Archive for July, 2011

Only Ed has left the building . . .

. . . but he will be back on Monday*

Enjoy the weekend!

*maybe Tuesday . . . Time is relative.

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A Permaculture Farm: The Perennial Revolution of Oikos Tree Crops

A Permaculture Farm: The Perennial Revolution of Oikos Tree Crops

A Michigan permaculture farm defies the agricultural status quo by growing in harmony with nature.

Posted 28 July 2011, by Eran Rhodes, Mother Earth News, motherearthnews.com

Wild mountain yam grows in the forest farm of Oikos Tree Crops.

Hidden within the rolling forested hills and vineyard-covered valleys of southwest Michigan, on the outskirts of a town that embodies rural Midwest culture, is a tiny farm that, if not for the few sturdy hoop-houses, most people would likely not even recognize as a farm.

The property of Oikos Tree Crops, which consists of less than 20 acres, produces a greater diversity of food than any farm I have ever seen, yet from a glance the mostly wooded landscape appears to fit right into its surroundings. The farm is in itself a fully mature food-producing ecosystem.For a long while, I have wondered what permaculture would look like on a larger scale. After spending a long spring working at Oikos, I finally understand — large-scale permaculture is what native peoples of this land would have called, well, everything. Nature has the potential to produce food in abundance. And humans are capable of working with nature in order to make a particular ecosystem easily harvestable — what modern farmers would call “managed.” This is especially true in today’s world where most nature-based farms are started from scratch, using former cornfields or otherwise cleared land.

Such was the case with the land that plant guru Ken Asmus bought in 1980. After moving from his home in Saginaw to attend school in Kalamazoo, Ken decided to buy a small piece of land where he could experiment with planting all kinds of different trees, and start a plant nursery business. Little did he realize that every time he went out to walk the grassy field — shovel in one hand, tree sapling in the other — he was initiating something entirely revolutionary: a new form of agriculture.

I have just completed my first four months of working at Oikos Tree Crops, though it feels like much longer. I got this job because I really wanted it, which I take as a very encouraging sign, given that most of the other things I really want have to do with saving the Earth. In fact, everything about my life this spring has been encouraging — a truly remarkable achievement in a society such as ours, with its constant reminders of things to be depressed about. I mostly attribute this success to the remarkable uniqueness of working with Ken at Oikos.

When I arrived at Oikos, I felt like I was arriving home; fitting, since the word “oikos” translates from Greek to “home.” And now that I am not only an Oikos customer, but also an employee, I can confidently say that my previous suspicions of this being a special place were accurate. The project I was hired to lead has to do mostly with perennial vegetables, or annual fruits and vegetables whose seeds are primarily sourced from wild ancestral varieties: basically, plants that not many people grow, and pretty much no one grows on a large scale.

More than being a successful small-business plant nursery, I view Oikos as the embodiment of the coming revolution — that is, the food revolution that must transpire if humans are to survive and thrive. The small parcel of land is an organically molded, ever-changing sanctuary — a haven for plants that are dying out, or have otherwise been forgotten. At the heart and core of everything Oikos does are the principles of ecological diversity, centered on edible perennial crops.

A stroll through the rolling hills of the narrow property would likely take even someone who knows nothing about identifying plants quite a long time, given the diversity and beauty of the place, and the knowledge that nearly every trees and shrub is producing a perfectly edible crop. The tall grasses waving to the rhythm of the breeze, tickling the trunks of the abundant trees and shrubs would tantalize even the most satisfied urbanite into confessing to the unparalleled grace of nature.

Unlike other plant sanctuaries or plant conservation organizations, every plant that Ken grows is for the purpose of being spread around, shared, and planted in as many different places as possible. He has no sense of ownership over plants, over nature — a truly remarkable feat considering that Oikos Tree Crops is his livelihood.

The Oikos Tree Crops landscape is, in a sense, complete. There are a plethora of nut trees: pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, hickories, buckeyes and, of course, oaks. There is just about every fruit or berry tree, shrub, vine or crawling groundcover imaginable: nannyberry, bearberry, buffaloberry, snowberry, thimbleberry, and berry much more! And for every type of tree or bush or vine, numerous varieties. The main food staple that has been missing from the food forest is perennial vegetables.

