MEGGA-watt? The Rise of The Food Garage…!

Dec 27, 2012 by     9 Comments    Posted under: Permaculture, The How To's

(A 9-part blog in support of the MEGGA-watt? Project entry in The Carbon Farmer's "Face Your Footprint" contest)FaceYourFootprint

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Food Garage – Summer 2013 (21st Century Barn-Raising Campaign)

The Food Garage – Winter 2013 (WeTheTrees Campaign) – SUCCESS!

Videos courtesy of Ben Wilson and FarmOn.com
Aeroponic system design courtesy of David Descheneau and The Farm Next Door

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  Part 1 – MEGGA-watt? – Rise of the Food Garage
  Part 2 – Geodesic Dome Greenhouses
  Part 3 – 4-Season Growing with Climate Batteries
  Part 4 – Rocket Mass Heaters & Coppice Agroforestry
  Part 5 – Aquaculture, Aquaponics and Aeroponics
  Part 6 – Rainwater Harvesting
  Part 7 – Wood-fired Hot Tubs
  Part 8 – Combining Heat & Power
  Part 9 – Patterning the MEGGA-watt?


Part One – MEGGA-watt? – Rise of the Food Garage

It was a sunny afternoon when a couple permies were tossing around ideas for sustainable living in the urban jungle. Looking around the back yard of a modest urban lot, most spaces had already been converted to edible landscape. And the only space left had just been claimed by a detached 2-car garage. What can a garage do besides cast a shadow on the garden and store some valuables? Well, some have set up 'man-cave' workshops. Others take advantage of the roof to catch rain water for the garden. Some have even fashioned greenhouses to them. These are all good ideas but they don't tap into the latent potential of this kind of built structure. And rarely are these uses combined in a way that turns them from depreciating money pits into high-yielding and energy-generating assets!

Garages have become the neglected catch-alls for a modern consumer lifestyle. Their primary use is to protect vehicles, yard care equipment and tools, or at best for a place to work on hobby projects. A few useful functions, I'll admit. But in reality, most garages are simply a stopping point for garbage on its weekly trip to the land fill. For a permaculture designer, a garage presents far more opportunity to stack functions that increase its value – perhaps even more than the adjacent house! Stacking functions is a basic permaculture concept. It's defined as obtaining many yields from a single element in a system. Looking at the potential yields of a garage through systems analysis revealed a powerful idea. Like a light switch being flipped, the word MEGGA shone brightly in our minds… the Micro-Energy Generating Garage Assembly or "MEGGA" for short. A what, you ask?? Even better, a "MEGGA-watt?"..!

Over the course of the next 9 weeks we'll break down the "MEGGA-watt?" concept to explain how a simple garage / greenhouse combo can become the centre of prosperity for urban permaculture design. In a nutshell,

The Micro-Energy Generating Garage Assembly (MEGGA) is a demonstration / prototype to turn everyday detached garages from simple storage units (aka ‘car-holes’) into food growing and energy-generating systems using permaculture design. The basic concept is to partner a garage with an attached greenhouse and renewable energy to create sustainable 4-season growing systems with minimal fossil fuel input that serves both practical and recreational purposes. Owners of a MEGGA can then customize how they want the system to function and what and how they want to grow. This project prototype takes a 24′×26′ two-car garage and couples it with a 23ft off-grid 4-season geodesic dome greenhouse. The greenhouse will be accessed through the heated garage which will host a 6000L vermiponic (aquaculture) system to raise tilapia and red claw crayfish, grow various plants, utilize a rainwater catchment system to fill the fish tanks and water the greenhouse, a 7′×9′-32-tray aeroponic system for growing microgreens and wheat grass, an 8′×8′ walk-in cooler or root cellar for cold storage, a solar PV and solar thermal array on the roof, and in the greenhouse a climate battery and rocket mass heater (coppiced wood-fired) hot tub! There will even be enough room in the garage for a small workshop and/or one parking space! Hosted by ReThink Red Deer (The Sustainable Red Deer Society) at their 1/5-acre urban homestead, this project will demonstrate sustainable urban living to the community and the rest of the world as it leverages the practice of urban homesteading and the success of the existing edible forest and SPIN-gardens on site.

As the majority of people in the world now live in urban areas, this project has the potential to be a major amenity for sustainable living in the 21st Century. For this first blog we'll list very simply the basic functions of the system and what can be produced.

Detached Garage – the year-round growing space and main source of renewable energy generation

  • Aeroponic growing system – grows microgreens and wheatgrass with T5 fluorescent lights and nutrient solution (from fish!)
  • Aquaponic growing system – 6 x 1000L fish tanks for tilapia & red claw crayfish, plant beds on top – fish waste feeds the plants
  • 3000L Rainwater Harvesting system to keep fish tanks full – excess used to water greenhouse and perennial garden
  • Solar Photovoltaic (PV) – between the house and garage a solar PV system can be installed to produce 6000kWh/yr
  • Solar Thermal (air) – produces heat for the garage growing system, excess is blown into the greenhouse (approx. 90,000btu)
  • Natural Gas Heater – used as backup to maintain a steady internal temperature on cloudy winter or rainy days (50,000btu)
  • Walk-in cooler or root cellar for produce storage on the north side of the greenhouse
  • Simple workbench and tools & supplies for the MEGGA-watt? system (cottage industry manufacturing via Open-Source Ecology)
  • One parking space for vehicle / trailer or additional project work space

Geodesic Dome Greenhouse (or stardome hoop-style greenhouse)

  • 23ft Geodesic dome or star dome (hoop-style)
  • Raised beds to grow Mediterranean climate-tolerant plants (avg temp low of 5ºC) – vegetables/fruit/herbs
  • Climate battery – subterranean heating using passive solar heat channelled underground for 4-season growing, offset by garage
  • Wood-fired hot tub – rocket mass heater with fuel supplied by coppice agroforestry (e.g., willows) that builds healthy soil
  • Additional aquaponic system (as space allows)

Stay tuned – next week's blog will focus on the greenhouse structure and components!

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Submitted by Rene Michalak
(The Micro-Energy Generating Garage Assembly (MEGGA) by Rene Michalak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License. Based on a work at www.rethinkreddeer.ca. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.foodgarage.ca)

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Part Two – Geodesic Dome Greenhouses

In the late summer and fall of 2012 I was lucky enough to make a couple of trips to investigate urban agriculture best practices including permaculture design for creating sustainable human habitat. Here's the link to those blogs:

Upon returning from Australia, I was invited to join the Lacombe Composite High School's EcoVision club in building a 33ft geodesic dome greenhouse. The EcoVision club is a progressive group of high school students supported by the guidance of teacher Steve Schultz. Together they are working on projects that help make a carbon-positive difference on life in Central Alberta and this greenhouse is the latest addition to their successes which also includes a 6kW solar array installation on the school!

