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.

The Farmers Burden

September 10, 2012 § 1 Comment

In the past several weeks, I have been reading Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One Straw Revolution. I haven’t finished yet, but I have already derived much inspiration from the book. While I have gained worthy agro-ecological insight from this read, it is the economic and infrastructural propositions that have given me the most food for thought.
I have a belief that if you are not very involved or interested in the quality or sustainability of the food you consume, then your food tends to financially inexpensive in the current market. If you are more concerned with your food’s quality and sustainability, then it will cost more money. But if your food’s quality and sustainability is one of your greatest concerns, then it will be next to free. By gardening and food preservation techniques, one can feed themselves without having to source food. For me it is a goal of mine to be able to do this, even in the Gunnison valley, but I understand that this isn’t viable for people without garden space or resident of dense urban centers. This allows the monocrop farmer system to seem appropriate in terms of meeting the needs of the people en masse. As we all know, large scale monocrop agricultural practice is simply unsustainable. Unfortunately small scale organic biodiverse farmers have to face massive subsidies in the name of monocrops and chemical companies, which have provided a daunting façade of sustainability in the name of the ecological farce that is large scale agriculture. How then do we compete with the false prices at the supermarket, when small families have to pay thousands annually merely to hold an organic label?
Fukuoka contends that organic food should be the most inexpensive at the grocery store, because the least amount of time and inputs are required. He explains how conventional farmers must spend money on pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, waxing, and separating for looks, and how they barely make enough to do it again the following year. He explains that commercial agriculture will fail because of this. I believe this is true, as many conventional farmers today would lose money annually if not for massive government subsidies associated with commercial agriculture. I believe that this could mean the starvation of millions in the United States, if there is not a national shift in awareness and activism related to our food needs. It is quite possible that there could be agricultural collapse as the expenses of conventional farmers are not met by the government. The question now becomes, how do communities make local small scale agriculture even more affordable than that of conventional agriculture?
A possibility would be that as many people that possessed land in a community would grow a little food for themselves, and a little food for some sort of coalition that could sell the food inexpensively at grocery stores. All profits of the coalition would simply go back to the garden owners to improve the quality of their gardens, and to create more permaculture systems that require less and less inputs. People who did not own land could be parts of these coalitions, perhaps sharing in ownership on a piece of land like a community garden or co-op. It is especially key that in urban centers, more members of suburbia grow food and that more land be directed toward co-ops for urban dwellers. This way food could actually become cheaper than conventional, especially if co-op grocers were formed and crafted to ensure that they had the trust of their consumers. Fukuoka certainly operated in a political climate, but his statement that organic food should be inexpensive still stands, because it is simple. On the scale of the biome it is easier for each individual to get their hands a little dirty from time to time, the perpetuate an ecologically dangerous machine that is headed for collapse. I believe that what Masonubu said about the environmental issues of the inland sea is true for most every environmental issues. He said, “it must be the farmer who shoulders the red tide.” I believe we all are farmers and therefore, we are responsible for all issues associated with farming.

Snipping basil …

September 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Snipping basil heads can be surprisingly meditative. As I prolonged the life of the hoop house’s herbs, I pondered the potential of our campus; imagining every inch of Kentucky Blue being replaced with food or housing for useful animal herds. What would it be like if every meal from Sodexo was provided from the campus grounds, or every event featured food items within reach? It seems possible…and practical.
So this requires the exploration of the Campus Agricultural Master Plan, examining its benefits and its faults, and then deciding if it can be expanded upon.

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