BioCycle August 2010, Vol. 51, No. 8, p. 6
10th Annual Biocycle Renewable Energy Conference News
The finishing touches are being put on the agenda for BioCycle’s 10th Annual Conference on Renewable Energy From Organics Recycling, October 18-20, 2010 in Des Moines, Iowa (see pages 15-17 of this issue). The conference program “captures the energy” surrounding this sector of the renewable energy industry. The Opening Plenary features Karl Brooks, Regional Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 7, who will emphasize how organic waste management, renewable energy and smart growth connect to build sustainable communities. Chris Voell, manager of EPA’s AgSTAR program, will present anaerobic digestion trends in the United States. And Brian Dick, CEO of Quest Recycling Services, LLC, will take the podium to discuss how to establish a sustainable food waste recycling infrastructure for major national retailers. Quest is managing Walmart’s initiative to divert all food waste from disposal by this fall.
Session topics include: Urban Renewable Energy Opportunities; Entrepreneuring In The Biogas Space; Nebraska Collaboration To Advance Methane Recovery; Sourcing Organics For Codigestion; Woody Biomass Energy; Biogas Utilization In Natural Gas Grids; Public Policies To Stimulate Biogas Markets; Codigestion At Wastewater Treatment Plants; and the American Biogas Council’s Legislative Forum. On Wednesday, October 20, there will be tours of the City of Des Moines’ wastewater treatment plant operations, focusing on its addition of high strength organics to anaerobic digesters, and of Iowa State University’s BioCentury Research Farm, a 1,000-acre facility exploring all facets of renewable fuels production as well as development of bioproducts.
GMO Canola Discovered In The Wild
Researchers from the University of Arkansas and North Dakota State conducting plant surveys along nearly 3,000 miles of public roadways in North Dakota have discovered established feral populations of genetically engineered canola. Of 406 plants sampled, 347, or 86 percent of them, tested positive for transgenic inducement of tolerance to the herbicide glyphosate. Two instances of “stacked” or multiple transgenic traits were also found, according to the research abstract, which pointed out that canola varieties with multiple transgenic traits have not been commercially released.
Veggie Bus Tours Urban Farms
From May 19 to July 10, 2010, a group of friends (two of them brothers) who also happen to be media professionals toured the country – mostly in a vegetable-oil-powered school bus – visiting urban farms and chronicling their experience in words, still photography and video. Breaking Through Concrete: Stories from the American Urban Farm is at once an entertaining and informative website, a book in process and may morph into a documentary. One of the journeymen was Edwin Marty, founder and executive director of Jones Valley Urban Farm, a nonprofit, education and working production farm located in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Also on board were brothers David and Michael Hanson. “I really loved New Orleans and the East Vietnamese community we visited … the Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz … the Catherine Ferguson Academy farm in Detroit … the Philadelphia Greensgrow Project,” rattles off Michael Hanson, when asked to recall defining moments of the tour. “But that was the whole point of the thing – to show off all the different aspects of urban farming.” That includes the challenges urban farmers face, adds brother David Hanson. “One of the main issues with urban farms is that almost all of them, even if they are not actually EPA-identified brownfields, at least have some lead and other heavy metal issues. One farm we visited started out doing hydroponics because it was easier and meant they didn’t have to deal with contamination issues right away.” Project partner Edwin Marty planted a rotation of iron and clay cowpeas to add nitrogen to depleted soils and sunflowers to pull out the toxins, explains David Hanson, adding that that many urban farmers don’t own the land they farm and so are vulnerable to the whimsy of landowners and the real-estate market.
“I think urban farms are the lightning rod for the discussion of this new food movement,” he says. Urban farms not only yield food; they provide critical social services such as job and life-skills training, horticultural therapy and keeping kids off the streets while learning about where their food comes from. “These farms are located within a dense audience that includes thousands more people a than rural farm would, which offers a little bit of cache as the engine to tell the story of the possibilities for our food and for farming – and these are possibilities that don’t exist right now.”
