This month’s topic of discussion at the Tuesdays at 21 event was “Seeking Energy Independence.” If you’re familiar with the 21 Acres Center, you might have seen the 26.1 kW solar photovoltaic roof-mounted system that contributes to generating roughly 10-15% of the facility’s energy demand (Sunergy Systems). Renewable energy was one of the categories the 21 Acres Center earned credits for when achieving LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum Certification, among other energy-efficient systems integrated with the green building.
The 21 Acres Center is a commercial model for showcasing innovative designs in buildings and just within the past year, it has inspired a Woodinville homeowner to install solar panels on his home. At the Tuesdays at 21, Steve Wright led a group of people to look at his residential photovoltaic system and he was accompanied by NW Electric and Solar who installed his system to help answer questions.
Unfortunately, there’s an overwhelming stigma about the effectiveness of solar in the Pacific Northwest and how the return on investment isn’t that rewarding. Wright’s 7.35kW solar panel system, however, will pay for itself in 5 years which isn’t a long time if you consider that he’ getting paid $4,300/year to produce power for Puget Sound Energy (PSE) simultaneously.
Here’s how it works:
The power from the array is fed through a production meter to the home’s panel and PSE pays the homeowner 54 cents per kilowatt hour. The customer is using that generated power and does not have to pay PSE the average 10.7 cents per kilowatt hour as all homeowners do. In this case, Wright is literally spinning the net meter backwards and is making free money every day the sun shines. Also, if homeowners produce more energy than they use, they can get paid by selling it back to PSE.
If you’d like to find out more information on solar photovoltaic systems, stop by 21 Acres for a tour and talk with our facilities team. They are a fountain of knowledge and can show you how you can save money and energy through a number of different sustainable systems.
Save the date for the next Tuesdays at 21: On June 23, we’ll have guest speakers talk about “From Seed to Table: The Cost of Food.”
“Despite their artistic pretensions, sophistication, and many accomplishments, humans owe their existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.”
April’s Tuesdays at 21 presentation was led by David McInturff, Board member of Seachar. He also helps expand the education and practice of using biochar at Morethana Farm in Woodinville. If you’ve stopped by the 21 Acres Farm Market lately, you may have seen the farm stove in use and some of its by-products like biochar and tooth and hand soap.
The Estufa Finca (farm stove) Project started in Costa Rica to introduce biochar and the carbon-negative biomass energy technology to create clean energy and to build healthy soils in local farmland communities. Much of the world relies on fossil fuels and coal-burning energy, but the farm stove is a sustainable tool that eliminates the harmful impacts of climate change in agricultural settings and provides many other services, ecologically and economically. The farm stove can be made from recycled or inexpensive materials which makes it accessible for anyone in the world.
Take a look at the graphic below. Globally, biochar is used in so many ways from cooking and reducing odor in compost, to improving soil fertility and tilth. The use of the farm stove started in Costa Rica because of their diverse ecosystem, but how can the use of biochar and the farm stove benefit farmland in the Pacific Northwest? One use is to simply utilize the farm stove as an alternative waste stream for carbon-dense materials such as wood, but the fact that only 1 gram of biochar, basically the size of a pencil eraser, can be used to cover 9,000 square feet of surface area is an amazing top layer for growing food. Biochar is one of the oldest new technologies that can adapt to reducing the harmful impacts of climate change and everyone can benefit from its use and byproducts.
Additional Resources including websites, products, educational videos, and more:
- Seattle Biochar Working Group: http://seachar.org
- Biochar Bob goes to Costa Rica videos: www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvsW6edOVwI
- JRO plans: https://plus.google.com/photos/114261170173561967216/albums/5870982325879060785?banner=pwa
- International Biochar initiative: http://www.biochar-international.org
- Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves: http://cleancookstoves.org
Be sure to register for the Tuesdays at 21 presentation next month, May 26th starting at 7pm on the topic of “Seeking Energy Independence.” 21 Acres’ Pat Park and homeowner, Steve Wright, will lead a tour of an operating solar panel system next door to 21 Acres. The company who installed the panels, NW Electric & Solar, will have a representative available to answer questions, too. There will be a presentation following the tour and a demonstration of a small DIY solar project anyone try at home.
Join us Tuesday, April 28, 6:30 pm for: Biochar: Creating Clean Energy and Building Healthy Soils. This evening event is part of our Tuesdays at 21 series to foster discussion and community engagement. PreRegister – Only $5.
This presentation will draw on Seattle Biochar Working Group’s (SeaChar.org) Farm Stove Project in Costa Rica to illustrate how biochar technology can increase sustainability in Pacific NW food production. The evening will feature a demonstration of the burning stove and biochar properties as well as an interactive presentation of its use and benefits to gardeners, farmers, and sustainability enthusiasts alike.
Presenters: Art Donnelly, co-founder SeaChar (Seattle Biochar Working Group) and David McInturff, board member SeaChar.