The original greenhouse plan ("Plan A") was for a traditional 5m x 8m square-box greenhouse heated solely with natural gas. Not very exciting or aligned with EcoVision's progressive (and renewable!) energy, some would say. Even earlier in the summer, Steve and I were able to attend a "4-Season Greenhouse" workshop hosted by Verge Permaculture in Calgary. There we met Jerome Osentowski of the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Research Institute who is showing what can be done to grow edible plants year-round at 7000ft in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado – with little or NO fossil fuel! Some of these plants are bananas, figs, and papayas – not the traditional North American produce! The first thing we wondered was, "how is he doing this??" – surely it must be some kind of high-tech, expensive, and complicated system. In fact, it's quite the opposite and takes advantage of simple natural patterns and principles long-abandoned in our pursuit of 'progress'. (More to come on this technology in the next blog post). Needless to say, Plan A was quickly replaced by Plan B.

During the 5-day course we also learned about another company in Colorado that has this model of 4-season food growing down pat – "Growing Spaces". From their website,

"Growing Spaces is more than a company…it's a way of life. Over the past 21 years, Growing Spaces has grown from a family business operating out of a two car garage to an operation employing 22 people with a 5,000 square foot facility. During this tremendous journey, much has changed, yet our mission, vision, and values have remained steadfast, serving as our continuing guide now and into our future. Our mission is to produce innovative, energy-efficient geodesic greenhouses that effortlessly outperform any other available greenhouse kit. We also wish to share our knowledge of organic gardening, green corporate practices, and healthy lifestyles with individuals, communities and educational institutions worldwide."

The design of a geodesic dome greenhouse is the most energy efficient design available. So, seeing the obvious alignment with EcoVision, Steve contacted Growing Spaces and, through the fundraising efforts of the EcoVision club and in-kind support of the Lacombe community, was able to purchase a 33-ft geodesic dome greenhouse kit and plans for installing the 4-season growing technology. Pictures of the project can be seen hereherehere – and here – and story of the build can be heard in exchange for beverages or a good meal..!

Now, geodesic domes are the creation of the late R. Buckminster Fuller – American systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist. You can read more about the geodesic dome structure here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geodesic_dome

buckminster-fuller

Geodesic domes maximize the growing space on small parcels of land – which makes them ideal for urban growing spaces. More impressive, if they're heated for tropical plants, they use only 1/3 of the amount of heat needed by a regular greenhouse. As a result, a Growing Spaces "Growing Dome" dramatically reduces our environmental footprint. At the same time, they provide the optimal environment for growing fresh, organic and nutritious vegetables, herbs and fruits throughout the year. In an Albertan climate, it's important to note that this is a greenhouse designed for both tropical and hardy plants.

The geodesic dome greenhouse garden structure is made from polycarbonate glazing panels, is suitable for indoor gardening, and makes year round organic gardening possible in harsh climates. There are many ways that people use the dome for indoor gardening. One is to have raised beds, and the other is to enjoy container gardening. Growing Spaces has found the raised bed to be the more successful method of securing optimum plant growth as the raised bed creates a much more thermal stability than container gardening. What growing dome owners have found over the years is that the plants in the containers tend to dry out much quicker and experience more extremes of temperature thus creating more stress and more potential problems with plant growth, pests and diseases.

In the Growing Dome, usually there is an outer raised bed, a circular pathway, and then an inner raised bed. The beds generally are anywhere between one and two foot high depending on the personal preference of the owner and raised bed design is entirely up to the owner. They typically use recycled plastic, lumber, Douglas Fir, plywood, sheet metal, adobe, rocks, and many other methods of creating the walls for the raised beds.

In the Growing Dome there are generally two seasons: winter and summer. The whole purpose of passive solar design is to use the ambient temperatures in the seasons to the optimum. Therefore, in the summer, we can grow heat-loving plants, such as tomatoes, squash, peppers, eggplant, cucumber, zucchini, melon, okra, basil, beans and many other varieties of heat-loving plants, especially organic vegetables. In the winter, however, we need to grow cool hardy and cold tolerant vegetables. Among these are members of the cabbage family, cabbage kale, collards, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, all the members of the onion family, garlic, leek, peas, lettuce, root crop such as radish, rutabaga, turnips, beets, carrots and daikon radish. Also spinach and Swiss chard, the Japanese greens and exotic greens such as tatsoi, bok choy, mizuna, arugula and the mescalun mix type of greens grow very, very well in the Growing Dome greenhouse during the winter months.

Because this kind of greenhouse is such an energy efficient design, it can withstand 20 to 30 degrees (F) of frost outside before it freezes inside the structure. Even though it may freeze if we are growing frost hardy plants in the greenhouse, then as soon as the sun comes out the plants thaw out and keep on producing winter growth throughout the coldest months of the year. Many people choose to grow a variety of organic vegetables, edible flowers, and herbs such as parsley, marjoram, thyme, sage, rosemary, dill, fennel, etc. These plants seem to grow equally well both winter and summer as the Growing Dome greenhouse creates a protected indoor garden for year-round enjoyment. To wrap up, we'll list the main features of the Growing Dome and then explain the 4-season heating/cooling technology in next week's post.

1. High Quality Polycarbonate Glazing Panels
The high quality polycarbonate glazing panels are clear, rigid translucent covering that allows 65% light transmission. The 16mm, 5-wall polycarbonate glazing is rated R 3.0 and is rated as one of the premier greenhouse coverings available. It resists breakdown by ultraviolet light and harsh weather impacts, like hail. The life expectancy is over 20 years and the glazing panels come with a 10 year warranty by the manufacturer against yellowing and hail damage.

2. North Wall Insulation (Reflectix)
The North Wall Insulation (also called "Reflectix") helps keep the Growing Dome cozy during the long winter nights and reflects light evenly onto the plants for maximum growth. It provides shade in the summer and, in combination with the water tank, helps prevent overheating. This is a unique greenhouse design feature. The outer surface of the triangles is white to help reflect excess heat in the summer.

3. Automatic Opening Window Vents
The automatic vent openers are heat activated and require no electricity to operate. The upper and lower vents open and close at an adjustable preset temperature due to the expansion and contraction of beeswax in a piston. Cooling of the Growing Dome is then achieved as hot air escapes from the top vents and cold air is drawn in through the lower vents. This creates a "chimney" effect and prevents overheating. The window vents open and close automatically, freeing you to go on vacation without worry.

4. Water Tank
This unusual greenhouse design feature, a large water tank, acts as the "Power Pack" of the Growing Dome. The water mass keeps the Growing Dome warm in the winter and cool in the summer creating optimum environment for year 'round growth. Can be used as a beautiful space both for aquatic plants and fish. (In the MEGGA-watt? project we're adding a wood-fired hot tub – more on that later!)