“Rot And Roll” Compost Parties
What does a compost facility at a landfill, a museum, a university commons, a gazebo at a park and a couple of food banks have in common? Each were the venues for a recent Compost Garden Party, held by local compost advocates in partnership with the Compost Council of Canada (CCC) to support compost use and the edible gardening-food sharing initiative, Plant a Row — Grow a Row. And when 250 people line up at the gates of a landfill-composting facility on a Friday night in July for a free barbeque, compost sampling and an evening concert featuring a young Canadian band, Jane’s Party, it is definitely a community happening that went beyond all possible predictions.
“Our ‘rot and roll’ Compost Garden Parties are a fun way to recognize the value of composting, edible gardening and the sharing of the harvest with those in need,” says John Deagle, Manager of the Foothills Regional Landfill in High River, Alberta who, along with the staff at the CCC, helped spearhead these happenings. “The party was a great way for us to ‘edutain’ about composting at our facility and build new networks within our community.” In addition to High River, the summer parties were held in Olds, Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta as well as Brandon and Winnipeg, Manitoba with additional spring events in Arthur and Toronto, Ontario. Each event received in-kind support from Hidden Valley Ranch dressings and SunChips. The Council plans to expand these parties at additional compost facilities and programs during Compost Week and the 2011 gardening preparation season.
The successful Plant A Row — Grow A Row program will be on the agenda at the Compost Council of Canada’s 20th Annual National Compost Conference, September 21-24, 2010 at the Crowne Plaza Ottawa in Ottawa, Ontario. The conference includes two tour days – one day focused on Toronto region projects (Sept. 21) and the second day touring facilities in the Ottawa region (Sept. 22). The complete conference agenda, and registration details, can be viewed at www.compost.org.
Transitioning Away From Oil
Transition Towns represent a network of communities across the globe actively planning for a future without oil. The movement was born out of an “Energy Descent Action Plan” developed by permaculture instructor Rob Hopkins and his students at the Kinsdale Further Education College in Kinsdale, Ireland. Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that reflect natural ones. The Transition Movement applies these principles to the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil, addressing themes of energy production, health and wellness, education, economics and food production and distribution, all at the community or local level. As of May 2010, there were more than 300 Transition Towns worldwide. Initiatives range from establishing community gardens, to feasibility studies for anaerobic digesters to produce power and process food waste locally, to “community powerdowns” (collective efforts to slow the meter), to increasing awareness about composting and recycling, to carpooling, cycling and improving mass-transit options and ridership. A cornerstone of the Transition network is its inherent positive outlook. Transition US holds the vision “that every community in the United States will have engaged its collective creativity to unleash an extraordinary and historic transition to a future beyond fossil fuels; a future that is more vibrant, abundant and resilient; one that is ultimately preferable to the present.” Find out more at http://www.transitionus.org.
Online EPA Calculator Helps Manage Food Waste
According to a recent food-waste management webinar hosted by the USEPA, 97,000 billion pounds of food annually — or about 3,000 pounds a second — gets discarded in the United States, most of it headed for methane-spewing landfills. Landfills are the largest human-related source of methane in the U.S., representing 34 percent of all emissions of a noxious gas that packs 21 times more global warming potential than CO2, EPA Region 5 presenter Chris Newman informed more than 200 webinar participants representing 30 U.S. states and Canada. This level of food waste, he said, encompasses more than 25 percent of our food supply and represents a $100 billion annual hit on our economy. To help residences, business and institutions – anywhere food is consumed – reduce food waste, the EPA has launched a Food Waste Management Calculator. The online tool helps those who deal with food on a daily basis set up a waste profile, learn about and evaluate preferred diversion methods and compare cost estimates for disposal versus alternative scenarios. The calculator gives food-service professionals an easy tool for tracking data so they can identify culprits such as overproduction and trim waste. “Since we began to track it, we’ve reduced waste by 66.2 percent,” said Swedish Medical Center Executive Chef Eric Eisenberg. What’s nice about the calculator, Eisenberg told webinar participants, is that you can utilize it for projecting different scenarios and use the professional report generated to justify compost infrastructure investments to administrators (you will need to open an Excel file to use the calculator). According to the EPA website: “The Calculator demonstrates that environmentally and socially responsible food waste management is cost-effective for many facilities and waste streams. The more you know about your current waste management costs, the more accurate the calculator’s estimate will be, but default values are provided for many variables.” Find that calculator at: http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/organics/food/tools/.
