Influence of Alternative Energy Production on Valve Manufacturing Industry

Nowadays, the main energy providers worldwide are still carbon-based fossil fuels, which are heavy-polluting and harmful for the environment. Fortunately, there are currently more people around the world investing in alternative energy rather than traditional fossil fuels. Using alternative energy has great benefits that go beyond helping the environment, being able to influence various industries around the world. Once such industry is the valve manufacturing industry.

Alternative_Energy

In this article, we’ll discuss about the influence that alternative energy production has on the valve manufacturing industry and on our environment overall.

The Alternative Energy Impact

In order for us to be able to create renewable energy, we need to have the right infrastructure for the process. That’s why the rising global use of alternative energy has a more than noticeable impact on multiple industries. The valve manufacturing industry is also affected by these global changes, given the fact that suppliers have to respond to them by focusing more on renewable energy use.

For the longest time, the valve manufacturing industry has based its activity on using fossil fuels, which we have already established that are very harmful for the environment. In order for the industry to function in an environment based on alternative energy, there are certain design changes that need to be applied to some equipments that are necessary for valve manufacturing.

The main changes have something to do with control valves, which are required for different uses: solar thermal power plants, hydrogen energy or geothermal energy. But let’s discuss each of these individually!

Solar Thermal Power Plants

In order for us to be able to use solar thermal power plants in a safe environment, the control valves responsible for pumping hot oil require extended bonnets, that would help isolate the body of the valve from molten salt used in solar thermal energy production. This way, we end up using valves that are suitable for all sorts of environments, whether it’s frozen land or desert.

Hydrogen Energy

Naturally, hydrogen is known for being highly reactive and explosive. That being said, the manufacturing of hydrogen control valves becomes a tedious process, because even the smallest mistake becomes a big problem when these products are actually being used. It is crucial to pay close attention to the design and the production of this kind of valves, making sure that you can seal them properly and tightly.

Geothermal Energy

The issue with valves when it comes to geothermal energy processes, is their resistance to heat; they need to be able to handle lots of it. Geothermal energy processes usually take place in very corrosive environments, a fact which can also highly impact the design changes required for the manufacturing of valves. Even the slightest mistake in production can result in severe corrosion suffered by different components. Even though the costs for control valves could be significantly higher in the production phase, this option ensures long term usage, which is definitely cost-effective.

The Economic Impact

If we consider the way people are currently investing in the production of energy, it is safe to say that we are on the right path. The reason for that is given to us by World Economic Forum, according to which $286 billion were invested globally in alternative energy production, and only $130 billion were invested in fossil fuel energy production. With the amount of money that are being invested in research and development of renewable energy sources, more and more people will soon be able to afford to switch to the greener option. The switch has become a very possible option, something that is very obvious in Canada, where 73 percent of the energy produced comes from renewables. More and more countries around the world are currently working hard to find ways to get rid of fossil fuels for energy production. The green method, based on alternative energy is starting to become a trend that is here to stay, as it offers us cheaper, environment-friendly solutions. The future looks great, because there are numerous investors out there who are looking to help speed-up the process of switching to renewable energy sources. If we could all work together to promote sustainability and make this possible, the switch can result in less pollution, therefore, a better planet for all of us.

Wind In Our Hair – And Our Future

We get no broadcast, cable or satellite television at my homestead. Being in a cut-off cove in a sheltered depression on the southeastern slope of Mount Mitchell and smack up against the Blue Ridge continental divide (less than 5 miles uphill to the west), the “public airwaves” don’t reach us. Cable is never going to come half a mile up our driveway just so we can watch the SciFi channel, and satellite package deals are well out of our budgetary range. What we do have is a combo VCR/DVD player and 20 years’ worth of accumulated movies, PBS/BBC special series collections, etc.

windWe go for weeks without actually watching, but when the family’s here or during those dark months when we can’t be working or playing outdoors, we indulge frequently. One of my all-time favorites to view again and again is the 2-volume VCR version of Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves. And I am not alone among my female family members and friends in never tiring of enjoying the stunning physical presence in that movie of Native American actor Rodney A. Grant as the character “Wind In His Hair.” I want to make this connection between a contemporary fictional role model of the once fierce and free natives from whom our mostly British “founding fathers” stole this vast nation, and the technology that will play a lead role in this vast nation’s energy future: Wind.