5. Undersoil Heating & Cooling System
A solar panel produces electricity to power a fan which blows the air in the dome through pipes buried in the perimeter raised soil beds. The air nearest to the intake, near the water tank, is warm in the winter and cool in the summer, so you are effectively heating or cooling your soil depending on the time of year. This system also helps circulate air through the Growing Dome and even out the overall temperature. This is a unique greenhouse design feature that makes year 'round growing a reality. Raised bed gardening is simple and easy on the back! (In Alberta, we take it one step further and install a "climate battery" under the greenhouse to buffer the impacts of our sub-zero temperatures – more in the next blog post")

6. Insulated Foundation Wall
The Growing Dome sits on a 24" foundation wall which raises the Growing Dome up above the snow and gives increased headroom. This wall is insulated to prevent the soil in the growing beds from losing heat on a cold winter night. The wall is lined with sheet metal on the inside and has a bottom plate of ProWood treated or redwood lumber for added longevity.

7. Perimeter Insulation
A skirt of 2" blueboard insulation buried around the perimeter of the Growing Dome prevents frost from penetrating under the wall of the Growing Dome. The entire soil mass maintains an even temperature, despite outside fluctuations. Most greenhouse designs omit this invaluable feature.

And another example of this type of greenhouse structure can be seen in this 9-part video posted by Bigelow Brook Farm.

Geodesic Dome Greenhouse Construction (9-part video)

Stay tuned – next week's blog will focus on the climate battery technology!

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(The Micro-Energy Generating Garage Assembly (MEGGA) by Rene Michalak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License. Based on a work at www.rethinkreddeer.ca. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.foodgarage.ca)

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Part Three – 4-Season Growing with Climate Batteries

In temperate climates like Alberta the short length of the growing season and the cold temperatures are the main challenge for producing food year-round. That's partly why we import so much of our food in Canada -

But are we really doomed to fossil-fuel dependence if we want to be able to produce a higher percentage of our food locally? The Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute’s solar greenhouses in Basalt, CO are living proof that we aren't. And that's 7000ft (or 2200m) above sea level… in the Rockies! CRMPI Director, Jerome Osentowski has overcome these challenges by integrating greenhouse design as a feature in the overall food growing system. He's successfully extended his growing not only through all four-seasons but he's also managed to create a microclimate that mimics that of the subtropic regions. Let me repeat, that's all year round… and with no fossil fuels.

Because of the relatively cheap cost of natural gas, conventional greenhouses use immense amounts of energy to stay warm during the winter months. To overcome the environmental impacts of burning fossil fuels, Jerome’s greenhouses are heated using a "climate battery" – basically, two 90 Watt fans that run a subterranean heating and cooling system (SHCS). Climate Battery technology directs the excess heat collected and generated in the greenhouse during the day and stores it underground in the soil – the "battery".  Conventional systems typically vent the excess warm air outside which results in a lost natural resource. Here are some pics of the installation of this system at the Lacombe Composite High School greenouse project – the only one of its kind in Canada:

Greenhouses using climate battery technology are planned using integrated permaculture design, taking into account location and aspect, making the best use of the site’s sloping terrain, and including plenty of thermal mass and rainwater harvesting features. The SHCS technology was also supported by the work of John Cruickshank – SunnyJohn.com/indexpages/shcs.htm. John has worked with Jerome and Michael Thompson from EcoSystems Design to refine this technology for commercial use. But its benefits very easily extend to the emerging urban agriculture field – and with great success.

ClimateBattery1So how does it all work? Under the soil layer there are several layers of plastic pipes buried into the ground, where air circulates from the greenhouse, controlled by a thermostat. In the hot season the fans draw warm air into the ground where the heat and extra moisture, which helps control the negatives of an overly humid environment, are collected into the soil. The cooled air is returned into the greenhouse to continue the cycle. In the winter the process is reversed at night so that the cooler air is channeled undergound to be warmed by the soil and thereby warm the greenhouse. The soil temperature stays constant at +20°C helping the plants tolerate potential frosts in the coldest winter nights when the temperature outside can drop all the way to -32°C. When there isn’t enough heat stored in the climate battery a sauna or wood-fired hot tub (rocket mass heater on a timed feeder) can be used to maintain the necessary tempertature.

Next week we'll look at rocket mass heaters and coppice agroforestry as one of the main carbon-positive features of the MEGGA-watt? system.

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(The Micro-Energy Generating Garage Assembly (MEGGA) by Rene Michalak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License. Based on a work at www.rethinkreddeer.ca. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.foodgarage.ca)

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Part Four – Rocket Mass Heaters & Coppice Agroforestry

Life in the Great White North – where the four seasons are more commonly referred to as "Winter and the rest of the year". It's a beautiful place to live but staying relatively comfortable (i.e., warm) without energy-intensive heat input is pretty much unheard of. The common assumption is that we have about as much chance of low-energy heating as we do of building our own (fuel-guzzling) rocket to the moon!

BUT, we CAN build a different kind of rocket. One that actually reduces our carbon footprint and builds healthy soil. Rocket stoves or rocket mass heaters are efficient, clean, biomass burning appliances developed by Ianto Evans (http://www.rocketstoves.com). And their potential to mitigate our converging environmental crises is literally up in the stars!

My friend Rob wrote a blog a few years ago about "rockets that don't fly", so I'll skip the detailed mechanics and leave it to an expert – http://vergepermaculture.ca/blog/2010/03/31/rockets-dont-fly/

Rocket mass heaters in a nutshell (from Paul Wheaton's article):rocket-mass-heater-diagram

  • heat your home with 80% to 90% less wood
  • exhaust nearly pure steam and CO2 (just a little smoke at the beginning to start the rocket effect)
  • the heat from one fire can last for days
  • you can build one in a day and half
  • folks have built them spending less than $20

The long story on rocket mass heaters:

Heating with rocket mass heaters could be the cleanest and most sustainable way to heat a conventional home. It can be as easy as using the dead branches that fall off the trees in our yards.

The really neat thing is that, unlike conventional wood burning stoves, the fire burns sideways in a rocket stove – and it's more efficient. The exhaust is near room temperature – and very clean. Smoke doesn't come back up into the room because a large amount of air is drawn into the combustion chamber to create a higher temperature burn – thus, less smoke. A conventional wood stove uses a lot of the heat to push the smoke out of the house but a rocket mass heater extracts as much heat as possible before releasing the exhaust.

People commonly ask, "If current wood stoves are 75% efficient, it seems the most room for improvement is about 25%. But you say you can heat a home with a tenth of the wood. Isn't that claiming that a rocket mass heater is 750% efficient? Wouldn't 100% efficient be the maximum?"