Besides all the wild edibles that grow as weeds around the property, such as dandelions, clover, plantain, nettles, asparagus, among many others, we are now propagating dozens of other edible plants that can become like weeds, and grow on their own, either as perennials, or by self-seeding. Ken does not follow the general public’s fear of weeds — utilizing and working with nature’s abundant diversity, he has never had one weed take over completely. Even plants such as the autumn olive berry or scotch broom, that have caused so many farmers grief, Ken welcomes and embraces into his plant community, fully knowing that they are filling a specific niche within the ecosystem.

Wild varieties of squashes and melons are growing on their own out in the fields, and will hopefully spread on their own in the coming years. Earth peas with their exploding pods will become a permanent edible legume. Perennial wheat and other grasses with edible seeds will slowly replace the aggressive bindweed. Tubers, such as Jerusalem artichokes, groundnuts, chufa, oca, wild mountain yams and others are all thriving. We even have a wild variety of crabgrass that originates in Russia, and we cultivate the seeds for food. We have dozens of perennial salad greens, quinoa (a close relative of the common weed lamb’s-quarters), rhubarb, and even tomatoes and peppers. All these and many more will add to an ecosystem that feeds us, and allows for conditions in which the rest of the wildlife in the area can co-exist, thriving together with us in harmony.

And more than simply providing abundant food and an example of a new form of agriculture, at Oikos we save all the seeds from every plant we grow. We propagate these seeds, and distribute the plants, so that edible “weeds” can take over everywhere.

Our model would be the perfect homestead system for anyone interested in truly living off the land with minimal tilling. The food forest environment allows ample space for livestock as well, or the occasional “harvest” of some of the abundant wildlife that makes its home here.I see Ken Asmus as a visionary who’s way ahead of his time, though he won’t admit it. In fact, Ken tends to shy away from anything that might resemble being political. His modesty is an inspiration. Ironically, I view the entire Oikos operation as being one of the most radical acts of rebellion and revolution I have ever seen (and I have been around my fair share of gung-ho political activists). What can possibly be more political than defying the destructive food system that seems to have such a strong hold of this country?

Industrial food production has become something so removed from nature, with its mono-cultures, its mass tilling, irrigating, spraying, genetic engineering, manipulating and owning.

I have already learned so many valuable lessons during my time at Oikos. Every day I am introduced to new plants that, even though I have farming experience, I never knew existed. I am thankful to be working here, and I am thankful that you, by reading this, are taking part in the revolution.

To find out more about what plants we are growing, check out the Oikos Tree Crops website and the Oikos Tree Crops Facebook page, where there are lots of pictures of different perennial vegetables.</p?


Eran Rhodes is an aspiring author, and is currently working on starting an edible landscaping initiative in Chicago. Email him at cub21@hotmail.com.

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Designing a mushroom death suit

Designing a mushroom death suit

Posted 20 July 2011, by Alison George,  New Scientist (Reed Business Information Ltd.), newscientist.com

(Image: James Duncan Davidson/TED)

Artist and inventor Jae Rhim Lee has come up with an unusual way to confront our attitudes about death. At the TEDGlobal conference last week, she talked to New Scientist about the flesh-eating Infinity Mushroom she’s trying to cultivate.

Tell me about the Infinity Burial Project that you’re working on?
I am interested in cultural death denial, and why we are so distanced from our bodies, and especially how death denial leads to funeral practices that harm the environment – using formaldehyde and pink make-up and all that to make your loved one look vibrant and alive, so that you can imagine they’re just sleeping rather than actually dead. The US government recently upgraded formaldehyde from a probable carcinogen to a known carcinogen, so by trying to preserve the body we poison the living.

So I was thinking, what is the antidote to that? For me the answer was this mushroom – the Infinity Mushroom. It is a symbol of a new way of thinking about death.

What exactly is an Infinity Mushroom?
I thought I could train a toxin-cleaning edible mushroom to eat my body. These mushrooms, which usually grow on wood and decaying material in the forest, can be trained to grow on pretty much any organic material and break it down. So I started collecting my hair, nails and skin so I could pick the best mushrooms to become Infinity Mushrooms, to recognise and eat my body after I die.

Do the mushrooms like your offcasts? Are they thriving?
Yes, so far. They’re growing. Both the cultivation of this mushroom and the process of collecting my hair and skin are about overcoming my squeamishness. It’s like if you find a piece of your hair in your soup, there’s a kind of uncanny moment – so part of the process of working with these mushrooms is confronting that.