More and more of those towering 1.5 Mw land-based wind generators are dotting skylines across the country, primarily in the midsection’s Great Plains from the Canadian border to the Rio Grande’s separation of the U.S. from Mexico. As the generators are increasingly installed we’ve been hearing a lot of astroturfed complaints (those funded by the fossil fuels and nuclear industries but intended to look like ‘grassroots’ Mom & Pops). The windmills are ‘ugly’. They make too much noise. They can’t provide ‘baseload’ power when the wind’s not blowing. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Old King Coal and the Nuclear Priesthood aren’t making all that much headway with their anti-wind and solar PR campaign, as homesteads, villages, towns and cities happily increase their reliance on renewables to power our energy future.

Renewables don’t contribute hefty amounts of CO2 and particulate pollution that contributes to millions of human deaths annually and climate change that will kill millions more. There is no nasty waste product of generation that needs careful disposal and management (in the case of nuclear, for at least 10,000 years AFTER we’ve toasted our breakfast bagels), no chance of meltdowns or explosions that amount to the Mother Of All Dirty Bombs, no ever-increasing mercury poisoning, cancer rates and pollution-caused pulmonary dysfunctions, no imperialistic wars of aggression to be fought by our children to steal the natural resources of other people’s countries to enrich fossil fuelish greedheads. Wind and solar ‘spills’ will never cause whole swaths of valuable territory will never become “exclusion zones” unfit for human habitation for hundreds of years. And unless you happen to be standing next to a concentrated solar boiler when it overpressurizes, or directly under a wind tower when it falls, accidents aren’t at all likely to kill you.

I heard this week about a very cool new offshore wind project (pictured above) planned to serve Megalopolis – the dense U.S. population zone between northern Virginia and New York – that is exciting. The Atlantic coast of North America enjoys a wide and stable offshore continental shelf that is only 50-150 feet deep, which allows offshore turbines to be well anchored. The west coast drops off steeply and is notorious as an earthquake zone, so offshore wind there is not as feasible with current technology. Though I’m sure appropriate technology will be developed soon to take advantage of Pacific winds to supplement what can be done with solar in the desert southwest and southern California.

The Atlantic Wind Connection project for Megalopolis includes a series of 4 to 15 Megawatt wind turbines placed 15-18 miles offshore so they can’t be seen from the beaches and connected with a HVDC [High Voltage Direct Current] backbone grid and 4 feeds to the mainland along the route.

HVDC is better for transmission of generated electricity over long distances on land or from generators offshore because it loses less of the power along the way. HVDC cables also generate virtually no electromagnetic fields, offer better flow control, minimize environmental impact, and have other advantages as well. As an additional plus for the project, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory confirmed in late December of 2011 that wind power is now at $33 to $65 per megawatt-hour and still falling, positioning wind to quickly become the most cost-effective means of generating electricity.

Even better, a nationally supported effort to manufacture, install and operate renewable energy systems holds great promise to provide literally millions of jobs at a time when unemployment levels have been far too high for far too long – a way to help get us out of this long economic depression and thrive in the future for having built the new infrastructure.

There is of course no guarantee that this country’s political system is at all capable anymore of planning or doing for the future health, prosperity and security of the people. Rather, it’s obvious that there’s not a national politician of any Party or philosophy at any level of government right now with enough vision, courage or chutzpah to even try. Fortunately, there are corporations, financiers and investors willing to step into the breech and do what government won’t do. It will be up to us – We the People – to insist that our elected leaders do what is necessary to support and promote the necessary change-over from fossil fuels and dangerous nuclear power to renewables. And if they are too timid to take a stand, it’ll be up to us to replace them with people who will do the right thing.

Toward that goal I will be posting more about the latest developments and deployments of renewables going forward, and providing information of particular interest to homesteaders who want to go off-grid or become suppliers themselves. Do stay tuned!

