Monday, November 28, 2011

ng update

I haven't felt much like writing (and haven't had the time) so just more dorky updates on our energy use. I'm going to start posting our natural gas usage along with the amount of electricity we use.



Thursday, November 10, 2011

kWh update

Dorky household electrical usage update below. 


Monday, November 07, 2011

aspo 2011 annual conference

I just got back from the ASPO US annual conference in Washington D.C. I had a great time and met some wonderful people.  Here's my presentation.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

#occupy the media



At this point I do not know what to expect from the #Occupy Wall Street movement, but I do admit to being greatly amused at the way tit is making the conventional media squirm, now that that group has decided to cover them at all.  Part of the reason I haven't been writing as much lately is that other people have been doing a damn good job of saying something similar to what I want to express about all sorts of stuff.  On this topic Matt Taibbi has two great posts that address media coverage of OWS.

Why Occupy Wall Street is Bigger than Left vs. Right

and

Why Rush Limbaugh is freaking out about Occupy Wall Street

Essentially Matt says the OWS message and sometimes their lack of message doesn't fit the conventional media formula.  He's right and even before I read his take on the issue I was almost more interested in watching the media response than watching the protestors themselves.

Conventional Media in the US, and I'm including here Fox, MSNBC, CNN, NPR, etc., has done this country a great disservice by selling out or perhaps just capitulating to the idea that the way to frame a media story is to polarize it, to line up two and only two arguments on the so called left and the so called right (I love their "so called" short hand disclaimer that these terms aren't perpetuated by them but by others) and let two representatives of each end of the political spectrum go at it.  Then at the end of story they offer up a sort of "You Decide!" question to the audience.  It is as if some stories have no right or wrong answer- as if banks receiving 10 trillion dollars in taxpayers dollars should or perhaps should not be able to give more than a hundred billion dollars out in bonuses the following year.  You decide!

Or perhaps some stories can't have more than two perspectives.  I fault all the major media outlets for this but I come down hardest on NPR which pretends not to have biases while the growth mantra of economics is built into everything money story they cover.  There are never any stories about economics that aren't based on the idea that not only is it grow or no-grow but that grow is the best case economic scenario.   I'm not permoting any particaulr alternative here in this post, just pointing out that such a perspective would get no air time on theirs or any other conventional media program.  Ask Diane Rehm about staedy state economics and she'd look at you like you'd just grown another head. 

And that leads me to another way in which it is fun to watch the media fail to figure out what to do with OWS- the group has of yet no clear demands or agenda.  It is as if the media is annoyed that OWS won't get on with it and publish a hard and fast set of wants and a list of leaders who will lobby for those wants.  So that the media can give the right and the left a chance to fight about the OWS set of wants and demonize the OWS list of leaders (You decide!) and then move on to the next media story.

Like I said I don't know what if anything the OWS movement might accomplish.  Personally I'm happy to let them do what they say they plan on doing for a while OCCUPY.  It's interesting enough to watch the media squirm at this point.  I'll leave you with a question though.  What if a group of largely young, largely disaffect youth learn how to organize through consent and were ready to respond to the next big revelation of corporate and governmental corruption, mismanagement or out right theft?  This is what has the 1% concerned.   



Monday, October 17, 2011

bloggin' again?

Note to readers: I parked this blog a few months back.  That had a lot to do with me having lots of (read too many) projects going on in the physical world.  I am going to have to scale some of them back and give up on others.  I am going back to the original intent of this blog, my way of making sense of the world- my therapy of choice.   You might get pictures of narwhals my daughter likes on one day and observations on the #Occupy movement like above on the next.  No promises.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

electric reduction

Another UPDATE:

This is the start of the second year of an effort to more greatly reduce our energy use.  I'm even spelling the months correctly in the most recent chart. 

NEW UPDATE:

August rounded out one year with the TED device and the new wood stove.   We saved 3423 kWh.  It also became clear to us that despite living in a home designed to keep rather cool and being pretty conscientiousness about the thermostat (usually between 78-82 degrees F) air conditioning is a huge part of our footprint.

Also this program, Plot Watt, is suppose to interface with the TED and give us a much more thorough breakdown of our usage but I can't get it to work- software issues.

