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Irrigationless Urban Food Production

Wed, 07/28/2010 - 14:29

Aquaponics, or the integration of water-based or hydroponic vegetable production and fish production, began its Occidental revival with the New Alchemy Institute in the 1970s. Their closed-system bioshelters were proto-aquaponic systems. These systems are especially valuable in the Anthropocene because they conserve water by recirculating it continuously between fish tanks and hydroponic growing pools. The fish provide the nutrients and the plants provide the filtration to reduce nitrogenous toxins to the fish. Climate change has increased the frequency and length of droughts throughout the world and this is one solution that can improve the resilience of food production in local communities. Click here to download a .pdf manual of how to build an aquaponics system at your house from a couple 55 gallon drums, a water pump, some hose and gravel.

The integration of aquaponics systems to urban waste streams, such as municipal compost, provides the opportunity for low-cost and high-efficiency urban food production. Aquaponics up-cycles organic waste through the introduction of an intermediary organism. This intermediary organism is most commonly a saprophage of some kind such as black soldier fly larvae, earthworms, or oyster mushrooms. The saprophage is then fed to the fish as a replacement for costly protein meals and provides the primary nutrient input for the aquaponics system.

Black soldier fly larvae are especially suited to this purpose because they can consume very large quantities of organic material and process it at a high efficiency without the need for sterilization that other saprophages, such as fungi, may require. Jerry from the Black Soldier Fly (BSF) Blog has provided an open source biocomposter for BSF and has this to say about them,

Since I started keeping a colony of BSFL there is no such thing as wasted food in my life. If something ceases to be food for me it just becomes food for my colony. With the exception of bones and eggshells, all food scraps go into the BSFL colony, and even a fairly small colony can process a lot of food. A 60cm/2 foot diameter bio-converter can hold enough larvae to process 2kg/5 pounds of table scraps every day. It’s consumed so quickly that it doesn’t have time to decompose to the point where it smells bad. I tested this by adding a whole fish to my colony on a hot day and the odor was not even noticeable a few feet from the composting unit. Keeping a BSF larvae colony is not a brave or a hard thing to do, it’s simple, fascinating and enjoyable.

A podcast from Agroinnovations on black soldier fly can be found here!

Hackspace Research Update

Fri, 07/16/2010 - 14:31

Since 2007 there has been a radical growth in the application and reach of hacker culture. No longer limited to the computer underground, principles of the hacker ethic now pervade contemporary corporate software development and the backbone one of the world’s largest economic infrastucture, the internet. This comes as no surprise because many experts and leading professionals in the field of computer science are also leaders of the hacker subculture. What is surprising is how the beliefs and values of the hacker subculture are being appropriated and applied in fields wholely distinct from computer science including biology, manufacturing, and community development.

Frustrated by the forking of public domain germplasm by corporate interests, scientists extended a free software license, the GNU Public License (GPL), to cover material transfer agreements of plant germplasm, called the General Public License for Plant Germplasm (Hope, 2008). Looking for a way to create a commons-based peer production model for the design and manufacture of machines, small businesses, design and engineering professionals, and academics joined forces with Creative Commons to adapt the Open Source Definition for Open Source Software to an Open Source Hardware Definition as the basis of a new licensing mechanism (OSHW, 2010). Wanting to create spaces where people can come together to share their passion for technology and science, hackers worldwide opened up more than 220 community centers known as hackspaces or hackerspaces from 2007 to 2010. These three examples demonstrate that hacker culture is in the process of making a dramatic expansion from cyberspace into our physical environment.

My current research paper explores how the hacker ethic, a set of fluctuating and negotiated principles that underpins the behavior of the hacker subculture, is becoming substantiated. In particular, it surveys the emerging hackspace movement to better understand how the hacker ethic informs physical organizational culture and is changed by its application from virtual communities to physical organizations.

//// Hope, Janet. 2008. Biobazaar: The Open Source Revolution and Biotechnology. Harvard University Press.

//// 2010. Open Source Hardware (OSHW) Draft Definition version 0.3. Freedom Defined. Accessed 7/16/2010.