Wheaton says there are two ways to answer this:

  1. Measure the temperature and volume of the smoke leaving a conventional wood stove (very hot and a large volume) and compare that to the exhaust of a rocket mass heater (a little more than room temperature and a trickle). Far more heat stays inside with a rocket mass heater.
  2. Let's do the math.

a) A rating of "75% efficient" does not account for some of the heat that goes up the chimney to remove the smoke. The testing labs will use a number of either 14% or 16% for smoke going up the chimney. So the 75% number is actually 64%. Saying 75% is allowed and sells more wood stoves.

b) The rating of 75% was the most efficient result experienced in a laboratory with experts trying to get the most efficient numbers. So while a wood stove might be able to achieve 75% efficiency in a lab, it rarely does in a home. An experienced wood stove operator will probably experience something more like 35%. Somebody using wet/green wood and shutting the dampers down a lot for a "slow burn" will probably experience something more like 5% efficiency (or less!) with a 75% efficient wood stove. Thus leaving a lot of room for improvement. Rocket mass heaters have no way to reduce the air flow for a slow, inefficient burn. An inexperienced wood burner will probably have a 90% efficient burn every time.

Another question is about creosote. In a conventional wood stove, under inefficient conditions, creosote can build up in the chimney and start a chimney fire. The "chimney" in the rocket stove is the same thing as the heat riser. The rocket stove is designed to have a controlled chimney fire every burn.

Here's an example of a rocket mass heater (on steroids!) heating a large geodesic dome greenhouse at Bigelow Brook Farm:

So how do we fuel the rocket and not run out of gas? Say you don't have lots of trees in your yard or you just don't have the wherewithal to manage a forest of branch droppings. Luckily(?), we have large amounts of waste streams in consumer society and at least two options are easily accessible:

  1. Old pallets – you can find these everywhere and businesses are dying to get rid of them cheaply.
  2. Dried wood chips – tree removal companies produce enormous amounts of mixed wood chip and leaf litter which could easily be used as mulch or dried for rocket stove fuel; if they can't find someone to sell the chips to they have to pay to dispose of them at the landfill

But, a better solution exists which can actually produce employment opportunities in small-scale agriculture (under 80 acres). That is coppice agroforestry.

(From http://www.coppiceagroforestry.com/) Coppice Agroforestry is forest management that integrates ecosystem health, economic viability, multi-generational tree crops, and diverse non-timber forest products. Many woody plants resprout from the stump or root suckers when cut to the ground – we call the regrowth "coppice", and the management system "coppicing". Many ancient cultures understood this plant behavior and managed coppice to produce their fuel, craft and building materials, livestock fodder, fencing, and much more. In North America, coppicing was a casualty of European emigration from a culture of resource conservation (by necessity) to one of widespread overexploitation and industrialization. We now must re-engage with these practices and develop them to a high art for our times and for our future.

The process of coppicing actually builds healthy soil, sequestering carbon underground and mitigating the impacts of climate change. When the above ground plant matter is coppiced (and used as firewood and/or mulch), the corresponding root system is 'released' by the plant to the soil microorganisms ("as above, so below"). In other words, it self-prunes underground. If we plant leguminous (nitrogen-fixing) varieties for coppicing, we can actually increase the fertility of the soil. The plant (i.e., tree / shrub) is essentially a pump and the water is hanging from the leaves, transpiring from them and acting as a column of water all the way down to the roots. When you cut the starch supply (coppice the top) the nitrogen nodules living on the leguminous species roots (and the root carbon) are released to the soil together.

How's THAT "for carbon-positive"?

In a related story, check out Camrose County, Alberta who are treating their waste in a more environmentally responsible fashion and growing their own substitute for natural gas. They pump the effluent from a waste lagoon into a densely planted stand of willows. Willows like moist soil, grow fast and grow easily in our climate. That willow is then chopped down every three years and can be used for wood, heat or compost. In Camrose, they're using it to heat their main county office.

To learn more about this idea head to http://www.greenenergyfutures.ca/episode/25-waste-willows

And here's an article on willow trees that yield five times as much sugar as ordinary varieties, "drastically reducing" the impact of biofuels – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21181376

Another method not covered in this project but worth investigating is Wood Biomass Gassification. Check it out here – http://tcpermaculture.blogspot.ca/2011/07/running-engine-on-wood-biomass.html

That's the deets on the heat. Last week focused on the earth. Next week we'll take a look at MEGGA's water and air components, the aquaponic and aeroponic systems. See you then!

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(The Micro-Energy Generating Garage Assembly (MEGGA) by Rene Michalak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License. Based on a work at www.rethinkreddeer.ca. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.foodgarage.ca)

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Part Five – Aquaculture, Aquaponics and Aeroponics

If you've ever tried to grow your own food in Alberta, you'll know it doesn't take long to realize why it's got the reputation of “a hobby” or something only retirees have the time to do. And that's "in the growing season”. Few would dare think, let alone bother, to take on the challenge of growing in winter unless they had a large commercial scale heated greenhouse. But as shown in the previous four posts, smart solutions abound for producing vitamins, protein, and more in any season of the year. Anywhere. Period. Since the cold and the dark of winter are no longer an issue with the MEGGA-watt? system, the only thing we're really limited by is our imagination and a commitment to designing low-cost, closed-loop, zero-waste systems. The real questions are, “where do you get your materials?” and “what do you want to grow?” And so our adventure begins…

Aquaponics

(From Backyard Aquaponics) Aquaponics is essentially the combination of Aquaculture and Hydroponics. Both aquaculture and hydroponics have some down sides, hydroponics requires expensive nutrients to feed the plants, and also requires periodic flushing of the systems which can lead to waste disposal issues. Re-circulating aquaculture needs to have excess nutrients (i.e., fish poop) removed from the system, normally this means that a percentage of the water is removed, generally on a daily basis.

IBC-AquaponicsThis nutrient rich water then needs to be disposed of and replaced with clean fresh water. While re-circulating aquaculture and hydroponics are both very efficient methods of producing fish and vegetables, when we look at combining the two, these negative aspects are turned into positives. The positive aspects of both aquaculture and hydroponics are retained and the negative aspects no longer exist. Aquaponics can be as simple or as complex (i.e., expensive) as you’d like to make it. The simple system pictured to the right –> is made from one food-grade IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container). An IBC, also often termed as an “IBC tote”, is a large industrial container used to carry, store and transport liquid products. They range in sizes from 500 litres – 1200 litres, though other sizes can also be found they are not as common. Without a doubt the most commonly available IBC is 1000L. These 1000L IBCs are generally around 1.0m x 1.2m x 1.2m tall, this cubic shape makes it ideal for efficient transporting of bulk liquids. In the picture, the top was cut off and turned upside down to become a growbed for the plants. Water is pumped up from the fish tank (lower half) into the growbed. The water trickles down through the media, past the roots of the plants before draining back into the fish tank.

The plants extract the water and nutrients they need to grow, cleaning the water for the fish. There are bacteria that live on the surface of the growbed media. These bacteria convert ammonia wastes from the fish into nitrates that can be used by the plants. The conversion of ammonia into nitrates is often termed “the nitrogen cycle”.