After A/C the big hog is the electric clothes dryer.  We upgraded to a sweet new line and Jennifer, who does most of our laundry, redoubled her efforts to use it.

We're about to get a new washing machine to better address the issue.  Yes you read that correctly.  We're getting a new washer to reduce the amount of energy we spend drying clothes.  Both our washer and dryer are 10 years old.  In addition to a new washer being more efficient in the energy and water it uses, the new one will spit the clothes out almost already dry.  We'll hold off on a new dryer for now. 

END NEW UPDATE

OLD UPDATE:

It's been a hot, hot summer but still...END OLD UPDATE:

This is a graph that represents the amount of electricity my family used from September 20o9 until March 2010 vs the amount used one year later after installing the TED smart meter.

It represents an average reduction of 44% over a 6 month period totaling 2112 kWh saved. At an average cost of $0.10/kWh that is $211 dollars. The smart meter costs $240.


It also gets us down to about 40% of what the average American household uses and there are four of us.

Read an old post of mine about the TED smart meter by clicking here.

Aaron

Sunday, August 14, 2011

new dietary guidelines

If you eat this way I promise you will lose unwanted weight and have more energy- guaranteed.
The people who design government dietary guidelines are gagged by the fact that politics and business are so tightly intertwined in this country. Their advice will never directly target the primary source of obesity and metabolic dysfunction-- industrially processed food-- because that would hurt corporate profits in one of the country's biggest economic sectors.
More interesting is the take over of imaging and marketing to support a more truthful message. We're likely to see more of this as the ship sinks.

More here...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

japanese farmer suicide

Tokyo (CNN) -- A farmer's farewell, etched in white chalk, is echoing menacingly through Japan's agricultural sector.

"Wish there was no nuclear power plant. My endurance has come to an end," the note says.

The farmer, in his 50s, then killed himself on the land he struggled to maintain since Japan's tsunami and nuclear crisis began.

The dairy farmer's suicide message was left on the wall of one of the man's barns, members of a local farming bureau said. The man also apologized to his family and friends in the note.

Hiroyuki Ebihara, a member of a local chapter of Japan Agricultural Cooperatives, said he knew the farmer personally and tried to check in with him after the March 11 disaster.

On June 11, Ebihara says, members of his group found the farmer's body.

"The situation here is depressing for everyone," says Ebihara. "We are all in the same situation. Our future with daily farming is unclear, especially since we don't know what the compensation will be. We want TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) or the government to come out with a clear plan for compensation."

The man had fled Japan with his family to the Philippines after the earthquake and tsunami. He returned to the farm after 10 days to care for his cows. The farmer's family remained in the Philippines until this week when they returned for the man's funeral.

He leaves behind a wife and two children, Ebihara says.

The agricultural sector of Soma -- the farmer's region -- has been deeply impacted by the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

entire article here

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

evaluating adaptation projects

(sample project list)

My family, like most others, has a limited amount of time and resources. We also have differing opinions about what constitutes appropriate adaptations to a changing world. Put differently, my wife thinks I’m crazy to consider adding meat rabbits to our yard this year and just how to decide if she’s right?

Last year I read a post by John Michael Greer, entitled The Cybernetics of Black Knights (hat tip Jack) which inspired the following system. His system which I have modified, was aimed at more narrowly deciding on which projects might be more important and timely. My adjustments are aimed at coming up with a system for making decisions about adapting strategies to undertake in the context of a family with differing opinions on what should be done when and how.

So when facing this question of what to do next how might a family more forward? Here’s what we did.

First on a separate sheets of paper my wife and I wrote down all of the projects we both wanted to undertake – for example putting up a new clothes line and adding meat rabbits. Some projects were known to both of us, projects we had previously discussed. Others fell into the category of secret longings, the refinished kitchen complete with new counter tops for example.

To say that all of the projects were directly related to adapting in place with regards to peak oil, climate change and financial upheaval would be misleading but most had a solid component of reducing our energy and resource use. While a deck on the back of our house would seem like more of an amenity than a need, it will also provide a place to live outdoors (something appropriate in my climate much of the year) and would give us a place to cook and can food in the hot of the summer without heating the interior of our house. In this way many projects were lobbied for as both lifestyle improvements and adaptive strategies. How to know then which one to start with?