What kind of mushrooms are you using?
Right now I’m working with shiitake and oyster mushrooms.

Have you got a lab to do this in?
I have my own little DIY lab. I made a glovebox out of plastic storage boxes, and it all kind of works. You don’t need thousands of dollars worth of equipment to do this. My lab is a white tarp tent, it’s just a simple space, and it’s in my home.

Why a mushroom? Why not a worm?
It could have been a worm. But I felt that mushrooms were special because I found out that they clean up environment toxins in soil. There’s no single mushroom that kills all environmental toxins, but they cover a lot of ground.

What also started it was the mycologist Paul Stamets who I studied with. He is kind of the grandfather of people who work with mushrooms. He talks about the mushroom as being the interface organism between life and death, that mushrooms are the master decomposers. So what better organism to work with?

You gave your talk at the TED conference last week wearing your mushroom death suit. How does the suit work?
It’s basically a fitted organic cotton suit with a crocheted netting on top in a pattern resembling the growth of mushroom mycelium, and the netting is where the Infinity Mushroom spores will initially grow. I’m thinking it might not actually work, because mushroom spores are hard to grow outside of petri dishes. So the next thing I’m thinking of is using gelatin as, basically, a second skin. As it dissolves it provides start-up ingredients for growth.

Do you have to be buried to use this death suit?
I imagine the mushroom suit being used above ground but covered.

Could you do animal tests?
Yes, I have some expired meat in my freezer and I’m going to try that.

In your talk you said that some people had volunteered to try out a mushroom death suit after their death?
They’re not officially signed up, they expressed an interest. A number of people here [at TED] have also come up to me and asked about this. I think that’s another step: when you actually sign up and place an order. It requires another level of acceptance about death.

Your talk was very amusing, but I sense there was a something rather deep underlying it?
It’s the idea that somehow death acceptance is needed for environmental stewardship. All the industrial toxins we emit into the atmosphere and the soil become part of our bodies. That is difficult to accept because it means we are also physical beings, animals, who will die and decay.

Do you think that one day lots of people will have their own mushroom death suits?
That’s the hope. I think of this in steps, and the next step is to get this to actually work… but it’s something people could adopt on a wider scale. I fully acknowledge that this requires a cultural shift towards an acceptance of death and decomposition.

 

http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/culturelab/2011/07/designing-a-mushroom-death-suit.html

How to make solar power 24/7

How to make solar power 24/7

MIT team designs concentrated solar thermal system that could store heat in vats of molten salts, supplying constant power.

 

Posted 29 July 2011, by David L. Chandler, MIT News (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), web.mit.edu

 

The biggest hurdle to widespread implementation of solar power is the fact that the sun doesn’t shine constantly in any given place, so backup power systems are needed for nights and cloudy days. But a novel system designed by researchers at MIT could finally overcome that problem, delivering steady power 24/7.

The basic concept is one that has been the subject of much research: using a large array of mirrors to focus sunlight on a central tower. This approach delivers high temperatures to heat a substance such as molten salt, which could then heat water and turn a generating turbine. But such tower-based concentrated solar power (CSP) systems require expensive pumps and plumbing to transport molten salt and transfer heat, making them difficult to successfully commercialize — and they generally only work when the sun is shining.

Instead, Alexander Slocum and a team of researchers at MIT have created a system that combines heating and storage in a single tank, which would be mounted on the ground instead of in a tower. The heavily insulated tank would admit concentrated sunlight through a narrow opening at its top, and would feature a movable horizontal plate to separate the heated salt on top from the colder salt below. (Salts are generally used in such systems because of their high capacity for absorbing heat and their wide range of useful operating temperatures.) As the salt heated over the course of a sunny day, this barrier would gradually move lower in the tank, accommodating the increasing volume of hot salt. Water circulating around the tank would get heated by the salt, turning to steam to drive a turbine whenever the power is needed.

The plan, detailed in a paper published in the journal Solar Energy, would use an array of mirrors spread across a hillside, aimed to focus sunlight on the top of the tank of salt below. The system could be “cheap, with a minimum number of parts,” says Slocum, the Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT and lead author of the paper. Reflecting the system’s 24/7 power capability, it is called CSPonD (for Concentrated Solar Power on Demand).

