Monday, March 24, 2008

Urban Ag: The Buzz

If it's not landscaping on buildings or ecologically planning communities around the globe, it must be the buzz-concept of Urban Agriculture - and it's had a lot of press lately. A lot of press. And deservedly so - as the new face(s) of agriculture seem to be collecting into teeming masses with some traction towards big changes. Rather than focus on the new press, let's starting with an art/ag piece from a few years ago, 'Not a Cornfield' by Los Angeles based artist Lauren Bon.




:: image via Not a Cornfield

"Not A Cornfield is a living sculpture in the form of a field of corn. The corn itself, a powerful icon for millennia over large parts of Central America and beyond, can serve as a potent metaphor for those of us living in this unique megalopolis. This work follows a rich legacy of radical art during the 20th century on a grand scale. I intend this to be an event that aims at giving focus for reflection and action in a city unclear about where it's energetic and historical center is. With this project I have undertaken to clean 32 acres of brownfield and bring in more than 1,500 truck loads of earth from elsewhere in order to prepare this rocky and mixed terrain for the planting of a million seeds. This art piece redeems a lost fertile ground, transforming what was left from the industrial era into a renewed space for the public. ... By bringing attention to this site throughout the Not A Cornfield process we will also bring forth many questions about the nature of urban public space, about historical parks in a city so young and yet so diverse. About the questions of whose history would a historical park in the city center actually describe, and about the politics of land use and it's incumbent inequities. Indeed, "Not A Cornfield" is about these very questions, polemics, arguments and discoveries. It is about redemption and hope. It is about the fallibility of words to create productive change. Artists need to create on the same scale that society has the capacity to destroy.”

These ephemeral installations are great opportunities to both occupy blighted lands as well as the ability to reconnect residents to their agricultural pasts. A Portland project endeavoring to identify urban agriculture opportunities is the Diggable City, which identified available lands within the city for production. As I have mentioned previously, the opportunities to occupy available lands in urban areas for agriculture (on land, rooftop, and perhaps even facade) is a great multi-functional chance to provide self-sufficiency and interpretation.

As far as buzz goes, the terminology zipping around the, for lack of a better pun, crop circles - includes a number of new members of the agri-lexicon. One of my favorites is locavore, and a variant, the "100-mile diet" were recently profiled on Treehugger in a great post: "Green Basics: Local Food"


:: image via Treehugger

The post is worth a close read, and also has links to a number of local food resources. While we often use these terms, it's good to re-evaluate the ecological values embodied in the concept. The article adds: "The concept is also defined in terms of ecology, where food production is considered from the perspective of a basic ecological unit defined by its climate, soil, watershed, species and local agrisystems; everything together is defined as as "ecoregion" or "foodshed."

Ah, a couple of other terms, one that is getting much use is "foodshed". A new term, right? Well, not exactly. Adapted from the ecological concept of watershed, the term was coined in 1929 to: "...describe the flow of food from the area where it is grown into the place where it is consumed." (via Wisconsin Foodshed Research Project). The exact radius varies for the distance of acceptable food miles traveled, but just for kicks, strike a 100 mile circle around your house, and consume from just this area. Now do this in Houston - or Phoenix - or Fargo. It is possible, but not necessarily easy.


:: image via Treehugger

Another term that was pointed out to me in a comment to previous post involving the significant carbon sequestration potential in soils. The latest term picked up recently by Treehugger, involves biochar (aka agrichar, terra preta) not just for Simply put it is: "...what you get when biomass is heated in the absence of oxygen through a process called pyrolysis. When incorporated into soil, biochar provides the structural habitat needed for a rich community of micro-organisms to take hold. Incorporating biochar into soil can also act as a way to sequester carbon."

What's the big deal? Again, multi-functional solutions. (via Treehugger): "Biochar is a classic win-win scenario, a solution that can provide us with a valuable tool for fighting climate change, world hunger, poverty, and energy shortages all at the same time." A number of new initiatives are capitalizing on the phenomenon, including the International Biochar Initiative and the Biochar Fund, both with some great additional resources.



