Don’t Give up on Desalination

desert and stars

How we manage local water sources drastically alters how we grow crops and get drinking water. Cape Town is currently experience a water crisis that was in the making for decades because of poor water use policies. Desalination plants can help coastal cities provide water to their populace by separating salt from seawater. Wired has a good article on how one company is improving desalination techniques for growing crops, which, they predict can help bring plant life to arid regions.

The structure’s double-layered fibreglass roof transmitted sunlight but captured heat, diverting it through ducts into a compartment at the building’s rear. There, the heat was used to distill freshwater out of seawater for irrigation. The rest was vaporised and sucked through the growing space by fans to cool and humidify the plants, reducing transpiration. Paton calculated that a square metre of crops adjacent to the greenhouse would have required eight litres of water per day to offset what they lost in transpiration. “But inside we were using closer to one litre per square metre per day, and we were growing a better crop.”

Paton is also interested in the long term restorative benefits of his invention. Davies’ model predicted that the greenhouse’s cooling and humidifying effect would seep into the surrounding environment: “You can see there would be a plume of cool air coming off the greenhouse,” he says. And since the region hasn’t always been barren, Paton thinks greenhouses could return parts of it to the naturally vegetated state it was in before overgrazing and drought took hold. “I believe that when you get to, say, 20 years, you’d have enough vegetation to do the job of the greenhouses because they’re creating shade and shared humidity – changing the climate.” Because vegetation sequesters carbon, that also has broader ramifications for mitigating the effects of climate change.

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How Vertical Farms can Help During Disasters

fruit store

Supporters of vertical farms envision a future that has skyscraper farms beside work places and residences in urban centres. Their thinking is that by growing food where people are will help alleviate pressure on our soil and land use – and they’re right. Indeed, a recent realized spinoff benefit of vertical (or just indoor) farming is after a natural disaster these insulated farming systems can feed people in the impacted area.

In a way, Harvey was a test for Moonflower Farms. Founded by Marques in December 2015, it was one of the state’s very first indoor “vertical” farms—where plants are stacked in trays on shelves, instead of laid out horizontally across larger plots of land. In these high-tech structures, plants don’t rely on sunlight or soil, rainwater or pesticides, but LED lights and minerals instead. The goal of vertical farms isn’t just to save space; it’s also to find a more economical way of producing food for the growing population—and to reduce the costs and consequences of getting that food to where people actually live.

“We are kind of at the beginning of a revolution,” Per Pinstrup-Andersen, a graduate-school professor at Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology, told me. “We’re at the beginning of a very rapid development in the use of indoor controlled facilities for producing vegetables and some fruits,” he said. “No matter what happens with climate change, you still have your controlled environment.”

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Flowers Reduce use of Pesticide Spraying in Farms

bee

Farms in the UK and Switzerland are trying a classic approach to reducing their use of pesticides: flowers. Yes, the flowers provide nutrients for insects that eat crops, but they also provide for predators. The difference in the approach for these experimental farms is how they arrange the flowers so the insects get what they need while not enough to damage the crops. Rows of flowers are spaced precisely so that insects can’t travel to far on these factory farms. Smaller farms might naturally benefit from insect proximity already.

As a bonus, the flowers make the farm a little prettier and smell better.

Similar studies have tested the same approach elsewhere. In one study in Switzerland, researchers planted poppies, cilantro, dill, and other flowers along fields of winter wheat. The plants fed and sheltered insects like ladybugs that ate the bugs that eat wheat, and ultimately reduced leaf damage 61%. The researchers estimated that choosing the right mix of flowers could increase yield 10%, making it economically self-sustaining or even profitable to keep planting flowers.

They also want to understand the economic value of the approach, and how it can be incorporated with modern farming tech. “We hope this will underpin a rethink of farming practice to include a more ecological approach to agriculture where farmers actively enhance the underlying ecological processes that benefit crop production,” they say. “We also intend to use this experimental network to demonstrate this approach to industry and to train farmers–our experience has shown that farmers often need to see these approaches in action on real farms before they adopt them.”

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Mars Terraforming Earth

coffee and chocolate

Mars, the company behind popular chocolate bars like Snickers and Twix has pledged $1 billion dollars to fight climate change. This isn’t a company randomly pledging money to help communities or specific issues address climate change, instead they are focussing on themselves. Mars is the largest chocolate maker on the planet and are looking at ways that they can save the planet (and money) by changing what’s happening in their supply chain. Already the company has invested in renewable energy for their production facilities.

Although, some might claim this is just to stop their chocolate bars from melting.

Mars, the maker of Snickers, Twix, and M&Ms, has pledged to invest $1 billion over the next few years to fight climate change. The sustainability drive includes investment in renewable energy, food sourcing, cross-industry action groups, and farmers.
Barry Parkin, Mars’ Chief Sustainability Officer, warned that the consequences of inaction include “more extreme weather events…causing significant challenges and hardships in specific places around the world, whether that’s oceans rising or crops not growing successfully.” “We believe in the scientific view of climate science and the need for collective action,” he added.

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Quebec Business Turns Waste into Juice

beans
Juice Loop is a new company in Quebec that is taking food waste and turning it into juice and other products. This was isn’t what’s left on a plate from a restaurant, instead it comes from the supply chain inefficiencies present in how grocery stores run their operations. It’s a classic story of entrepreneurs seeing an opportunity to solve a problem, except these entrepreneurs want to make the world better while making money. They opened in the province of Quebec last year and have already cracked into the Ontario market.

In the food supply industry, the business model is partly based on speculation about the level of demand from groceries and anticipated sales, said Poitras-Saulnier. For example, a supplier could request 25 containers of fruit, but then fail to sell all of them, she explained.

“Sometimes they sell less — they could sell 20 containers. So there would be five left over the next week that are starting to get more ripe and almost ready to be eaten, which means that they wouldn’t last long enough in the distribution cycle and wind up being trashed.”

Juice Loop anticipates reusing 300 tons of fruits and vegetables by the end of this year and 525 tons in 2018. Its operations are designed to take care of all of the waste — even the leftover fruit pulp is reused to make organic pet food.

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Thanks to Delaney!

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