The new system could also be more durable than existing CSP systems whose heat-absorbing receivers cool down at night or on cloudy days. “It’s the swings in temperature that cause [metal] fatigue and failure,” Slocum says. The traditional way to address temperature swings, he says: “You have to way oversize” the system’s components. “That adds cost and reduces efficiency.”

The team analyzed two potential sites for CSPonD on hillsides near White Sands, N.M., and China Lake, Calif. By beaming concentrated sunlight toward large tanks of sodium-potassium nitrate salt — each measuring 25 meters across and five meters deep — two installations could each provide 20 megawatts of electricity 24/7, which is enough to supply about 20,000 homes. The systems could store enough heat, accumulated over 10 sunny days, to continue generating power through one full cloudy day.

While exact costs are difficult to estimate at this early stage of research, an analysis using standard software developed by the U.S. Department of Energy suggests costs between seven and 33 cents per kilowatt-hour. At the lower end, that rate could be competitive with conventional power sources.

The team has carried out small-scale tests of CSPonD’s performance, but its members say larger tests will be needed to refine the engineering design for a full-scale powerplant. They hope to produce a 20- to 100-kilowatt demonstration system to test the performance of their tank, which in operation would reach temperatures in excess of 500 degrees Celsius.

The biggest challenge, Slocum says, is that “it’s going to take a company with long-term vision to say, ‘Let’s try something really different and fundamentally simple that really could make a difference.'”

Most of the individual elements of the proposed system — with the exception of mirror arrays positioned on hillsides — have been suggested or tested before, Slocum says. What this team has done is essentially an “assemblage and simplification of known elements,” Slocum says. “We did not have to invent any new physics, and we’re not using anything that’s not already proven” in other applications.

Gershon Grossman, who holds the Sherman-Gilbert Chair in Energy at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, says this approach “includes several innovative CSP concepts.” But, he adds, “the main advantage of this system is its ability to deliver power continuously, unlike other CSP systems, which are affected by clouds. This work is innovative and is expected to make a significant contribution” to the industry, he says.

Slocum emphasizes that this approach is not intended to replace other ways of harvesting solar energy, but rather to provide another alternative that may be best in certain situations and locations. Playing on the familiar saying about rising tides, he adds, “A rising sun can illuminate all energy harvesters.”

 

http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/concentrated-solar-0729.html

Montana launches $85 million carbon storage project

 

Montana launches $85 million carbon storage project

 

Posted 29 July 2011, by Laura Zuckerman, Reuters (Thomson Reuters), reuters.com

 

(Reuters) – The federal government has given final approval to an $85 million, eight-year pilot project to inject a million tons of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, into underground rock formations in Montana for storage.

The Montana State University project seeks to determine whether carbon dioxide emissions from sources such as coal-fired power plants and cement production can be safely and economically captured and stored instead of being released into the atmosphere.

The Big Sky Sequestration Project comes as the U.S. Energy Department is underwriting numerous carbon capture and storage experiments aimed at reducing greenhouse gas output associated with climate change, government officials said in a statement on Tuesday.

In Montana, geologists have targeted Kevin Dome, a subterranean rock formation in the north-central part of the state that stretches for 700 square miles (1,800 sq km) and has trapped naturally occurring carbon dioxide for millions of years, said Lee Spangler, director of the carbon project and associate vice president of research for the university.

Spangler said the formation featured porous rock that would admit gas pumped in from the surface, topped by nonporous rocks that should keep the gas contained.

Development of the site, which includes drilling of injection wells, should be under way this week, with storage of the gas slated to begin in two years.

Scientists intend to monitor carbon dioxide levels to ensure the gas was not escaping and to gauge its effects on surrounding rock and water, Spangler said.

While a million tons of carbon dioxide represents just a fraction of the 7 billion tons the United States emits annually, the Montana site has the potential to store as much as a billion tons of the gas, he said.

The Montana-based project is not the largest of its kind but is vital to assessing whether such regional capture facilities are viable, Spangler said.

“The estimates of storage capacity are very generous,” he said of the dome.

With the high cost of converting carbon dioxide to other uses, research in recent years has focused on capturing and storing heat-trapping gas emissions, Spangler said.

The Montana project relies on $67 million in federal funds and $18 million in matching funds provided mostly by private partners. Those include oil and gas exploration firms like Vecta Oil and Gas, SR2020 Inc and Schlumberger.

