In this age of ever-increasing anxiety over the future of our planet, a Santa Barbara retirement community is making sure that they are part of the solution, not the problem. Valle Verde Retirement Community, home to over 300 seniors, has taken great pains to be environmentally friendly. Their ecological awareness has yielded photovoltaic panels that generate 36,000 kilowatts of energy, a solar water heating system used to heat the swimming pool, and individual solar water heating systems for each new or remodeled unit. Bringing the residents closer to nature, Valle Verde (Spanish for “green valley”) has also implemented organic landscaping for the grounds. For landscaping to count as “organic,” there can be no use of pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals, so the manufactured nature is completely natural.
“Our goal is to become as sustainable as possible in all of our operations,” said the executive director of Valle Verde, Ron Schaefer. “Our goal is to be good stewards of the earth’s resources that we have.”
Schaeffer said that the cost of organic landscaping is actually a savings. “In general,” he said, “it is an investment to become sustainable. It takes up-front costs to install things like photovoltaic panels that generate electricity and high-efficiency gas boilers for our kitchen. However, the return on these items is anywhere from three to ten years, so we recognize that it is an investment in our future.” Valle Verde was able to convert all of their landscaping water to Santa Barbara Reclaimed Water several years ago because they found that the water contained enough nitrogen that they were able to stop using chemical fertilizers. Making these types of changes is important to the Valle Verde staff, especially in a place as environmentally oriented as Santa Barbara.
Some of the organic landscaping includes a wide variety of native and non-native trees (Brazilian pepper trees, ornamental pears, jacarandas, etc.) as well as a plethora of gardens, including an Asian, a butterfly, and a rose garden. Valle Verde’s gardening staff mulches all of the green waste or recycling back into the landscaping, and the gardeners use the tree trimmings as ground-covering. Even the members of the animal kingdom do their part. Schaeffer says that there is a “volunteer pest control service” in the form of a local skunk population that munches the grubs and a breed of fish in their ponds that eat mosquito larvae. To further demonstrate that the world will someday be entirely run by computers, Valle Verde’s computerized irrigation system retrieves information from weather services to control how much watering is necessary for the grounds, based upon atmospheric humidity and precipitation, and turns on the drip system accordingly.
Valle Verde’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2007 alone, the community received three environmental awards for its green initiative: the City of Santa Barbara Solar Recognition Award, the Green Award (presented annually by the Green Award Consortium, comprised of representatives from various organizations, including the Community Environmental Council), and the WRAP (Waste Reduction Awards Program). The WRAP is awarded by the California Integrated Waste Management Board.
Valle Verde is not the only retirement community to go green. The Redwoods Retirement Home in Mill Valley, California, also works with a master gardener to grow healthy, organic vegetables for their residents. More retirement homes are sure to follow in the coming years as more and more people decide that they can afford to take action against environmental decay.