Sunday, October 25, 2009

PlayPump Water System

Location: Southern Africa

Years: 1989-present

Developer: Ronnie Stuiver

Manufacturer: Roundabout Outdoor, South Africa

Cost: $8500, including maintenance (advertising on the tank reduces the cost)

Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises, p.283

The PlayPump was designed to bring clean water to South Africa’s rural communities. Children, who are often responsible for water collection, spin on the roundabout, forcing 318 gallons of water per hour from 130 feet below ground into a 568-gallon storage tank, tapping enough water to meet the daily household needs of a small community. The PlayPump has been installed in rural villages and primary schools where kids can easily access the fun, all the while pumping clean, potable water from underground. A few hundred yards away, a spigot supplies fresh water for the whole community. The water is then used for drinking, cooking, sanitation and even growing vegetables.

PlayPumps come with 10 years of guaranteed maintenance supported by the advertising space on each water tank. Two of the four panels are sold to local advertisers promoting only products and services appropriate for primary school audiences. The other two panels are reserved for public service announcements. These provide information on hygiene, HIV, AIDS, and other health-related issues.

The implications of bringing fresh water into a community go far beyond drinking and sanitation. Many women and girls in rural Africa can walk for hours each day to fetch water passing through vulnerable and unsafe regions. A local pump allows them to stay home and care for younger children, work a job, attend school, grow vegetables or build a business. This opens up immense opportunities for women and girls in Sub-Saharan Africa to achieve their greater potential. Fresh water also means that it doesn’t need to be boiled first, which drains precious resources such as gas or firewood and degrades the environment. Families with access to clean water are also much more able to achieve self-sufficiency by growing their own produce and maintaining local businesses. The PlayPump system has created dozens of jobs locally and continues to spawn social and economic development

The PlayPump system has introduced positive play activities in places where many schools not only lacked clean water, but also toys or playgrounds. At Regiment Basic Primary School in Lusaka, Zambia a vegetable garden is now also in the works. Produce from the garden is sent home with the children most in need. In time, the school hopes to sell surplus vegetables in the community so they can provide books and supplies to students who can’t afford them.

So far, over 1,000 PlayPumps have been instilled in South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia. PlayPump International plans to bring that number up to 4,000 by 2010, supplying as many as 10 million people with fresh water and a fresh start.

Polyface Farms

Location: Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Years: 1961-present

Founders: The Salatin Family

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan

Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farms, utilizes natural relationships and cycles to maintain an organic, productive farm. Salatin practices “Grass Farming.” Since cows are natural ruminators, he feeds them grass, and not corn. Salatin is careful not to allow the cows to overgraze or undergraze, so they rotate daily between pastures, which contain different types of grass (clover, orchard grass, sweet grass, bluegrass, timothy, etc.). As a modern grass farmer, Salatin relies on the energy of sun to grow his grass, rather than petroleum. He considers himself a “sun farmer,” because “the grass is just the way we capture the solar energy.”

Salatin invented the Eggmobile, a mobile chicken coop housing 400 hens, that follows the cows in their rotation. The Eggmobile is a 12 ft. X 20 ft. portable henhouse and the laying hens free range from it, eating bugs and scratching through cattle droppings to sanitize the pasture just like birds in nature that always follow herbivores as biological cleansers. This supplies the chickens with plenty of fresh insect life, living in and under the cow patties.

Each season, the 100-acre Polyface Farm produces 30,000 eggs, 10,000 broilers, 800 stewing hens, 50 beeves (25,000 lbs of beef), 250 hogs (25,000 lbs of pork), 1,000 turkeys, and 500 rabbits. Salatin also refrains from shipping any of his food in order to reduce the farm’s carbon footprint.

The Eggmobile
Salatin with Polyface chickens

Polyface cows

Urban Farming's Food Chain Project

Pilot city: Los Angeles, CA

Years: 2008-present

Partners: Green Living Technologies and Elmslie Osler Architects

Urban Farming, a Detroit-based non-profit that plants food in unused space, started a vertical farming project consisting of “edible” food-producing wall panels mounted on walls. The food is grown without the use of pesticides and is irrigated with an automated drip irrigation system woven into the wall panels. Each wall about 24’-30’wide and 6’ tall. It is composed of 2’ X 2’ X 4” interconnected recycled stainless steel panels. People who own the walls will donate a portion of the harvests to neighbors and organizations in need.