NBacteria-Cycling


Growbeds filled with a media such as gravel or expanded clay pebbles are a common method of growing plants in an aquaponic system, but there are many different methods that can be used. In fact any method of hydroponic growing can be adapted to aquaponics. Plants can be grown in floating foam rafts that sit on the water surface. Vegetables can also be grown using NFT (Nutrient Film Technique), or through various other methods using a “run to waste” style of growing. This is done by removing a percentage of the fish water each day and watering vegetables planted in different media such as coir peat (shredded coconut husks), vermiculite, perlite, etc.

Many different species of fish can be grown in an aquaponic system, and your species selection will depend on a number of factors including your local government regulations. Quite high stocking densities of fish can be grown in an aquaponic system, and because of the recirculating nature of the systems very little water is used. Research has shown that an aquaponic system uses about 1/10th of the water used to grow vegetables in the ground. An aquaponic system can be incredibly productive – e.g., 50kg of fish, and hundreds of kilograms of vegetables within 6 months in an area about the size of your average parking space, 8m x 4m.

This is a system that requires no bending, no weeding, no fertilizers, and only uses about the same power it takes to run a couple of light globes.

To make the system "closed-loop" an aquaponic design needs to include as many zero-waste practices as one can identify – like cheap recycled materials. IBC totes… the humble IBC, disposable industrial packaging that’s become the cornerstone of many aquaponic system designs, they are a multipurpose, recycled, cheap, modular way to build an aquaponic system.

An aquaponic system can easily be built in an afternoon with an IBC, a pump, a handful of fittings and a couple of regular power tools. IBCs along with blue 200L plastic barrels have enabled thousands of aquaponic systems to be built where normally people may not have the resources or the means to build a system any other way. IBC aquaponic systems have even proven themselves to be a marketable product, with many different complete aquaponic systems available for sale through classifieds.

No matter how you look at it, they have a crucial role to play within aquaponics, the aquaponics community and the growth of aquaponics worldwide. What makes them so special? The ability to use them in such a variety of ways, and their self supporting outer stand. One IBC can be cut and turned into one aquaponic system, or alternately, multiple IBCs can be plumbed together and incorporated into extremely large systems.

So much information is available online about aquaponics but here's the skinny,

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Cheap
  • Readily available worldwide
  • Extensive design possibilities
  • Stackable
  • Modular
  • Square
  • Most not UV stabilized
  • Not designed for a long life
  • Very industrial looking
  • Thin plastic

And aquaponics is an up-and-coming practice in Alberta. Here's some community-based examples:

Jasper Place High School has built an aquaponic system in their school
http://permacultureschool.ca/jasper-place/jp-aquaponics-construction-1/
http://www.kevinkossowan.com/permaculture-meet-high-school/

Lacombe Composite High School has built a 4-season geodesic dome greenhouse with climate battery technology – inside the greenhouse is a large aquaponic tank
http://lchsecovision.weebly.com/

Edmonton Aquaponic Society members are working on a home-scale aquaponic system
http://edmontonaquaponics.org/project.html

Lethbridge University is doing research on localized commercial-scale aquaponics
http://www.calgaryherald.com/Aquaponics+offer+hope+year+round+produce/6295573/story.html


Now, like a fish out of water, let's detail the aeroponic system of the MEGGA-watt? prototype. Back in May, ReThink Red Deer hosted an aeroponic system workshop at Jeff and Juli Gillies' acreage property just east of Rocky Mountain House. They hosted a spring Permaculture gathering and generously let us use their shop and tools to put a working aeroponic unit together. By now you've probably guessed that aeroponics means growing with air. Well, sort of…  

Aeroponics

(From HowStuffWorks.com)

Simply put, aeroponics is a method of growing plants in a soilless environment with very little water. Basically, it's growing without earth. Despite this leap in advancement, aeroponics actually had a fairly slow start. Techniques for growing plants without soil were first developed in the 1920s by botanists who used primitive aeroponics to study plant root structure [source: Barak, et al]. This absence of soil made study much easier: In aeroponics, plants' roots dangle in midair, with only the plants' stems held in place. However, the leap in logic that led to growing plants in this way for recreation rather than academic study didn't occur until the 1970s. Hydroponics, a similar technology where plants' roots are grown in nutrient-rich water rather than soil, emerged and overtook aeroponic development.

Hydroponics came into popular use in the West in the 1970s. Research and use of aeroponic systems continued behind the scenes, however, and the technique made its big public debut when "The Land" pavilion at Disney's Epcot Center opened in 1982. It would take the interest of NASA to push aeroponics further into the limelight. In the 1990s, study and refinement of these techniques took off after NASA funded a project by a small aeroponics operation. NASA's involvement would give the growing aeroponics movement a decidedly futuristic image. Despite this image, the concept behind aeroponics system is actually fairly simple.

In working with Growing Food Security in Alberta we connected with David Descheneau's project in Edmonton, AeroponicUnit1.0“The Farm Next Door”. David has been working on hydroponic and aeroponic units for years and is collaborating with numerous organizations and even elementary schools to build and operate these 4-season growing units. In our model, each 'shelf' holds four 10”x20” growing trays lined with a biodegradable cellulose growing mat. Seeds are sprinkled on the mats which are sprayed from below three times per hour with a nutrient solution and lit from above with two T5 fluorescent lights per shelf. In seven days a full crop of fresh sprouts is ready to harvest (e.g., broccoli, mustard, kale, wheatgrass, etc.). In all we have about two dozen varieties that have grown successfully for us this past summer including popcorn shoots!

The real beauty of aeroponics is we can tie this great system into the MEGGA-watt? prototype as a standalone production unit – or we can try a little R&D by rearing our small fry fish in the reservoir (before they graduate back to the big IBC tanks) and take advantage of quality filtration units to use their nutrient-rich fertilizer – similar to the larger aquaponic system.

There's a lot of testing and fine tuning to be done once the entire system is put together. Imagining the possibilities and potential of what can be produced is what really makes this project fun!

Next week we'll jump back into the water and take a look at the rainwater catchment system that keeps the fish tanks full and waters the greenhouse plants.

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(The Micro-Energy Generating Garage Assembly (MEGGA) by Rene Michalak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License. Based on a work at www.rethinkreddeer.ca. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.foodgarage.ca)
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Part Six – Rainwater Harvesting

Over the last few years we've been testing out various rain water harvesting containers at the ReThink urban homestead. And typically, far more rain falls than we're able to use. Of the various units, we've found the greatest luck with the collapsible Slimline HandyTank. What we haven't had too much luck with are the stand-up molded plastic tanks – especially when it comes to winter storage.