Marshall Forest Preserve & Soil Proteomics

Thu, 06/10/2010 - 13:43

a cricket on an Amanita caesarea

Ryan, Nicole and I went on a trip to the Marshall Forest Preserve near Rome, GA. Lots of good mushrooms were growing. Next time we’ll attempt to bring them into sterile culture. This will allow us to cultivate and study a greater variety of mushrooms that there is available commercial mushroom spawn.

any ideas what this is? it smells beautiful

Both Ryan and I are interested in soil proteomics. Soil microbial communities are incredibly complex. They create habitats suitable for different plants and greatly effect growth and nutrition. Soil proteomics combines traditional approaches in soil microbiology and biochemistry with techniques in molecular microbial ecology. Soil proteomics is the study of the structures and functions of proteins in the metabolic pathways of soil. This is much more difficult than genomics because a cells proteins, or the cells proteome, changes over time and between cells. Soil proteomics are important because it can help us understand what cell pathways give rise to enzymes important in ecosystem processes. In turn, this knowledge could be used to engineer soils that can better bioremediate specific toxins like arsenic and petroleum oil hydrocarbons. Perhaps the nature preserve will allow us to set up a soil research station here? :)

a yeast proteome visualized using 2d gel electrophoresis which seperates proteins by isoelectric point and molecular weight, proteins were identified from reference maps

US Food Bill, SB510, Threatens Local Food Sovereignty

Mon, 05/24/2010 - 11:52

Make small local producers of food criminals and deregulate the industrial food system. Make seed savers the source of contamination and deregulate the GM seed industry. Senate Bill 510 threatens local food sovereignty by putting all farms and food under the administration of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. For more information see this short analysis (take it with a grain of salt, it’s convenient for me to post this because it has a bunch of good links). For a quick introduction to how these laws affect people around the world listen to this short video from Vandana Shiva:

LuciaStoves and Dual-Power Steam GenSets

Wed, 05/05/2010 - 19:25

LuciaStoves are dual-use biomass gasification stoves that have 96% combustion efficiency. 10 litres of wood pellets produce only 50 milliliters of ash… truly. When running in char mode the stoves produce biochar which is the only feasible method of carbon sequestration currently available. Biochar from millions of households using these simple stoves could reduce emissions through avoiding emissions from inefficient stoves and burying biochar in soil as a soil amendment by 40 million tons a year. Or about the amount of emissions from a small first world country such as Ireland.

My buddy Iuval and I are building stoves like these for home use in Atlanta and the Southeast with ArkFab Labs.

Gasifiers like this can also be used to run steam powered gensets such as this one from Joe Carruth.

Things get interesting at 4:00, take a look, this video has 100k views for a good reason. These technologies have the power to free people from their dependency on fossil fuels and centralized energy conglomerates.

ArkFab Innovation Foundation

Sun, 02/28/2010 - 15:57

We now live in a complex world. Over the past 200 years globalization has
increased our interconnectedness while industrialization has increased our interdependencies. The global division of labor between and within nations has created
a diversity of economic and social roles for humanity never before seen and by
compelling us to leave our natural habitats the city now claims the majority of
Homo sapiens. Humans and the environments we fundamentally rely on for our
survival are now struggling to keep up and adapt to the difficult implications of
these changes.

Sustainable technologies offer an opportunity to aid the transition towards
more resilient communities but physical hardware alone is not sufficient. Successful
adoption, operation and maintenance of sustainable technologies in at-risk
communities requires both the physical hardware and the local competences of
individual and social capacity, knowledge and know-how.1 Providing these
communities economic and social access to the technologies they need to improve
their resilience is arguably the most critical problem in the field of sustainable
development. We must renovate or establish organizations that better coordinate
and leverage the innovative, entrepreneurial and adaptive power of all individuals
especially those individuals who are most at risk.