Earthlodge: The Original Sod Home

earth lodgeI read an interesting article on the “earthlodges” of Native Americans in the Dakotas the other day. I’d learned early in my life when the family moved from New York to “Indian Territory” – Oklahoma – that not all Native Americans lived in those portable teepee tents so prevalent on the plains. I knew the ‘civilized’ tribes of the southeastern United States were able constructors of log cabins for their permanent villages, and of course knew about those spectacular adobe pueblos in the southwest. And while I learned in junior high Oklahoma history about the sod-roofed shanties built by white settlers (and for which Oklahoma was famous), I’d never heard of earthlodges.

Earthlodges are large round structures from 20 to 50 feet in diameter which are built to be much more permanent than the yurts that basically amount to a Mongolian version of teepee for migratory people. Lots of people these days have deck-mounted yurts that are popular as camp cabins or gazebos, but they’re not really something stable or well-insulated enough to live in full time.

In contrast, the earthlodge is dug into the ground and framed with logs, covered with woven willow mats and then covered completely (except for a smoke hole in the middle of the roof) with mud and sod. Your basic hobbit house, but as its own hill rather than dug into a pre-existing hill. Of course, there are some modern earthlodge designs that combine aspects of natural landscaping and lodge building, which are actually quite nice if you don’t care much about windows. It would be quite easy to engineer one of these with skylights, so interior darkness can be alleviated.

earth lodgeThe original earthlodges were built communally, often housing between 15 and 25 people. They provided solid, very well-insulated shelter for harsh Dakota winters, and stayed naturally cool in hot Dakota summers. They lasted only as long as the palisade poles and main support logs lasted in the ground, about 7 to 10 years before they’d rotted enough to need replacing. Since it took only about a week for a group to construct an earthlodge from scratch, the old one would simply be torn down and a new one erected in its place. The old logs recycled into firewood made this village system quite efficient given that the Dakotas do not enjoy the thick, lush forests of the American southeast.

For a new homesteader looking for cheap, eco-friendly housing on a tract of raw land, it’s not difficult to see how the problem of ground-rot could be simply eliminated by seating the anchor and palisade logs in concrete. The thermal mass of palisade logs plus dirt/sod can be nearly warm in winter and cool in summer as 3-foot thick adobe walls. More modern – and fully waterproof – coverings take the place of those woven willow mats, and fewer palisade poles would allow for regular insulated walls or an opportunity to place windows and/or exits to porticos, or to build storage rooms or closets off the main structure. For a truly permanent structure, some research on new under-sod waterproof roofing material would probably be a good idea.

The niftiest thing about this kind of permanent shelter is that if your land is raw enough to need some clearing, the logs and poles can be taken as part of your clearing plans. These will have to be de-barked and dried above the ground, there are many good Do It Yourself books and plans out there for site-built log homes that have clear instructions on how to do this. If you’re planning to grow crops, the sod shouldn’t be hard to come by. Rather than a big central fire pit and large hole in the roof, a central wood stove with just a pipe running up through the roof will protect from the elements much better than the wicker baskets the Mandan people used to cover their smoke holes when it rained.

It also strikes me that the side walls could be constructed of straw bales and covered with mesh and stucco or adobe instead of mud and sod and still be as easy to heat and cool. Some may consider rock as well, if the land has an overabundance of those that need removing before crops can be grown. Any of these alternatives for some or all of the side walls would make for a very handsome home. The sod roof does have great appeal, I’ve always envisioned a hobbit house with wildflowers instead of just more grass to have to mow.

The interior, once you’ve got the central roof supports and planned your walls, can of course be framed and subdivided as you please for cooking sleeping and living areas, bathrooms and utility as you wish. The Dream Green link above also offers a plan for a ‘multi-lodge’ made up of several octagonal earthlodges connected to a front portico area. This idea offers the possibility for future expansion as the family grows.

So chalk this up as yet another eco-friendly green construction to think about if you’re new to homesteading or are planning to build more structures on your homestead than you’ve already got. A far less modern (more true to origin) version of earthlodge would make a very serviceable combo barn, root/wine cellar and tool/vehicle storage shed. For as long as you can keep the livestock from eating the walls and roof, that is.

