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More Companies Embrace Concept of 'Zero Waste' and Reducing Garbage

NEW YORK, Oct. 20 (UPI) — More companies, national parks and even restaurants are embracing the idea of zero waste when it comes to reducing garbage, a U.S. trash expert says.

The zero waste movement means shunning polystyrene foam containers, or other packaging that is not biodegradable, and recycling or composting what you can, said Jon Johnston, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency manager who is helping to lead the zero-waste movement.

Companies are embracing the concept more quickly than private citizens because of the cost of disposing of waste, Johnston said.

“Reaching down to my household and yours is the greatest challenge,” he told The New York Times.

Honda has become so good at recycling that eight of its North American plants no longer use trash Dumpsters. At Yellowstone National Park, the soda cups and utensils are made of plant-based plastics that dissolve when heated for more than a few minutes.

“Technology exists, but a lot of education still needs to be done,” Johnston said.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Business & Economics, Composting, Education, Other, Packaging, Recycling, Science, Space, & Technology1 Comment

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Posted in Chemicals, Composting, Other0 Comments

Eco-ploration in Montana

Ranch Rider’s Rocking Z Ranch uses waste
vegetable oil to power an irrigation pump, saving
more than 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year.

Editor’s Note: Ecotourism can take many forms – activist tours, where the line between work and vacation is blurry; adventure tours, where the tourist braves white water in a canoe, or thin air and freezing temperatures on a mountain trek, or any number of other challenges of nature; visits to pristine places, where one can view the most beautiful and unspoiled regions on earth, hopefully through their tourist dollars helping to fund the preservation and restoration of these places, and finally; low impact tourism, where the traveler stays in accomodations and enjoys means of transit that leave no footprint.

These distinctions are somewhat arbitrary, of course, since many tour operations combine all four of these characteristics of eco-tourism in varying degrees. Ranch Rider, a company marketing a huge collection of tourist destinations in the rugged heartland of North America in and around the massive Rocky Mountain range, has begun to see their affiliates systematically convert their operations to increasingly sustainable, clean and organic practices. From the food being prepared, to the fuel being used, to the stewardship of the land surrounding these resorts, these ranches been consciously evolving how they run their businesses with an eye to the much vaunted “triple bottom line,” paying equal attention to people, planet, and profit.

Being located in remote, mountainous areas in close proximity to wilderness, these tourist ranches are already familiar with sustainability in ways urban dwellers don’t often as easily assimilate. Harsh winters, unforgiving landscape, often intermittant water supplies, and other realities of nature inculcate a resourcefulness and responsibility towards the earth intrinsically. And what is invariably the case when sensible sustainability is implemented is what helps the earth will automatically help the bottom line, in addition to granting the tourist an experience that provides not only relaxation, but the comforting knowledge their experience is contributing to the preservation and restoration of nature. – Ed “Redwood” Ring.

Ranch Rider’s Siwash Lake Ranch has been
awarded Five Green Keys by the Hotel Association
of Canada, only given to hotels that exemplify the
highest standards of environmental responsibility.

In the old days, cowboys explored and exploited the vast open ranges of the country, embodying the frontier spirit of the Wild West.

Our attitude towards the environment has since changed, and now, a new generation of ranches offered by Ranch Rider seeks to co-exist harmoniously with nature.

These “green ranches” practice a more sustainable style of ranching through energy-saving techniques and conservation initiatives. The Siwash Lake and the Rocking Z are examples of how ranchers can be great stewards of the earth, ensuring that future generations can still enjoy the scenic beauty of the Wild West.

Many wilderness ranches claim to be off grid, but there’s no greenwash at the Siwash Lake in British Columbia, as the ranch has recently been awarded with a 5 Green Key eco-rating by the Hotel Association of Canada. The prestigious accolade is given to a hotel that exemplifies the highest standards of environmental and social responsibility in all areas of operations – the Siwash Lake Ranch employing cutting-edge technologies and eco-friendly policies.

While guests are out eco-ploring on unspoiled wilderness trails, the luxury ranch is working behind the scenes to ensure a seamless green stay for its guests. Siwash Lake runs on solar power and a combined diesel generator – the latter charging up the battery bank on cloudy days, or when city slickers who can’t resist curling irons and hairdryers stay at home on the range.

Always mindful of being environmentally friendly and energy efficient, the ranch uses propane, a clean fuel, for cooking and for heating hot water. In addition, guests lounging by the cosy fireplace are sure to find comfort in the fact that the wood is beetle-killed pine – Siwash ensuring that their waste wood is put to good use. Biodegradable chemicals, energy saving light bulbs and emission controlled wood stoves are further initiatives that have been brought to the fore by the eco-friendly ranch ensuring would be cowboys and girls minimise their impact in the West.

Eco-gourmands can have their taste buds tickled by the Siwash Lake’s 2-acre organic garden, a source of fresh greens, edible flowers and herbs. The ranch produces its own beef and pork, which is again organic and all the chickens at Siwash produce free range eggs. However it’s not just the hearty Western cooking that has a green stamp of approval as everything is 100% natural and even the water comes from the ranch’s own well! The water goes through a low power, high-tech filtration system, including UV light treatment, to make it 100% potable and pure, with no chemicals added into the process.

Situated in the heart of Cariboo Country, ethical ranchers can experience the wonders of the natural grassland on horseback, by canoe or on foot – numerous bird and wildlife stopping by to greet wilderness ranchers. (7-nights with Ranch Rider from £1,939pp, excludes transfers as car hire recommended.)