The ArkFab Innovation Foundation harnesses an emerging global network of collaborative expertise and open source sustainable technologies development to provide local entrepreneurs access to the tools and resources they need to rapidly adapt their communities to continuously shifting landscapes of risk in our complex society. The Foundation’s community innovation system stimulates commons-based peer production in at-risk communities with cost effective local ArkFab Innovation Centers. These community innovation centers are comprised of

  • ArkFab Power, a locally sourced carbon-negative power generation system
  • ArkFab Lab, a digital flexible fabrication prototyping, manufacturing and cloud supercomputing facility and the
  • ArkFab Endowment, a revolving loan fund that provides mesofinance start-up capital for new for-profit environmental enterprise while funneling incoming returns on investment towards research and development grants, educational and vocational programming, and local not-for profit social enterprise

By building a global network of distributed ArkFab Innovation Centers that provide access to the resources potential entrepreneurs and innovators need we create a system of community innovation that will generate locally relevant and culturally and economically appropriate technological and business. The ArkFab Innovation Centers focus primarily on developing local knowledge and financial independence with programming with our local partners that encourages entrepreneurship, small business development, cutting-edge vocational training, and high-tech infrastructure development for the community. For example, we work with local technical colleges to provide vocational training in small-scale flexible digital fabrication and design and small ecological manufacturing business management.

See the full executive summary at Scribd: ArkFab Innnovation Foundation Executive Summary

An ATL Community Algae PhotoBioreactor for Health, Climate and Soil!

Sun, 02/14/2010 - 00:05

Post-industrial society is killing us slowly. We live in an environment of pervasive toxicity. Our primary line of defense in resisting the effects of mutagens and other physiological system disruptors is our diet. Eating fresh organic food provides our bodily systems with much needed complex biochemicals like polyphenols and other phytochemicals. These chemicals aid in the regulation of our bodies and our adaptive response to chemical stressors like chlorinated hydrocarbons and heavy metals.

Algae has been touted for many decades as a wonderfood because of both its nutritional and chemical makeup. Spirulina, for example, is thought to have been a food source for the Aztecs who made square cakes out of the algal mats they collected. Today, algae is still used as a food in Chad.

Haematococcus pluvialis is an algae species that is currently considered one of the most beneficial species for human health and nutrition. This species contains the highest naturally occuring concentration of the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin, up to 4% of biomass when grown under stressed conditions. This naturally occuring substance is considered in the scientific medical literature to be a photoprotectant in the skin and retina, an anti-inflammatory, contributor to the moderation of LDL and HDL cholesterol blood levels, anti-cancerous, anti-neurodegenerative, and immunomodulating. Considering these attributes, it is not surprising that Haematococcus pluvialis fetches ~$7,000 a kilogram retail.

Taking this into account, and the necessity of developing an open sourced algae photobioreactor design for the sequestration of carbon dioxide, the CDC slime expert, Catherine Armbruster, and myself are starting an open source algae photobioreactor project for human health and subsequent algae research into carbon sequestration and soil amendments.


Design, build, and operate an open source algae photobioreactor to produce, market and sell bulk food-grade Haematococcus pluvialis with a high biomass content of the medically significant carotenoid, astaxanthin.

Project Philosophy

This project is part of the international open source ecology movement to develop and diffuse disruptive technologies that can redefine both the social and ecological relations of production in our global economy. Inspired by successful organizations such as the New Alchemy Institute, Factor E Farm and ShipYard Labs this biotechnology project intends to function as the seed enterprise for funding an integrated peer to peer socio-ecology research institute and business incubator in Atlanta to aid the transition towards a socially and ecologically just world. All proceeds from the sale of Haematococcus pluvialis will go towards establishing the not for profit institute.

Our strain selection criteria is primarily based on the high-value of the dried and cracked algae Haematococcus pluvialus. However, this strain is particularly difficult to grow because of the need to control environmental parameters and the dual-stage growth process necessary to induce astaxanthin production within the algae. These added difficulties are the second criteria of our selection. Due to this strains’ difficult requirements the algae photobioreactor we engineer will be suitable for many other strain requirements and provide the opportunity for further research into algae-based products such as carbon sequestration and soil amendments. Funding

A small-scale proof of concept prototype will be crowdfunded by local and international stakeholders with an interest in

  • our product
  • the establishment of the institute and
  • economic development, social justice and urban sustainability in Atlanta.
Funding for a full-scale facility will be bootstrapped from the sale of our product while we solicit donations to the institutes Open Development Fund endowment. The Institutes Open Development Fund, in turn, will provide the angel investment necessary to start-up the full-scale production facility. Information about where to donate will be provided after initial prototype designs and budgets are published. Further information and opportunities to collaborate can be found at the projects homepage at Freeside Atlanta hackspace and our OpenPario project management tool.