We took both our lists and combined them. Then we printed two copies of the combined list. We both took a copy of the list and labeled it with a number and letter.

The numbers corresponded with the following:

1 – This is a project we could do easily with the resources readily available to us.
2 – This is a project we could do, though it would take some effort to get the resources.
3 – This is a project we could do, but it would be a serious challenge.
4 – This is a project that, for one reason or another, is out of reach for us at the moment.

A – This is a project that is immediately and obviously useful for our lives right now.
B – This is a project that could be useful to for us given certain changes we expect in the near term.
C – This is a project that might be useful if our lives if circumstances were to change significantly.
D – This is a project that, for one reason for another, is useless or irrelevant to us at this moment.

Then we recombined the list. Each project got coded with both letters and numbers with 11AA projects at the top of the list and 44DD projects at the bottom. Each item got a cost estimate and schedule time of completion. When we reevaluate the list in the future we will add an estimate of the number of hours a given item is expected to take.


This exercise will produce a rough guide regarding how to prioritize your adaptation strategies. You can refine it. Once you decide, let’s say, that weatherstripping the leaky windows of your apartment before winter arrives is a 1-A project – easy as well as immediately useful – you’ve set up an intentionality that allows you to winnow through a great deal of data and find the information you need: for example, what kind of weatherstripping is available at the local hardware store, and which one can you install without spending a lot of money or annoying your landlord.

Once you decide that building a brand new ecovillage in the middle of nowhere is a 4-D project, you can set aside data relevant to that project and pay attention to things that matter, not just to you but also to the other people in your family, which is key to making real progress.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

carolina ground: farmer + miller + baker = NC grown bread


Update:


They made it. Thanks to all who help.


I have never run advertising on this site. I do have a donate button in the sidebar but I have never actively asked for money; in part so I will seem more genuine when asking for money for people like those working on Carolina Ground. ;-)

Less than 3 days left in the campaign and they are within $3000 of their goal. Check out the video below. If you have enjoyed checking this blog enough over the years to consider supporting it financially don't send me money. Give instead to this project. Minimum donation is $10 so you don't have to give much.

Donate here.

Thanks.

Aaron

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

reducing your resource use... and staying married

Just a little warning: This post is going to be less about the actual ways you can reduce the amount of resources you use and more about how you can do it and still stay married. And it’s probably going to ramble on a bit.

I started thinking about this when I found out about Kathy Harrison’s new book, “’I Can’t Believe You Think That!’ Relationship Struggles around Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Hard Times”. You can read a teaser blog post here:

How to ruin a perfectly good argument about peak oil, climate change or economic troubles.

When I read the post I immediately forward it to my wife. Yes we are still married despite our share arguments about how to adapt to the coming changes but there have been plenty of times when the actual adaptation she or I was contemplating turned out to be much easier than the conversations about what to do. It wasn’t so much reducing our electrical usage as it was deciding to do it, how to do it and making all the other minor decisions that go along with major change. I’m not going to list out strategies for handling loved ones during the process of adaptation. Rather I am just going to share some of what my family has experienced.

A little background: My wife and I have been married almost 10 years. We’ve know each other for more than 20. We are in our mid-30s and have 3 and 5 year old daughters.

When I first started talking about "resource depletion" I didn’t use such swell sounding phrase. Back then it was all about “peak oil” and all the changes that would come as a consequence. Not the more nuanced discussion that takes place on many websites today but the more alarmist rhetoric that ruled the Internet back when Matt Savinar’s now retired website was about the only information on peak oil. My friend Todd used to call it “the black page of death”. To my wife’s horror I went through the classic 5 stages of grief as I mourned the end of civilization on account of peak oil and wallowed in stage 4 – Depression.

It was no surprise then that when I finally broke out into stage 5 – Acceptance- my wife looked with skepticism on all the plans I was beginning to make. She didn’t want to get sucked into the same sort of depressing vortex that had befallen me. She wanted nothing to do with anything that was related to peak oil. I can say I blame her. I had a tough time and it took quite a while but eventually she and I were able to talk more openly about all the changes that might be prudent now that we were facing, together, a world where fewer resources, energy and otherwise, would likely be available to us.