Energy saving light bulbs and wide windows minimise
the use of electricity at the Siwash Lake Ranch.

The Rocking Z in Montana might seem like an ordinary guest ranch at first sight, but ask the owners about their deed of conservation and you might see it differently. The ranch now uses solar and straight waste vegetable oil power to irrigate the land – saving over 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 600 gallons of petrol per year. The ranch also uses pure bio diesel for its tractors and earth moving equipment making the Rocking Z a truly green home on the range.

As part of their conservation commitment, the owners recently struck up a partnership with the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Foundation. The latest initiative, at the Little Pickly Pear Creek, has helped to lower stream temperatures by 2 degrees; ensuring a more amenable habitat for the resident rainbow trout who now thrive in their natural environment. The owners have also committed the ranch with a deed of Conservation, working closely with Montana’s Land Reliance to protect and conserve the ecologically and agriculturally significant land, as a living resource for future generations to enjoy.

Green moves implemented by the ranch include, the recycling of glass, aluminum, tin and all metals; and the composting of all waste foods and bio-degradable material ensuring everything comes back full-circle. A significant proportion of the ranch’s produce is also organically grown by local farmers, helping the Wolf Creek community with their livelihood. Ethical stewards, who are constantly looking for ways to further their green commitment, the owners of the Rocking Z have yet more plans in store, and in 2009 they are hoping to install a wind charged generator – making this the perfect stay for forward thinking ranchers.

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Posted in Chemicals, Composting, Conservation, Ecotourism, Electricity, Nature & Ecosystems, Other, Policies & Solutions, Recycling, Solar, Wind0 Comments

The Living Tower

Getting fruits and vegetables onto the kitchen table is a stressful affair. Farmers constantly deal with pests, weather changes, pesticides, droughts, increased costs of running equipment and crop diseases. For example, the moth, Helicoverpa armigera, causes crop damage in excess of 5 billion dollars worldwide per year, while the 2008 floods in the U.S Midwest have already soaked through thousands of acres of farmland.

Losing a crop is extremely frustrating; especially to farmers who excitedly bought land and then purchased the popular $110,000 180-PTO horsepower diesel tractor to maintain the now demolished harvest. Architects and agriculturalists believe that many of these issues can be solved with indoor agriculture. Not only that, but by incorporating farming into high rise buildings protected from outside variables, the volume of produce harvested increases dramatically. In fact, one indoor acre may yield up to 6 times as much of a crop as a traditional outdoor farm.

The Living Tower, a theoretical 30 floor high rise farming community designed by Paris based SOA architects, would house;
130 apartments on the first 15 floors, 9000 square meters of office space on the remaining 15 floors, a 7000 square meter shopping center, a library and even a nursery in addition to the gardens distributed throughout the building. Link to the Press Release for more information.

Living Tower architects have focused on specific crop productions and believe the following estimates will represent respective crop yields:

63000 kg of tomatoes per year
37 333 feet of salads per year
9 324 kg of strawberries per year

The building design keeps efficiency and alternative power in mind as well: two large windmills rotating on the roof will generate 200-600 KWH of electricity per annum and will assist in pumping recovered rainwater throughout the complex. Photovoltaic panels will cover the outer walls while inside the tower, ventilation shafts draw in underground air keeping temperatures comfortable throughout the year., a website devoted to vertical farming (VF) architecture, provides a list of benefits associated with the technology:

• No weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, pests
• All VF food is grown organically: no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers
• VF virtually eliminates agricultural runoff by recycling black water
• VF returns farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions and services
• VF greatly reduces the incidence of many infectious diseases that are acquired at the agricultural interface
• VF converts black and gray water into potable water by collecting the water of Evapo-transpiration
• VF adds energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-edible parts of plants and animals
• VF dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, plows, shipping.)
• VF converts abandoned urban properties into food production centers
• VF creates sustainable environments for urban centers
• VF creates new employment opportunities
• VF may prove to be useful for integrating into refugee camps
• VF offers the promise of measurable economic improvement for tropical and subtropical
• VF could reduce the incidence of armed conflict over natural resources, such as water and land for agriculture

There are few things more satisfying than picking a ripened tomato from your own tree and enjoying the fruit knowing that you don’t have to worry about pesticides, importing problems or other issues involved with the agriculture business. With vertical farming on the rise, it won’t be unheard of to enjoy homegrown strawberries while snow piles up on the busy city streets below.

Posted in Animals, Architecture, Buildings, Causes, Composting, Electricity, Energy, Homes & Buildings, Office, Other, Recycling, Science, Space, & Technology, Shipping1 Comment

BiodegradableStore – Plastic or Biodegradable?

It’s not hard to understand why food on-the-go is so appealing. Pull a car full of hungry kids into the drive-through at your local burger joint and everyone leaves full and happy. In the mood for a coffee or egg sandwich on the way to work? It wouldn’t be a surprise with dozens of 50ft billboards advertising blended coffees or hot snacks. Plus, it’s quick and easy. Unfortunately, the plastic or Styrofoam containers last much longer than the sandwiches, drinks, burgers or fries that are devoured in a few minutes.

Non-biodegradable plastics will last indefinitely and plastic is everywhere:
According to the EPA “In 2006, the United States generated about 14 million tons of plastics in the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream as containers and packaging, over 6 million tons as nondurable goods [such as diapers and trash bags], and almost 9 million tons as durable goods [appliances].”

