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Forum > Renewables

Sustainable Food Production

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For those who may be a bit depressed about our Homo Hubris Civilization trajectory because it looks more like Home Erectus morphed into Homo Defectus.  ;D

Perhaps this fellow, who lives in much less beneficent surroundings than you, sees a great deal of filth, decay and Homo defectus trashing of the biosphere in the modern inner city cluster**** day in and day out YET, is making "lemonade" out of "toxic lemons", will cheer you up.

Urban Aquaponics pioneer grows mercury free Tilapia and Lake Perch to sell to restaurants nearby. ALL the feces from the fish is used with the water to fertilize food plants grown year around. He even grows edible flowers (Nasturtiums) he sells to restaurants. He continually reuses the SAME water and has ZERO effluent from his urban farming and aquaponics system

Everything is organic with zero chemical fertilizers. He has, because of his success in sustainable urban farming in an inner city high crime area, become famous and travelled the world giving lectures and training on his sustainable business model.

Will Allen receiving Honorary Degree awarded by Marquette University.

Will Allen is evidence to me that no matter how bad things are, we must always try to make a go of it, not as some quixotic, mindless gesture of futility, but as a function of our existence. We are here for a lot of reasons; one very important one is to make sure others of our species can be here too. Don't give up on Homo "defectus". It ain't over yet.

Will Allen is now also teaching organic methods to leach city soil of heavy metals and other toxins and recreate the organic soil that was there before the city was. People like him give me hope.  I hope his efforts lighten your mood too. 

Here's a cool video about Will Allen and Urban Farming. After the video, I post a jpg as food for thought for you. 


Azolla: Another floating, fast growing wonder plant like duckweed with great promise in a variety of applications that will aid us in establishing a sustainable civilization. 

Azolla BioSystems Ltd

Azolla BioSystems uses a natural biological process to reduce the threat of man-made climate change by converting the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) directly into a unique free-floating plant called Azolla.

Azolla Biosystems is currently developing opportunities and commodities in eight sectors:

Design including architectural development of Azolla Hubs

Sequestration including the development of new Azolla strains

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) including Azolla’s conversion into bioplastics and biopolymers

Biofuels produced from Azolla, and its integration with the production of algoil (algal-oil) and other
renewable biofuels

Biofertilizers including its use in rice production and other crops

Livestock Feed including the production of long shelf-life Azolla pellets

Food including hydroponics, and aquaponics

Research & Development including high-value pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, bioplastics and biopolymers.

These form the basis of the Azolla BioSystem that we have developed – a flexible, modular biological system that can be adapted to local needs anywhere in the world.

We welcome your input and interest in joining us on our exciting journey.

About Azolla

Azolla is a unique freshwater fern that is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet due to its symbiotic relationship with a cyanobacterium (‘blue-green alga’) called Anabaena. Anabaena draws down the atmospheric nitrogen that fertilizes Azolla, and Azolla provides a nitrogen-filled home for Anabaena within its leaf cavities. This enables the plant to double its biomass in as little as two days free floating on water as shallow as one inch (2.4 cm).

Azolla‘s rapid growth makes it a potentially important sequester of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide which is converted directly into Azolla‘s biomass. This provides local livestock feed, biofertilizer and biofuel wherever Azolla is grown, so that this remarkable plant has the potential to help us weather the Perfect Storm – the related threats of man-made climate change and shortages of food and land as our population passes seven billion.

Why is Azolla Unique?

Azolla is unique because it is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet – yet it does not need any soil to grow. Unlike almost all other plants, Azolla is able to get its nitrogen fertilizer directly from the atmosphere. That means that it is able to produce biofertilizer, livestock feed, food and biofuel exactly where they are needed and, at the same time, draw down large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere, thus helping to reduce the threat of climate change.

How is it able to do this?

Azolla and Anabaena – the Perfect Marriage

Azolla is able to do this because it has a unique mutually beneficial ‘symbiotic relationship‘ with a cyanobacterium (blue-green alga) called Anabaena.

The symbiotic relationship between Anabaena on the left and Azolla on the right.

Each partner gives something to the other in this Perfect Marriage. Because oxygen is poisonous to cyanobacteria, Azolla provides an oxygen-free environment for Anabaena within its leaves. In return, Anabaena sequesters nitrogen directly from the atmosphere which then becomes available for Azolla’s growth, freeing it from the soil that is needed by most other land plants for their nitrogen fertilization.

The oldest Azolla fossils are more than 70 million years old, representing the remains of plants that lived during the Late Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs roamed the earth. They occur in sediments that were deposited in quiescent freshwater bodies, such as lakes, ponds and sluggish rivers, identical to those inhabited by modern Azolla.