Here’s what is planned for the next two Tuesdays at 21:
May 26th; Seeking Energy Independence
Solar Hot Water, Photovoltaics, Wind Power, and many other ways of harnessing renewable energy to power our lifestyles can be confusing and seem financially out of reach. In this session, we’ll discuss different strategies for channeling into renewable energy, its economics, and even tour an operating photovoltaic (PV) system. Whether you’re doing research on renewable energy, own or lease a PV system, or just want to understand the Pros and Cons beyond the sales pitch – this discussion will surely pique your interest!
June 23rd; From Seed to Table: The Cost of Food
What does it really take to get food from the grower to you, and how does sustainable, conventional, and organic farming differ from each other? As a result of these operations, there’s an impact on the environment, the nutritional quality of the food, and ultimately, us. These questions and food system processes will be explored by 21 Acres’ own, Matt Keen, RD, as he discusses sustainability and the food system.Watch for more dates and details on coming topics in the series.
Tuesdays at 21 are a nearly-free, crowd-sourced, evening presentation series for the broader Sammamish Valley region hosted monthly at the Center for Local Food and Sustainable Living. The goal of Tuesdays at 21 is to provide community members with a unique opportunity to learn from and to share with people in the interdisciplinary fields within sustainability.
Each Tuesdays at 21 will focus on a particular topic and consist of one to three relevant presentations coordinated by a 21 Acres guide. The presentations will utilize 21 Acres’ building, farm, and practices as inspiration and models for learning. Five bucks at the door will get you in but registration is requested. Doors open at 6:30, presentations start at 7, so arrive a bit early to network and share updates with others interested in good work being done in great workplaces.
For more information about Tuesdays at 21 contact: Aaron Huston, firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the Tuesday evening of March 24th, 21 Acres hosted Ellen Gray, Executive Director of the Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network, and Lindsey Webb, Food Programs Manager of the Millionair Charity Club in Seattle. Gray comes from a farming background and has worked in food politics for decades advocating for a more just food system and aiming to break down barriers for Washington farmers to sell their food to local schools and institutions. Active programs such as Fresh Food in Schools project connected 44 local farmers to 20 school districts across the state which has also accomplished a 717% increase in dollars spent by schools for Washington state grown fruits and vegetables since 2010. Gray told a story about how a school in Mount Vernon, WA received fresh carrots from a farm down the road and it was an eye-opening experience for teachers and students to see the green tops of the veggies which demonstrated that it’s real food that came from a farm in their own community and not processed in an entirely different state. The education involved in changing these types of policies for a more sustainable food system are really pivotal for also providing a boost in the local economy and a decrease in health issues due to eating more nutritional foods.
There are some amazing people out there working towards creating a more sustainable system for food and Lindsey Webb is doing that in Seattle — Webb works as the Food Programs Manager at the Millionair Charity Club that helps to reintegrate people into new employment opportunities and provides services many people take for granted such as doing laundry and having access to an eyeglass clinic. Webb works to provide nutritional foods for their Club’s meal programs which is sourced in their sustainable hydroponic farm located in their basement. The food travels 100 feet maximum before the fresh leafy greens are rinsed, chopped, and served with a dressing to dozens of people throughout the week. This is a huge step toward using local food systems for meal programs because much of the country still uses fossil fuels to transport food thousands of miles before it ends up in a grocery store or on your plate. However, we can change that.
Sustainable food systems can be as simple as shopping the farmer’s market in your town or growing your own vegetables or herbs in your home. There are also ways to supplement your ingredients for meals through local efforts such as in food hubs or CSAs (community supported agriculture). Then if you’re really passionate about striving to change the larger food network, there are people that are meeting and discussing the food system structure and they need your input on how things should be done.
If you missed out on March’s Tuesday at 21 program, or have more questions about getting involved, contact the Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network for more information, or take a tour of the hydroponic farm at the Millionair Charity Club. 21 Acres also has a Certified Organic farm and farm market which you can shop for fresh, local produce and value-added products, and get a tour of the commercial kitchen and green building.
Join us for next month’s Tuesday at 21 for April’s event on “Biochar: Creating Clean Energy and Building Healthy Soils.” This presentation will draw on Seattle Biochar Working Group’s (SeaChar.org) Farm Stove Project in Costa Rica to illustrate how biochar technology can increase sustainability in Pacific NW food production. The evening will feature a demonstration of the burning stove and biochar properties as well as an interactive presentation of its use and benefits to gardeners, farmers, and sustainability enthusiasts alike! Join us for this exciting evening on April 28th from 7-8:30pm and RSVP online.
New and fun farm-to-table activities are planned for ages 4 to 11 at 21 Acres! Kids learn about food and food systems while having the fun of being on a farm and helping create tasty treats in the kitchen.
Storybook Farm is a two-hour hands-on adventure perfect for a child’s birthday party or for a social gathering with friends. Each Storybook Farm event has three components tailored for specific age groups that will have them fully engaged:
Part 1: The oral sharing and interpretation of a popular children’s story relating to food ingredients, growing, and/or gardening/farming.