IMG_2431A word to the wise: empty your rain barrels before first frost if you want to use them again next season. The water can be stored in 5 gallon buckets if your annuals still need it or feed to perennials to help them make it through the winter with ease. <Ahem> back to business…

Food, water and energy systems are inextricably linked, and as recent events like droughts, oil spills and increasing food prices make clear, we can no longer view these systems in isolation. A new paper from the GRACE Communications Foundation explains that when the food, water and energy nexus becomes unbalanced, there are clear consequences for public health, our economy and the environment.

http://www.gracelinks.org/media/pdf/knowthenexus_final.pdf

According to senior Canadian meteorologist, Bill Hume (Weather of Alberta – Lone Pine Publishing), the present trends in climatic observations together with climate model simulations suggest that the world's climate will undergo further warming during this century. A few general observations can be made about weather trends in Alberta based on climate projections from the Canadian climate simulation model. The model simulations suggest little or no change in average precipitation amounts, but there may well be a trend to more frequent and extreme precipitation events. The combination of little change in annual precipitation together with general warming suggests a greater frequency of extreme summer heat waves and a trend toward a more arid climate.

So, it behooves us to be more familiar with rainwater harvesting techniques if we want to succeed with four-season growing and avoid the competition for ever limited freshwater resources. Luckily, we have guys like Brad Lancaster working on urban strategies for harvesting water in arid environments:

Brad also shares eight principles of successful water harvesting:

  1. Begin with long and thoughtful observation. Use all your senses to see where the water flows and how. What is working, what is not? Build on what works.
  2. Start at the top (highpoint) of your watershed and work your way down. Water travels downhill, so collect water at your high points for more immediate infiltration and easy gravity-fed distribution. Start at the top where there is less volume and velocity of water.
  3. Start small and simple. Work at the human scale so you can build and repair everything. Many small strategies are far more effective than one big one when you are trying to infiltrate water into the soil.
  4. Slow, spread, and infiltrate the flow of water. Instead of water running erosively off the land’s surface, encourage it to stick around, “walk” around, and infiltrate into the soil. Slow it, spread it, sink it.
  5. Always plan an overflow route and manage that overflow as a resource. You should always have this route accessible in times of extra heavy rains and, where possible, use that water as a resource.
  6. Maximize living and organic groundcover. Create a living sponge so the harvested water is used to create more resources, while the soil’s ability to infiltrate and hold water steadily improves.
  7. Maximize beneficial relationships and efficiency by “stacking functions.” Get your water harvesting strategies to do more than hold water. Berms can double as high-and-dry raised paths. Plantings can be placed to cool buildings in summer. Vegetation can be selected to provide food.
  8. Continually reassess your system: the “feedback loop.” Observe how your work affects the site, beginning again with the first principle. Make any needed changes, using the principles to guide you.

Principles 2, 4, 5, and 6 are based on those developed and promoted by PELUM, the Participatory Ecological Land-Use Management association of east and southern Africa. Principles 1, 3, 7, and 8 are based on Brad's own experiences and insights gained from other water harvesters.

These principles are the core of successful water harvesting. They apply equally to the conceptualization, design, and implementation of all water-harvesting landscapes. Brad advises us to integrate all principles, not just your favorites, to realize a site’s full potential. Used together, these principles greatly enhance success, dramatically reduce mistakes, and enable you to adapt and integrate a range of strategies to meet site needs. While the principles remain constant, the strategies you use to achieve them will vary with each unique site.

Also rising to meet the local demand for professional rainwater harvesting systems is the newly formed Canadian Association for Rainwater Management – similar to ARCSA in the United States – CANARM is developing rainwater installation system certification training. This is important because there's a real untapped market for professional installers in Alberta. If for nothing more than your own home, consider the employment opportunity!

What we're looking at for the MEGGA-watt? is an in-ground rainwater catchment system to use in watering the greenhouse, keeping the aquaponic tanks full and, with upcoming changes to the Alberta building code for domestic use of rainwater, to use for toilet flushing, laundry and dishwashing. Because of the challenge of our cold winters, we'll need a system that is installed below the frost line and that's made of high-grade plastic to last a long time before needing replacement. So, our preferred system right now is the GRAF model:

Alternatives like the Rainwater Pillow are a close second as they are a less expensive and can make it through the winter without coming apart at the seams…rainwater-collection2

The benefits of rainwater harvesting will become more obvious as water allocations and climate change begin to intensify across the province. And getting set up now with a quality catchment system is probably one of the smartest things homeowners can do.

Next week we'll head back into the greenhouse for a dip in the wood-fired hot tub..!

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(The Micro-Energy Generating Garage Assembly (MEGGA) by Rene Michalak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License. Based on a work at www.rethinkreddeer.ca. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.foodgarage.ca)
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Part Seven – Wood-fired Hot Tubs

All work and no play makes “MEGGA-watt?” a dull ploy. In other words, if we can't have fun by living sustainably then no one will want to do it. At least, no one I want to hang out with…

With all that growing room in the geodesic dome greenhouse and the fish all comfy in the insulated garage, we're going to indulge in a guilty pleasure typically reserved for the lifestyles of the rich and famous. OK, well maybe just the thrifty and indulgent. We've all seen or been in a hot tub. Some of us dirty commoners have even been to the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Although we don't have natural hot springs nearby, we do have the rocket mass heater technology ready for take-off. So, the next best thing – and far more fun – is a wood-fired hot tub!

One of the leading wood-fired hot tub companies is Snorkel Tubs out of Seattle, WA. IWood-fired Hot Tubn Canada, there's Alumi-Tubs out of Sechelt, BC. They both make beautiful western Red Cedar tubs that operate as wood-fired, conventional gas, or electric heat systems. The original Snorkel® Stove was created by Roger Evans while he was a physics student at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. The concept of wood-fired hot tubbing was so appealing to family and friends that Roger and skiing buddy Blair Howe formed a company to market the stove and wood hot tubs. The concept of the underwater wood stove for hot tubs was so unique that it was awarded a United States Patent in 1981. Snorkel Tubs' Scuba® Stove was developed later and is a smaller version of the Snorkel® Stove designed for smaller hot tubs. The basic design and operation of the Snorkel® Stove are very simple. It works just like any other wood stove or fireplace, as shown in the diagram.

The only real difference is the fact that the burning chamber is submerged.woodstove

1. Above-water air intake
2. Stove door/air regulator
3. Underwater firebox
4. Heat exchange tubes
5. Mounting brackets
6. Corrosion-proof powder-coat finish
7. Cast aluminum door won’t rust or warp
8. Simple and easy to clean
Snorkel® stoves: 120,000 BTU, standard with 6’ and larger diameter tubs
Scuba® stoves: 60,000 BTU, standard with 5’ diameter tubs

Their underwater woodstove is in complete, direct contact with the water it heats. Only the air intake and chimney are above water. A cast aluminum door (7) opens to load the wood. You light the fire and place the door as shown (2) for maximum draft. The door slides over the air intake (1) as needed to reduce draft. The aluminum firebox (3) heats quickly and the heat exchanger tubes (4) increase the stove’s surface for even faster heating.

How does it work?

Even though Snorkel® and Scuba® wood stoves are submerged UNDERWATER, water can’t get in. Seams are welded and only the air intake “snorkel” and smokestack are above the water line. Their stoves operate just like an ordinary wood stove or fireplace. Because the entire stove surface is submerged, heat from the fire transfers to the water immediately. That’s all there is to it!