One strategy I stumbled upon was to make it tangible for her; to make the changes something she could track. In December of 2007 we had our house sealed and insulated. You can read about that here. It was an important step towards reducing the amount of energy our household consumes. On the list of errors in judgment I would attribute to myself, I scheduled this construction project for late in my wife’s second pregnancy. It also took place over the course of 3 consecutive Fridays instead of 3 straight days in a row. That had to do with the contractor’s schedule but it also meant cleaning up the dust and the mess three separate times. Another misstep of mine. However in the end our house was tighter and cozier and quieter and I was happy. We were happy. But Jennifer’s happiness was most obvious on the first day of the following month. That was the day she received the first natural gas bill after a month of having the home improvements in place. Our energy use had dropped dramatically- down more than 50% compared to the previous January’s bill.

Now you may be thinking that she was excited about all the money we were saving and she was. But that was not the main reason behind her giddiness as she read me the numbers out over the phone. (She had called me at work with the news, unable to wait until I got home.) For her, seeing the reduction made it real. It also made it into a game. How much less can we use in February vs. last February became the goal of our energy reducing exercise. Turning down the thermostat or putting on a sweater or wrapping the hot water heater with insulation was not longer just another pain-in-the-ass request by her husband. Now it was a move in the game aimed at even further reducing our next month’s natural gas bill. Who knew my wife would ever utter phrases like, “therms used per month?”

In fact our NG provider’s website allows you to compare any two months from the last several years of your usage. And they don’t just track therms. They track the average monthly temperature, nights with temps below 40 degrees, days in the billing cycle, cost and other stuff. Our most recent bill arrived today and was pretty impressive.


We’re down from 57 therms used in March 2012 to 24 therms used this year. Unfortunately our NG provider doesn’t keep records online going back to the time before we sealed and insulated our home. The first year after doing so we saw on average a reduction of about 50%. That means it is likely we went from more than 100 therms in previous months of March to now using on 24 therms. That is a pretty significant reduction.

So you might be wondering how we further reduced our NG useage in the winter of 2011-12. The answer,


A Vermont Castings Encore woodstove. Now I don’t plant to get into the pros and cons of different heating systems in this post. What I do want to talk about is the theme of cooperation and compromise among family members while adapting to change. The stove pictured above is beautiful and it came with a handsome tax rebate (although not as big a rebate as was described to us by its salesman) and we have greatly enjoyed having it but… it was more expensive than the stove I would have purchased. In fact I would have been happy with a used stove, one that wasn’t really attractive at all. My wife however fell for the VC Encore. She liked the way it looked. I like its efficiency rating and quality reputation and so I agreed to spend more than I would have spent on the stove of my choice in part to satisfy her desire to have this particular stove.

Some of you might think this is silly -that in our time of change the last thing we should be worried about is compromising with a spouse for the sake of aesthetics. But I would argue against that sort of thinking. True if the extra money hadn’t been there or was strongly needed for another project then it would have been foolish to spend it on the upgraded stove. But the decision was made as a team and was therefore possible and carried out rather smoothly.

Incidentally she didn’t grow up with a woodstove in regular operation so she was unprepared for the twigs and the ash and such that seem to mess up the area around the stove. She dealt with that though, her borderline obsession with a clean floor, and I did my best to clean up after reloading the stove beyond what I would have done if I lived on my own. More compromise.

Another added benefit was the house was much warmer than the 58/62 degrees we were used to the previous few winters. My wife really liked that. It’s not that we tried to keep it a lot hotter but when you’re trying to get a stove to the temperature at which it combusts gases instead of releasing them into the atmosphere you tend to end up with at least a few rooms warmer than 62 degree. But I digress.

So just how did we decide which projects to take on, how much to budget and some sort of order for getting them done? How did we do it together? That will be the subject of my next post.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

cabarus county food system interviews

These are unedited interviews by Sidney Cruze of David Goforth and Carl Pless. Sidney works with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and is conducting the Cabarrus County Community Food Assessment(CFA).