Transition Tech: Wood-Fired Automobile

Sun, 01/24/2010 - 12:24

I live in Atlanta and our city was built around the automobile. Transportation is arguably the most oppressive aspect of our city’s infrastructure. Transitioning towards a post-scarcity carbon neutral city is very difficult for us and transitional technologies are needed to solve some of our unique problems.

Atlanta is known as the city in a forest; we have a lot of yellow pine here in Georgia, and Atlanta, although deforestation is a major issue, is no different.

Wood Fired Wood Car, Romania, 2007

Check out Joost Conijn’s wood fired wood car! Over a million wood-gas fired automobiles and tractors were used back during the world wars in Europe. As our local infrastructure is shocked by energy price fluctuations running automobiles and heavy machinery in Atlanta off of wood and grease can provide us a more resilient alternative.

Out in California a collective is working on an open sourced wood gasifier called the Gasifier Experimenters Kit (openGEK). They’ve already released several versions and are providing resources to those who want to do further research and development. This could be used to run back-up generators off of the worlds most sustainable and appropriate solar battery- wood and to run mechanized machinery like open source compressed earth block presses, open tractors and community buses.

Open GEK Gasifier

The EcoLeviathan and an Abundant State of Nature

Wed, 01/13/2010 - 13:47

Response to Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)

In Leviathan Thomas Hobbes explains the need for a Leviathan, or a coercive power of the general will of the people of a society. He argues that prior to a social covenant people exist in a state of nature in which peoples’ “naturall passions” lead them to war with one another. He explains that there are three primary reasons for quarrel and invasion between individuals and groups of people in a state of nature: competition, or invasion for a greater gain of a common good; desire, or invasion to obtain a rivalrous good; and glory, or invasion to obtain reputation and status[1]. The creation of a Leviathan, however, creates a peace among the people of a society which is a necessary prerequisite for all the goods of civilization such as art, industry, navigation and trade, technologies, and literature.  “In such a condition [the state of nature] there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain…. Warre,” he explains, “is necessarily consequent to the naturall passions of men, when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tye them by feare of punishment to the performance of their covenants.” Hobbes believes that a Soveriegn Power, legitimized by the multitudes of people in society and wielded by an assembly or individual, must be created to ensure a peace at home by “Feare of Death,” or terror, and to ensure “mutuall ayd against enemies abroad.” Hobbes’ argument is fundamentally based on a basic assumption that there is an inherent scarcity in the state of nature that drives people to quarrel and war with each other over goods. For a full understanding of the “naturall passions” of people we must also consider the possibility of an abundant state of nature in which competition over scarce goods is not necessary.

In an abundant state of nature where all goods are held in common and there is “enough, and as good, left in common for others” there is no need for war, quarrel or invasion (Locke, 2nd Treatise §33, 1690). Surely scarcity exists in the state of nature and also in a common-wealth but abundance also exists in the state of nature and common-wealth. In an abundant state of nature competition over goods does not occur and peace is the norm. This abundance, however, requires that our natural resource base and commons in general, from which the goods of civilization are produced, are not depleted and are alternatively, replenished and improved. An abundant state of nature is adjudicated by a natural contract that determines the limits and conditions of human interaction with our natural environment. The natural contract is and will always be prior to a social covenant.  Hobbes, however, disregards the natural contract in a state of nature and immediately leaps to establishing a social covenant. Consider a range of hills over which several herders graze their sheep. There exists a natural contract between the herder, sheep and hills that determines the amount of sheep that can occupy the hills before their fodder becomes exhausted. This natural contract adjucates between the herders, sheep and hills before a social covenant is required to manage the hills. The ultimate coercive power is the general will of nature and it is to this original EcoLeviathan that people must first answer to.

