Frequently Asked Questions about Ripples

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What is Ripples?

What is Ripples?

Ripples is a personal project started in 2011 by Ryan & Amanda. We’re looking at every lifestyle decision we make (what careers we choose, food we eat, house we live in, transportation, etc) and asking “How can we make a difference with this choice, for both people and planet?” By sharing our story and resources in an online educational center, we hope to make it easier for others to make a difference in whatever ways work for them, across a variety of good causes. We’re planning to live sustainably in an off-grid tiny cottage for land conservation and stewardship as part of our answer to the question “How can we make a difference with our home?”

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Why did you decide to create Ripples?

We wanted to challenge ourselves to transform our lives and find ways to make a bigger difference with our life energy, while also promoting the importance of critical thinking as an approach to doing good. We saw the need for a more efficient, research-based and principle-centered approach to making a difference in a world where feel-good giving takes the spotlight. Besides our personal lifestyle changes, our main goal for Ripples is the online educational center (under construction) where we hope to promote better methods of doing good while also distributing resources on various things one could do to make a difference in small or big ways based on one’s own values and choices. We created Ripples to get people actively trying to make a difference with their lifestyle choices, and to encourage them to consciously improve the various ways they (or their organizations) take action.

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What is the inspiration for Ripples?

Ripples work is guided and inspired by:

  1. Solutionary Method pioneered by Grand Aspirations
  2. Capacity Building (helping non-profit organizations increase the good they do)
  3. Effective Altruism (finding the most effective ways to improve the world)
  4. 7 Principles of the Unitarian Universalist religion
  5. Global Interdependence applied to non-profit work (discovering solutions that address multiple problems simultaneously, rather than treating a problem as independent from all other problems)

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Is Ripples an environmental project?

Yes and No. We do try to live sustainably and make a difference for the environment, but we also try to live a “socially just” lifestyle and make a difference in the lives of many people around the world. We shop locally and buy fair trade products like food and clothing whenever possible, because we seek a world with fair wages, free from modern slavery. We think about making ripples in a way that includes, but does not stop at, environmental concerns. By choosing lifestyle methods that promote justice, we hope to make these methods more accessible and enticing to our audience, and alleviate human suffering.

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Is Ripples a non-profit 501(c)3 organization?

No.

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Why isn't Ripples a non-profit?

We might be an organization someday soon, but the question we always ask is: how can we make the biggest difference? Right now, we are partnering with and supporting the mission of existing non-profits rather than creating a brand new organization. If we do become a non-profit, the community will need to decide whether there is a true need for a new organization, and what projects and goals it will be in charge of accomplishing.

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Is Ripples a for-profit business?

No. However, Amanda writes a newspaper column called “Making Ripples” to raise awareness about ways to make a difference, and she sells sustainably-printed Ripples Greeting Cards and photographs featuring wildlife and conservation messages, and also illustrates children’s books. The small amount of income from this helps us afford purchases for our workshops and projects.

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So Ripples is just Ryan and Amanda but nobody else is involved?

Ripples is funded by Ryan & Amanda, and technically the steward’s cottage is for our residential use (open to public tours and workshops) until our deaths when we plan to will the cottage to a non-profit or to incorporate as a non-profit to continue Ripples work. Meanwhile, there are lots of people involved with Ripples. We have thousands of readers who also submit their wisdom and stories, volunteers who are helping us with projects, master naturalists helping with our conservation work, and non-profits like the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust helping us protect 169 acres in collaboration with the landowner at the historic Johnson Pear Farm where we are based.

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Are you asking for charity or land donations?

No. We originally sought to purchase land and protect it with a conservation easement, but before we could make an offer on a property east of Fayetteville, we were invited to partner with the historic Johnson Pear Farm and the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust to assist with educational and conservation projects while recording daily observations of flora and fauna and protecting the land as stewards.

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Does the type of home you build matter if the educational center is mostly online?

The online material is coming directly from our personal lifestyle, which includes our choice of sustainable home – we want to share what we’re doing in a way that’s easy for people to replicate all or part of it. The type of house we choose will determine the online content. We’d like to help other off-grid families document their different processes and share with our network through the educational center, too.

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How is Ripples different from community centers in cities?

Community centers based in cities are meant to be centrally located for high foot traffic, and their primary goal is a space for people to come together. Ripples encourages our global network to come together online, and our physical location is primarily meant to be a way for us (personally) to share what we’re trying to do to make ripples with our own lifestyle and home, such as conservation and sustainable living.

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How is Ripples different from places like the Ozark Natural Science Center?

ONSC is a wonderful, large facility designed for school groups seeking environmental science educational opportunities in fields like birding, botany, etc. Ripples is a unique approach to making a difference in the world with one’s lifestyle choices, and this method can be applied to fields like global health or poverty as well as the environment and conservation. Our home and office are meant to be a living demo site for us to share, through educational materials, our approach to a sustainable lifestyle so that future families have an easier time making this transition.