Eventually these interviews, along with many others that were not captured on camera, will be shared as part of the full CFA report. What does the food system look like in Cabarrus County? This assessment will tell us and will help us get to work creating a new system for the future in our county. You have to know where you are before you can start off on any journey.

Big thanks to Chris Bullard for shooting these and getting them up on the Internet.



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

smidgie size me




I recently read an article in The New York Times about the shrinking size of food packages, an alternative for the food companies who don't want to raise the cost of the items we buy at the grocery store but are facing higher commodity prices for the materials they use to make and transport those items. This is nothing new. From a 2008 Times article,
Soaring commodity and fuel prices are driving up costs for manufacturers; faced with a choice between raising prices (which consumers would surely notice) or quietly putting fewer ounces in the bag, carton or cup (which they generally don't) manufacturers are choosing the latter. You can read the rest of that article here.
The newer article though sounds different to me. Maybe it's the tone.
“For indulgences like ice cream, chocolate and potato chips, consumers may say ‘I don’t mind getting a little bit less because I shouldn’t be consuming so much anyway,’ ” said Professor Gourville.
Yeah, that's right. We should be eating less. Remember when Wendy's "downsized"? That was a little different.
Wendy's is doing away with the 'Biggie' drink size and returning to the terms everybody else uses: small, medium and large.

The difference is, though, that Wendy's is increasing the size of all their drinks. What was medium is now a small, etc. So now, small is a 20 ounce drink, medium is 32 ounces and a new 42 ounce size is a called a large. I'll say! 42 ounces is 1.2 liters (or 5 1/4 cups... a third of gallon). Wendy's will still sell a 16 ounce drink on its 99 cent value menu. (link)
Talk about spin. See the processed food companies are in a pickle. They need Americans to feel like they are getting what they are used to which is a lot- often too much- food per item or serving size but the cost of cheap food is going up. The quandary, how to delicately address the needs of the American psyche and it's warped relationship with food and still make a profit.

I remember learning that in undeveloped nations the processed foods are often packaged in single serving sizes because that is what most citizens can afford. In the poorer sections of the town where I live the convenience stores sell single cigarettes. Maybe that's where we're headed with food. Unable to afford 'Biggie-Sized' any longer but mentally and emotionally unable to give up crap food we will dole out a few coins for the 'Smidgie-Sized' portions and blame it on the fact that we are an overweight nation.


Some Serving Size History

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

food production planning

I get asked fairly frequently about how I plan my gardening/farming efforts. It is true that regardless of how well you plan all sorts of stuff will change your plans. However, I think a production plan it's essential to a sucessful food-growing effort.

Things to consider in creating your plan:

1. Grow what you eat. And grow it in quantities that are reasonable. You don't have to grow radishes if you don't like them. And if you do grow them plant only a few at a time. Staggered planting is something a production plan can help you accomplish.

2. Include the name of the varieties you grow. This will help with records when planning for the future.

3. Assign a target date to each of your plantings. You may not hit this date exactly but you will be more likely to get your vegetables in the ground at the best anticipated time if you actually assign a date. It will also help you to estimate the harvest time and/or quantity of food coming in for the future.

4. Stagger your plantings. Especially with those radishes, but really with any of your vegetables that get picked only once. Plan fewer in quantity and do it more often.

5. Assign your vegetables a location. This will help you to better understand what you can and cannot fit into your garden. It's essential for record keeping and planning for the future.

6. Include the following three plantings in each location so you can properly rotate your crops. Later on, you might not remember that you want spring vegetables in Field 3 or you might remember that only after you've planted a successful cover crop that won't be ready to turn into the soil until after spring vegetables should have already been planted

7. Don't get too hung up on the plan. You are going to make changes to it. It will be a living document so don't put off getting started on your production plan just because you're afraid you don't have absolutely everything decided upon today.

I hope this helps.

Aaron

Thursday, March 10, 2011

cabarrus county food policy council logo

I haven't stopped paying attention to national or international issues related to resources depletion, energy descent, economic catastrophe or other wide spread, unanticipated events. I have been more focused on my local community though; especially in regards to food. And I admit to not having set aside enough time to share as much as I should about what is happening here. I hope to remedy that soon.