Fossil Azolla (left) has leaves (circled above in red) and tendrils (circled in blue) that are identical to those of modern Azolla (right). The fossil is from the Green River Formation of Colorado, dated between 50.5 and 55.5 million years. The photograph was kindly provided by Dr Ian Miller of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Several other symbioses are known between plants and cyanobacteria – for example in legumes – but the Azolla-Anabaena relationship is the only known symbiosis in which a cyanobacterium passes directly to subsequent generations via the plant’s reproductive sporangia and spores.

So Azolla and Anabaena have never been apart for 70 million years. During that Immense period of time, the two partners have co-evolved numerous complementary ways that make them increasingly efficient.

Agelbert NOTE: IF the above symbiosis has been continuous for 70 million years, I question the "co-evolve" assumption. The evidence points to the same relationship without changes. I don't see evidence of co-evolution, or evolution, for that matter, in this marvelous symbiosis of genetically disparate and unrelated life forms. It looks more like they started out the way.

The Azolla Superorganism: A unique biological system

In 2010, our Associate Francisco Carrapiço proposed that Azolla-Anabaena should be designated as a superorganism “because of its unique symbiosis in which the two partners have successful co-evolved into a system that makes important contributions to ecology, biofertilization and biotechnology” (Carrapiço, 2010).

The Challenge

The challenge, then, is to work with Azolla and use its remarkable properties to help us weather the Perfect Storm that now threatens us and the other species with whom we share our planet.
You can find more details about Azolla, its history, and its multiple uses on our information website The Azolla Foundation.


Agelbert NOTE: Azolla can be feed to chickens, cows and other livestock. Ducks love Azolla as much as they love duckwweed!

Baby ducks eating Azolla


Almost 60,000 US Farms Have On-Site Renewable Energy  ;D

SustainableBusiness.com News

 As of 2012, 57,299 of our nation's farms produce on-site renewable energy, according to the USDA Census, more than double the 23,451 in 2007.

 Solar is the most popular resource, used by 36,000 farms, followed by geo-exchange systems and wind turbines, each used on about 9,000 farms. About 1300 farms use small hydro and 537 have biogas systems.

 That's pretty impressive even if it still makes up a small percentage of US farms. USDA's 2012 census, released last week, shows there are 2.1 million farms taking up 914.5 million acres.

 USDA's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) funds up to 25% of a renewable energy system (solar, wind, biogas) or energy efficiency upgrades and provides additional support through loan guarantees. 8,250 projects have been installed under the Obama administration, with more to come because it made it into this year's Farm Bill. 

Compare the number of farms with renewable energy to all the organic farms in the country. Even thought it's booming, with $31.5 billion in sales (up from $1.7 billion in 2007), organic acreage is tiny with 17,600 organic farms spread over 4.6 million acres -  0.8% of the total value of US food production. Amazing how long it takes to make a dent in conventional farming.  :( 

Lots of conventional farms have moved to conservation tillage or no-till practices, however - 474,028 farms covering 173.1 million acres. 

And 144,530 farmers sell direct to consumers with sales over $1.3 billion (up 8.1%).   

"Once every five years, farmers, ranchers and growers have the unique opportunity to let the world know how U.S. agriculture is changing, what is staying the same, what's working and what we can do differently," says Dr. Cynthia Clark, head of USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Some interesting statistics:
•Both sales ($394.6 billion) and production expenses ($328.9 billion) reached record highs in 2012;
•75% of farms are small, producing 3% of products with sales under $50,000. 4% of all farms produce 66% of products with sales over $1 million;
•Corn and soybean acres topped 50% of all acres harvested for the first time;
•Cows raised for beef are the biggest food category, accounting for 29% of farms and ranches (619,172);
•Not surprisingly, farming is concentrated geographically. California has 9 of 10 top counties for sales, led by Fresno with $5 billion;
•Top 5 states: California ($42.6 billion); Iowa ($30.8 billion); Texas ($25.4 billion); Nebraska ($23.1 billion); and Minnesota ($21.3 billion);
•87% of US farms are operated by families or individuals, on average 58.3 years old and predominantly male;
•Young farmers increased 11.3%, however, to 40,499 people, and minority-operated farms are increasing, especially Hispanics at 21%.

One of the newer risks on farms is aquaculture, particularly for their negative impacts on wild salmon. Last year, the USDA  opened the door to expand British Columbia's open net-cage industry, accepting 13 applications for the Pacific Northwest.

Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch and Canada's SeaChoice program both rated that industry with a "avoid buying" designation. There are many problems: what they feed farmed salmon, disease transmission between farmed and wild salmon, and concentrations of many farms in small areas. Over 90% of wild salmon die before they return to freshwater to spawn - most of them in the first months after they enter the ocean, according to the David Suzuki Foundation.

"Aquaculture must stop using the ocean as a free waste-treatment system," says Dr. Suzuki. "Closed-containment - in the ocean or on land - is better at controlling water and removing feces and chemicals like antibiotics and pesticides used for sea lice. One British Columbia open net-cage company lost more than $200 million in one year because of disease, enough to build 10 closed-containment farms. Yet the industry claims closed alternatives cost too much."


