Yesterday I watched Portland mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith’s eyebrows raise as a longtime Portland Purple Water customer explained that despite the hot summer, she has yet to draw any city water for her large vegetable garden. She still has water left in her rainwater harvesting system.
“Imagine,” I said to Mr. Smith, “what we could have done with the 1.5 billion dollars we spent on the Big Pipe Project.” Talk about spending wisely on infrastructure, rainwater harvesting is a win, win, win, win, win situation. I’ll explain the wins.
1) It removes a small portion of stormwater from our overtaxed stormwater system. It also slows the rate that water flows through our stormwater system and provides prefiltration– reducing both public and private long term stormwater system maintenance costs.
2) It elongates the benefit of the precipitation event. It is critically important with clay soil to keep them moist so that intermittent rains will soak into the subsurface rather than create runoff conditions.
3) Rainwater harvesting creates awareness and understanding which lead to personal responsibility for water use. My opinion based on my experience is that people want to be water wise. We instinctually know how critically important water is. In this region and with our reliable municipal water systems we just aren’t reminded about the extreme challenges of living without it. But why should we need to use up all that we have before we remember this lesson?
4) Plants benefit from rainwater. Municipal water is not designed for plants or flushing toilets or washing cars. It is designed to kill aggressive bacteria which could make you sick or dead if you consume them. Municipal water is anti-microbial. Microbes are critically importing in soils for breaking down organic matter into available nutrients. Rainwater, on the other hand, won’t sanitize your soil.
5) Rainwater harvesting reduces water draw during peak demand. Summertime water capacities are needed for fish and crops. We’d like some for our gardens and our landscaped properties, but is it necessary to transport water from other watersheds for this purpose? Why not catch it where it falls and hold it for awhile until we need it most?
There are very few people about anymore who will dispute that rainwater harvesting is a wise and useful practice. Perhaps most can’t quite define why it’s a worthwhile pursuit, but they know that it is. Why then are we not getting behind it? Don’t say cost… because remember, we were willing to spend 1.5 billion dollars on a larger version of the same old technology that had failed us… a bigger pipe. Before we outgrow the new pipe, let’s spend the next 1.5 billion dollars on rainwater harvesting.
I live in Monmouth Or. I appreciate your hard work and advancement in the area of aquaponics. I am interested in what you guys are doing at st Johns I am going to try to come out and support you on the 2nd.
I am interested in your project as well but I do not feel like your video or project description gave much meat to how your going to accomplish this and what end product and cost will be.
My interest is two fold feeding my family and empowering people to be fed (without poisoning them or sending them into financial instability) even in economic instablility and world crisis.
Feel free to call me
Thanks for reaching out to me. You’re right, there isn’t much meat in the video. It was very difficult for me to make because I’m not an editor and well, it’s difficult to make a video, and because the project has some complexity to it. So I approached this challenge trying to appeal to a broad audience (not necessarily just the sustainable food or aquaponics people) because the greenhouse will impact a larger community than just the aquapons. I didn’t feel like I could/should avoid mentioning the food/water crises that we are experiencing and yet I knew that I couldn’t go into any depth about these issues. I also knew that the nuts and bolts, the science, and the operating philosophy would be unfamiliar territory to most. So, I’m not surprised that someone from the aquaponics community would have some questions, because this community knows something about the importance of food security and the challenges in, as you perfectly put it, “feeding my family and empowering people to be fed (without poisoning them or sending them into financial instability) even in economic instability and world crisis.” And, that is absolutely what we are trying to accomplish with our dynamic little greenhouse project
Here’s some meat:
With the modeling software that we developed we’ve calculated that we can provide 84% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of 30 people on just 7500 square feet. This is unheard of. Biointensive gardening methods, the work of John Jeavons, is maximized by David Duhon in his book One Circle to provide a complete diet on 1400 square feet for women and about 1600 square feet for men. By comparison, we expect to use just 250 square feet per person while providing a more diverse vegetable diet than Duhon’s… and fish! Most of the remaining nutrition needed for our CSA members would come from their own purchases of their choosing, we suggest primarily rice and wheat flour and a few other key food items. We know that the final 16% of RDI can and will be reduced in time and produced onsite, especially with the establishment of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and cereal grains. This idea of growing for total nutritional requirements is an operating philosophy which is unique. Consider how you plant your own garden. I know that for mine I always go heavy with the tomatoes. So my garden yield exceeds my usage. I get lazy about harvesting them and some invariably rot on the vine. This is pretty typical, it’s a waste of resources and truthfully the tomatoes aren’t a significant source of my required nutrients– I just like how they taste. Our operating philosophy is also different from the typical food grower’s mentality where one would grow what sells for the most money at market. We could choose to grow foods which maximize the profitability of the system. But if we do this, if we produce nothing but salad greens and fresh herbs, where will our customers get their calcium? Where will they get their calories? Immediately we’re right back into our modern industrialized monoculture food system. So I think this criterion, Grow what you need, is critically important within the definition of a sustainable food system. Maybe it is the definition of a sustainable food system. And, we’re really close to achieving it.