In the meantime I'd like to be the first to publicly share the recently adopted Cabarrus County Food Policy Council Logo. The plan is for this image to become the heart of a Local Food Marketing Campaign. Details to be developed as it is rolled out into the community.

Aaron

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

design project four :: a large farm in small pieces


OK let's take a look at an existing parcel of land and do a bit of planning with the end goal of a working homestead that produces not only most of what the residents need and want but also produces extra to generate income. This particular parcel is made up of open land that was formerly farmed shown in yellow-green and areas of existing forest shown in dark green. You can see the existing residence and detached garage at the end of the driveway that connects them to the road.


Moving forward I've removed the colour that indicates which area is open space and which are is existing forest but I've left the outline of the forest so we can keep an eye on it during the planning process.

There are several locations that lend themselves to becoming ponds for water cleansing and storage as well as a place to raise fish, frogs and other protein sources and to serve as habitat for all the animals living on this and the surrounding properties. Pond and stream construction will be a major undertaking so it's best to locate these early in the process and to do this work as soon as possible.

Next I've highlighted areas to remain as existing forest areas. These will serve as habitat for animals and plants and also as a sustainable fuel source for home heating and cooking. They can also be sustainably foraged. One area at the northern edge of the parcel is shown as a reforestation project.


The next image shows tree replacement in several previously forested locations in the form of two different types of orchards. Near the residence you can see row orchards with fruit trees. These will also have cover crops grown under that trees and will serve as a place to pasture poultry. The mixed orchards shown further from the residence will contain a more varied selection of trees including maples for syrup, oaks for acorns, fruit and nut trees and hardwoods for lumber. This mixed orchard will be more intensively managed than the areas left as existing forest but will not be clear cut and replanted all at once. Old trees will be cut for lumber for construction projects on the property and for fuel and new trees will be phased in. The end goal is a managed forest that is not as natural as the native mature forests of this part of the country but not as non-natural as the row orchards.


Certain areas are fenced in and will serve as rotating pastures for cows, sheep, goats, poultry and llamas. I have always wanted llamas.


Row crops will be grown between the main residence and several new residences and out buildings shown below. The main circulation paths are also shown below. Notice how most of the row crops, new structures and pasture areas are outside the outline of the existing forest.


The final plan tries to consider the needs of those humans who inhabit the site as well as the other plants and animals that share this parcel of land. It has a diversity of ecosystems making it a more flexible, adaptable homestead.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

neighborhood farming


This week we're going to examine a strategy aimed at expanding the area available for growing food in a particular neighborhood. It happens to be the neighborhood where I live. The map above shows my town. My neighborhood is marked by an asterisk. I don't have an abundance of sun in my yard so a few years ago I went looking to see if other people had more sun and were interested in growing food. Here's my neighborhood.


Here's my property in red.


I started by going across the street and asking my elderly neighbor if I could garden in her backyard. Then I recruited Eric who grows food in his backyard and is transitioning into a career as a farmer. Next I was able to start a garden in the backyard of the rental house next door to my property. It was part of a bartering arrangement whereby the landlord agreed to take down a few dying trees and in return I now grow food on her property. All of these active gardens are shown in dark green.



Several other people have expressed interest in helping to grow neighborhood food and/or have offered a sunny spot for a garden. These properties are shown in light green.


The biggest single area under cultivation is the vacant lot down the street. I've had some sort of a garden on that property for four years but this year it has been greatly expanded. It's shown in yellow.


Next we have the people interested in buying food. In years past I have given extra produce to these people, sometimes just leaving it on the backdoor step of neighbors I've never met as a way to start up a conversation. This year some of these people might formalize the relationship by becoming paying customers. These folks are shown in blue.



Other people in the neighborhood have offered compostable material, especially fallen leaves and grass clippings. Most of them have also expressed interest in helping to grow food and/or buying it. In fact most of the property owners represented on this map have overlapping interests in this neighborhood farming effort. These people are shown in orange.



Lastly there's the elementary school right around the corner. They have a great courtyard perfect for growing food and quite a bit of land out back that could be used to grow a great deal of vegetables. Frankly I haven't had the time to seriously address this opportunity... yet.