An article in the July 2010 issue of BioCycle, “Compost-Based Growing System Sprouts Innovation,” profiled a community garden project started by Somali Bantu refugees in Syracuse, New York. Filtrexx International’s Garden Soxx are used in the garden, which is located on property owned by Tompkins USA. The article reported that Filtrexx had purchased Tompkins USA, which is incorrect. Filtrexx International partnered with Tompkins in establishing the Somali Bantu gardens.
Two Indian States Plan To Grow Completely Organic
Two of India’s 28 states, Kerala and Sikkim, recently announced plans to grow all organic. In the southern state of Kerala, the first phase of the 10-year transition from chemicals to compost will involve more than 30,000 hectares (over 66,000 acres) of farmland, according to The Hindu Business Line. The new policy will encourage formation of organic farming peer-to-peer groups and cooperatives to exchange ideas and information related to cultivation, input production, certification and marketing of organic products. The program will also include financial assistance and is based upon economic considerations as well as soil and water conservation goals. The Kerala Agriculture University and other research institutions have been encouraged to develop mutually beneficial learning partnerships with local farmers, creating models that rely less on outside inputs and more on techniques such as crop rotation, cover crops, green manures and farm-generated compost.
Farther up north, backdropped by the Himalayas near Nepal and Tibet, the tiny state of Sikkim plans to convert all of its farms to certified organic agriculture by 2015. According to the Economic Times, Sikkim has already converted 6,000 of its 70,000 hectares of agricultural land. The New York Times reports that the phase-out of chemical agriculture was initially undertaken to protect water, soil and human health but that now the country sees the move as a potential boon to tourism as well. The transition began with the government pulling the plug on subsidies for chemical fertilizers.
The term “organic” itself as related to agricultural practices holds its roots in India, where, based upon observing local farming techniques, Sir Albert Howard developed the Indore method of composting. In 1931, Howard first wrote about the benefits of utilizing available waste materials to build and maintain soil fertility and structure.
Ohio River Study Turns Up Drugs
Research samples taken recently from the Ohio River upstream and downstream of Louisville, Kentucky, contained an array of chemicals from antibiotics to cocaine, according to the Courier-Journal.
While those involved in the study said the pollutants are too dilute to cause health concerns for the 5 million people who use the river for drinking water, scientists independent of the findings warned that some of the chemicals have been linked to feminization of aquatic species. According to the news report, the sampling of 22 sites along the 981-mile river detected the widespread presence of what the USEPA is denoting as “contaminants of emerging concern,” despite sewage treatment processes designed to screen out a significant percentage of these substances. Other contaminants detected included veterinary hormones and antidepressants. A separate 2004 study found trace levels of some of these drugs in Louisville Water Co. tap water.
European Compost Network Update
The European Compost Network (ECN) released the first edition of its redesigned newsletter, which is chock full of information about composting and anaerobic digestion projects and public policies. The lead story reports that the Environment Committee of the European Parliament voted in favor of developing legislation to develop a more cohesive policy regarding biowaste management. The Parliament requires a proposal for specific legislation on biowaste by the end of 2010, addressing such issues as establishment of a mandatory separate collection system for Member States (except where this is not the appropriate option for either economic or environmental reasons); recycling of biowaste; and establishing quality-based classification of the different types of compost from biowaste.
ECN is sponsoring a conference on Anaerobic Digestion of Waste, December 2-3, 2010 in Dublin, Ireland. The newsletter also announced the appointment of Stefanie Siebert as its new Executive Director. Siebert has a background in soil science and has worked for the German Compost Quality Assurance Organization BGK since 2006. She will oversee communications and ECN’s Compost Quality Assurance Scheme. The ECN NEWS will be published every two months and can be downloaded from the ECN website www.compostnetwork.info/newsletter.
August 17, 2010 | General
BioCycle August 2010, Vol. 51, No. 8, p. 6