Carbon capture and sequestration projects have not proved viable for public utilities in the absence of economic incentives, Spangler said.

Earlier this month, American Electric Power Co, one of the nation’s largest power plant operators, cited the government’s failure to put a price on emissions in its decision to shelve plans to capture carbon dioxide output from a coal-burning plant in West Virginia.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner and Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/29/idUS369493839220110729

 

 

Study: Losses persist in protected areas

 

Study: Losses persist in protected areas

 

Posted 28 July 2011, by Staff, United Press International (UPI), upi.com

UNITED NATIONS, July 28 (UPI) — Loss of global biodiversity can’t be stopped with the current strategy of setting aside land and marine territories as “protected areas,” U.N. researchers say.

An assessment published Thursday in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series says biodiversity is in steep decline despite impressively rapid growth of protected land and marine areas worldwide, now numbering more than 100,000 and covering 6.5 million square miles of land and 0.7 million square miles of ocean.

Human population growth and consumption will impose an unsustainable toll on Earth’s resources and accelerate the rate at which biodiversity is being lost, a release from the United Nations University said.

“Biodiversity is humanity’s life-support system, delivering everything from food, to clean water and air, to recreation and tourism, to novel chemicals that drive our advanced civilization,” lead study author Camilo Mora of the of University of Hawaii at Manoa said. “Yet there is an increasingly well-documented global trend in biodiversity loss, triggered by a host of human activities.”

Expanded designation of protected areas may not be sufficient, researchers say.

“Protected areas are very useful conservation tools, but unfortunately, the steep continuing rate of biodiversity loss signals the need to reassess our heavy reliance on this strategy,” said Peter F. Sale of the United Nations University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

“Our study shows that the international community is faced with a choice between two paths,” Sale said. “One option is to continue a narrow focus on creating more protected areas with little evidence that they curtail biodiversity loss. That path will fail.

“The other path requires that we get serious about addressing the growth in size and consumption rate of our global population.”

© 2011 United Press International, Inc.

http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2011/07/28/Study-Losses-persist-in-protected-areas/UPI-58271311895390/

Adding Canada to the list of international biosphere visitors

Adding Canada to the list of international biosphere visitors

Posted 28 July 2011, by Staff, My Sunshine Coast Life, mysunshinecoast.com.au

The Manicouagan biosphere reserve in Quebec, Canada was the 10th international biosphere to officially visit the Noosa biosphere reserve since created by UNESCO in 2007.

Marie-Pierre Clavette, Project Manager for the Manicouagan biosphere reserve in Quebec, Canada was in Australia last week for the World Environment Education Conference held in Brisbane and travelled specifically to the Noosa biosphere reserve for a side study tour.

According to Ms Clavette the Manicouagan biosphere reserve is a stunning natural landscape created by a meteorite impact in the province of Quebec eons ago and now a wildlife sanctuary of magnificent proportions.

Ben McMullen from Noosa Biosphere Ltd, along with Michael Donovan Chair of Noosa Biosphere Ltd, spent the afternoon touring the region and exchanging information with Ms Clavette.

“It was very valuable to hear how the Canadian Government have developed a participation program with other biosphere reserve management agencies and organisations in that country,” said Mr McMullen.

“It was also encouraging to hear how well known the Noosa biosphere reserve is becoming overseas, this is the fourth visit to Noosa by officials from other biospheres this month which illustrates strong interest in Noosa.

“It is very important for Noosa’s ongoing development as a place for learning and sustainable development that we establish and maintain productive working relationships with other biospheres from across the globe.”

Michael Donovan, Chair of Noosa Biosphere Ltd said that the Noosa Biosphere has an understanding with UNESCO to assist any other biosphere in their efforts through knowledge exchange and working together to achieve common goals.

“The Noosa biosphere reserve has also been working closely with a Hawaiian group on their submission to UNESCO for a Volcano region in Hawaii to be included in the global register of some 550+ biospheres,” said Mr Donovan.

“The recent recognition of Noosa biosphere reserve by UNESCO for our Climate Action Program just published has created additional interest in Noosa from across the global biosphere family.”

More information about Manicouagan biosphere reserve: www.rmbmu.com/eng/
More information on Noosa biosphere reserve: www.noosabiosphere.org.au

http://www.mysunshinecoast.com.au/articles/article-display/adding-canada-to-the-list-of-international-biosphere-visitors,22404