Recycling is definitely not eliminating plastics in the environment. The Epa continues to explain that “overall recovery of plastics for recycling is relatively small — 1.4 million tons, or 3.9 percent of plastics generation in 2003”

With this in mind, companies like the BiodegradableStore develop containers made from biodegradable materials. Corn Plastics (PLA) and Bagasse (sugarcane) make up containers that will decompose in 35- 60 days in proper composting conditions.

PLA products look and feel exactly like regular plastic, but since they are made from corn, these items are 100% compostable. The added benefit of corn products is that corn stalks are known to grow quickly and are a renewable resource.

Bagasse, is more heat tolerant than corn plastics (which deteriorate at temperatures above 115 degrees (F)) and is made from sugarcane stalk pulp. Bagasse is comparable to thick paper and is ideal for serving hot drinks. It is even microwaveable. Bagasse takes advantage of sugarcane stalks that are typically discarded during the sugar making process.

There are many incentives for food and beverage distributers to start handing out these products with meals. Consumers will be happier knowing that the countless cups, plates, napkins and even bags, will return to nature and this would be a positive thought to dwell on while the food has left everyone feeling uncomfortably full.

Posted in Composting, Packaging, Recycling3 Comments

Life from Waste

We constantly hear about new ways to reuse and recycle waste, but not so often does our waste get the opportunity to play a direct role in creating new life. Such is the case, however, with the products about to be shipped from Fiberwood, a new company in Sacramento, California, that converts cardboard into mulch.

Material for hydroseeding often uses
mulch manufactured from trash.

When we visited Fiberwood last week to talk with their CEO, Stuart Douglass, it was clear they were about to go into full scale production.

Mountains of shredded cardboard stood to one side of the cavernous space, with a completed line of equipment already in place on the other side.

This first line, explained Douglass, will take cardboard feedstock and grind it down to nearly powder, and at a rate of up to 100 tons per day, output this mulch into 50 pound bags ready for shipment.

The logic of this is clear – California is the entry point for billions of dollars worth of manufactured goods each month, and virtually all of them arrive in cardboard containers. This surplus cardboard can go into landfills, or it can be recycled. The sheer volume of this incoming cardboard means only mulch for hydroseeding provides demand at a scale that can keep up with this supply.

The process of “hydroseeding” is where mulch and water are mixed at a ratio of 75 pounds of mulch for every 100 gallons of water, and this slurry is sprayed onto land with seeds added to the mix. The type of seeds added depends on the use, but only a small fraction of total hydroseed use is for conventional landscaping. The product is also used for dust and erosion control at construction sites, as well as to quickly restore ground cover in areas where there have been forest fires. At about one ton of hydroseed per acre, enormous volumes of this product are required.

Another huge demand for hydromulch, without the seeds but with a bonding agent added, is to spray a thin layer over landfills each day, covering the raw waste. This practice, recently passed into law, is required in order to reduce smells from landfills. It is known as “alternate daily cover,” and given only a 1/4″ thick layer is required, it is much more cost effective for landfill operators who would otherwise be required to add 6″ of soil each day to the surface of their landfills.

Douglass is no stranger to turning waste products into useful materials. In 1992 he built his first plant to turn newspaper fiber into loose fill insulation, an operation he later sold to Louisiana Pacific. In 2003 Douglass applied for a new patent that will enable the company to make an all natural blanket insulation using cardboard and other cellulosic waste. Douglass plans to eventually add a manufacturing line at his current facility to produce this product. Because this product is far more fire resistant and mold resistant compared with fiberglass, there is already a great deal of interest in the product.

So the next time you see native plants rapidly repairing a landscape scarred by fire, know that the material used to efficiently reseed the area may well have come from the cardboard boxes that once protected your imported consumer product. It gives a whole new meaning to composting.

Posted in Composting, Landfills, Landscaping, Other1 Comment

India's Water Consciousness

Indian Woman Collecting Water
Water Harvesting:
Using a sari to funnel raindrops into a container

Editor’s Note: At over a billion people and still increasing in population, within a country 3.3 million square kilometers (1.2 million square miles) in size, how India develops poses challenges representative of humanity at large. We have covered India’s energy and water issues extensively, in features such as “India’s Solar Power,” “Nuclear Power in India,” “Technology & Sunlight, India’s Green Future,” “India’s Biodiesel Scene,” “India’s Water Future,” “India’s Energy Future,” and “Clean the Ganges, to name some. Democratic, diverse, emerging. As goes India, so goes the world.

In many respects India has great advantages as the world rushes towards green energy technologies. Abundant solar energy and abundant rainfall provide the most critical raw materials for any going green economy, so when it comes to access to raw solar energy and raw water volume, India is a resource rich nation. India also has world class technology, with an industrial base as well as a high-tech and scientific community that is deep and broad. While of course facing afflictions that confront any great nation, India nonetheless is a healthy democracy, where green innovations gain a much better hearing. From these perspectives, India has a bright future, with many ways to collectively realize the overall goal of energy and water abundance.

Reforesting is possibly the most critical challenge for India, insofar as tropical forests increase the amount of regional rain as well as the ability of the land to naturally collect and store rain. The way to evaluate trees is to think of them as water reservoirs. Trees are water – they collect water, they store water, they breath water. When forests are restored, rainfall returns – more moderate and more frequent. When forests are restored, rainfall returns and springs again flow year-round.

