The Greenhouse Contradiction Trumped by the Climate Battery

September 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

By Kyle Brookens

Living in Gunnison, Colorado while at the same time attempting to live sustainable lives presents an immediate contradiction due to the way the infrastructure of our society functions. Buildings must be heated with fossil fuels, the growing season is short, properties in town have no acreage, the climate is essentially a desert, and nearly everything the town needs to survive on derives from the interstate, highway, and aircraft systems. Masanobu Fukuoka plainly and realistically states that a “community that cannot manage to produce its own food will not last long” (116). As of right now, Gunnison is far from producing the amount of food and resources it consumes. In order for this community to last a long time and become sustainable, sacrifices must be made. Most of us come to this valley to enjoy the largely unpolluted rivers, lakes, mountains, and fields that surround Gunnison. I am lead to believe that we must sacrifice some of our wants and desires in order to have the privilege of enjoying our local surroundings to the fullest. “Pure natural farming . . . is the no-stroke school. It goes nowhere and seeks no victory. Putting “doing nothing” into practice is the one thing the farmer should strive to accomplish” (119). The latter of Fukuoka’s argument makes it clear that many of our desires and wants to be happy people in Gunnison requires that sacrifice is inherent: “When it is understood that one loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them, the essence of natural farming will be realized” (119). While we are in the moment of our sources of enjoyment and happiness, I feel it is important to revisit these words from Fukuoka. If our bodies are not nourished locally, it will be impossible to possess joy or happiness. If we want to live sustainable, happy lives in Gunnison, our priorities must revolve around localizing our sustenance.

The Western State Colorado University Pinnacles Greenhouse exists as a wonderful pilot program, and will help show how the Gunnison valley may begin to completely localize its food production without sacrificing too much. The greenhouse has the potential to run year round, and if the Renewable Energy Fund localizes the University’s renewable energy production in the next few years, the greenhouse could become carbon neutral. The climate battery that Ian, Joey, Kerriann and I installed in the greenhouse is a simple, yet effective way to make the structure more efficient. A climate battery is composed of 2 6” PVC stacks that have a 45 degree elbow at the top end with a fan attached. The stacks are placed near the north wall of the greenhouse and they nearly reach the ceiling. When the thermostat reads that the greenhouse is too hot, the fans kick on and suck the hot air down the PVC stack into a network of 4” corrugated pipe with sediment sock which is buried at least 20” deep. Approximately 90 feet of the 4” pipe rests 20” below the floor of the greenhouse. There are 4 vents that force out cool air when the fans are on. The hot air gets stored in the thermal mass of the ground while the cool air gets forced out of the vents to help lower the temperature of the greenhouse and circulate the air that tends to get stagnant. At night and especially during the winter, the heat stored in the ground from the climate battery will help keep the greenhouse warm, and help conserve the natural gas the heater will burn. Below is a rough sketch of the Western State Colorado University Pinnacles Greenhouse climate battery lay-out:

Running the greenhouse year round in Gunnison, Colorado is no doubt an energy intensive process, but the climate battery helps lower the demand of fossil fuels and the cost to operate it. Not only will current students benefit from learning how to construct a climate battery, but students and all interested folks that have yet to visit the Western State Colorado University campus will benefit from seeing the greenhouse in full operation. The small greenhouse provides a sanctuary for students like myself to learn and grow along side the plants. As Fukuoka said in “The One-Straw Revolution,” “Ultimately, it is not the growing technique which is the most important factor, but rather the state of mind of the farmer” (46). The greenhouse has allowed me to connect to this place, open my mind to myriad possibilities, and connect to a massive variety of different social groups that I would have not been exposed to otherwise. The relationship that the greenhouse has with Sodexo is one major connection that has cracked open a steel door that was bolted and locked shut from top to bottom just one year ago. Anyone working closely with the greenhouse has already began to learn how much food Sodexo really needs to supply the student population. We are talking about many, many acres of land to completely supply that population, but supplying all the herbs is a SMART goal that will continue to open that door a little more. This new opportunity is just one of many examples of how the Pinnacles greenhouse has become a profound source of an educational and social networking hub on Western’s campus. The most important aspect of the Pinnacles greenhouse “is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings”(Fukuoka 119). The hope is that the Gunnison and Crested Butte communities will find inspiration in what the students at WSCU have accomplished, and therefore, help increase the size and the momentum of the local food snowball.

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