Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Some Good News

Posted by Phoenix Woman on June 1, 2009

Because good news is good!

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (via BooRadley):

Three abandoned, century-old greenhouses that years ago produced flowers to beautify the graves and grounds of the historic south side [Forest Home] cemetery are being brought back to life, this time with vegetables.

Empty for nearly a decade because they became too expensive to heat through winter, the A-frame glass greenhouses will be used year-round by the organization Growing Power to grow thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables for city residents and others served by the nonprofit group, based on the north side.


Growing Power can produce a high volume of affordable food because [Growing Power CEO and founder Will] Allen has developed cost-efficient renewable energy systems to nurture fast-growing plants in tight, urban spaces.

The nonprofit also is tied into a network of farmers to help provide produce year-round.

The cemetery greenhouses will be heated in winter through aquaponics – a closed system that replicates a clean river with fish and plants. It works like this: Large tanks of water stocked with fish such as tilapia are heated. The water releases heat into the air, so no other energy source is required. (Heating water also is much less expensive than heating air.) Plants keep the water clean for the fish, which also are sold as food.

Allen, a former pro basketball player, grew up on a farm in the Washington, DC area. When he finished with his pro career, he went to work for Procter & Gamble and then got back into farming — this time, urban farming. If there is such a thing as the Lord’s work, he’s doing it.

12 Responses to “Some Good News”

  1. Doran said

    Will Allen, Growing Power, and their wonderful project were featured a few issues back in “Yes” magazine, which has an online edition. They were also featured in a recent movie, “Fresh, The Movie.” It is a totally amazing thing they have done and are doing.

    • I just love how they are able to find creative and elegant solutions to various problems. He essentially is doing a variation on radiant floor heat, where tubes filled with hot water or other liquid are run through the flooring and used to heat buildings. (If you heat the liquid by putting it in heavy-duty glass/plastic tubes set up on your rooftop to catch the sun’s rays, that’s even better.) His main innovation is to have the radiant heat conduit — namely, the water in the fish tanks — open to the air, as it would be anyway, being a fish tank and all. No need to run pipes through floors, as the greenhouses are single-story affairs.

  2. MEC said

    “I just love how they are able to find creative and elegant solutions to various problems. He essentially is doing a variation on radiant floor heat, where tubes filled with hot water or other liquid are run through the flooring and used to heat buildings.” An innovative technology widely used by the ancient Romans.

  3. Charles II said

    I can’t believe they closed the greenhouses down based on heating costs. One can heat an entire house based on a few square yards of sunshine, and the cost of materials is minimal. Naturally, in places that are often overcast, one has to plan for shady days, but it’s not a major issue. I would guess the only really major capital investment for these greenhouses would be double-pane for the plant area.

  4. Doran said

    Wisconsin, Charles. Think cold. Bitterly cold. For extended periods. Cold. Really, really cold.

    • Yupper.

    • Charles II said

      Oh, I know about Wisconsin, Doran. But it’s in cold climates where (locally-consumed) solar makes the most sense. See here for Austin and here for Milwaukee. In summer, they receive equivalent amounts of sunlight. In winter, Milwaukee receives a bit less than one-third of the peak of summertime. So… you have to build your collectors three times as large to collect the same energy.

      On the other hand, the cold gradient means you have to insulate well. This is easier to do now than it was a decade earlier, but it was possible then. The main thing is to insulate after the sun goes down. This is not hard.

      • I suspect that the initial price of getting into solar probably was one that the cemetery couldn’t swing (or thought it couldn’t swing) at the time. A lot of cemeteries are falling on hard times as more people opt for cremation.

      • Doran said

        I live about 30 east of Austin, Texas. What would make sense here is generating electricity via photo-voltaics to run air conditioning. Our winter lasts about 4-5 weeks, spring is about the same, and fall, ditto. The remainder is summer. Think hot. Really, really hot. We are already into the mid-90s, which is not where it will stop. July, August and most of September are killers. Really, really hot.

        I get electricity from Bluebonnet Electric Co-op, which is a well-run, but increasingly expensive source of electricity. But when I put the pencil to it, the up-front cost of going solar is much more than I can expect to spend over my remaining life time for the Co-op’s electricity. Probably something along this line happened to those original green house operators in Milwaukee.

      • Charles II said

        The future of solar energy is parabolic collectors. Photovoltaics make sense as long as transmission costs are significant, but in most places that’s not an issue. In theory, PV could be used to cool a region that is suffering the effects of global warming, but the ecological effects would have to be carefully thought through. And, yes, upfront capital costs often distort decision making.

        Exciting times, assuming the human race survives.

  5. jo6pac said

    Yep, heating to the floor works, my close friend and wife built by them selves a 4800sq house/work space in SLT, Calif. The bill to heat during the winter this space plus the garage is $150 per month in the dead of winter. This is normally about 3 months long. I love being there in a snow storm and walking around in bare feet. He use to complain about the $30 per yr to have the back flow device checked but when friends told them it cost them $600 to heat the same size house and they closed 2/3 off for winter the 150 was cheap.

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