristin Simkus and Eva Vinjola with Collins Kuyewawa in front.

Two sustainable projects which could help the city’s poor residents carried on all through the holidays at Soil for Life in Brounger Road, Constantia.

One project involved building a house in which mushrooms could be grown and the other tried to heat water with compost.

Students from the University of Illinois chose the projects, as part of their outreach work, out of a number of ideas provided by Soil for Life founder Pat Featherstone.

On Friday January 12, helped by Soil for Life staff, the students were hard at work putting the final touches their work which was the culmination of an eight-week programme.

They were tasked with using local materials which were readily available, reusable and had low carbon footprint.

The projects also needed to be easy to maintain, simple to replicate and sustainable.

After weeks of research at the University of Illinois, the four students and their instructor came to Cape Town to put their plans into action.

Caked in mud, student Kristin Simkus said the design of the mushroom house was based on a rondavel. After seeing zinc being readily available in townships, they chose to construct a rectangular structure with a zinc roof instead of thatch. Online research showed a mixture of clay, soil, sand, hay and water on a woven foundation of wattle and
reeds would create a sturdy building.

Muddy cheeks glowing, instructor Valeri Werpetinski said stakeholder input was vital. And apart from labour, Soil for Life staff had been helpful by bringing local, real life experience to the projects.

Student Eva Vinjola said for mushrooms to thrive, they need a moist environment such as a dark, damp bedroom cupboard, and a clean environment. Hefting a hot pot of straw, she said it had been soaking for 24 hours followed by steaming for one hour. It was now ready to layer with mushroom spawn and the fruits should sprout from holes drilled into the buckets after one to three weeks. The mushrooms can be used by the owner or sold to generate in-
come.

The second project was to heat water from compost. Pat said it had been tried in the past but was not successful.

Students Neiva Mulhern and Jacob Damron had constructed a sturdy wire and net frame in which they laid coiled plastic piping attached to circular metal trays. These trays of piping were then layered with straw, organic matter and sawdust. They say the compost heats the pipes and can keep the water hot for three to four weeks.

Meanwhile, bacteria breaks down the compost which can be used to grow vegetables.

The contraption can be disassembled and replaced with new materials. Jacob says that with hot water rising, it is gravity fed into a geyser to be used by Soil for
Life.

Pat sshe was impressed at how hard-working the students have been and how they had worked with staff as a team. “They’ve taken our input and what we asked including no concrete and have used materials that we have,” she said.

For more information about Soil for Life call 021 794 4982 or email info@soilforlife.co.za.