It May Be Easier To Be Green Than You Think

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By Mary Hall

For anyone wanting to get completely off the grid – here is one person’s idea.  When Patrick Zieske first bought the property located on Conway Road in 2015, he didn’t have any specific plans.  Then he started tossing some ideas around as to what to do with the 22 acres of land.  At the same time, he had been working with a group exploring what he calls “intentional communities” in the Ann Arbor Area. Zieske said that after working with that particular group he developed a more specific focus toward establishing a community on his property.

Enter Christian Smith, an MSU graduate who had been planning an ecological community for seven years.  He founded some sustainable community initiatives in the Lansing area and began working with Ingham County Farmland and Open Space Preservation as their Programs Coordinator.

The two met at a sustainability conference three years ago and found a high degree of vision alignment, so they decided to partner and are developing a community with the working name “Sylvan’s NeighborWood”, a name that Christian came up with and believes fits the grand vision.

The two have a comprehensive, progressive plan that includes 16 homes, but not cookie cutter homes.  Each will be designed to the owner’s preference, using sustainable materials such as: straw-bale; solar hot water and electric; composting toilets; wood for cooking, space heating and water heating; thatch roof if they get enough thatch; passive energy gain; cob walls in the interior and earthen plaster.

Christina Snyder, esteemed architect according to Zieske and Smith, has almost finished plans on what they have envisioned will be the first house to be built on-site. It will be used as a model of sort, or a showcase, if possible, for a wide range of construction techniques.  It is still undecided as to whether or not each home will have a driveway or if there will be a parking lot.

Zieske and Smith hoped to have the first home built sometime this year, but due to financing, permitting, and other planning challenges, it may not be completed until next year. And that first house may or may not be that coop/model house, because that will be larger and more complicated to show the various materials available.  Ideally a motivated resident with self-financing ability may proceed early with the first home.

The plan is to include agriculture and livestock as many self-sustaining communities do, also an Edible Park area within the residential cluster, full of edible semi-dwarf fruit trees, berry bushes, and herb plantings.

The community will be run much like any community with something like a Home Owner’s Association where everyone pays toward the fund for commons maintenance, and some members are more involved than others in the actual running of the community in terms of who takes care of the agricultural area and other areas.

They also plan on planting trees and hedges on the borders between residential lots, for coppicing to produce fuel wood (Coppicing is a method of wood pruning that allows multiple wood harvest from the same tree trunk while keeping them healthy for centuries. They produce a sustainable supply of timber).

Currently, several sheep live on the property in a housing unit that allows for rotational grazing.  The plan is to bring in more, as well as goats, chickens, and possibly a dairy cow.

Zieske and Smith want to see their plans to fruition as soon as possible. For more information, go to

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Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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