On Tuesday, Zoe attended an aquaponics/hydroponics workshop at City Grows in order to research further into what systems may be viable for growing and producing inside the units at Latham St. Commons. The teacher at the event was Joseph Zgurzynski of Country Barn Farm and, incidentally, a Carnegie Mellon alum. The lesson from this experience, as it turns out, is that you never know what you're going to get from an experience until you arrive. As Woody Allen said, 90% of life/success is just showing up. Applied here, this means that the take-away message from the workshop was not so much about aquaponics in particular, but more about other methods of producing in our particular environment. First of all, it was demonstrated that although hydroponics often work well in vertical, indoor environments, a couple issues arise when it comes to the Latham Commons space because it currently has no form of energy source for light or heat, and hydroponics can be very challenging to do organically because of the high nitrogen needs of successful hydroponic plants. The first issue of lighting and heating is not a new challenge--we have been drafting other designs for passive systems that take advantage of natural resources in the attempt to remain off the grid for producing at Latham St, but it is certainly something to consider with regard to hydroponics.
Secondly, while aquaponics might be a viable option for the space, creating a large-scale aquaponics system could be challenging, although it is noted that aquaponics creates a self-cleaning and fertilizing system, which is a convenient bonus to the process, allowing for organic methods. Still, heat and light are required.
Perhaps the most important conversation that occurred, however, was neither about aquaponics nor hydroponics, but rather about beekeeping. As far as the lighting and heating challenges are concerned, as long as the bees have access to the outdoors, they are self-sustaining...and they even generate and maintain their own heat inside the hives! They are so successful at this insulation that with temperatures below 0F outside, hives can be found to exist at over 100F inside. Of course, this sparked some thinking about using this heat for generation, but as far as honey-enthusiasts are concerned, this would reduce the supply of honey because bees would consume honey in order to produce lost heat. But what about bees as producers? This is certainly something to be looked into further and assessed for viability. And the community would certainly have to be on board, of course. But perhaps if we saw bees as valuable producers as well as helpers in pollination, they could be a viable project to support in the space, if the interest were high.
From an agricultural standpoint, this group now has some exciting research ahead looking into creative production inside the Latham Commons space. This, along with the idea of mushrooms (see previous posts), will continue to fuel talk about integration of systems and integrating the space into the context of larger area. Stay tuned!