Links:

Indians 101: The Earthlodge
Dream Green Homes Earth Lodge
Blue Ridge Yurts

4 Unique Ways to Make Fewer Trips to the Gas Pump

Everyone is feeling the pain in their pocketbooks when hitting the gas station. Before you fill up, think about the ways that you can help keep your vehicle going longer between fill ups. There are so many little things that you can do to help make fewer trips to the gas station; you may be surprised at the things to help elevate your gas mileage.

Slow Down

Slow Down

One of the biggest tips to save money on gas is to slow down. The faster you go, the more gas you use. If you go a little under the speed limit on the freeway, you will extend the life of your tank of gas. You can get somewhere faster by driving the speed limit or higher, but you won’t be doing yourself any favors financially. It will cost you more in gas money in the long run.

Cruise

2011 GMC Acadia SL White Diamond

Does your vehicle have cruise control? If it does, make sure that you use it as often as you can. Especially on long trips, cruise control can save you a ton. Setting the speed, and not revving the engine and hitting the break in turn, can help you get more gas mileage out of your vehicle. Though this may not be as effective in town, where you will have frequent stops, you will find that on the freeway, it helps you not only keep the speed you want, but keeps you under budget.

Read this one also: Natural Car Cleaners

Keep it Light

keep it light
keep it light

If your car is full, the trunk is packed, and you have heavy items on the top, you are going to use more gas than if you are carrying minimal weight. The heavier the vehicle is, the more gas it takes to keep it moving. Because of this, you may want to think about what you are packing before heading out on your vacation. Make sure to unpack everything that you can before heading back out. Keep your vehicle as light as possible to save on gas.

Look at Greener Options

Green Option
Green Option

If you are in the market for a new vehicle, you may want to consider something that is more gas-effective. Looking into hybrid options can help you save tons at the pump. If you don’t have others to cart around in the car, you may want to look at options like a scooter or motorcycle, which also get better gas mileage.

We all want to save a little money at the pump. The best way to do this is to improve your gas mileage. Even though many ideas may seem like they won’t do much, keep in mind that every little bit helps. What are some other great ways to help your gas mileage?

Tiny Houses: Part 3 – Cities Developing Tiny Housing

tiny_houseThis blog has examined the new trend toward “micro-housing” in terms of sub-urban and rural settings in the articles Teeny, Tiny Houses in July of 2011, and Tiny Houses: Part 2 in March of 2012. The trend for small, efficiently-designed housing doesn’t look to be letting up any time soon despite a slight bounce-back of the general real estate markets.

Now we are hearing more about big cities either looking into developing “micro-housing units” convenient to downtown workplaces and shopping, at reasonable prices (and rental prices) for young workers, middle income singles and couples without children, and segments of the elderly population.

The Christian Science Monitor for September 25th asks, “Could you live in 150 square feet? Cities try out micro-housing.” They report that San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York have begun trials of ever-smaller ‘efficiency’ apartments – dubbed micro-housing – in the hearts of their metro areas. For those who would eschew living as Bruce Willis’ character in the movie The Fifth Element, the very thought of living in a single room is uncomfortable. For many singles, childless couples and young people coming out of college (where they’ve lived in a dorm room for awhile), living small in the midst of the city doesn’t sound so bad.

Think about it. If you work 8-10 hours a day (sometimes more), what do you really need from ‘home’ apart from some privacy, a kitchenette to store and prep the few meals that aren’t eaten out, a suitable bathroom, a TV chair, a place to do any take-home work they’ve got, and a comfy bed to sleep in?

There is a notorious lack of affordable housing in urban, downtown areas all over the country, and despite the recent economic collapse, the costs aren’t going down. The Japanese have long been pioneers in living in small spaces, but how many Westerners would be happy in 250 square feet or less? New York designer/architect Alexander Gendell, whose company Foliture specializes in fold-away furniture for tight spaces (think Murphy Bed), told CSM…

Low quality of life does not have to go hand in hand with limited living space, he says. He points to Tokyo, where the Japanese have figured out how to make every inch of living space count, he says. “It’s entirely possible to live well in 200 square feet of living space,” he says, as long as every function has been well thought out.