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Are you building an eco village / intentional community?

No. We’re focused on protecting native habitat and maintaining our online educational center while living sustainably in a tiny off-grid cottage. Yes, our workshops are free and open to the public, but we won’t be encouraging lots of structures to be built at our location because the goal is to protect Mt. Kessler and the historic Johnson Pear Farm through a conservation easement (which restricts development) with the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust. However, we encourage sustainable communities of all shapes and sizes in other locations, and have resources for those interested.

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What quantifiable efforts has Ripples made so far?

Every person, like a droplet, has the potential to make ripples. We’re always trying to help more people by making it easier for them to make a difference with any actions they might choose to take. Here are some of the things we did or are doing (updated June 2017). Nobody’s perfect, and our difference-making wish list is long! We are constantly learning how to improve.

  • over 200 Making Ripples newspaper columns published, circulation 10,000 copies regionally
  • created a Ripples website 100% solar-powered through AISO
  • over 20 ripple-makers featured in People Making Ripples
  • 350 Ripples Facebook page fans and 80 Ripples Blog subscribers with over 6,000 unique readers from over 94 countries
  • bought an All-American Sun Oven and regularly cook off-grid
  • moved to Mt. Kessler, the site of our future off-grid home at the Historic Johnson Farm (protected through a conservation easement), to begin volunteer work with the NWA Land Trust, holders of the easement
  • 6 nesting sites established for NestWatch in collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • Amanda became a certified Arkansas Master Naturalist and maintains certification requirements annually, completed FrogWatch training and established a monitoring site at Pear Pond on Mt. Kessler
  • taught an online class for youth leaders in non-profits to help them improve their organization’s services
  • began a feral cat socialization, adoption and trap-neuter-release (or spay) program, protecting the site’s ecology and increasing quality of life for successfully adopted kittens and cats (thank you, rescue families!) – started with 9 cats, down to only 2
  • with help from Morningstar Wildlife Rehabilitation, wildlife rescue as needed at our site (2 chipmunks, 4 mice)
  • work on trail maintenance, litter and illegal dump cleanup, and combat drug trafficking at the Historic Johnson Farm
  • made lifestyle changes such as trash reduction, almost vegan diet, and earning income in ways that help the world (Ryan: Ozark Natural Foods Co-op, Amanda: self-employed writer and artist designing Ripples Greeting Cards on sustainable paper, both of us served 2 years in AmeriCorps*VISTA to fight poverty)

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Location

Where are you located?

We are located within the 372-acre historic Johnson Pear Farm in Northwest Arkansas, helping the landowner and the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust to protect 169 acres for historic and ecological conservation. The farm is located on Mt. Kessler, near the new Kessler Mountain Regional Park that’s part of hundreds of acres of Mt. Kessler greenways.

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Do I need frequent car access to your location?

No. The educational material and video tours of the sustainable cottage and native habitat will be accessible online. (Podcasts, blog, potentially on community radio, videos, articles, visual presentations, etc) We’d love to have you visit in small groups if you’d like an in-person tour or to help us  protect native habitat through experiential learning workshops!

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Will you help people access your location through carpooling or other methods?

Yes, we will encourage carpooling and may be able to provide free transportation to Ripples. Right now, we’re brainstorming options.

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Will I be able to camp or stay overnight at your house so I can stay a weekend?

Yes, but options are still being worked out and are only possibilities – perhaps short-term tent camping for biological inventory groups, project volunteers, and long-distance guests. We can’t accommodate people inside the cottage or large groups overnight.

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Is your goal to have many people access your physical location?

No. Our goal is to have many people access our online materials, but only occasional small groups of people visiting our physical location to learn in-person or work with us on projects.

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Why does the location of your house have to be outside city limits?

Some cities have newer building codes, but most cities often have restrictive building codes that don’t allow things like very small homes, composting toilets, greywater recycling, etc. We considered fighting the building codes but decided to transition to a sustainable lifestyle now instead of later, which necessitated building outside of restricted areas. The Washington County website states that it does not issue building permits, and we have it in writing from the Washington County Senior Planner that “Washington County does not have building codes in the unincorporated parts of the County.” If we had septic or grid electricity or city water, we would need to be inspected/adhere to the relevant codes, but we won’t have these things. We did however choose an Arkansas Health Department-approved composting toilet and are following code for solar panels / electrical wiring and plumbing. Concerning zoning, the county planning office (two planners) looked at the specific tract of land for our location and approved of the type of house and off-grid features as well as the year-round residential purpose: there were no laws or zoning restrictions concerning our specific situation. But everyone’s situation tends to be unique. We recommend researching your plans extensively online and contacting your local officials.

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People have to physically be in nature to develop a respect for nature, right?