Our greenhouse is a power plant that grows plants. How much power can it produce? 80 multifunctional photovoltaic panels will provide 8.4kW of power production. These specially constructed PV panels are also part of the lighting control as well as the heating and cooling system. We will be using multiple methods for producing electricity. We have steady winds and are situated near to the river. Through our friend Franz Schreier, we have access to German technology which optimizes multiple electrical inputs to a battery bank and manages the draw from that bank.
Our greenhouse is built to last. We’re looking for long term sustainability. There’s no sense in expending energy and resources for tools or materials that need to be replaced after a few years. Therefore the materials in our greenhouse are chosen to last for many generations. We’re trying to make material expenditures which pay off. The only way to do this is to make sure the finished greenhouse has no further material expenses for many, many years and has an extremely low or preferably negative carbon operating cost. Maybe to say it best, our greenhouse has a recoverable carbon cost. Our greenhouse does have a negative carbon operating cost because the plants process volumes of CO2 and because the solar panels provide the bulk of our energy. The materials that we’ve chosen do have relatively light carbon footprints to begin with. The best example of this is F-Clean ETFE greenhouse glazing. This material is UV inert and extremely durable so it won’t break down with continued exposure to the elements including the Sun’s harmful rays. This means that unlike polyethylene films and polycarbonate panels it won’t need to be replaced. It’s far lighter than glass and it won’t break. So we can create snow and wind load resistance with far less supportive materials. It also is more translucent than any other glazing material, so it allows more light penetration into the greenhouse, allowing for the best possible growing conditions in winter.
Finally, aquaponics. We believe that aquaponics is a critical tool for sustainable food production. Life on this planet is sustained through give and take. Any species which takes from their resources without allowing for the replenishment of those resources will fail. A balanced ecosystem sustains itself, that is, there is a balance between the give and the take. Aquaponics, as we see it, is about creating and maintaining the balance within a contained ecosystem. Plants get harvested at a certain age, so do the fish, but the system remains in balance through careful planting plans and harvesting schedules. In maintaining these rhythms, we provide for our own resource requirements as we balance the system. Let me try to sum up some further benefits within some bullet points (each of which could be a chapter in a book— or at least their own blog)
- Fish are buoyant and nutritious
- Nutrient losses are minimized
- The aquaponics system as thermal balancing and distribution element
- Soluble nutrients are ideal for plant absorption
- Nutrient cycling equals BSF divided amongst insectivores
- Water: unrivaled availability, maximum efficiency
- Oxygen makes plants happy
- Harvesting and operation are “tolerable” labor
Maybe my favorite reason: Aquaponics is honestly organic. As you know, herbicides and pesticides will kill the beneficial microbes and fish in the system. So you don’t need labels to tell you that most of the time your farmer didn’t use poisons. I’m a label reader and a former food producer but I get fatigued by labels because there’s always new “food ingredient” tricks designed to fool me. Just eat from an aquaponics system. You can trust aquaponics.
What about affordability? Well, I can’t help but think of a quote from Kurt Vonnegut: “We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap.” This sounds harsh, but isn’t it right on target? Let me just soften his words by saying that our Aquaponics Integrated Food Energy and Water system is money well spent and in the right direction.
So, there you go Von, some meat. Thanks for asking. And, sincerely, thank you for your pledge.
If you’re interested in even more “meat” please do join us for our event with Portland Mayoral Candidate Jefferson Smith. We’ll have more information on our aquaponic integrated food and energy system, lay it out so we can have a sense of scale. We’ll be able to bring these questions, concerns and ideas to a key public figure. We hope to see you there.
Portland Purple Water
On my mind today? Evolution of the human species. If I had a wish it would be that humans would begin to evolve as a species toward one which places more value on wisdom than knowledge.
Wisdom is the proper application of knowledge vetted through experience. Ze Frank and Rainn Wilson discuss how the human brain literally grows into its wisdom capability here (it’s at about the 1:45 mark). So that’s well said. Human beings, as a species, are acting like teenagers who literally can’t access their cerebral cortex. This needs to change. One of the advantages of wisdom over knowledge is that, we can avoid painful issues with proper planning based on our past experience. We are failing on this at all fronts.