:: image via Biochar Fund

Finally, let's marry a couple of buzz-concepts - urban agriculture and vertical greening. A different scale than some of the featured rooftop ag gardens, this project preceded a multi-part post on My Urban Garden Deco Guide and the companion site 'My Urban Farm' as blogger Anne Robert bemoans the lack of aesthetics in the new wave of planters focussed around Grow Your Own veggies as new urban trend. One exception is a previous post on 'Salad Bar' which provides a new vision for facade-grown veggies in a more refined container.


:: image via Turf Design

Now that is tasty!

6 comments:

  1. thx ! yep indeed it is quite a buzz : but not just in the green eco friendly community: the ultra trendy UK magazine wallpaper dedicated a whole paper on AGRICOOL and married urb farming ...with fashion brands a la Prada!
    But I am still waiting to see elite designers come up with cool designs that will put GYO in every magazine and help us really get GYO off the ground!
    Spread the SOS!

    Anne from My Urban Farm.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Incase you wish to do a follow up story here are the current news and links on Terra Preta (TP) soils and closed-loop pyrolysis of Biomass, this integrated virtuous cycle could sequester 100s of Billions of tons of carbon to the soils.

    This technology represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.Terra Preta Soils a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.


    UN Climate Change Conference: Biochar present at the Bali Conference

    http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/steinerbalinov2107



    SCIAM Article May 15 07;

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=5670236C-E7F2-99DF-3E2163B9FB144E40



    After many years of reviewing solutions to anthropogenic global warming (AGW) I believe this technology can manage Carbon for the greatest collective benefit at the lowest economic price, on vast scales. It just needs to be seen by ethical globally minded companies.

    Could you please consider looking for a champion for this orphaned Terra Preta Carbon Soil Technology.

    The main hurtle now is to change the current perspective held by the IPCC that the soil carbon cycle is a wash, to one in which soil can be used as a massive and ubiquitous Carbon sink via Charcoal. Below are the first concrete steps in that direction;

    S.1884 – The Salazar Harvesting Energy Act of 2007

    A Summary of Biochar Provisions in S.1884:

    Carbon-Negative Biomass Energy and Soil Quality Initiative

    for the 2007 Farm Bill

    http://www.biochar-international.org/newinformationevents/newlegislation.html



    Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.
    Potential Carbon Emissions Reductions from Biomass by 2030by Ralph P. Overend, Ph.D. and Anelia Milbrandt
    National Renewable Energy Laboratory

    http://www.ases.org/climatechange/toc/07_biomass.pdf

    The organization 25x25 (see 25x'25 - Home) released it's (first-ever, 55-page )"Action Plan" ; see; http://www.25x25.org/storage/25x25/documents/IP%20Documents/ActionPlanFinalWEB_04-19-07.pdf
    On page 29 , as one of four foci for recommended RD&D, the plan lists: "The development of biochar, animal agriculture residues and other non-fossil fuel based fertilizers, toward the end of integrating energy production with enhanced soil quality and carbon sequestration."
    and on p 32, recommended as part of an expanded database aspect of infrastructure: "Information on the application of carbon as fertilizer and existing carbon credit trading systems."

    I feel 25x25 is now the premier US advocacy organization for all forms of renewable energy, but way out in front on biomass topics.



    There are 24 billion tons of carbon controlled by man in his agriculture and waste stream, all that farm & cellulose waste which is now dumped to rot or digested or combusted and ultimately returned to the atmosphere as GHG should be returned to the Soil.

    Even with all the big corporations coming to the GHG negotiation table, like Exxon, Alcoa, .etc, we still need to keep watch as they try to influence how carbon management is legislated in the USA. Carbon must have a fair price, that fair price and the changes in the view of how the soil carbon cycle now can be used as a massive sink verses it now being viewed as a wash, will be of particular value to farmers and a global cool breath of fresh air for us all.

    If you have any other questions please feel free to call me or visit the TP web site I've been drafted to co-administer. http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=node

    It has been immensely gratifying to see all the major players join the mail list , Cornell folks, T. Beer of Kings Ford Charcoal (Clorox), Novozyne the M-Roots guys(fungus), chemical engineers, Dr. Danny Day of EPRIDA , Dr. Antal of U. of H., Virginia Tech folks and probably many others who's back round I don't know have joined.