The vertical gardens are currently in four locations around downtown Los Angeles, including a supportive housing project in Skid Row, Rainbow Apartments. The tenants of Rainbow Apartments installed and maintain the vertical gardens and eat the fresh produce. The wall systems of the Food Chain concept are as “links” connecting to each location by intention and design, as well as presenting a new definition for the familiar term, ‘food chain’. The Food Chain offers immediate access to fresh produce, greens the environment, creates team-building and skills-training, and provides an opportunity for community service and involvement. In addition, particularly in areas where concrete and steel are plentiful and ground space and greenery are scarce, the Food Chain will help to lower the heat index and the effects of global warming.

The hosts and new owners of the Urban Farming Food Chain’s first four walls are: The Weingart Center; The Rainbow Apartments (In partnership with the Yankee Apartments); The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex.

The Food Chain pilot project in Los Angeles is partially funded by gifts and grants from The Annenberg Foundation, the Los Angeles Office of Community Beautification and Warner Bros Entertainment, with many materials and professional services donated by Green Living Technologies, Elmslie Osler Architect, Cal Poly, Greenheart Farms and Meyer Trucking.

Weingart Center - After

Weingart Center - Before

Rainbow Apartments - Installation

Rainbow Apartments - Residents

Major Food Corporation Composting

Name: Major Food Corporation Composting

Location: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa; Durban, South Africa; Suffolk, Virginia

Years: 2005-present

Corporation: Unilever Foods

Unilever Foods is one of the biggest food companies in the world. Beginning in 2005, this company has started diverting food waste from its factories and instead sending it to municipal composting facilities. The first two factories to implement this composting system were located in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa and Durban, South Africa. They combine the food waste from their factories with spices and dry savoury powers from other factories, as well as typical compost ingredients like grass clippings and manure. In the first two years of this pilot project, they have managed to diver half their waste from landfills, and the resulting compost is then used in a variety of community initiatives, such as 56 local community gardens. These gardens are intended to fight poverty, provide food, and provide a source of income in poor communities.

In addition to its composting systems in South Africa, Unilever Foods has made great strides with its recycling and composting practices in its factories worldwide. In September of 2009, its plant in Suffolk, Virginia announced that it had become a “zero landfill facility”. Through their aggressive recycling and composting programs, the company has achieved the result of not sending any waste to landfills.This factory is also the largest tea-processing facility in the United States, so it’s nice to see such a major factory taking a stand on sustainability.

The Humanure Hacienda

Name: The Humanure Hacienda

Location: Pennsylvania

Years: 2001-present

Founded by: Joe Jenkins & family

The Humanure Hacienda is a structure for composting human waste that was built by Joe Jenkins and his family for their personal use. It is located in the backyard of their Pennsylvania home. Known primarily as the author of The Humanure Handbook, Joe Jenkins is one of the leading advocates for the use of humanure in America. This book is a guide to implementing humanure systems, and it provides all the necessary information and procedures to get started, as well as ample reasons why one should use humanure in the first place. In Joe Jenkins’ backyard, he constructed a two-part humanure composting structure that he nicknamed the “Humanure Hacienda”. There are two twin composting bins that are filled with humanure; the family carries the waste out to the hacienda in buckets and dumps it in. However, only one bin is filled up at a time, and they are filled up in alternating years so that one side will always be aging so as to be soon ready for use in the garden, while the other side will be filling up on a daily basis. Jenkins has posted many pictures of the Humanure Hacienda as well as detailed descriptions of its functionality on his website so as to publicize this system and encourage people to implement a similar system in their own backyard.

In effect, Jenkins is practicing what he preaches, and I think that is refreshing to see. As a leading advocate of humanure, he should definitely be using it himself, so I am glad that he has found a successful way to do so and is widely publicizing it. This shows people that anyone can use humanure; it is a simple system that can be placed in your backyard, and the benefits are numerous.

Anti-Bottled Water Campaigns

Name: Anti-bottled Water Campaigns

Location: Throughout the US, mostly in major cities

Years: 2007-present

Funded by: City governments--mostly New York City and San Francisco

Starting in 2007, there has been a movement against bottled drinking water, and it has been gaining momentum ever since. One of the most effective parts of the campaign is a website called “Tappening”. This website provides a host of articles and information that support the theory that people should drink tap water. They provide statistics about how safe and good for you tap water is, and they also provide information about how wasteful bottles of water can be. In addition to Tappening, there is also a sister website called “Start A Lie” where people can email fake ads to their friends along the lines of “bottled water is the main source of restless leg syndrome” or “bottled water: 98% melted polar ice caps, 2% polar bear tears”. These funny and untruthful ads encourage people to think more carefully about their water drinking habits.