The coercive power over people that Hobbes finds necessary is justified only as a last resort to keep the peace because a social Leviathan inhibits people’s natural liberties. To avoid the necessary evil of the Leviathan people must cooperate to replenish and improve the commons so as to only answer to the EcoLeviathan or they will surely be led to “rob and spoil” one another and risk their liberty. Rivalrous goods are by definition not “enough and as good left in common” and appear to necessitate a social covenant at risk of stealing and pillage. The formation of a social Leviathan or Soveriegn Power is a supreme danger because its efficacy in adjudication is based on its “legitimate” use of violence to persuade individuals to submit to a general will. This sovereign power over society and life is often misused to further the individual wills or agendas of those who wield this power rather than the general will of society, which is itself a concept that is impossible to ascertain. Therefore, it is in the interest of those who wish to retain their liberties to remove the need for rivalrous goods in their lives. Gasoline is a rivalrous good, it would do most people well to remove this need from their lives and instead use a bicycle for transportation. Bicycles, unlike gasoline, can be made abundant through cooperation. Sopo Bicycle Cooperative in Atlanta coordinates people to repair and build free and discarded bicycles and is a good example of how bicycles can be made abundant. However, we live in a society full of rivalrous goods and it is unlikely for all rivalrous goods to be removed from society even if this is an objective of every individual in society. Thus, the Leviathan must be contrived.

As has been explained the formation of the Leviathan is a supreme danger to the liberties of people in a society and therefore, for society in general. While it may be the aim of a society to resort only to the EcoLeviathan, or natural contract, to adjucate their affairs it may currently be necessary to contrive a social Leviathan. There are two reasons for this. One, rivalrous goods must be managed and distributed justly amongst people. Two, a society that endeavors to adjucate its affairs by natural contract is still at risk of invasion from a society whose norms, prejudices, productive infrastructure and legal systems are based on scarcity in a state of nature. There are several ways in which a social Leviathan might form and Hobbes describes four ways that this might occur. He argues that a sovereign power can be wielded in the hands of an individual, as in a monarchy, or in the hands of an assembly, as in a kleptocratic democracy, oligarchy or military junta. He goes on to describe how this power is acquired and writes, “The attaining to this Soveraigne Power, is by two wayes… by Naturall force… as being able to destroy [his subjects] if they refuse… or by warre.” The acquisition of a sovereign power in such a manner is always illegitimate and can never bring peace because its formation is, by nature, an act of pre-emptive war. Alternatively, a sovereign power legitimized by the general will of the people can be instituted when people voluntarily submit themselves and renounce their liberties to some form of individual governance, such as a dictatorship, or of some assembly for of governance, such as a republic. However, this alternative and albeit legitimate form of the Leviathan is still problematic because it is based on a hypothetical general will which, as many democracies have experienced, is terribly difficult to ascertain and is often subverted for use by the ruling class. Placing all power in the hands of one person or a small assembly of people to do with “as he shall think expedient” is an issue of information and justice. No one person or group of people can ascertain the general will of the people even if they intended to. The social Leviathan should be designed so that the general will is ascertained at the most direct level so that people have decision making power and are exposed to risk in proportion to how much they are affected by the decision and they generate risk. Therefore, instead of the Leviathan taking the form of a hierarchical coercive sovereign power over the multitudes of people the Leviathan should take the form of a multitudinal power with specifically reserved authority to destroy rivalrous goods through concerted commons-based innovation and abundant productivity and to protect the abundant commons of society by providing for mutual security and subverting eco-sociopathic behavior such as stealing, invasion and pollution. All other quarrels between people would fall to the adjucation of the EcoLeviathan or natural contract between people and the earth. This arrangement provides for the preservation of natural liberties and the preservation of mutual security of both people, the fruit of their labor and the earth.

[1] There are many examples of cultures in which status is asserted in non-violent ways. Potlatching, for example, is a form of status-seeking not bent on, “envy and hatred, and finally warre” but on sharing more than ones fair share of resources with other people. Hobbes comes from a particularly violent western culture and violent status-seeking is not a “naturall passion” of all human cultures.