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Archive for the ‘Poverty and Homelessness’ Category

There is a growing movement in Europe at the moment called I Don’t Pay! This post will be most controversial but it goes along with what I am trying to do with the overall Greenhouse Project.

We had Occupy taking over many major cities around the world. People camped out in good and poor weather to make a statement about the state of the world and the way things are being run. Even the major news outlets, blogs and websites keep taking about the 99% and the 1% and how the wealth has moved upwards. How it has been co-opted by few people for their sole greed and no social good has come of it. Phrases like, “too big to fail” have now become part of our lexicon and some have even said that they should have failed to help drag the top downward and broken up the “too big” into much smaller more manageable businesses.

Now I was sent a link to a YouTube video titled, Movement “I Don’t Pay” is spreading acrosss Europe (english subs) [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqeTGTU6FFg ] . The video is not even 5 minutes long and yet it has a powerful message, why pay for social programs. Why pay for things when the government subsides them? Why pay for something like public transit that gets government money? Why are people paying twice for things?

In the United States because our government offices at the state, federal or local levels don’t get audited or have to reveal where they spend their money we often don’t know how our tax dollars are spent or just how much a particular entity is getting. I suspect between the Occupy movement and the I Don’t Pay movement we are going to see much more information coming out to shine a light where there has been none.

Now I know what you are thinking, what does this have to do with food, food production, or the selling or buying of food. In the United States farmers, the big farmers, the corporate farms get huge amounts of subsides to either not plant crops, to plant particular crops, to manage the land as it is leaving it wild, or to produce a particular end product, like sugar. Food and non-food crops and end products are subsidized almost from seed to market, and in some cases they are when dumped onto the international markets.

When I came up with the Greenhouse Project I right away started wondering how can I produce food at the best price possible and even make good whole organic food affordable to people who don’t necessarily make a lot of money. What follows are just some of the ideas I’ve had.

Building the greenhouse where people are so they don’t have to go very far will reduce ‘food miles’ greatly. By reducing what it costs to get food from seed to table in this way will cut production costs. All people would have to do is walk, bicycle or if needed drive a very short distance to buy fresh food just picked moments earlier. People will also increase their nutritional intake by eating food that was harvested at the peak of ripeness.

Energy is one of the biggest contributors to the cost of food raised in a greenhouse. What if the cost could be greatly reduced or even completely eliminated how would that effect the price of food. By building the greenhouse as a passive solar greenhouse it takes advantage of the solar energy gain during the day storing excess heat underground in a heat battery which can help even out the temperature and reduce the need to heat the greenhouse. Now living in Denver, Colorado there will be times when heating the greenhouse in the winter is needed. In the summer there will be days when cooling will be needed or the greenhouse would overheat. How to handle this?

First, by having more than one method of extracting unnecessary heat and storing it. Heat can be stored under the greenhouse in what people now call a ‘heat battery’ which is a concept that came out of the 70s and has been updated a bit. Using fans excess heat is drawn downward underground and stored. When extra heat is needed the same fans transfer the heat back into the greenhouse. Simple actually. In the 70s a rock bed was used and today pipes laid underground are used instead. The same thing really.

Another way to deal with heating, or cooling needs, is to make use of a heat pump that can efficiently store heat in a large tank of water or use that heat for cooling instead. Either way a heat pump makes the best use of the energy input by returning about twice that in heating or cooling. If there is still excess heat on the very hottest days of the year vents and fans would help move the excess out of the greenhouse.

What if it’s the middle of the winter and there is not enough solar gain, then what? That’s where the passive design of the greenhouse comes into play. It doesn’t just rely on one source of energy to keep the greenhouse warm. To help supplement the need for heating small animals can be utilized, like rabbits. These rabbits can be housed throughout the greenhouse to distribute their heat output more evenly. People who work in the greenhouse would also contribute their body heat. These things would not be able to heat the greenhouse on their own so there has to be something more.