LEDs Can Triple the Efficiency of Greenhouse Lighting  ;D

Solid-state lighting could improve the world food supply.
Doug Widney
February 21, 2014

LED greenhouse lighting is poised on the hockey stick of the adoption curve, saving electricity while potentially improving the world food supply.

The past year has seen production-scale deployment emerge out of years of trial grower installations, at users such as Rainbow Greenhouses in British Columbia, Clean Fresh Food in Wisconsin, Butter Valley Harvest in Pennsylvania, and many others.

The scale of modern greenhouse operations is visible in places such as Almeria, Spain, where greenhouses are actually changing the regional climate. In attempting to reproduce the energy flux of the sun over many acres, inefficient legacy lighting ends up drawing a staggering amount of electricity -- well into the megawatt range. There are growers that have to notify the local power company of their operating schedule. Lumigrow has a Canadian customer which operates its lights sixteen hours a day, seven months a year, and has a winter electricity bill that is ten times higher than it is in summer.

Growers also encounter local power caps. A commercial greenhouse complex in Indiana lost an entire summer’s worth of plants when its electricity was curtailed during a heat wave.   :( To this should be added the approximately 1.3 quads (quadrillion BTUs) of energy spent hauling food, an amount nearly equal to the energy in the food itself  :o  ???. Roses and salad delicacies are hauled many thousands of miles to northern Europe, Canada, and Alaska, with the roses often transported by air.  >:(

LEDs have a unique efficacy advantage in horticulture. Plants appear green because they absorb red and blue, the bandgap energy of the two primary photosynthetic reactions. With LED lighting, the color of the light can be tuned to “horticultural red” (660 nanometers) -- deeper than the standard traffic light or brake light.

So why on earth has everyone been feeding plants orange high pressure sodium (HPS) light, the dominant horticultural lighting technology?  The answer is that from a total output, lifespan and cost point of view, HPS used to be just the best of a bad lot.

Spherical emitters such as HPS lose up to 40 percent of their photons getting the light stream turned around in a downlight application. As with street lighting, LEDs have the advantage of being a natural downlight emitter.

PAR is for plants, lumens are for humans

An LED luminaire, for example, could put out red and blue photosynthetically available radiation (PAR) slightly greater than a standard 1,000-watt HPS luminaire, while consuming only 325 watts. The PAR unit of measurement is standard in horticultural lighting, since it is weighted for plant photosyntethic response. The lumen unit is useless in this context, as it is based solely on human visual response.

Obvious greenhouse lighting candidates are facilities located in cloudy northern areas with long winter nights. But any locale can employ year-round supplementation for especially light-hungry crops such as corn and tomato. There are a surprising number of tropical uses, including stretching the never-long tropical summer daylight, and the raising of crops that are intolerant of humid heat. All lettuce consumed in the tropics must either be grown in greenhouses or shipped in from a higher latitude.

LED horticultural lighting may yield one of the more financially viable greentech investment niches. Sector sales are growing rapidly, with market saturation still only in low-single-digit percents. While the total available market is respectable at $4.8 billion for North America, the far larger streetlight and residential lighting markets have distracted the attention of worldwide lighting majors and Asian exporters (with one or two significant exceptions).

Challenges include the technology's higher initial cost and the tendency of farmers to deliberate carefully before gambling an entire crop cycle on something new. Economics at present are channeling LED applications towards boutique areas such as flowers, seed stock growing, and salad herbs and delicacies. However, costs are falling. Payoff time is now often less than three years, and the latitude line for the viability of greenhouse lighting has dropped from Indiana southwards to Santa Barbara.

Beyond the energy savings, LED greenhouse lighting offers hope for continued technical progress in world food production. Observers such as Lester Brown and the Worldwatch Institute have noted that the years after the new millennium saw a reversal of some of the progress of the 1990s in eliminating world hunger. Drought in California is currently driving up food prices regionally; reportedly, the state government is considering diverting research funds to investigate greenhouse growing for saving water. The potential of LED lighting in the greenhouse is a bright spot for a hungry world. 


Doug Widney is Manager of Engineering for LumiGrow, based in Novato, Calif. He has previously been a consultant in solar, batteries, and LEDs. LumiGrow, which recently achieved profitability, is funded by Clean Pacific Ventures. Reach him at doug@lumigrow.com.


11 Edible Flowers to Grow in Your Garden
Anna Brones, Care2 | May 12, 2014 1:57 pm

It’s not just fancy chefs that can use flowers to add a little color to a meal; you too can grow your own edible flowers at home. In fact, while you may find edible flowers on sale at a farmers market every now and then, there’s nothing like walking into your garden and picking them fresh.

Chive blossoms
Squash blossoms
Basil blossoms
Fennel blossoms



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