“We are certainly not the first ones to deal with this issue,” Mr. Gendell says with a laugh. “We are blessed in this country with more living space,” he says, but many other nations have proved that it is entirely possible to live in a more concentrated living environment – one that would be better for the planet.

Chicago has built thousands of downtown dorm units in high-density buildings in recent decades, for the income-challenged and homeless population. As housing prices in cities begin to rise again, these small units will become increasingly popular. Moreover, I’d be willing to suggest that as “living small” becomes a somewhat normal thing in cities, the suburban and rural movement toward tiny houses will also benefit. Even stay-at-home homesteaders tend to spend more time outside than in as we work toward our idyllic self-sufficient dreams, many of us are nearing retirement age and the children are on their own. The whole “Tread Lightly On The Earth” philosophy has merits that perhaps in coming years our city cousins can learn to appreciate as much as we do. They’ll need outdoor activities to occupy their time too, so perhaps we can expect a boom in rooftop community gardens as this micro-housing trend takes off.

City homesteading can be ‘a thing’ too!

Hurricane Sandy: Solar Plan-Ahead

Hurricane_SandyWe all watched in dread fascination as Superstorm Sandy hooked a hard left right where predicted off the coast of northern Virginia to slame full-force into northern New Jersey and New York City just days before Election Day. Its storm surge was every bit as devastating as predicted, and its 1,000-mile-plus wind field wreaked havoc and whipped up 30-foot waves on Lake Erie (20-footers on Lake Ontario). The storm whipped an arctic front around the back side and dumped feet of snow on southern Appalachia. Tens of millions lost electricity in the storm, and some have still not been reconnected.

As we usually see in Florida and along the Gulf coast during hurricane seasons, home supply companies quickly ran out of portable gas-powered generators and other emergency supplies, even before we were treated to the appalling spectacle of a wind-whipped inferno taking out more than a hundred homes in Queens, which was above the surge and thought it was safe. I’m sure we’re all gratified that good forecasting and serious pre-storm planning as well as pre-placement of relief personnel and supplies kept the death toll down to less than half a percent of Katrina’s toll back in 2005. But we also learned that for all those portable gas generators that were sold to people who knew their electricity would go out, the attendant problem of gas stations being unable to dispense gasoline without power rendered most of them entirely useless.

So I’m passing along an interesting blog article entitled Use solar to survive the next storm. Now, solar panels atop a pole in the yard aren’t any more likely to survive hurricane-force winds or 14-foot waves than your bird house is. But houses in New Jersey and New York that had rooftop solar panels fared very well – there are reports of considerable damage to shingles and gutters and such, but so long as the entire roof isn’t taken off, the solar panels up there should be fine.

Now, we know that solar panels won’t provide any ready juice in the middle of the night, or when the kind of deep, rain-drenched clouds a superstorm brings are between you and the sun. But for emergency purposes you should have some batteries already charged and ready to take over at least a minimum of lighting, radio, charging of PCs and cell phones, perhaps even running your laptop or iPad for up to date information. Even your basic surge protector for computer equipment – the kind with an undersized car battery with converter built-in and plugs will serve the purpose until the sun is shining again. You can set it up to draw its full charge from the solar panels normally, even if your panels are wired into the grid. While that wiring is done, just insist on a switch that will allow you to use the solar panels exclusively whenever the grid is down.

Here are some nifty portable solar generators that would in this storm have proven way more useful than a gasoline generator you couldn’t get gas for, once the next day dawned. Goal Zero offers emergency solar kits in personal, family and household sizes. Home Depot and Lowes have a variety of solar products and generators too, and the prices are getting more reasonable every year. Cabela’s outfitters offers portable solar generators too, a little tougher-built and a little more expensive. Truly industrial-level portables with steel containers of batteries are available through several companies, those by Mobile Solar are impressive, can even be sized for off-grid living.

