What happens here?

What happens here?

Buildings, energy, energy policy, indoor air quality, problems, triumphs, successes, failures and the people and processes that affect them.

Feel free to draw any tangential connection you think appropriate.

I love spirited and enthusiastic exchanges, but please maintain the decorum.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The most cost effective solar strategy, a garden.

One of 4 trays of seedlings.
It’s always good to broaden your horizons, especially when it comes to saving energy. While I focus on buildings it’s good to be aware of the other parts of life that impact energy consumption and the environment. I also like food fresh from the garden.

How can a backyard garden save energy? I lifted a paragraph from the Sustainable Table website which covers the basics.
Conventional food production and distribution requires a tremendous amount of energy—one study conducted in 2000 estimated that ten percent of the energy used annually in the United States was consumed by the food industry. Yet for all the energy we put into our food system, we don’t get very much out. A 2002 study from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated that, using our current system, three calories of energy were needed to create one calorie of edible food. And that was on average. Some foods take far more, for instance grain-fed beef, which requires thirty-five calories for every calorie of beef produced. What’s more, the John Hopkins study didn’t include the energy used in processing and transporting food. Studies that do estimate that it takes an average of seven to ten calories of input energy to produce one calorie of food.

(Note for the Nerd: 1 Btu equals 252 calories.)

If you bypass the supermarkets and food factories you can turn that formula around. Whether you plant a large scale garden or just grow a few herbs and vegetables in containers you can eliminate the bulk of the fossil fuel used and take advantage of one of the most efficient solar collectors available, leaves.

The net gain (food calories available/fossil fuel input) varies by crop, but using seeds you will save transportation energy (lighter, less bulky to transport) and if you use natural fertilizer and/or compost that you till in by hand you can easily get more calories of energy out than you put in. The sun supplies the balance.

The real bonus of course is the food, you get to select what you grow and the freshness makes the tastes sublime. You will never taste a better tomato than the one that you pull from the vine and eat still hot from the sun.

If you’re not inclined to garden there are other options to get fresh local foods. The USDA has a searchable database of farmers markets. You might be surprised at what’s just down the road.

You could by a share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) organization and get a weekly supply of fresh veggies throughout the growing season. Here in NH, and I’m sure elsewhere, there are winter markets for locally produced bake goods and some greenhouse/cold frame grown crops. I’m not sure what the energy penalty is for greenhouse operation, but it could conceivably still be better than flying food in from South America.

One last point; there is a great deal of security in having a reliable supply of food in your area. So keeping local farmers in business and knowing how to raise your own crops (or chickens, pigs, cattle) should be as much of a priority as a secure energy supply. Keeping the lights on won’t make you feel better if you’re hungry

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