A methane digester could be utilized throughout the year to produce methane that is stored in ordinary LPG or larger tanks. The size of the digester would be determined by the amount of material added each day. A simple digester design used in India which holds about 2,500 liters of material would produce enough gas for a family of four to cook all three meals, heat water or produce light using a gas-lantern for several hours each night. Now this digester is small and meant for a single family, but the potential for producing enough methane is there. In the summer the gas would be compressed and stored and when it gets too cold it could automatically be tapped to keep the greenhouse well above freezing.

Combining the passive solar gain with storage, body heat, heat pump(s), and methane production the cost of heating the greenhouse could be reduced to nothing. Electricity could be produced on site using Photovoltaic panels and windmills. Excess electricity produced can be stored as compressed air in the same way methane is stored and when extra is needed it drives a turbine generator combination.

By reducing the cost of food production makes it that much more affordable. Along with these ideas there would also be the idea of Solidarity Economics. This is not a new concept but one that began in early 1990s which came out of ideas stated in the 1970s. It is all about being fair and less of a consumer driven society that is headed for self destruction.

Not one of these ideas is new. Everything I’ve present has been around for decades. Food shouldn’t need subsidizing it should be freely available to every person at a price they can afford.

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This is a continuation on poverty.

In my last post I stated that to help do away with poverty we need to have access to land, water and seed we can save from one year to the next, because once food is taken care of then we can begin to move forward. As long as our bellies are not full, we are not happy people. [ I am talking about people world-wide in this case and yes there are people in the U.S. too who go hungry. This is not just a ‘third-world’ problem. It effects all of us, we are all touched by poverty and hence the use of  ‘we’ above. ]

In the U.S. there’s this ignorant push to include more protein from meat (land and sea), dairy, and egg as a way to help feed people when not eating this way actually provides more nutrients, is healthier, greatly reduces dis-ease, and is able to feed more people for much less money. I’m talking about vegetables! Soup kitchens could feed three times as many people on a mainly Vegetarian meal than a meat based one, and cost less.

Growing vegetables is more productive per acre, uses over all less water, depletes the soil less and if grown organically can help rebuild soil, have more nutrients than meat-dairy-egg diet and will keep you healthier throughout your life.

Vegetables are more productive:  growing a wide variety of vegetables will yield around 17 – 20 tons per hectare (1 hectare = about 2.5 acres), while meat yields less than 1/2 ton per hectare and takes longer to mature.

Vegetables provide protein (yes they do), macro-nutrients, micro-nutrients, minerals, vitamins and phyto-nutrients. Meat-dairy-eggs provide mainly protein and few other nutrients.  I’m not sure how many may have heard or read this story:  Stacy Irvine, 17, collapses from eating nothing but chicken McNuggest her whole life. This is not an isolated incidence, they all just don’t make the news or the cause of illness is given another label all together.

After vegetables we have fruits which provide mainly vitamins, most importantly the water soluble ones, like Vitamin C. Legumes and pulses are the next choice with some grains able to bring in a little more density to a diet. But these again take up much more land, resources and provide much less, about one ton per hectare, than vegetables.

Next, vegetables can be better for the environment. Since you can get so much more per hectare of land much less land  is needed to feed yourself, and everyone else. If the vegetables are grown completely organically then you are returning nutrients to the land, the soil, dirt, in which they are grown is not depleted. The land will remain productive forever. Modern farming practices do little to return nutrients to the soil and only add more chemicals which destroys all the various life forms, and communities that keep the soil healthy and productive. These include: bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, flies, beetles, worms and more. They all work together to create healthy soil out of anything that has died.

Meat, Dairy and egg production could be done organically which would not deplete the soil but that is not the case currently in the U.S. for the most part (there are few exceptions). If these three were produced in a traditionally, healthy, organic way there would be much less of it for sale and the price would reflect their true cost. In India people use milk quite a lot in their various meals because the cow is allowed to roam freely, not killed or eaten, and given that which people can not eat and are milked daily to add protein to their mainly vegetarian diet.