It is difficult at times for those who support or oppose large scale projects such as interlinking rivers to reconcile with each other to this fact: Modern mega-project solutions and solutions involving traditional technologies are not always incompatible. What if a nuclear powered desalination station pumped water into the desert where rainforest once stood, and across tens of thousands of square kilometers irrigated pioneer stands of new trees? Then once the forest was restored, and rainfall returned, the desalinated water could be used to supply water to new city, or to refill deep aquifers, or be transported via tunnel to another watershed?

Whether or not you support mega-proposals such as nuclear powered desalination plants, the combination of decentralized solutions that combine high technology and traditional designs is what holds most immediate promise. Unlike megaprojects, which take decades to plan and implement, decentralized solutions are on a scale, by definition, where diverse suppliers could supply various solutions to millions of consumers. Thin film PV roofing material would be a good product for India. Series-hybrid vehicles would also be a good product. Home lighting and energy storage systems would be a good product – any off-grid system. So would commodifying cisterns to harvest runoff, and off-grid water treatment systems.

And the ultimate decentralized technology solution for India’s energy and water challenges is a tree. If everybody in India planted a few trees a year, imagine how much more the good rains would fall. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

India’s Water Consciousness – The Baby & the Bathwater
by Brook & Guarav Bhagat, August 15, 2007
Flood in India
The drought-flood cycle. How can water
abundance be harvested instead of cause harm?

With about 20 percent of the global population, India is struggling to meet her water needs with just five percent of the world’s available water.

The gap between these numbers is widening, and experts predict that by the year 2020, demand will exceed supply.

Making the issue of water management even more pressing is the fact that many states get as much as 90 percent of their rainfall in the four months of the summer monsoon season, leading to a drought-flood cycle. While the main enemy is drought, flooding also kills hundreds and displaces millions of people each year. And, after decades of debate, the government’s main answer is grandiose river linking schemes that would relocate the water to where it is needed– plans that are yet to reach the drawing board, but extremely expensive, invasive, environmentally risky and possibly impossible (ref. “India’s Interlinking Rivers”).

Since the 1960′s, as the water crisis in India grew more serious, people drilled deeper and deeper into the ground to tap fresh water. The idea was a success at first: the water was used for irrigation for crops needed to feed India’s ever-growing population, and farmers began focusing on water-thirsty cash crops. This, along with other “modern” amenities and the shift from rural to urban lifestyles set India on the path to unsustainable water management.

Mumbai, 2007. Without water management,
monsoons cause flooding, while during the dry
season wells deplete irreplaceable groundwater

Approximately 70 percent of India’s irrigation water and 80 percent of its domestic water supplies come from groundwater rather than from surface water.

In a recent report, the World Bank said that India has no proper water management system at all – her groundwater is disappearing and her river bodies are turning into sewers.

The annual monsoon that once was capable of filling the rivers and recharging the underground aquifers through the soil is losing ground– or, rather, losing water. In parts of New Delhi, the groundwater level drops by up to 10 meters (33 feet) each year. Rupert Talbot, a water consultant with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), described the situation in many areas as irreversible.

“You can go to parts where they are drilling so deep that they are mining fossil water that is 20,000 years old. It will never be recharged (by rains),” he said.

If she continues down this path, Mother India is headed for the official title of being in “water stress” in about 10 years, according to the World Bank. This is indicated by the annual availability of freshwater per head, which is expected at that time to fall below 1,700 cubic metres. By 2025, with an estimated 1,000 cubic metres per head, the situation will be categorized as water scarcity.

Even with numbers like these staring them in the face, there is still “widespread complacency” in government circles about the water situation, according to the World Bank report– although public promises of safe water and sanitation are abundant, getting there is not quite so easy.

For water, as with every resource, money separates the haves from the have-nots. When the government fails to provide a constant supply of water even in the national capital of New Delhi, those who can afford it find their own ways of getting it. The result is a kind of free market, with no incentive to conserve water.

“What has happened in the last 20 or 30 years is a shift to self-provision. Every farmer sinks a tubewell and every house in Delhi has a pump pumping groundwater,” said Briscoe, a water issues specialist at the World Bank. “Once that water stops you get into a situation where towns will not be able to function.”

Globally, increasing numbers of poor people are deprived of access to water of the quality and quantity necessary to meet even the most basic levels of health and sanitation. And in situations of scarcity, the poor are of course the first ones to suffer, losing out to those who can afford more powerful machinery for extracting water or those who have more political influence. In India, this means that owners of more expensive pumps and deeper-boring wells are able to continue pumping groundwater, despite rapidly depleting aquifers, leaving the hand pumps and shallow irrigation pumps of the poor high and dry.

Clearly, this is an area where the government should step in–poor people should not be the ones who are disproportionately forced to conserve water, or go without it. If anything, more responsibility for water conservation should fall on the larger, wealthier water users.

But, while it is easy to agree on the magnitude of the problem, it is not so easy to agree on the solution, or even the general direction of the solution. Most people, or at least the most vocal people, seem to favor huge government projects and interventions like the interlinking of rivers — perhaps many of these people are part of the government themselves. Or perhaps, as a result of urbanization, we have all gotten too used to our resources being someone else’s responsibility– if there is no heat, or no light, or no water coming from the tap to drink or to flush, someone ought to fix it.