Part 2: An outdoor or indoor activity (depending on weather) designed specifically to create an entertaining learning experience directly related to the story.
Part 3: Staying on the farm or venturing into the kitchen. This is where the story comes together with hands-on, age-specific demonstrations of what it means to connect with food by transforming raw ingredients into amazing and nourishing treats.
Stories and activities are planned for each season as we know one of the best ways to teach kids about nature and food is to let them discover the wonders of it firsthand, no matter the time of year or weather conditions.
Two non-profit organizations based around sustainable agriculture and community engagement, 21 Acres Center for Local Food and Sustainable Living and Growing Veterans, partnered up for an inaugural volunteer work party in March 2014. Growing Veterans has a farm site near Bellingham and a couple Outpost sites, one of them being at 21 Acres. Since January and every second Saturday of the month, Growing Veterans and other dedicated community members volunteer at 21 Acres by helping to restore wetland and farming projects. It has been a strong partnership that has helped improve the quality of the environment and has established friendships along the way.
In recent collaboration with Growing Veterans, 21 Acres is hosting in additional volunteer work party on September 11th with the company, Outerwall. 50 volunteers from the company will be helping out with various farming tasks and outdoor restoration projects on 9/11 along with Growing Veterans and 21 Acres to commemorate and support organizations that are involved with local veterans and their continuing efforts. We are very grateful for this growing and successful relationship.
If you would like to volunteer at the Second Saturday work parties, 21 Acres will still be hosting its next volunteer opportunity on September 13th from 10am-12:30pm along with the support of Growing Veterans.
If you grow your own food, you know the satisfaction in tasting the first fruit or vegetable of the season. The part that’s even better is when you have such a large harvest that there’s too much to keep and you start giving it away. That’s what I’m going through right now. I planted a variety of seedlings into a vertical garden and watched them rapidly grow. After 28 days, I have more lettuce than I know what to do with plus other vegetables growing so I’m giving it away to the volunteers who graciously spend their time contributing to 21 Acres.
At the end of May, I set up a vertical gardening system that was loaned to our organization by David Burdick, owner and designer of Earth Harmony Habitats, for the purpose and potential to improve its design and demonstrate the effectiveness of growing food in the vertical garden. The entire system is 8 feet long with 5 rows of grow beds stacked on top of each other with open space underneath for water to pass through to each layer. There’s also a trellis attachment for vine plants to grow up on the top row which I currently have tomatoes doing. Here’s a chart of vegetables I’m growing and the increase in height from Day 1 to Day 28. As you can see, it’s working successfully.
The plant growth is impressive, right? It gets better though. The simplicity of this vertical garden comes from the low maintenance of irrigation. There is a computerized timer that schedules the irrigation flows throughout the day and there’s a rain sensor so that it halts irrigation when the soil is already wet. However, I am experimenting with it right now by using rain barrels on a higher elevation to water the plants so there has been more attention to detail for the first month. Once I get enough pressure from raising the elevation, then the timer can be set.
How about growing plants year-round? There are plastic panels I can slide over the grow beds to trap the sun’s warmth and to maintain moisture levels for a comfortable plant environment. I will experiment with winter crops at the end of the year and will reduce the irrigation schedule. But for now, I am maximizing plant growth in a finite space to test which crops grow best. If you don’t have very much room to grow, this is a brilliant concept to adopt because it drains water through each row and doesn’t take up much space. Plus, you can harvest fresh herbs and vegetables anytime.
I work at 21 Acres and I commute from where I live in a small apartment near the city. Like most people who live in an urban environment; I don’t have space to garden. I do, however, have a small deck where I can grow some herbs and vegetables. That was until the worst of the winter frost wiped out my healthy plants and any chance I had left at having one last harvest. The unpredictable Pacific Northwest weather put a sudden halt to my deck gardening and as I’m anxiously waiting for spring to arrive so I can plant again, I recently designed an indoor garden using my fish tank I set up over a year ago. I first bought my Betta fish because I had an empty aquarium I never used and I thought it would be relaxing to have a fish to take care of. I soon discovered I didn’t like having a fish because I thought it was wasteful to dump water out to only have to fill it up again to clean the tank. Now that spring is about to arrive, I regret not building my first indoor garden sooner because I can control my plant environment to grow food year-round, I don’t have to worry about the ever-changing weather patterns, and I don’t have to clean the fish tank any longer. (more…)
There are two veteran organizations partnering with 21 Acres this year and we want to share both of their stories:
Growing Veterans will be introduced to the farm by helping out with a large wetland restoration and native planting project. The wetland work party will take place on March 1 starting at noon; this is just one project happening through Growing Veterans and we are looking forward to working on others in the coming months. There will be a position opening up for a Growing Veterans 21 Acres Veterans Outpost Coordinator through The Mission Continues fellowship to oversee other veteran volunteers and to work on some special projects 20 hours/week starting later this year. (more…)