I’m not saying everyone needs to be a Vegetarian, or Vegan, but if the western world – U.S. and Europe, were to cut their meat (land and sea), dairy, and egg consumption by half it would allow hundreds of millions more people to eat affordably, more nutritiously. To feed everyone in the world the western world would have to consume slightly less than a quarter of what they currently do. This still wouldn’t require everyone being a Vegetarian / Vegan.  It would also greatly reduce the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke and not kil half of consumers of meat-dairy-egg diet or western diet.

Research has shown time and again, a mostly vegetarian diet is better for the body, better for the environment and better for all life. It takes less land, smaller “footprint”, to grow vegetables and in a world that is running out of fossil fuels, out of water, usable land that has not been turned to desert or degraded, and doesn’t demand  heavy inputs, we need to change our ways.

To help remove poverty, wherever it is, not only is land, water, seed needed, but education as to what is easiest and best to grow – vegetables! We could eliminate poverty, it’s just too profitable not to. Let’s change that and eliminate needless suffering.

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Aren’t we suppose to be the richest country in the world? And, yet we have millions of people living in poverty or are homeless. Why is that? (We currently have about 42,881,000 living in poverty in the U.S. (based on U.S. Census data).)

Before the whole collapse that happened 2007/2008 there was discussion among businesses, economists and the financial community whether or not moving the unemployment up to 10% would be a good thing. The outcome of that we are seeing today. Also, anyone believing the unemployment data, well I have some really prime land on Mars for sale, and you can start terraforming. Just because someone isn’t collecting an unemployment check doesn’t mean their employed. The data is faulty!

Bush Jr. while in office pushed some 1 to 1.5 million new people into poverty every year. By the time he left office there were some 13 million people who had joined the ranks of the poor.

Let’s not forget that Peak Oil (which occurred world-wide in 2008) looms over our heads and experts around the globe agree, we are in deep doodoo with this one and the U.S. is not preparing like Europe is. We can expect to see the rise of oil prices, and goods made or heavily influenced by oil, that includes food, to go up until no one can afford things anymore, except of course the wealthy. We only have about 15 to 20 years to go before most of us join the ranks of the poor or homeless because of Peak Oil.

So, back to my original question at the beginning. We have poor not because of some out of our hands event but by people who control money in some way or another. We can all argue about whether it’s the bankers, speculators, quants (quantitative analysts), day traders trying to make a fast buck, investors or investment banks, the fed, and so on. The thing you have to remember, it doesn’t matter who is at fault, but what are you going to do about it.

My solution is simple: put permaculture to work. My Greenhouse Project is just such an idea. Another is to create food forests, at first on a commercial basis, but once it is established the fence could be left open or taken down altogether to allow people free access to whatever is there (after they’ve been educated because is would be stupid to trample a helpful herb just to get at an apple).

Food, can be grown in parks, open lots, along highways or wild areas, in medians, wherever possible would do so much to help reduce the need of the poor and the homeless. Heck, plant some trees right in front of your house with a sign, “Please Help Yourself.” Be a ‘Johnny or Janis Appleseed’ in your area, but plant more than just apples, whatever grows in your climate, area. Tend the trees lovingly until they are fully mature and can continue on their own. Harvest some of the seeds and grow some more.

Look into planting a tree with a plaque in a park giving thanks to mom, dad, auntie, uncle, grams or just make up a name. The idea is that parks, and other public areas will allow it with a permit the planting of a commemorative tree and then the city tends the tree and won’t cut it down unless it dies.

It has been said, and I truly believe this, that if the poor, or homeless, were allowed to grow their own food then there would no longer be any poverty. All one needs is access to some land, water and seed that can be harvested from year to year and replanted. Once the poor have this then they can move out of poverty.

Until next time, be good to one another and plant something.

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