The anti-bottled water campaign has also had help from municipal governments across the United States. For example, in San Francisco, California, Mayor Gavin Newsom passed legislation in 2007 that outlawed the purchase of any bottled water with city money. Similarly, in 2007, New York City launched an ad campaign called “Get Your Fill” that encouraged New Yorkers to drink tap water rather than water in plastic bottles. They bragged that New York tap water is like the champagne of all tap water—i.e. that it tastes wonderful and is perfectly safe. The overall campaign cost $700,000!

I think it’s great that cities are taking a stand against bottled drinking water. Here in the United States, we are so fortunate that we actually do have tap water that is clean and safe to drink, yet sadly so many people choose not to take advantage of it. I think it’s a great idea to encourage people to consider the alternatives, like carrying a metal canteen around with them that they can continuously fill up with safe, healthy tap water.

Biofuel Plant

Name: Biofuel Plant

Location: Chacabuco, Argentina

Years: 2005-present

Founded by: Edmundo Defferrari

In 2005, 28-year-old entrepreneur Edmundo Defferrari built a $152,000 prototype of a biodiesel plant about 145 miles west of Buenos Aires. In order to build this prototype plant, Defferrari received funding from an Argentine seed company called Don Mario. This plant takes 12 tons of soybeans and converts it into 360 gallons of biodiesel in just one day. It also produces more than 10 tons of animal feed in a single day. Defferrari wants this idea to catch on throughout the world and imagines that 3-4 farmers could pool their money to build such a plant and turn a portion of their harvest into a profitable source of renewable energy. The biodiesel costs only about half as much as regular diesel, about 95 cents a gallon. The process is also automated, only requiring a human to load the soybeans and turn the machine on and off. This absence of human labor also contributes to the lower price of this biodiesel. Defferrari has also achieved a sustainable circle of use, because his customers who buy the biodiesel are the same people who grow the soybean feedstock that supplies the factory.

Desertec Industrial Initiative

Name: Desertec Industrial Initiative

Location: Northern Africa, but intended to supply power to Europe

Year: Breaks ground in 2011-2012

Funded by: Consortium of large German companies

On July 13, 2009, a group of 12 different large German companies announced that they had formed a consortium called the Desertec Industrial Initiative. They signed a Memorandum of Understanding and established their objective as analyzing and developing the technical, economic, political, social, and framework for carbon-free power generation in the deserts of northern Africa. The consortium includes such large companies as Siemens, RWE, Deutsche Bank, and Abengoa Solar. Together, this consortium will fund the construction of a huge solar power plant in northern Africa. This project, nicknamed Desertec, is one of the biggest private projects involving renewable energy and is supposed to break ground within the next two years. Though it will take 10 years initially before the plant will actually be able to provide power, this plant supposedly will be able to eventually supply 15% of Europe’s power via the collected solar power which powers steam turbines. The plant also hopes to provide a substantial portion of the producing country’s power as well.

I think it is great to see companies forming together to take these steps on a larger scale. This consortium is clearly concerned about the current state of power supply, and hopes to eventually lead the entire world to a system of sustainable power.


Years: 2005-present

Developer: Vestergaard Frandsen

Cost: less than $4

Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises, p.208

The European-based international organization Vestergaard Frandsen develops emergency response and disease control products. With the invention of LifeStraw, Vestergaard Frandsen aims to reduce the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by half. Currently, more than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water and nearly 6,000 people, mostly children, die from waterborne diseases every day.

LifeStraw is a drinking straw that contains filters capable of killing bacteria, such as E. coli, Shigella, Salmonella and microorganisms that cause diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, and cholera. With each sip of water, two textile filters catch large materials and clusters of bacteria; next, a chamber of iodine-filled beads kills smaller bacteria, viruses, and parasites; finally, a chamber containing granulated active carbon catches any remaining parasites and rids the water of the iodine smell. It removes 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria and 98% of waterborne bacteria. One LifeStraw can filter about 185 gallons (or 700 liters) of water, which is about one year’s worth of water for one person. Currently, the average distance that women in Africa and Asia walk to collect water is 6 km. LifeStraw is only 31 cm long and includes a string to hang around one’s neck, so it’s easy to carry around. Thus, LifeStraw will make safe drinking water much more accessible.