All of this needs work. Yes we have 462 gallons of rainwater storage capacity at the site across the street from my house and 12 raised beds and a great old apple tree. At the vacant lot however we don't have enough mulch stored for this coming growing season and we'll have to use municipal water unless I can find enough people willing to put in a decent rainwater harvesting system. A formal work schedule has yet to be developed. And the school, a huge opportunity, has not been included as of now. In other words this is, like any collective effort, an ongoing project that I imagine will continue to evolve. But it is the beginnings of model of expanding food production efforts beyond the boundaries of one particular property and out into the surrounding community. I can't wait to see where we go from here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

concord nc proposed backyard chicken regulation



I've been asked for this many times so I'm just going to post it online.

The following is the actual Proposed UDO Text Amendment to allow chickens as pets on residential lots within the city limits of Concord, North Carolina. Number 9 was forced on us by the way.

Incidentally this amendment was voted down by the Concord City Council in 2009. My birds remain at an undisclosed location.


Article 8Article 8. Use Regulations

Section 8.38.3 Supplemental Regulations for Certain Uses

F. Lots that are zoned for and utilized as single family detached residential may be permitted a maximum of (6) domestic female chickens (hens) contingent on the following requirements:

1. Hens are utilized for personal egg production or as pets;

2. Hens shall not be butchered within the City limits.

3. A humane and properly constructed henhouse, with at least two (2) feet of grade level ground clearance shall be provided. The structure must include solid, secure sides, including a solid top, that maintain confinement and prevents entry of predatory animals such as foxes or hawks. Sides should be embedded into the ground no less than one foot unless attached to a frame. Exterior surfaces, not inherently resistant to deterioration, shall be treated with a protective coating, such as paint or other suitable preservative, and maintained with sufficient frequency to prevent deterioration. Enclosure must provide access for proper cleaning and maintenance. It must provide protection from extreme temperatures, including but not limited to insulation, ventilation and drainage; Henhouses must include laying boxes of a minimum surface of fourteen (14) inches by fourteen (14) inches per chicken and must be regularly bedded with sawdust, straw or like material. All enclosures, including but not limited to structures and fencing, shall be constructed or repaired as to prevent rats, mice, or other rodents from being harbored underneath, within, or within the walls of the enclosure. All henhouses must be properly maintained in a safe, clean, sanitary and substantial condition that posses no health threat to the chickens or citizens and does not create a public nuisance. A picture is provide here as a possible example of an acceptable henhouse.

4. All feed and other items associated with the keeping of chickens that are likely to attract or to become infested with or infected by rats, mice, or other rodents shall be protected so as to prevent rats, mice, or other rodents from gaining access to or coming into contact with them;

5. Disposal of Chicken Waste/Manure: Waste products (manure) generated from the raising of chickens shall be composted on-site by the owner when possible. If on-site composting is impractical the waste products shall be double bagged in clear plastic bags and placed in the rollout container for disposal along with the regular household trash.

6. All hens shall be contained, at all times, within a wooden fence of at least four (4) feet high. The finished side of the fence shall face outward and each hen shall have a
minimum of four (4) square feet of range area. The range area must be well drained so there is no accumulation of moisture.

7. All henhouses shall be a minimum of ten (10) feet away from any adjoining property line. All structures, fencing, and hens must be located in the rear yard of the dwelling. The range area provided to any chickens must not include the crawl space of any residential structures not built exclusively to house the chickens.

8. Male chickens (roosters) are prohibited.

9. All persons desiring to maintain chickens (hens) in the City of
Concord, on properties less than two (2) acres, shall obtain a Permit from the Development Services Department prior to the construction/installation of any chicken related structure. There shall be no fee for the applicant. There shall be no site inspection necessary to obtain a Permit. A Permit shall be issued only to the legal owner of the property.

design project two part b :: an urban farm


Today we're designing an urban farm. This one will become real if we can get the funding necessary to start the program. The specific location of the farm will have to remain a secret for now but it's in Charlotte, NC near uptown. Todd Serdula did most of the excellent graphic work on this proposal.

To start with we break down the design considerations into 4 categories.

