Stepping In Our Footprint

Someone hit us up on social media the other day, and asked us about the energy efficiency of our high ceilings. We didn’t have a really good answer for him. Here’s what happened:

We read an article in Treehugger that was talking about the catastrophic flooding in Colorado. The article pointed out that this rain wasn’t an unusual Fall event, or a “10-year” event, or even one that happens every 100 years. The previous wettest day in Colorado history was in 1909, when a little over 3 inches or rain fell. During one 15-hour period in September of this year, 7.21 inches of rain fell. It was somewhat like the day Tropical Storm Gaston visited Downtown Richmond. The writers of this article argued that this wasn’t so much an example of “Climate Change” as it was an example of “Climate Weird.” Scientists have predicted that, while the acts of man may be contributing to a long-term change in climate, more likely may be the possibility that we’ll see more frequently “weird” weather events.

Our friend on social asked if this was our official company position. “Official?” Might be a strong word. Can we impact our environment? You betcha.

Social friend then sort of called us out about the vaulted ceilings. “Don’t those tall ceilings sort of contribute to that problem?” Fair enough. And there is an answer.  Several of them.  But here’s the thought:

Back in caveman times, we liked a cave with a low ceiling because it more effectively trapped our body heat. When we discovered fire and started cooking things, it wasn’t so cool. That low ceiling left us in a haze of hot smoke, and cavemen found that they couldn’t snuggle with cavewomen because they smelled like smoke and burnt mammoth. So we began to search for caves with higher ceilings. That sentiment has heavily influenced kitchen design ever since.

So when we looked at the raw space that was to become our first location in Shockoe Slip, we fell in love with the high ceilings. We also decided that our design would make the most of the building’s original characteristics. Installing fans would allow us to make the best use of the heat trapped up high on cold days, and the expansive space would allow us to more efficiently cool things on warmer days when we had the doors and windows open. We tried to mimic that in our Midlothian location.

We also did not want to expand our ecological footprint with excessive materials to construct false walls and drop ceilings. Much of the décor in The Slip, and in fact much of it in Midlothian, is constructed of reclaimed woods and materials.

That ethos is also reflected in our choice of products at The Urban Farmhouse. We’re keenly aware of water and transportation. Over 1 in 5 acres commercially farmed in America gets its water from the Oglala Aquifer in the Midwest, and that has significantly dropped over the last decade. It takes a ton of water to keep our commercial crops and livestock from shriveling up, and that supply of water is dwindling. We also burn a ton of carbon trying to get that food from point A to your plate. By buying local and organic as much as is possible, we reduce our contribution to that problem. In addition to the reduced mileage to get you fresher food, studies show that organic methods of farming require less irrigation than large-scale commercial operations.

Now, about the travel thing: We’re realistic. A study examined the average Swedish breakfast – An apple, bread & butter, cheese, coffee, creamer, some OJ and a packet of sugar – and found that it traveled almost 25,000 miles to get to a Swiss Miss Belly. The truth is that if we all ate 100% local, we’d probably rarely eat an orange or a grape, drink a lot less coffee, and folks in Wisconsin would almost never know the joy of a tomato. And that’s not fair. Besides, we love coffee.

By doing things like buying recycled and biodegradable catering packaging, investing in locally made and harvested products, and stocking biodynamic wines, we leave a much smaller footprint than many restaurants. We get the support of Urban Farmhouse customers who sort their trash. We don’t offer a fancy sit-down service to reduce our need to use chemicals and a ton of water to wash things. Most of our Farmhands ride their bikes to work. We do what we can, and are always looking for new ways to be responsible for our little spot on the Big Blue Marble.

And, not for nothing, but we think our ceilings look cool.