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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Eco House plays together, stays together

The plush gorilla that sits on Eco House’s living room couch is named Ben Gibbard, after the Death Cab for Cutie singer (and ex-husband of Zooey Deschanel). His identity fits with the nine residents of the house who gave the name to him, as all nine play instruments.

“Caleb [Neubauer ’13] plays the mandolin,” House Coordinator Emily Stanfield ’12 said. “Carissa [Shoemaker ’14] has two banjos, Amy [Linder ’14], Kane [Balser ’13], and I play guitar. There’s also a harmonica and kazoo. … We jam.”

Eco House residents (from left to right) Caleb Neubauer ’13, Yelena Varley ’14, Emily Stanfield ’12, Colin Brooks ’13, Nora Kostow ’13, Toby Cain ’12 and Kane Balser ’13 relax with their respective instruments in the living room last Wednesday. Photograph by Carl Sessions

Eco House, located at 1130 East Street, is a project house owned by the College. It’s been in existence for several years, but only two of the current tenants lived there before.

If someone were to stroll down East Street’s sidewalk they would probably notice the large solar panel array on the roof of the two story brown house. In the spring they would see a compost pile and garden. The solar panels are one of the ways that the house minimizes energy consumption. There is also a remote switch to stop phantom outlets from wasting power (like when laptop chargers are plugged in but not charging anything), and all the toilets are dual flush. However, the sustainable spirit does not end there.

“We also have a copy of The Lorax lying around,” Colin Brooks ’13 said.

Though serious about the natural world, the residents have a number of traditions that keep their environment light-hearted.

The first of these traditions is actually an object: “the fun machine.” It is a miniature organ that sits in the corner of the living room where Mr. Gibbard can affectionately watch over it. Above the organ is a nature portrait covered with stickies bearing inspiring notes.

“It’s the warm fuzzy board, where you give compliments to people,” said Yelena Varley ’14.

Even the weekly chore distribution is brightened by a special house rule.

“One of the chores each week is happy chore,” Toby Cain ’12 explained. “Last week Nora [Kostow ’13] put up polka dots all over the kitchen. During the fall Caleb bought a Bonsai tree.”

The Bonsai tree resides on a ledge in the living room. With its brown needles, the Bonsai appears a little sickly.

“They’re kind of difficult to maintain,” Neubauer said. “Kind of like our earth.”

Like Bonsai maintenance, food preparation can be a bit difficult for Eco House’s residents.

“We used to cook once a week for the whole group,” Cain said. “But it was hard because we had to do it without dairy, gluten, eggs, yeast or sugar.”

For this reason, the residence was once informally known as Allergy House. Other past names have included Al Gore House and Hyperspace.

“In the 1980s, my mom lived in this house,” Stanfield said. “They named it Hyperspace because of all of the drug use.”

Eco House has since slowed down to plain old space. This has enabled the residents to concentrate on being a model of environmentally-attuned living for the rest of campus. Part of their work has been community outreach.

“We hosted a community meal last semester and we also did a potluck with food house,” Stanfield said. “We’re also going to have a study break co-hosted with the CDO [Career Development Office] for people to find out about environmental-related internships.”

Today the house is hosting one such outreach program. All Grinnellians are invited to an open house from 4-6 p.m. to see the place, groove on the fun machine and share a laugh with Mr. Gibbard.

“We’re going to serve tea and popcorn!” Kostow said.

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