Of course we have heard of drought and famine before. This article today reminds me of a famous quote by R.E. Dixon in 1937, well within the throes of the Dust Bowl. “Don’t pray for rain if you aren’t prepared to take care of what you get.” What have we done to ensure that our Midwestern crops can withstand the cycles of drought which are known to impact the region? Our answer had been pumping groundwater. We’ve drilled thousands of wells into the Oglalla Aquifer drawing up more than can be replaced. But, forget about the fact that this is not sustainable. Has this worked? This summer reminds us, no. “Monday’s crop ratings showed losses on par with the damage seen during the 1988 drought if these conditions persist,” said Bryce Knorr, senior editor for Farm Futures Magazine. “Weather so far has taken almost 4 billion bushels off the corn crop, so a lot of demand must still be rationed.”
Rationing corn… how about rationing water? After all, isn’t that all that rainwater harvesting is? Setting aside some for tomorrow. That seems… wise.
I am very pleased and honored to represent EBF and AGC Green-Tech Co. at the
Food Production and Environmental Stewardship's Greenhouse Crop Production
and Engineering Design Short Course shortcourse. Many of you are already
aware of Portland Purple Water's work with EBF on Franz Schreier's
Aquaponics Solar Greenhouse. This is the first time that Schreier's design
and collected technologies are being presented to a collected group of
greenhouse industry professionals. I'm looking forward to meeting industry
leaders and excited for the week ahead.
Finally, some good news to report regarding our water systems here in the United States!
On February 29, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced the creation of a new National Water Trails System. The system is intended to “increase access to water-based outdoor recreation, encourage community stewardship of local waterways, and promote tourism that fuels local economies.”
“Rivers, lakes, and other waterways are the lifeblood of our communities, connecting us to our environment, our culture, our economy, and our way of life,” Salazar said. “The new National Water Trail System will help fulfill President Obama’s vision for healthy and accessible rivers as we work to restore and conserve our nation’s treasured waterways.”
The Chattahoochee River Water Trail in Georgia will be the first to be designated under the new system. With each designation, signage, technical assistance and resources will be provided to build on and promote the development of quality water trails. With this, water trails will become great examples and catalysts for restoring other local waterways in the community!
"The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of
a comfortable living from a small piece of land." Abraham Lincoln Who are we to argue with Abe? Aquaponics is FINE ART!
Seven days left to sign up for our workshop: Aquaponics for Everyone.
A few spaces remain, sign up today. Sugar Snap Pea (with friends!) update: 39 days
We humbly offer you an alternative to this horrifying possibility. Portland Purple Water was founded by Jason Garvey who has vast past experience as a poultry commodities trader and can personally attest to the nightmarish inner workings of industrial food production. For him, this chicken matrix isn’t that hard to imagine.
Food’s first function is as nourishment, but within Industrial Food Production profit is always placed before consideration of and for the end user. That means that you and your well-being, my Water Ninjas, are less important to the Industrial Food Industry than the difference between what you will pay for food-type products versus what those food-type products costs to make. This frankenchicken production facility design presents an amazing opportunity for the Dollar Menu-aires. Cost of production just fell by a significant percentage either boosting profits or passing some of that savings onto the end user (thereby making it difficult to consider purchasing healthier options). Is it possible that the Half-dollar Menu is just right around the corner?
So… you could take advantage of the Dollar Menu-aires potential new windfall and place a call to your stockbroker to buy some shares… but, better yet why not make an investment in yourself? Opt out of the Industrial Food Production machine. Come learn about aquaponics, learn how to grow your own highly nutritious food, anywhere. Aquaponics??? Sounds complicated. Not sure you can do it? What are you, chicken?
What’s on my mind? Well… we had an amazing presentation last evening by our friend Franz Schreier. Attendees learned that, as it turns out, the future of food production is here now. Check it out: Food and Energy
Then, this morning, I came across this quote in How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons: “The homegrown tomato requires no fuel in its transport, no packaging will be sent to the landfill, no political decisions about who will be allowed to work the fields or what level of pollutants is acceptable in our groundwater.” Yep, I agree, that’s exactly what I’ve recently concluded as well. Nice to have a master like Jeavons confirm my thoughts. Finally, here is sugar snap pea update at 36 days (with friends in the foreground).
Ok, my water ninjas… now it’s your turn… Aquaponics for Everyone.