We homesteaders don’t generally live in big cities, but there are urban homesteaders all over the place these days coming up with sustainable means of living in cities. How about having street lights with solar panels and batteries? Solar powered stoplights and such as well, to switch over from grid whenever there’s an interruption?

At any rate, for those of us who know enough science to be expecting increasingly violent weather from global climate change need to ensure our emergency supplies and power are well thought-out. It seems to me that NOT having to rely on the power company that’s been cutting service personnel for years to increase profits is better than sitting in the dark for days or weeks at a time. It also seems smarter to NOT have to find a source of gasoline in the aftermath of a hugely destructive event just so you can plug in your computer and charge your cell phone. Whether you just want an emergency supply or are able to install an ample rooftop array you can switch over when the grid goes down is of course dependent on your situation. But all of us should be thinking solar for this aspect of emergency planning.

Ginseng: New Research & Income Opportunity

GinsengResearcher Sang-Moo Kang at Georgia State University’s new Institute for Biomedical Sciences reports that ginseng can be used to treat flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). I have touted in this blog the scientifically demonstrated benefits of elderberry preparations as effective anti-virals and immune system stimulants, so am now happy to add ginseng for something more [scientifically] significant than just general tonic, energy-booster and libido stimulant, the traditional uses of ginseng.

Kang joined university and research institute partners in South Korea for a collaborative effort to document the health benefits of ginseng. Which is also purported to have anticancer, anti-inflammatory and immune modifying properties.

We all know the health and economic ravages of seasonal influenza, which kills 250,000 to 500,000 people world wide every year. Some of us actually remember stories from our parents and grandparents about the horrific toll of the great influenza pandemic of 1918, which killed 50 to 100 million people. That was 3-5% of humanity, which makes it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. Given the viral propensity to mutate until it can best an average immune system, such not-quite critters present a constant hazard for life on planet earth.

Modern medicine, interestingly enough, does not have any kind of pharmaceutical toolkit of defenses against or treatments for viral infections. There’s oseltamivr phosphate [TamiFlu], and that’s about it. It’s not that effective at prevention or treatment, and side-by-side clinical trials during the swine flu epidemic a few years ago had elderberry tincture ahead on both preventing infection and shortening time/lessening severity of infection. The use of plant-based alkaloids and other compounds to promote health and heal illnesses is as ancient as humanity. Modern pharmaceuticals, however, are based on the chemistry of those alkaloids and compounds exclusively, ignoring any and all other compounds found in the plant sources that may aid the efficacy in select applications. Don’t let them fool you – there’s nothing ‘primitive’ or ‘unscientific’ about the knowledge of plant-based pharmacopeias. Just because our ancestors learned by observation and experiment instead of molecular manipulation it doesn’t mean what they learned is any less respectable.

Some Good News Projects

Tiny Houses for the Homeless

nbc15 WMTV MadisonVolunteers graduated into social/political activism via Occupy Madison [Wisconsin] have been working to deal with homelessness in their community. What they’ve come up with are tiny houses of 98 square feet. The Madison Common Council – city council – voted to amend the zoning code to allow the tiny houses, so long as they have wheels and towbar, to be set up on private property, or to be parked on the street so long as they are moved every 48 hours to a new location. Though the non-profit is seeking permission from area churches to allow longer term parking in their lots for up to three of the tiny houses at a time.

The tiny houses have a bed, kitchenette, bathroom and storage, and the group is hoping to complete ten of them before the end of 2014. At some point they’d like to purchase land on which they can create a 30-unit ‘village’ of tiny houses for the homeless. Community donations are covering the ~$3000 cost in materials, the construction is all-volunteer. One of the first recipients has spent countless hours helping to build his own soon-to-be residence.

“There’s no comparison between having a place to go at night, and close the door, and sleep comfortably, and not freeze to death or have your possessions stolen. There’s no substitute for that” says Luca Clemente, one of the project organizers.

No word on whether the units come with ‘hookup’ ability for a water supply and electricity, or if they’re using waterless composting toilets (these are surprisingly nice) and perhaps a rechargeable battery for lights.