Physical Components
Programing Elements
Transition and Construction
Marketing and Distribution

The Physical Components can best be thought of as the needs of the plants. At a basic level this means sun, soil and water. The Programing Elements are the energy sources for getting work done. Who or what actually does the work on the farm? What tasks are accomplished using hands, machines or animals? And how are decisions made? These are critical questions more important to the success of the farm than the Physical Components.

We also have to consider Transition and Construction. Farm infrastructure and programing takes development. It's a process that doesn't happen overnight. Lastly we have to think about what will happen to the food once it is ready for harvest. How does it get from field to fork? This will affect the farm design.

We start be identifying several vacant urban city lots owned by a willing partner. The partner also owns adjacent infrastructure including a warehouse, a vacant restaurant and parking. We test the soil and find no major problems. We put the land into cover crops to build soil while the design proceeds.

In this first phase we construct a welcome center, potting sheds and some demonstration gardens. This farm will serve educational needs as well as grow food. During the first phase the upper field will be a summer cover crop that reseeds itself, mostly likely buckwheat.

The lower field gets programed with a special cover crop that not only builds soil but also helps provide funding for the farm. A total of 48 squares, 30' X 30' are planted in sunflowers of various varieties. All of them are yellow except for one square selected at random which is a red sunflower variety. Individuals and companies sponsor squares with the hope that their square will be the winning red sunflower square. A website links participants and offers a 24/7 webcam as well as time lapse photography of the project. It's cover cropping meets cow patty bingo.

Phase Two includes a greenhouse with a float bed transplant system(sun), a composting system including vermiculture(soil) and a rainwater harvesting system(water). It also includes and an orchard, annual vegetable production and a post harvest handling facility with refrigeration, located within an existing warehouse.

Phase Three adds a greenhouse for winter vegetable and summer flower production. It also adds a workhouse for indoor projects and a 'living fence' made up of existing and moved structures to serve as housing for interns, agro-tourists and WWOOFers.

Phase Four rounds out the project with an additional greenhouse for aquaculture, an indoor market and distribution center in the warehouse as well as a value-add restaurant. Additional fruit trees and bushes are also planted. The result is a fully functional urban farm that celebrates community by supporting sustainable agriculture.

design project two part a :: a suburban garden

Alright here's a neighborhood with a typical suburban lot highlighted in the middle.



It's on a one block, one way street. Here's a base map that includes existing features.



I've added some labels.



And some colour to help describe the property.



The lot is very narrow except for the odd side yard. The back yard gets some sun based on orientation and tree cover but the best sunlight falls on the front yard. Here's a picture of the front yard after a recent "snow storm."



You can see where the melt is occurring most rapidly. Incidentally this is a trick you can use to better understand solar access- time lapse photography after a snow storm. Here's a link to a better example.

The goal is not total food self sufficiency but a healthy environment with as many overlapping functions as is possible. Beautiful, edible, useful, playful, self-maintaining, flexible and fun are words I use to describe this space.

Here's a Google image.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Design Project One :: The Deck Garden

Today we're talking about programing small spaces for food production.

Here we have a portion of a hypothetical backyard.

We're going to be focusing exclusively on the deck but I thought labeling the basemap would give you a little context.

We look for spaces that might be less useful for circulation or for outdoor furniture and we add containers for growing food.

The 2' X 12' raised bed could be high enough to provide storage underneath. Perhaps something like this. (Hat tip to Jared)

Next we use some shaded areas near the downspout to collect rain water in barrels. Incidentally it's possible in some climates that you could raise fish in these barrels. Also water is heavy so be sure the deck can handle the weight.


Next we add some more space for growing- a narrow bed on the right hand side for plants like beans that can climb the fence. And we add a place at the southern bottom of the deck for cold frames. They can remain open during the summer and fall and serve as way to extend production during the colder months.


Lastly we go below the deck and create another bed, the idea being that here too vegetables that like to climb could use the deck itself for support.


You'll still want a place to sit and probably to eat so be sure to add that to the design. Here's a combination of bench/planter. And the Hosta are edible!

Don't forget you can hang things on the rails.


You probably won't grow all your food in this manner but you'd be surprised how much food you can grow in a small space.

Aaron