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KCC's sustainability tour visits Stelle, which has been green all along

04/28/2008, 10:49 am

By Hayley Graham
Health and Environment Reporter

Stelle never had to go green. It has been that way since being founded in 1973. Located in northern Ford County, the community of approximately 85 people power their homes with renewable energy and grow organic foods. Self-sufficiency is a philosophy they live by. 

The finale of Kankakee Community College's Sustainability Week ended last Saturday with a tour of Stelle and its highlights, including a straw bale house, a solar-powered telephone company and an organic farm. Stelle will be hosting its annual Earth Day Open House on Sunday, which will be a full day of free tours and presentations.

Mark Hoffman, president of Stelle's Center for Sustainable Community, an organization that teaches and promotes sustainable practices, said Stelle might not be the perfect model of sustainability, but works because the community collaborates.

"A number of people come together and do what they are interested in," he said. 

While many of the houses in the subdivision-like community utilize renewable energy, one family took sustainability to another level when it built a new home in 1995.

John and June Haeme constructed the first straw bale house in Illinois, and it was the first stop on the tour. The ranch-style house has a wooden frame with walls created by stacks of straw bales secured vertically with bamboo shoots and coated three times with stucco. The house is largely run by solar and wind energy. 

Another stop on the tour was the Stelle Telephone Co., the nation's first off-the-grid telephone company in the nation. It provides the first solar-powered wireless Internet service. The tour explored the inner workings of the company and the photo-voltaic panels on the building's roof that capture energy from the sun. 

The final stop on the tour was at the 220-acre Mint Creek Farm, where Harry Carr and his family raise grass-fed lambs to sell at the Green City Market, a farmer's market in Chicago. They are also working on producing milk and cheese from the lambs' milk. The lambs eat a mixture of alfalfa, clovers and perennial grasses, and no synthetic fertilizers are used.

"The idea is to be working with nature rather than against it," Carr said. 

Carr said grass-based foods are healthy for not only the environment, but for the people who eat them. They are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E and betacarotene, and grain-fed meat usually has lower levels of these nutrients.

Bourbonnais resident Annie Story, said she enjoyed all aspects of the tour and went because she wants to make her life a little more "green."

"I might eventually use solar energy on my own," Story said

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