We disagree. If this were entirely true, then nobody would care about tigers and other endangered species unless they met one in person. The power of books, TV and movies in our society proves that people can experience something profound from paper and digital media, often changing their behavior because of it. Even pictures of nature in an office will boost employee mood and productivity. However, we agree with conservation organizations and psychologists who explain that there is a profound effect on our minds and hearts by experiences in nature. We’ll try to have as many small groups visit Ripples (or Mt. Kessler) as possible without negatively impacting the land and native habitat.

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Are you really off-grid if you have internet and an online educational center?

There are many ways to technically go “off-grid,” including complete social isolation, avoidance of banks, refusal to use grocery stores or internet, and checking out from society to get away from the government. Ripples is not doing these things. Our version of going “off-grid” involves avoiding public utilities that harm the environment, like non-renewable electricity, gasoline, and city water. We will continue to buy food from local farmers and cooperatives, and use the banking system and internet. The online educational center website is 100% solar powered through AISO. The physical home & office itself should reduce or eliminate our dependence on non-renewable utilities.

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How can you possibly live in the countryside if you were born in the city?

As Beatrix Potter well proved, people can grow up to become many different things unrelated to where they were born and raised. She grew up in the city and had poor health, yet at the time of her death, was a successful farmer and protected 4,000 acres in the English Lake District. We have disliked living in cities since we were children, and enjoyed being in nature – yes, even the bugs and snakes and weather, although sometimes their are unpleasantries. Some people don’t like country living and some people do.

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You're so young, won't you change your mind about all of this?

Actually, we’re in our early 30’s, which is old enough to get a house and raise a family in traditional society; building a non-traditional house shouldn’t have anything to do with our age if traditional home ownership is acceptable. We’ve been planning for Ripples and transitioning to a lifestyle that makes a difference since our marriage in 2007, and, before that, were committed to the principles that underlie Ripples. Emergencies may happen that could change the way we pursue these principles, but we have been so consistent since our teenage years that changing our minds is likely not going to happen. Even if it does, we’re building Ripples with a contingency plan that includes successors, so that future generations can continue this work and steward the land.

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Won't it be dangerous to live in the countryside?

Danger is everywhere, and Ryan has had to get 8 stitches from falling into an improperly covered manhole off College Avenue in Fayetteville. Statistically, we are more likely to be mugged or assaulted in an urban location, so living in the city is not without its problems. The countryside is dangerous for other reasons – snake bites, for instance. Yet hundreds more people die from toasters than from snake bites every year in the United States. The degree of danger in the countryside is dependent upon the location, the management of the land and home, and the extent of our preparedness to respond to emergencies.

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Why are small groups better for Ripples than large groups at your location?

Because the home is so small, and the space around it meant for native habitat protection, it’s best to limit foot traffic or it will be very hard to protect the area. It will also be hard for people to hear us speak during tours if the group is too large. We plan on hosting presentations at city centers like libraries so that people can get a “tour” without having to visit, but we also welcome families and small groups who want a hands-on experience.

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What kind of solar cooker / oven did you buy, and what's it like?

We bought the All American Sun Oven, almost entirely made in the USA. It’s been fantastic to use, and cooks or bakes everything you can cook or bake in an indoor oven or stove (cookies, lasagna, rice curry, bread, soup, chili…) Please see our newspaper column Solar Cooking with the All American Sun Oven for detailed information and a recipe!

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What type of composting toilet are you using? Is it sanitary and legal?

From the Composting Toilet Store, we purchased the Sun-Mar Excel NE (non-electric) model approved by the Arkansas Department of Health and the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). For detailed instructions on installation, maintenance, and troubleshooting, check out the owner’s manual (note: The manual loads a bit slowly). Before purchasing a compost toilet, figure out which variety is right for your situation.

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Which type of natural flooring are you installing?

We are planning to install Dawn GreenClaimed Cork Flooring by CaliBamboo.com. Cork flooring is soft to walk on, a good temperature insulator, absorbs sound and is quiet, doesn’t get cold on bare feet, and it’s eco-friendly because cork can be harvested without harming the tree. Our chosen variety of cork flooring comes in planks that click together in a “floating floor” style rather than being glued down. It’s low-VOC (the infill is of a much higher quality, made with no-VOC resins and is highly durable, compared with standard hardware-store cork floor offerings) and our selection is highly water resistant, making it good for bathrooms, kitchens, and anywhere else in the home. It does not need to be refinished because of its unique design among cork flooring manufacturers. It can be vacuumed and damp mopped without worry.

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What about your cat, Solo? How will you handle cat litter?

We’ll be composting the cat litter separately from the human waste. Solo is an indoor-only cat because he was adopted from the shelter and has no claws, and outdoor cats suffer a lot and contribute to environmental problems. He’ll love our screened-in porch, which will serve as a play area for him (among other purposes). Indoor cats which have not eaten wild prey are not carriers of Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that makes composting cat litter less safe. We’ll be continuing to use our plastic reusable cat litter box, minus the plastic bags, with biodegradable septic-safe and compostable World’s Best Cat Litter. Here is our research and method for composting pet waste.

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