New Rice for Africa (NERICA)

Location: Africa

Years: mid-1990’s-present

Developer: Dr. Monty Jones and the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA)

Funding: African Development Bank, UN Development Program, Japanese government

Rice is in high demand in Africa. Rice imports represent 25% of total food imports in West and Central Africa. NERICA is a genetically engineered strain of rice that may restore agricultural sustainability in Africa, improve economics by encouraging local trade and reducing food imports, and strengthen the population’s health. NERICA mixes African rice, which is highly resistant to drought and local pests but which has a very low yield (triggering wide-spread slash-and-burn farming), and Asian rice, which has a very high yield but is more sensitive to environmental conditions (triggering increased use of pesticides). NERICA’s combined assets include higher yield, shorter growth duration, resistance to local stresses and higher protein content than traditional rice varieties.

While NERICA has potential to do good, it is controversial because it was developed in labs instead of as an incorporation of new seeds into African farms. NERICA is also a concern to small farmers and their local seed systems because it threatens to expand agribusiness. However, since most small farmers lack the means and money to irrigate or to buy pesticides, using NERICA could increase production, allowing them to feed their communities and participate in trade.

WorldChanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, p.68

Virtual Farmers' Market

Name: Virtual Farmers’ Market

Location: Frederick County, Maryland

Years: 2009-present

Sponsored by: The Frederick County Office of Economic Development

Earlier this year, the Frederick County Office of Economic Development sponsored the creation of a new website, called the Frederick County Virtual Farmers’ Market. This virtual farmers’ market is a website that serves the same purpose as a conventional farmers’ market: encouraging people to buy produce and other food products from local farmers. However, this online market is much more diverse than a conventional farmers’ market might be: it offers all of the usual produce, including fruits and vegetables; organic goods; cheese and dairy products; beef, poultry, and fish; jams and jellies; sauces and honeys; wine; and other baked goods. However, the virtual farmers’ market does not stop here. Since everything is listed online, it has the capacity to offer much more diverse and numerous products. Therefore, it also offers new things that relate to horses (both riding and boarding), compost, rabbits and sheep, wool products, trees, herbal beauty products, hay, and grain. It provides contact info for each farm that is offering products for sale, so you can arrange to go pick up the products that you see listed online or schedule a delivery.

In an age where online shopping has become the craze thanks to its convenience and ease, I think it is a wonderful idea for the farmers’ market to take advantage of this technology. People are very quick to access Google when they need to find or purchase something, so by making the products of a farmers’ market available online, the result is that a higher percentage of people will be exposed to these products. This increases the chances that people will buy from local farms, since an online market makes it extremely easy and convenient to shop and purchase products. The idea of a virtual farmers’ market is not limited to Frederick County alone; there are lots of different ones popping up throughout the country. However, the Frederick County market is a great example, as it provides both wonderful aesthetics with an abundance of farms and suppliers.

"Buy Fresh, Buy Local"

Name: “Buy Fresh, Buy Local”

Location: Throughout California

Years: 2002-present

Initiated by: The Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) & the Food Routes Network

In 2002 the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) joined with the Food Routes network to start a program called “Buy Fresh, Buy Local”. The purpose of this movement is to make it much easier for California residents to find local places to purchase food, and it encourages them to take advantage of these local sellers and farmers’ markets. The Buy Fresh, Buy Local website has a search engine that allows you to find local farms and farmers’ markets within a certain mile radius of your home, and there are tons of options. To a lesser extent, the website also offers listings of restaurants, institutions, grocers, retailers, and food artisans who adhere to the same guidelines as the farmers.

The Buy Fresh, Buy Local website has very high standards for any farmers who wish to have their farms listed online. For example, all of the farmers that are a part of this program are required to use biodiversity, reduce the use of pesticides and their effect on the land, compensate human workers fairly, treat animals humanely, protect water and wildlife, and reduce carbon emissions by only transporting food locally. The goal of the Buy Fresh, Buy Local movement is to fix many of the problems that face small family-owned farms today. For example, the movement hopes to strengthen regional economies, support small farmers, protect the local landscape and environment, encourage a sense of community, and provide deliciously fresh food for consumers.

I think that this movement is a great idea. Many people complain that it is too hard to find local food, and they use that as an excuse for why they buy so many processed products or products that are grown very far away. However, just by taking a quick look at this website, people will see how much easier it is than they thought. The website provides a comprehensive list of farmers close by, and it offers a practical way to eat locally.