Water Distribution:
Using rocks, bamboo and gravity
to transport water

What is needed, in part, is a shift in consciousness: a movement towards awareness of ourselves, the resources we consume, where they come from and where they go to. This is not only true of Earth’s water, but of all our requirements – food, land, air, energy, everything.

Greater self-awareness will lead to greater self-sufficiency – and, simultaneously, greater consciousness of the interdependence and interconnectedness of all things. Becoming more aware of and able to meet our own needs can, in a perfect world, make us more aware that everyone needs the same things. We will be better equipped to help each other on the local, personal, practical level – if you know that your neighbor dug his own compost pit, you will feel more confident (and perhaps even more obligated) to do the same, especially if he knows what you are going through and offers to help you. And, as more people in the neighborhood talk about it and do it, the design and effectiveness of the pits are likely to become better and better.

This is all, however, up in the air. In the real world, one tree-hugger’ might make the effort, and the neighbors will do little more than complain about the dust, or the noise, or whatever else they can think of.

This is where bigger groups and ideas come in: the responsibility of government and non-government organizations to organize and mobilize people. Isn’t this what we originally hired them to do? A balance must be struck between personal responsibility and the government (or non-government) promotion, organization, facilitation, and execution of plans and methods to meet our needs.

Sound like a good dream? Now it seems far away, but this kind of communal and personal consciousness of resources actually composes most of human history – out of necessity. For the 70-80% of the Indian population still living in rural villages, this is still a reality.

Everyone in the village knows where the water and food and electricity comes from, and where they go to. But the modernization, for lack of a better word, that has swept across the world judges these conditions and values as old-fashioned and time-consuming. Instant gratification, in every element of life, is becoming extreme, and actually eroding the quality of life it claims to improve.

We can speed up the pace of life, but we cannot change human nature. Instant food, water, shelter, and sex leave us without nutrition, love, or peace of mind… and the so-called developed countries are developing insanity, addiction, suicide and war faster than anything else – not to mention polluting the planet to the brink of disaster.

In the immortal words of Yoda: Sometimes the way forward is the way back. What is needed is a combination of the fruits of modern technology and development and the self-awareness that brought balance in the past. Now the necessity is different, the risks are different, but the situation is just as urgent; and the first thing we have to change is our consciousness.

Anil Agarwal Portrait
Anil Agarwal, 1947-2002
The visionary founder of India’s
Center for Science & the Environment

One of the first things we might notice if we were more aware is the amount of water we could save by simply catching the rainwater.

In the realm of water management in India, this is a movement called rainwater harvesting. One of its biggest champions, Anil Agarwal, is the founder and director of the Centre for Science and Environment and the editor of Down to Earth magazine. On the Editor’s Page of the March 4th issue, he wrote:

“Until the start of the 20th century most of water use in a highly developed country like India – we must remember that until the British came, it was one of the world’s richest, most urbanized and literate nations – was of rainwater and flood water. Indians knew that almost all the water they got in a year – in a country that is relatively rich in rainfall – was in just 100 hours. The remaining 8,660 hours in a year, the gods gave them nothing. So they built a civilization on these drops of nectar from heaven. Bengal and the Thanjavur delta were one of the most agriculturally prosperous regions in the country and they depended almost entirely on the capture of flood water for irrigation.”

The population, however, is much larger now than it was at the beginning of the 20th century. Combine this with problems like salinity, mercury poisoning and rising levels of other heavy metals in water which have significantly decreased the useable ground water, and the result is that even if every drop of rainwater was harvested, it would no longer be enough for everyone.

But the emphasis on personal and community responsibility is right on the money, and people are starting to take notice – like the last State of India Report, which focused on traditional methods of rainwater harvesting.

For more than two decades now, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based non-governmental organization (NGO), has been promoting the revival of traditional systems of water harvesting, with appropriate adaptation and integration of modern systems.

From tanks and talabs to rooftop harvesting systems in the city, rainwater harvesting, with government support, is the most logical and practical way to start trying to solve the water crisis in both rural and urban, domestic and industrial, India. CSE conducts training workshops that are open to everyone – from engineers, NGO’s and politicians to concerned citizens. And, they have undertaken the awesome project of documenting hundreds of traditional and contemporary Indian rainwater harvesting systems on the website (

Water Storage:
With more water harvesting, India can to raise the water
tables in the jheels, and everywhere else

Even a passing glance at these widely varying and often brilliant methods is inspirational – from delicate bamboo pipeline irrigation to check dams, modern percolation ponds, tankas, kundis, you name it. It is truly an essential and even beautiful collection. By comparison, it makes government plans like “connecting all the rivers” seem incredibly heavy-handed.

India’s population is increasingly becoming the densest on the planet – but the bureaucracy seems even denser, particularly when it comes to tackling the difficult issue of water management. So many projects and committees and objectives are formed and rarely met, it seems tedious to even think of listing them; but the largest desk animal of them all is the ILR Project.

In the discussion of consciousness, one disturbing aspect of the Interlinking of Rivers project is that since the government will not have the money to implement the hugely ambitious project, it will go the build-own-operate-transfer route and lease rivers to concessionaires. These operators will own the water resources for several years and will charge users, both urban and rural, for that time period. This goes against India’s tradition of treating water as a community, not private, resource. While money, or the lack of it, already determines the availability and quality of water directly or indirectly for most people, it leaves a strange taste in the mouth – this is the same country that once respected every river as a goddess.

