Wow- what a day.
I got to the conference around 8:30 and was able to get registered and headed toward the first breakout on Small Scale Aquaponics with Craig Hollingsworth, a professor here at UMass. The themes of this talk were start small and learn by doing. But take away the learnings Craig had to offer, like be careful to close any valves you open and don’t pull out the temperature regulation mechanism without putting it back in.
He had three 300 gal. tanks with very simple filter and sump, with PVC to circulate water. Here we see use of a secondary hydroponic plant system to make use of some of the nitrates coming from bacteria on gravel in the long blue containers, which take the fish ammonia (NH3) and convert it to N03. The water is still very high in nitrogen, so the plants tend to be very leafy. The basil seemed to do the best of any. There were numerous pest issues with the plants which I conjecture has to do with this high nitrogen input.
The simplest system was growing Blue and Nile Tilapia. The Blue are hardier but smaller. He’s hybridizing the Blue and Nile, and offspring are almost entirely male and have the hardiness of the Blues but are larger like the Nile. Other tanks had large mouth bass. Interesting comment is that food value always has lowest value in the market- the Bass are recreational, and get a higher price.
Craig mentioned a very successful enterprise in Turners Falls, Australis Aquaculture, which is supplying Barramundi across the country. Some of his tips include having ground faults on all the electrical, and a central floor drain is very helpful. When I asked about costs, he said the basic 300 gal tank system was under $2000 but didn’t have any numbers on energy usage. There seemed to be a lot of energy input in terms of lights for the plants. There’s probably a good hybrid system with fish in the dark and plants in the light. In fact, later Will Allen showed this pattern, where the plants are above the fish water and basically shade out any algae growth.
At lunch I ran into Phil Botwinick who I’ve been dying to connect with since meeting him at last years NE Permaculture Convergence. I told him I was coming to his talk on money: Lifting the Veil and Taking the Gloves off. He’s been behind a series of screenings of the Crash Course, and Chris Martenson will be here tomorrow to talk, which I’m very excited about.
After perhaps the largest, coldest burrito I ever ate and the final cup of coffee served out of the student union food court, I headed over to Isenberg for a talk on Dismantling Legal Barriers to Sustainability, given by Scott Kellogg, formerly of Rhizome Collective in Austin, TX. I was really looking forward to this, and it ended up being a little short on specific tactics. One attendee had the best advice: beg, grovel, moan and make nice with the neighbors and officials. Another take away for me was that there’s a fairly random patchwork of regulation and regulating bodies. In some states the State is hard to deal with, in others, the local public health board. We talked about the usual suspects: greywater, humanure, chickens, compost and rain barrels. Strangely, rain capture is illegal in some western states, where municipalities claim ownership of the rain. Regulations are often used to promote or stop development in a locality. Setting precedents and understanding where local officials are coming from, such as their need to protect public health and not put their necks on the line for something, are keys in getting these practices moved forward.
Phil’s talk was next, with the help of his colleage at Local Energy Solutions, Sharon. Phil donned the tin foil hat and the gloves, which he was to later take off, and slowly, gently led into this discussion about money. At first I was wondering how he was going to approach it, as there were members of the audience who didn’t know, for example, who Greenspan is. But after the first minutes the discussion sort of shaped itself. Leading off was the concept of how banks create money in a fraction reserve system, which is that they generate it out of thin air. The general agreement between all players seems to be to never call in all the debts, or if they do, to make the US Federal Government (e.g. us) pay for it.
So that all was a bit more rudimentary than I hoped, but the fractional reserve piece is significant. After the talk, Phil, Tom, Sharon and I agreed to meet for breakfast tomorrow.
Finally I had to run home and take a shower and get some real food before Will Allen’s talk on Growing Power. The only thing I can say about his presentation is just the sheer scope of what he’s managing is pretty impressive and throws down the challenge to us all that we are thinking too small. He’s employing up to 100 people, managing thousands of volunteers, and has dozens of projects all running at once, all based on starting with soil creation with massive composting operations. Granted, he’s been doing stuff for 16 years, but he reiterated the play nice theme. He said make yourself an asset to the community and they’ll totally defend you when the City comes down, or whatever. Also, it’s pretty clear he has outstanding organizational skills and has a good team. Many of the volunteers who started as little kids are now running things.
So, I said I was going to take it easy and not pack the whole weekend with stuff, but that was quite a lot for one day. I bought a DVD of the Crash Course, and I’m going to see how much of that I can get through tonight. Nighty night.