The stove is under water because complete water contact allows immediate, super efficient heat transfer: Snorkel tubs heat hours faster than small, external wood-burning heaters that heat slowly and depend upon convection to circulate water through externally-mounted pipes and water jackets that can easily freeze and burst when not in use during cold weather. Snorkel Tubs precision-cuts marine grade aluminum with plasma cutting machines, then forms the stoves using high-tech bending equipment and hand-welds on every seam. Then they powder coat each stove because many water supplies contain concentrations of minerals like calcium and magnesium that will corrode even the highest quality metal alloys if they’re not protected. Powder coating protection allows them to offer a 3-year warranty.

Because of the fast heat up times and the low cost of the heat, many Snorkel tub owners adopt the Japanese style of hot tubbing. That is, they change the water frequently and don’t use chemicals. They simply fill the tub with fresh water; heat and enjoy a few times; then empty the tub. Scrub lightly with a dilute bleach solution and refill. True Japanese tradition would include a complete cleansing shower for each bather before entering the tub.

Although Snorkel tubs claim efficient heat production they're using a modified version of the rocket stove technology (featured in post #4), which both cuts down on the amount of wood burned and virtually removes the pollution of smoke and particulates. Our challenge becomes, do we build our own tub with a rocket mass heater or go with a Snorkel Tub and do a little R&D…? (help us decide by posting a comment below)

In either case, the water in the tub (when not being heated by the rocket stove) acts as a thermal mass – absorbing the sun's energy during the day and slowly releasing it through the night. Add the climate battery and you can maintain a very steady and beneficial growing climate – for both the plants and your spirit!

After a hard day of watching your permaculture system do its thing, there's nothing better than resting your eyes and having a beverage for a nice long soak with some bath salts (magnesium sulfate). When you're done, you can then take the bath water and spray your pepper plants for greater fruit production!

There's really not much more to say about them… except that you'll make LOTS of friends.

Another cool twist on the natural hot water idea is happening over in Mad River Valley, Vermont at the Whole Systems Research Farm. Ben Falk and company are making soil and hot water at the same time:
testing the first generation of a
Jean Pain-inspired woody compost water heating mound.

They're now three months into testing their first mound and the results are astounding with hot water able to be harvested from the mound at a rate of about 4 litres/minute up to 50ºC (120ºF) continuously, or cycles of 63ºC (145ºF) water harvested in 120 litre amounts. They plan to use the mound to make soil for their gardens and fruiting perennials on the farm and for in-soil bed heating of their greenhouse for season extension. The Whole Systems Research Farm is one to keep your eyes on – they have some pretty cool things going on there… like growing their own rice!

Next week we'll get to the power core of this operation, the combined heat and power unit (CHP), solar PV and solar tubes!

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(The Micro-Energy Generating Garage Assembly (MEGGA) by Rene Michalak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License. Based on a work at www.rethinkreddeer.ca. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.foodgarage.ca)
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Part Eight – Combining Heat & Power

The best parts about this project and The Carbon Farmer's “Face Your Footprint Contest” are the connections we're making with people around the world and the renewable energy knowledge they're sharing in the spirit of open-source ecology.

IRENA

But more on that next week!

MEGGA-watt? started out with simple ideas and simple technology for heating the garage and greenhouse structures. Most of our focus (and resources!) were initially directed at a paired solar PV and solar thermal system. But, in spite of their obvious benefits, declining prices, and inspiring design breakthroughs, they would unfortunately add excessive load to an aging roof structure on the house and be compromised by a less than ideal east to west exposure on the roof of the garage (save the south facing garage wall for solar thermal). And since we already have a backup natural gas heater in the garage, we reassessed the practicality and reliability of solar thermal as the primary heat source… especially during extended cloudy periods in the winter.

WillAllenNow, we're impressed with the results that Will Allen and Growing Power are getting on their 3-acre plot in Milwaukee, WI – particularly because they're doing it without using fossil fuels. They divert high volumes of organic waste and make large piles of compost that they place inside the greenhouse corners and along the foundation exterior. With that amount of volume they're able to generate enough heat to keep production levels high inside the greenhouses. This approach is something we plan to do ourselves, but not until we get the space to scale things up – like a community urban farm, for example. In the meantime, we need to think compact and build condensed.

Speaking with Dan Cloutier of Calgary's Power Ecosystems we identified an alternative means to both power and heat (at least the garage portion) of the MEGGA-watt? Project – Combined Heat & Power (CHP), also known as “co-generation”. CHP is the production of energy (Electricity, Heat and/or Cooling) from a single fuel source. Systems can be powered by natural gas, diesel, bio-diesel, or methane as well as other fuel sources.

They typically involve a reciprocating-engine generator that produces electricity and a heat–recovery system to capture the waste heat from the engine’s exhaust and cooling system. By capturing and using the waste heat, these systems consume only 50 percent of the fuel burned by a central power station to provide an equivalent amount of energy. Since greenhouse gas emissions are directly related to the amount of fuel burned, CO2 production is also cut in half.

standardutility cogenutility

Economical cogeneration systems based on reciprocating–engine generators are available from as small as 30kW to more than 100MW. By making continuous use of both electricity and thermal energy, energy users can save up to 35% and more on overall energy costs. Additional benefits include:

  • Improved reliability of your electric supply
  • Eligibility for CHP tax credits
  • Eligibility for “carbon credits” for reduced CO2 emissions
  • Reducing primary energy costs
  • Base load electrical supply
  • Increased diversity on heating and hot water
  • Stabilised energy costs over a fixed period
  • Reduce consumed raw energy

The added benefit of using CHP is the opportunity to fuel it with bio-diesel and divert waste oil from the local food industry (e.g., restaurants) – helping build capacity for zero-waste communities.

Teaming up with Power Ecosystems, we've applied to Natural Resources Canada for grant funding to research residential CHP technology. Pilot projects like Echo Haven in Calgary are incorporating CHP in their design to minimize environmental footprint and improve their overall energy efficiency in combination with solar heating strategies, and water conservation initiatives.

EchoHaven's design preserves over 60% of the existing natural landscape, reduces dependence of grid power by 80% compared with an average home, produces zero greenhouse gas emissions, uses rainwater harvesting to reduce treated water consumption by 72%, and all homes will meet a minimum EnerGuide rating of 84. Of special note, EchoHaven features a community greenhouse using climate battery technology!

But even with CHP's economical benefits, the renewable SouthernExposureenergy value of solar PV is still too great to ignore. This is particularly true in the summer when heating is not an issue and conditions favor solar PV electricity generation. Staying true to permaculture design, we want to stack functions and build redundancy into the MEGGA-watt? system wherever we can.

Taking a seasonal approach to energy production we can take advantage of the south facing wall of the garage and its ideal solar exposure – even in the winter months. The wall can easily hold three or four solar PV panels (approximately 1 – 2kW) to take over as lead energy production for the lights, ventilation and pumps.