The interlinking of rivers, while perhaps being a visionary idea, doesn’t seem to have much chance. If it is literally possible or not has not been shown – and if it is possible, it still seems financially and politically doomed, and most importantly, environmentally risky.

It is a hard gamble to claim acceptable losses of any kind of life – plants, animals, and people will be undoubtedly displaced and in many cases destroyed. Will that water save more lives than it takes? Maybe. It is worth researching, it is worth asking. Every vision is worth trying. But India cannot afford to wait and see if these daydreams can come true or not.

Meanwhile, although rainwater harvesting is the appropriate place to start, this alone is not going to solve all India’s water problems. We have to look for ways to increase the available ground water supply and decrease the dependence on underground aquifers. We have to find more and more ways to stop wasting, and recycle, the water we have – in most cases, innovative technology is already there, it is just not cost-effective.

Low-flow toilets, faucets and showers should be mandatory in new construction; composting toilets and many other options exist, but are in most cases too complicated and expensive.

The development of these and other new ideas, like natural pollution- and wastewater-cleaning systems (ref. “Clean the Ganges”) should be funded; investment in water and environmental technology is an investment in life.

Furthermore, industries and corporations must be held accountable for their actions, taxed and prodded to stop making the situation worse.

This is the government’s place – to protect the people, and their water, from money-hungry predators. It can also provide incentives for the public to move toward ecologically sound products and practices, as it has already done gracefully on the issue of population control, offering financial and educational advantages to smaller families.

In the end it is a tightrope balancing act – self-sufficiency and awareness as far as it will go on one hand, and outside organization and direction on the other. While they may seem contradictory, they are not; the solutions are sure to stem from a seat of self-awareness, personal and community responsibility – not only in water management, but every aspect of life.

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Biodynamic Agriculture

Ceago Del Lago
Ceago Del Lago on the spring equinox, 2006
with Mount Konocti in the distance

Jim Fetzer owns a winery called Ceago del Lago in a fine place in California where the hills meet the northern shore of a lake. In the winter the sun shines directly onto the slopes beyond the water and bathes the land in light, allowing a sheltered microclimate where grapes grow warmer. Vineyards march up the low hillsides, and on the shore, a mission-nouveau chateau rises in the misty flats just off the lake.

In this pristine spot, where the air is cleaner than anywhere else in the USA, this winery and vineyards have arisen that emulate the vision of the pioneer of organic farming, Rudolf Steiner. His principles of biodynamic farming, recorded in 1924, were the first formal compilation of organic farming techniques, and in many respects remain the epitome of organic farming theory and practice. In northern California several notable wineries have adopted biodynamic practices, and the wines they make are as good as any.

Biodynamic farming claims to be the original and purest form of organic agriculture. Often misunderstood because biodynamic theories include aspects of mysticism, the practical concepts of biodynamics are the key to restoring the earth, reinvigorating lands; when chemicals and corporations fail, biodynamics can bring back what has been lost in our mechanized world. Ceago’s winery and vinegarden apply the best of biodyamics; scrupulous adherance to the practice of biodynamic agriculture, with a respectful acknowledgement of the vast gray area where realities of the seasons finally may give way to superstition.

Jim Fetzer
Jim Fetzer
Founder of Ceago Del Lago

“It makes sense to work with the rhythms of nature instead of fight them.”

So says Jim Fetzer, owner and founder of Ceago. Fetzer, along with three of his grown children, Katrina, Barney, and Andraya, founded Ceago in 2000, and what they’re doing is a textbook example of biodynamic farming techniques.

There are significant distinctions between organic farming and biodynamic farming. As organic farming techniques have become increasingly mainstream, they have also embraced compromises that have invited criticism from the early adopters. Organic pesticides, for example, are concentrated natural substances which can be just as toxic and as persistant as synthetic pesticides.

“Organic farming has done a good job selecting treatments that won’t hurt people, but applied to insects they can be just as deadly to the good insects and micro-organisms as chemicals,” said Ceago’s vintner and winemaker, Javier Tapia.

Biodynamics is a word built on two words derived originally from ancient Greek; bio, meaning life, and dyn, meaning force. Biodynamics rests on the premise that any farm is still a natural ecosystem to be nurtured, that soil and cash crop health is dependent on retaining a natural balance where the health and vitality of the other plants, animals, insects, micro-organisms and soil are all integral to productive and sustainable farming.

Ceago Vinegarden Logo
The Ceago Fetzers

Embracing biodynamic practices was a natural extension of a commitment to organic winemaking that has a long history in the Fetzer family. The patriarch of the family, Bernard Fetzer, started up a winery in the Ukiah area back in the 1960′s, and was among the first to go totally organic. When he passed away in 1981, his wife and their eleven children kept alive the family tradition, until the popular Fetzer brand was sold by the family in 1992. For eight years, under the terms of the sale, the Fetzer family had agreed to stay out of the winemaking business. But during this time they continued to grow grapes, extending and intensifying their understanding of biodynamic techniques, and when their non-compete agreement expired, several of the Fetzer children, Jim Fetzer among them, jumped back into winemaking.

