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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Bicycle Water Pump Creates Synergy

I usually am not that quick to blog about something that happened the same day and if I don't finish this soon that won't be happening today either. This afternoon I spent several hours with a youth group called A.C.T.I.O.N. (Activists Coming to Inform Our Neighborhood) at The Point in the Hunts Point neighborhood in the Bronx. The Point and GrowNYC are collaborating on a project to introduce rainwater harvesting to the neighborhood. The kids (15-18 years old) listened and watched as I gave them some background into where their water comes from - the NYC reservoir system as far away as 250 miles from the Bronx. I didn't have to explain CSO's, they were aware of the issue of Combined Sewer Overflows.  We discussed the cost of water: they knew that a 0.5 liter bottle of water cost $1.25 at the bodega which comes to around $10 a gallon but it took them awhile to guess the per gallon cost of NYC tap water - $1. - No, 10 cents - No, 1 cent - got it! We talked about the true water cost of items like soda and chocolate. It takes 200 liters (52.8 gallons) of water to produce  a 0.5 liter -16.9 ounce bottle of soda and 1700 liters (449 gallons) of water to make a 100 gram - 3.5 ounce chocolate bar if you factor in all of the inputs. 

But the real fun and synergy happened when we went outside and the youth tried out the bicycle water pump that I created. The Point also has an Aquaponics project on site run by S.A.V.E. Farms (Society for Aquaponic Values and Education). The Aquaponics guys were emptying some nutrient rich water -"Fish poop water"  from one of the tanks which they were then going to use to water the garden by watering cans. The bicycle water pump was the right solution for the job with a dozen teens tired of listening to me and ready for some exercise, a 50 gallon barrel filled with fertilizer water and a parched garden. I only took one picture but more will show up soon as folks were coming out of their offices and pulling out their mobile phones to photograph the kids riding and water gushing. In the picture the water tank is behind the bike and the garden is to the left. The rider is watching the water coming out of the hose. Next week, the youth will fabricate another bicycle water pump for the Point to be used with their new rainwater harvesting system which they will build later in the month. The combination of harvested rainwater and nutrient rich fish tank water will practically guarantee that they will never  again have to use water from those far away reservoirs to water their garden. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Detroit and Michigan State University

June 2012 will go down in history as the first month that I did not blog at least once. After 27 consecutive months. Oh well I'll just have to start another streak. June was quite a busy month. I've been beekeeping with friends and now have a hive in my backyard waiting for bees. In June, I worked on completing 2 school gardens in Queens NY so Junior High schoolers in Jackson Heights and K-5 kids in Long Island City now have spaces to garden. I even worked with kids to make the grow bags to hang from a railing in the garden.  2 rainwater harvesting interns have been working with me on a storm water management project.  We are working together on planning a rooftop garden in Manhattan and a rainwater harvesting installation in the Bronx.  We will work with teenagers on both projects. A community garden enhancement to create space to grow vegetables for a local food pantry on Staten Island is in the planning stages. These last 3 efforts will be completed in July. I'm not seeing a lot of time for blogging in July either.

What did get me to the computer was a news item that Michigan State University is partnering with the  city of Detroit on MetroFoodPlus Innovation Cluster @ Detroit. On first read this is a wonderful idea.  Why not bring the resources of this great university to help the city utilize the untapped potential of the vast amount of vacant land and buildings to grow urban agriculture in a positive way. It is interesting that one of possibilities that is mentioned in the Detroit Free Press article is that they want to use vacant building for vertical agriculture, an idea that was pioneered in the Bronx in the 1980's. While that program eventually folded, it was still a great idea at the time and hopefully lessons will be learned and it will succeed this time around. So much could be done, as I have written in an earlier post about my idea for an Institute of Community Gardening . Ah but... there is a difference between urban agriculture  and community gardening. Urban Agriculture can be just a farm. A farmer making a living off the land. Nothing wrong with that although small farmers have a really hard time doing that in rural areas where land and farming inputs are inexpensive.  That may not be the case in an urban area. True, the transportation costs of getting the produce to market are lower but does that offset the added costs of doing business in the city?  The problem is Community Gardens have that complicated word attached to it - community.  People have to make decisions as a group. Not an easy task but very often a worthwhile one.

I know that the community garden folks in Detroit are watching this closely to make sure that community gardeners are not overwhelmed by the interests of corporations that have the money to fund this endeavor. Let's hope their voices are heard and @ Detroit has at least some of the flavor of an Institute of Community Gardening.