As solar manufacturing costs continue to drop in the months ahead, we can help advance broad-scale application by making a case study of this solar PV system for residential solar rebate programs – much like Portland's Solarize campaign.

Typically, residential solar installations have high upfront costs. Before the first Solarize campaign launched, the upfront cost for a 3-kW system in the Portland market was approximately $27,000. By presenting a full package of federal and state tax credits and utility cash incentives, the Solarize campaign showed that the final costs were much lower than the initial sticker price. Contractor savings on marketing and lead generation drove costs down by an additional 30 to 35%. A typical 3 kW installation in the first Solarize project cost only about $2,000 after tax credits and incentives. Now THAT's a price we can all live with.

Along with the climate battery technology in the greenhouse, there's lots of opportunity for research here and we're really looking forward to sharing our progress. Next week is the final blog post where we'll bring all of the MEGGA-watt? concepts together and introduce you to one of the greatest ideas to come forward in the 21st Century!

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(The Micro-Energy Generating Garage Assembly (MEGGA) by Rene Michalak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License. Based on a work at www.rethinkreddeer.ca. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.foodgarage.ca)
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Part Nine – Patterning the MEGGA-watt?

The driving force behind the MEGGA-watt? Project is rooted in an ethics-based belief that, when it comes to addressing the converging crises of our day, the only decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. If we can all agree on this belief and that we are, according to the Duane Elgin and the global majority, in our "teenage stage" as a human family, then we can find inspiration in the fact that we have all the tools before us to make the necessary changes.

It's always nice to have some instructions when tackling the world's problems because it's really easy to get distracted. Here's a few thinking tools, that when used together, allow us to creatively re-design our environment and our behaviour in a world of less affordable energy and resources:

Each principle can be thought of as a door that opens into whole systems thinking, providing a different perspective that can be understood at varying levels of depth and application. These principles are seen as universal, although the methods used to express them will vary greatly according to the place and situation. They are applicable to our personal, economic, social and political reorganisation.

These principles at work can readily be seen in the Open-Source movement and the concept of open-source ecology:

We have to understand that a modern, comfortable lifestyle relies on a variety of efficient Industrial Machines. If you eat bread, you rely on an Agricultural Combine. If you live in a wood house, you rely on a Sawmill. Each of these machines relies on other machines in order for it to exist. If you distill this complex web of interdependent machines into a reproduceable, simple, closed-loop system, you get this:

You can get all the juicy OSE project details here:

The MEGGA-watt? project shares the same spirit as the OSE project and if we can attract the support (i.e., funding and materials) we can produce a very marketable prototype that will revolutionize local food production in cold temperate climates. But before we make the pitch, let's explain some of the base assumptions that guide this project:

How Much Land Does it Take to Feed One Person? (click the image to enlarge)

backyard_farm

Keep in mind that this graphic is referenced without permaculture design and uses traditional open-loop, waste-producing systems of production and distribution. A little more detailed and sustainable approach is possible in the Phoenix Ecotopia Index.

As mentioned in the first blog, the majority of people in the world now live in urban areas. So we need amenities for sustainable living in the 21st Century (e.g., MEGGA-watt?) without further sacrificing our connection with the natural world. In fact, we need to enhance that relationship simply to heal the damage we've already done to ourselves and to one another. So, how do we move from concrete jungle to urban oasis?

We can start by improving mainstream food growing practices and diversifying into perennial agriculture using permaculture design. As Bill Mollison says, "The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production. Even if on a small scale in our own urban gardens and acreages, if just 10% of us do this there will be enough food for everyone." And the potential for jobs is enormous with plenty of proven, practical examples:

Perennial food forest gardening at the residential scale (urban and peri-urban)
 
Aquaponics and Silviculture at the broad acre (rural)
 

Add to that the tools and machinery made available through the Global Village Construction Set and we have before us a revolution of the likes the world has never seen.

With the awareness and support we've gathered through the Face Your Footprint contest, we're leveraging the momentum of the MEGGA-watt? project through a crowd-funding campaign with WeTheTrees.com. We've also partnered with Power Ecosystems to apply for cogeneration (CHP) research funding to Natural Resources Canada.

But our greatest challenge is still before us in finding the best path forward for meeting existing zoning and licensing with municipalities. Specifically, The City of Red Deer. We will be meeting with the Inspections and Licensing department at the City in early March to assess a realistic timeline and identify the opportunities that MEGGA-watt? presents for meeting municipal sustainability targets. We hope that MEGGA-watt? can be a case study for collaborative citizen engagement in municipal sustainability planning.

Finally, the long-term plan is to learn from the citizen-led actions in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary for establishing municipal Urban Agriculture Strategies, Special Ordinances, and Food Policy Councils. These efforts are positioning urban agriculture as a local economic development generator and a realistic way to help achieve sustainable and resilient communities. We invite you to join us in this adventure and support the project by making a contribution to the campaign. Please visit the WeTheTrees project page for more details (the campaign will start in March):

WeTheTreesThanks for your support in sharing and voting for this project in The Carbon Farmer Contest.

Stay tuned for more details soon!

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(The Micro-Energy Generating Garage Assembly (MEGGA) by Rene Michalak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License. Based on a work at www.rethinkreddeer.ca. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.foodgarage.ca)
 

9 Comments + Add Comment

  • Hi,

      Do you have information on LED lighting frequencies and sources that would be plant useful? The idea is to link with small size wind generators to extend growing season in the North.

    Thanks

    Ed

  • Great series! Thank you. I like the way you are weaving so many permaculture basics into the project example.

  • Don't forget about micro cogeneration – if you're going to be burning something (gas, wood, etc.), may as well cascade uses for a low-energy, high-efficiency system. Get yourself some juicy electricity along with that good ol' heat: steam turbine, reciprocating engine, stirling…

  • Hi Mark, right you are! We're applying for funding to NRCan for combined heat and power generation using biofuels (e.g., recovered oil from restaurants in the area). More on that in part eight!

  • Nice work on the Snorkel Stove. My only concern is that your "simple" heat transfer mechanism may actually be producing an inefficient combustion process by excessively cooling the contact surface of the boiler box and not enabling the fire to be hot enough. Perhaps a bit more insulation around the firebox could improve the performance of the fire itself. Simplicity mightn't be your friend here. :-(

  • Excellent blog you’ve got here.. It’s hard to find quality writing like yours nowadays. I seriously appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!

  • Great series of blogs, really enjoyed reading and you have completely inspired me! Love the idea of the wood fired hot tub. I've just ordered a food grade ibc so am going to set up a similar system to your plants and fish tank. Thanks for the ideas and help!

  • I appreciate you sharing this! I've been looking for someone who does garage door repairs in Edmonton, and this gave me some insight on not only what to look for when choosing someone, but also on some new things I can try with my garage. So far this and http://www.doorsurgeon.com/service-link.php have been the most helpful. Thanks for sharing!

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