    Also Here is the Latest BIG Terra Preta Soil news;

    The Honolulu Advertiser: "The nation's leading manufacturer of charcoal has licensed a University of Hawai'i process for turning green waste into barbecue briquets."

    See: http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/antalkingsford


    ConocoPhillips Establishes $22.5 Million Pyrolysis Program at Iowa State
    http://www.conocophillips.com/newsroom/news_releases/2007news/04-10-2007.htm

    Glomalin, the recently discovered soil protien, may be the secret to to TP soils productivity;

    http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2003/030205.htm





    Here is my current Terra Preta posting which condenses the most important stories and links;

    Terra Preta Soils Technology To Master the Carbon Cycle

    Man has been controlling the carbon cycle , and there for the weather, since the invention of agriculture, all be it was as unintentional, as our current airliner contrails are in affecting global dimming. This unintentional warm stability in climate has over 10,000 years, allowed us to develop to the point that now we know what we did,............ and that now......... we are over doing it.

    The prehistoric and historic records gives a logical thrust for soil carbon sequestration.
    I wonder what the soil biome carbon concentration was REALLY like before the cutting and burning of the world's forest, my guess is that now we see a severely diminished community, and that only very recent Ag practices like no-till and reforestation have started to help rebuild it. It makes implementing Terra Preta soil technology like an act of penitence, a returning of the misplaced carbon to where it belongs.

    On the Scale of CO2 remediation:

    It is my understanding that atmospheric CO2 stands at 379 PPM, to stabilize the climate we need to reduce it to 350 PPM by the removal of 230 Billion tons of carbon.

    The best estimates I've found are that the total loss of forest and soil carbon (combined
    pre-industrial and industrial) has been about 200-240 billion tons. Of
    that, the soils are estimated to account for about 1/3, and the vegetation
    the other 2/3.

    Since man controls 24 billion tons in his agriculture then it seems we have plenty to work with in sequestering our fossil fuel CO2 emissions as stable charcoal in the soil.

    As Dr. Lehmann at Cornell points out, "Closed-Loop Pyrolysis systems such as Dr. Danny Day's are the only way to make a fuel that is actually carbon negative". and that " a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions! "

    Terra Preta Soils Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X FertilityToo


    This some what orphaned new soil technology speaks to so many different interests and disciplines that it has not been embraced fully by any. I'm sure you will see both the potential of this system and the convergence needed for it's implementation.

    The integrated energy strategy offered by Charcoal based Terra Preta Soil technology may
    provide the only path to sustain our agricultural and fossil fueled power
    structure without climate degradation, other than nuclear power.

    The economics look good, and truly great if we had CO2 cap & trade or a Carbon tax in place.


    .Nature article, Aug 06: Putting the carbon back Black is the new green:
    http://bestenergies.com/downloads/naturemag_200604.pdf

    Here's the Cornell page for an over view:
    http://www.css.cornell.edu/faculty/lehmann/biochar/Biochar_home.htm

    University of Beyreuth TP Program, Germany http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=taxonomy/term/118

    This Earth Science Forum thread on these soils contains further links, and has been viewed by 19,000 self-selected folks. ( I post everything I find on Amazon Dark Soils, ADS here):
    http://forums.hypography.com/earth-science/3451-terra-preta.html


    There is an ecology going on in these soils that is not completely understood, and if replicated and applied at scale would have multiple benefits for farmers and environmentalist.

    Terra Preta creates a terrestrial carbon reef at a microscopic level. These nanoscale structures provide safe haven to the microbes and fungus that facilitate fertile soil creation, while sequestering carbon for many hundred if not thousands of years. The combination of these two forms of sequestration would also increase the growth rate and natural sequestration effort of growing plants.




