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Greenhouse gathering: Workshop series begins

At a garden workshop series on Saturday, NMU student Bryce DeMers instructs a group of interested gardeners on the types of wood a rocket mass heater consumes on a daily basis to keep a greenhouse warm throughout the winter months. The rocket mass heater is one of the cleaner and more sustainable options to heat. (Journal photo by Jackie Jahfetson)

MARQUETTE — During the deep depths of a grueling winter, it can be difficult to find the green with the mountains of snow packed on streets and backyards. But did you know, that even in winter, you can begin your garden beds with a little help from a rocket?

The Marquette Climbers’ Cooperative hosted its first workshop of a four-part series on Saturday. The workshop, “Envisioning Your Alt. Powered Greenhouse,” drew a group of fellow community garden members who were interested in learning more about the biggest rocket of the presentation: the rocket mass heater. The rocket mass heater is a sustainable space heating system and is one of the more efficient wood-burning stoves, Northern Michigan University student Bryce DeMers said.

“On a very small plot of land … you don’t have to rely on supermarkets, you don’t have to rely on your food card from California. It’s very self-efficient,” DeMers said. “That’s one of the goals of this house is to show, ‘Hey, we’re in this city. We live on less than an acre. We have six or seven people, full-time students, with jobs, yet we can still provide for ourselves and someone else can do it as well.'”

The process began four years ago and it’s been a tedious cycle of obtaining a building permit, gathering the supplies, constructing the rocket mass heater and making sure everything is up to code with inspections with insulation and siding, NMU student Sarah Head said. Some in-ground insulation has to still be finished before the rocket mass heater will be ready to run, she added.

The MCC’s greenhouse has been transformed from a carport, and the group is looking to include more people in the process, Head noted.

“It’s a great opportunity for personal growth, learning new skills,” Head said. “When I moved into the house, I had no construction experience whatsoever. So it was about learning power tools, learning about natural plant processes, the cycles of the season, stuff like that, so it was such a learning opportunity for me on a personal level. And for those in the community who have the opportunity to do it, I would say, ‘Do it so you can learn from it too.’ There’s a lot to learn from the things around us.”

Three summers ago, DeMers got involved with the MCC when he was introduced to people who resided there, and one day he stumbled upon the beginning construction phases of the rocket mass heater.

“I came over and just hung out and they were having what we call a workday (where) everyone just gets together and works on a project. And they were building the foundation and playing with the cob in their hands and making clay and stacking the bricks up. I thought: that looks awesome, I want to join like: ‘What are we doing here?'” DeMers said. “During the whole time, I learned the process of how to build it, its purpose, what kind of dream is it and from there on, I was like, ‘This is cool. This is something I want to be a part of.'”

Being a botany major at NMU, DeMers said this project was a way to learn a different set of skills. The most challenging thing about the rocket mass heater so far, has been figuring out the best way to successfully ignite the heater and keep it going without it smoking out, DeMers said.

In a few months though, DeMers and Head both would like to see the beds filled with seeds and plants ready to take form by March or April. Although 75% of the insulation of the structure has been completed, the group hopes to finalize everything by late May or June.

It’s also rewarding to know your hard work paid off when looking at the finished product, DeMers added.

“There’s nothing like working together to make something, and four or five hours later be like, ‘Wow. That was me,'” DeMers said.

The MCC is working with Transition Marquette to give college students and community members who don’t have the means to have their own garden space an opportunity to learn more about how to get involved with the MCC, Head said, adding, the “Yooper’s Guide to Gardening” workshops are one way to accomplish that.

“I love being able to know where my food came from. Since we do have so much outdoor garden space, as well as the space in here, it’s awesome to know that the food you’re consuming is something you grew out of love,” Head said. “There’s no chemicals or pesticides involved with it and it was nourished by the area you live, so that’s really awesome to have in your own back yard. And there’s so many people who don’t have that opportunity. So, the co-op is all about sharing the opportunities we have.”

The workshops start at 2 p.m. and will continue on Feb. 22 with “From Sow to Grow” featuring Abbey Palmer and Allison Stawara, March 28 will focus on “Soil – The Superstar of Gardening” with Steve Finley and “Happy Harvest” with Grace Rosenbaum and Ray Bush on April 25. The workshops will be hosted at the MCC at 225 North Fourth St. Marquette. To RVSP or more information, call 906-458-6540.

Jackie Jahfetson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is jjahfetson@miningjournal.net.