Semi-Wild Cover Crops
Semi-wild cover crops shelter the awakening vines
on a warm weekend of early spring

As soon as you approach the the 270 acre Ceago del Lago estate, you know you aren’t visiting just another winery. The Fetzers, who have a reputation for going first class, aren’t holding back. The mission-style winery, nestled on the shoreline, might just be one of the most beautiful new structures you’ve ever seen. To one side are the shimmering waters of Clear Lake, which at 67 square miles of surface and over 100 miles of shoreline is the largest freshwater lake in California. To the other side of the winery vineyards stretch across the flats, backdropped by rolling hills of grass and oak. It is a magical place.

The winery buildings may look like they are made of mission adobe, or Florentine stone, but in reality are constructed of huge blocks made out of a mixture of recycled styrofoam and concrete. These blocks, which are over a foot thick, are hollow in the middle, so when they’re stacked, their hollow core can be filled with steel rebar and cement, creating an extremely strong structural wall. With the outside covered with stucco, these walls are not only structurally strong, but they provide great insulation. These thick walled structures also contribute, of course, to Ceago’s architectural charm. They are manufactured by a Texas based company called Perform Wall, and they are truly building blocks for the green age.

The practice of biodynamic farming rests on six interrelated principals:

Plant Diversity: The farm is an ecosystem, and to be healthy, the farm must embrace, utilize and emulate nature. The land on the farm needs to include habitat corridors and fallow areas. Some plants restore essential nutrients that other plants deplete, and visa versa. With biodynamics, encouraging this synergistic diversity is extended to micro-organisms through composting and use of homeopathic sprays that nurture beneficial micro-organisms.

Crop Rotation: Biodynamics depends on soil enrichment through regular crop rotations. Different food crops, cover crops, as well as leaving land fallow or wild all helps to maintain healthy soils. Crop rotation with biodynamics encourages beneficial insects, reduces compaction, and recycles nutrients.

Attra Logo
National Sustainable
Agriculture Information

Composting: This is perhaps the heart of a biodynamic farm, with a focus on soil quality, promoting growth, utilizing natural enrichments. Steiner’s biodynamic vision relied on six key preparations, most of which are buried in the fall then unearthed and spread in the spring – all of this during precise periods in the solar year. Some stay buried a full year. These include chamomile flowers packed into a bovine intestine, oak bark buried inside the skull of a domestic animal, dandelion flowers stuffed into a bovine peritoneum (abdominal cavity), yarrow flowers filling a stag’s bladder, as well as burying whole plants of stinging nettle and valerian flower extract. Each of these are treated in very specific manners in order through their decomposition to greatly enrich and revitalize compost and planting areas.

Homeopathic solutions: Homeopathy is the practice of using minute quantities of material to have a large effect on a large environment. Steiner specified two key homeopathic preparations, one to catalyse formation of life, and one to optimize distribution of light. Each of them are first prepared by burying the material in a cow’s horn through the winter. His life formula uses manure containing billions of diverse microbial organisms, which multiply in the fertile fields if mixed with water and sprayed during certain climatic conditions. This formula, so potent a few ounces can easily cover an acre or more, helps create life in the soil, it promotes root activity, stimulates soil micro-life and increases growth of beneficial bacteria. Steiner’s light formula, minutely ground quartz crystals, is mixed in minute quantities with water and sprayed onto the plants where millions of tiny prisms then capture and distribute more light, enhancing photosynthesis, bringing more light to the vines or other plants.

Weed Eating Compost Spreaders -
Certain times of year, Ceago’s sheep range free among the vines

Animal life: All native animal life as well as a spectrum of domestic farm animals should be encouraged and managed in an optimal way on every farm. Animals who live on the farm help control weeds and insects, and contribute manure. Wild animals are not discouraged, only managed. Ways Ceago’s keepers nurture animal life is by grazing sheep to eat the weeds (they don’t bother the grapes) at the same time as their manure enriches the soil. Similarly, chickens are released within a mobile chicken coop to eat insects and produce compost.

Life forces: Biodynamics embraces the totality of the influence of the cosmos, not stopping at close attention to the cycles of the sun and moon, which obviously do influence the seasons, but also the planets and stars. Whether or not these finer points are valid is somewhat irrelevant, they provide guidelines that schematicize the myriad of necessary cycles; racking wine, pruning trees, the harvest, the crush. Who is to say where to draw the line between recognizing the influence of the phases of the moon on plants – which is generally accepted – and the influence of the planets, which obviously have a much more subtle role? Steiner certainly didn’t shy away from acknowledging cosmic forces, for better or for worse.

Rudolph Steiner, the founder of biodynamics, was a scientist and mystic whose protean output of writings influenced disciplines ranging from education to theology and philosophy.

It was relatively late in his life, in 1924, that he gave farmers, researchers and landowners who became the founders of biodynamic agriculture two weeks of instruction in his theories in Koberwitz, Silesia, in a part of Germany that is now southwestern Poland. Into seven scintillating lectures he attempted to synthesize everything he’d learned about biodynamic agriculture, incorporating not only scientific principals of agriculture that were being established in that day, but also traditional farming techniques which were being lost in the onrush of modernity. His lectures, which have been compiled in his classic book, Agriculture, aspired to combine the best of these traditions, while comingling somewhat more controversial theories about the influence of astrological forces.

Ceago Kids
Ceago Fetzers
Andraya, Katrina, and Barney

When I asked the Fetzers about the mystical elements of Steiner’s philosophy, they didn’t cringe. “We can’t take everything Steiner said at face value, we have to rely on what works and we have to update his teachings for what we learn,” said Barney Fetzer, who clearly has studied the Steiner writings in great detail. Much of the concepts Steiner writes about that appear at first glance to be somewhat far fetched are in fact well recognized practices around the world, especially in areas where knowledge of traditional agricultural techniques are still strong.