    All the Bio-Char Companies and equipment manufactures I've found:

    Carbon Diversion
    http://www.carbondiversion.com/


    Eprida: Sustainable Solutions for Global Concerns
    http://www.eprida.com/home/index.php4

    BEST Pyrolysis, Inc. | Slow Pyrolysis - Biomass - Clean Energy - Renewable Ene
    http://www.bestenergies.com/companies/bestpyrolysis.html


    Dynamotive Energy Systems | The Evolution of Energy
    http://www.dynamotive.com/

    Ensyn - Environmentally Friendly Energy and Chemicals
    http://www.ensyn.com/who/ensyn.htm

    Agri-Therm, developing bio oils from agricultural waste
    http://www.agri-therm.com/

    Advanced BioRefinery Inc.
    http://www.advbiorefineryinc.ca/

    Technology Review: Turning Slash into Cash
    http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/17298/


    3R Environmental Technologies Ltd. (Edward Someus)
    WEB: http://www.terrenum.net/

    The company has Swedish origin and developing/designing medium and large scale carbonization units. The company is the licensor and technology provider to NviroClean Tech Ltd British American organization WEB: http://www.nvirocleantech.com and VERTUS Ltd.
    http://www.vertustechnologies.com

    Genesis Industries, licensee of Eprida technology, provides carbon-negative EPRIDA energy machines at the same cost as going direct to Eprida. Our technical support staff also provide information to obtain the best use of biochar produced by the machine. Recent research has shown that EPRIDA charcoal (biochar) increases plant productivity as it sequesters carbon in soil, thus reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

    http://www.egenindustries.com/


    If pre-Columbian Kayopo Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 15% of the Amazon basin using "Slash & CHAR" verses "Slash & Burn", it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.
    Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of energy return over energy input (EROEI) for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.
    We need this super community of wee beasties to work in concert with us by populating them into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.

    Erich J. Knight
    Shenandoah Gardens
    1047 Dave Berry Rd.
    McGaheysville, VA. 22840
    (540) 289-9750
    shengar@aol.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just doing my avocation.........thanks for spreading the word.

    I leave you with

    The Terra Preta Prayer

    Our Carbon who art in heaven,
    Hallowed be thy name
    By kingdom come, thy will be done, IN the Earth to make it Heaven.
    It will give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our atmospheric trespasses
    As we forgive those who trespass against the Kyoto protocols
    And lead us not into fossil fuel temptation, but diliver us from it's evil
    low as we walk through the valley of the shadow of Global Warming,
    I will feel no evil, your Bio-fuels and fertile microbes will comfort me,
    For thine is the fungal kingdom,
    and the microbe power,
    and the Sequestration Glory,
    For ever and ever (well at least 2000 years)
    AMEN

    Cheers,
    Erich

    ReplyDelete
  4. I believe we have a very comprehensive resource for all things Terra Preta... thanks Erich for the info and much good reading. As carbon-neutral gets kicked around more and more - it's good to have some science to back up approaches.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Soil Carbon Commandments:

    1) Thou shalt not have any other Molecule before Me

    2) Thou shall not make wrongful use of the name of Biochar, It will not acquit anyone who mis-charactorizes it's name

    3) Observe the Fallow days and keep them, as Sustainability commands thou

    4) Honor your Micro Flora & Fauna , as the Soil Carbon commands you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that High Soil Carbon has given you.

    5) Thou shall not murder the Soil Food Web

    6) Neither shall thou adulterate the Soils with Toxicity

    7) Neither shall thou steal Biomass from the Soil Food Web

    8) Neither shall thou bear false witness against your neighbors Biochar, or about Thy own

    9) Neither shall thou covet your neighbor's Fertility

    10) Neither shall thou desire your neighbor's house, or field, or Pyrolysis Reactor, or farm implements, or anything that belongs to your neighbor, as thou may Create thy Own





    Soil Carbon Dream

    I have a dream that one day we live in a nation where progress will not be judged by the production yields of our fields, but by the color of their soils and by the Carbon content of their character.

    I have a dream today.

    I have a dream that one day, a suite of earth sensing satellites will level the playing field, giving every farmer a full account of carbon he sequesters. That Soil Carbon is given as the final arbiter, the common currency, accountant and Judge of Stewardship on our lands.

    I have a dream today.

    I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made forest, the rough soils will be made fertile, and the crooked Carbon Marketeers will be made straight, and the glory of Soil Sequestration shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see a Mutually assured Sustainability.

    This is our hope.

    My apologies to Dr. King, but I think he would understand my passion
    Erich

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

There was an error in this gadget