As Katrina Fetzer pointed out, planting on the full moon, when there is less gravity, or pruning on the new moon, when there is more gravity, are time-honored practices that have been validated by empirical observation. Whether or not this means that the timing of other agricultural techniques should take into account the positions of the planets is more debatable, of course, but throughout Steiner’s book
“Agriculture” he reiterates his belief that farmers must see for themselves. Everywhere in Steiner’s writings he urges the readers to verify all of his ideas with scientific experimentation.

If the mystical aspects of the theory and practice of biodynamic agriculture animate its critics, these critics might do well to also reflect on what has happened to organic agriculture as it has gone mainstream. In the May 15th, 2006 issue of the New Yorker, in an article entitled “Paradise Sold,” the author Steven Shapin examines what he calls “Big Organic” agriculture. In this wholly commercialized realm, for example, USDA certified “free range” chickens are grown in a factory warehouse with 20,000 genetically identical birds. Only two small doors open up onto a small outdoor area, and they are only opened up after the birds are six weeks old. Are these birds better than the antibiotic-saturated non-organic chickens? They probably are, but how they are raised is grossly removed from the ideals of organic farming. Big Organic agriculture has been completely coopted by industrial farming techniques, and needs to have its drawbacks recognized equally with its undeniable accomplishments.

Demeter United States Branch Logo
Demeter USA
The prevailing Biodynamic certification
organization in the United States

If anything might give one pause about biodynamic agriculture, and, for that matter, organic agriculture performed as it was originally intended, it is the high level of knowledge required for its successful practice. It is theoretically possible to eke equal measures of calories from the land using sustainable agricultural practices compared to chemical dependent practices. But the number of people involved in farming worldwide, and the level of expertise they would have to possess, would have to increase by orders of magnitude. Is it likely that we will repopulate the great plains of North America with small biodynamic – or organic – intensively cultivated farms? Because if we did, then American crops might still feed the urban centers of the world, but how likely is that? It is a beautiful dream, but in reality biodynamic or pure organic agriculture will probably remain a practice that takes root slowly, establishing niches of enlightened practitioners all over the world. The best we may hope for at the level of agricultural commodities may be Big Organic, somewhat reformed, more thoughtfully monitored, incrementally improved, but never completely true to its ideals.

Biodynamic agriculture is a science and belief system that transcends Steiner, or anyone’s individual theories and teachings. It was articulated first by him, partly in reaction to the onslaught of industrialized agriculture that began a century ago. Mechanization, chemical treatments, and increasing standardization of agriculture prompted Steiner’s attempt to preserve millenia of accumulated wisdom and superstitions which in their application had practical value – and were being washed away in a single generation.

To see the farm as a healthy ecosystem, to emphasize the health and interdependence not just of the crops, but all the plants, along with the farm animals and wildlife, and the soil and micro-organisms – to recognize the uniqueness of each terrain and live sustainably within the seasons – this at the core is highly advanced organic agriculture, true to its highest ideals. That is what Steiner, who in his heart and throughout his intellectual output was a scientist first, meant to be the overriding meaning of biodynamic agriculture. Biodynamics is a science that is meant to evolve, shedding the superfluous, yet recognizing the seasons, the stars, the individuality of each farm, each farmer, each climate and micro-climate, indeed every distinct culture and tradition where it may find its expression.

Refining & spreading biodynamic theories
Will Ceago be Koberwitz for the 21st Century?

The Fetzers have plans to expand their Ceago winery buildings to accomodate gatherings perhaps not unlike the one where Steiner gave his lectures back in 1924. A place where anyone can come to learn alternatives to industrial agriculture, and learn about ways to restore lands that have been overused. Imagination alone can visualize exactly what it may have been like in 1924, on a great estate in a tranquil corner of Germany, in the middle of a restless continent, during brief decades of respite from the horrors of total war.

Looking back in time to Koberwitz just eighty years ago, no doubt the hills of Silesia were all the more beautiful because it was during too few years of fitful peace during that second week in June when biodynamics first took root, as the summer solstice approached, and Steiner passed his inspiration on to posterity.

If any place might do such a historical moment justice, and serve as a venue to help carry the principles of biodynamics into the 21st century, it is Jim Fetzer’s spectacular winery “Ceago del Lago” ( in California’s verdant Lake County, nestling on Clear Lake’s tranquil and bucolic northern shores where land meets water. Who is to say what great new ripples will emanate from these biodynamic pioneers in the heart of California?

Biodynamic Associations and Reference Sources:

Demeter USA

ATTRA – National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (logo image)


Objectives in Biodynamic and Conventional Farming

- table showing contrasts


Yield and Quality Under the Influence of Polar Opposite Growth Factors

- table showing earth vs. cosmic

The Biodynamic Agricultural Association – U.K.

Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association (BDA) – USA

Biodynamic Agriculture Australia

The Anthroposophic Press – USA

Biodynamic Growing – Australia

Private Institutions offering long-term courses in biodynamic agriculture and anthroposophy in Europe:

Emerson College, United Kingdom

Skillebyholm, Sweden

Landbauschule Dottenfelderhof, Germany

Warmonderhof, Netherlands

Formation en Agriculture Bio-Dynamique, France

Institute for Biodynamic Research – Germany

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