Tiny homes a little larger (and not on wheels) are occupying a tiny housing development called “Quixote Village” in Olympia, Washington, on a 2.17 acre lot leased from Thurston County for $1 a year. Residents will pay 1/3 of their income toward rent to the non-profit Panza, which grew out of the faith community that has been supporting Olympia’s homeless encampments through the years. After having spent a couple of years or more in roving tent camps allowed temporarily by area churches on their lots, for many these tiny homes represent a stability they’ve not enjoyed for a long time.

There are 30 150 square foot “cottages” on the lot, all with heat, plumbing and electricity, and each one comes with a front porch with tiny garden space. Two of the units are handicap accessible. They boast a bed, a desk, half-bath and closet. There is a common clubhouse with stocked kitchen, laundry facilities, showers, mailboxes and a large common room with television and fireplace. The bus stop is nearby, and an 8-passenger van was donated to the village.

In Olympia the village is zoned as permanent supportive housing, and meet the city’s building codes.

Even better, the idea of tiny houses for the homeless is apparently one whose time has come. Austin, Texas has launched a project called Community First! Village that will house up to 200 chronically homeless citizens on 27 acres sprinkled with a mix of tiny houses, teepees, refurbished RVs and mobile homes, launched on crowdsourced funding and volunteers.

There will be a 3-acre community garden, a chapel, a medical facility, a workshop, a bead and breakfast, and an Alamo Drafthouse outdoor movie theater. Could it be that after so many decades of endemic homelessness in America due to the ever-widening ‘income gap’ and imposed austerity policies that cut off unemployment benefits, food stamps, disability and fixed pension benefits, etc., is there finally to be locally-inspired kindness shown to the (politically determined and enforced) chronically poor? Sure would be nice to think so.

And as such community projects are built and occupied, it’s an excellent seeding ground for urban homesteading on a cooperative scale. That’s a good thing for everyone.

Energy: The Good News, The Continuing Struggle

Boston Globe
Boston Globe
First the good news. The Boston Globs reports this week that Massachusetts’ largest utilities have signed long-term contracts for wind generated energy from six wind farms in Maine and New Hampshire at a mere 8 cents per kilowatt hour. Which is actually cheaper than electricity from coal [10 cents/kwh], nuclear [11 cents/kwh] and solar [14 cents/kwh].

The utilities – National Grid, Northeast Utilities and Unitil Corp. – are together purchasing 565 megawatts of electricity, enough to power ~170,000 homes. The Cape Wind offshore project in Nantucket Sound is expected to serve more homes overall when it is fully on-line, but the price per kwh will be higher. As more wind projects get built, the price should even out in the face of competition, so we may all look forward to something eventually cheaper even than natural gas. Which at 6 cents per kwh is now the least expensive electricity generation technology, but that will inevitably go up as gas reserves dwindle and environmental regulation puts a crimp in the destructive practice of fracking.

Wind generation has tremendous potential in the most populous regions of the country, including the Megalopolis corridor from D.C. to Boston, and in Texas and California. The entire Great Plains is ripe for wind as well as solar, and solar technologies are enjoying a hefty level of research funding to see if its costs can be brought into competitive line with wind and hydro. New storage technologies for all renewable sources are also being researched and developed apace, while coal plants are being shut down and new ones aren’t getting built.

Now for the less-than great news. Confusing and contradictory signals from the Obama administration about approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Alberta through the heartland has a consortium of 25 environmental groups signing on to a letter to President Obama urging rejection of the project. Tar sands oil is the most environmentally damaging form of petroleum to capture and refine, making the pipeline a serious threat to efforts to battle global warming.

Groups signing on are the Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Conservation Voters, Environmental Action, CREDO, 350.Org, Public Citizen, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Sierra Club and others. For years groups of indigenous people in Canada and the U.S., farmers and ranchers from Nebraska to Texas and citizen activists as well as environmental organizations have protested the project.

Those of us who have chosen to live our lives in such a way as to serve as example of a more aware and involved partnership with this home planet are not usually at the forefront of civil actions pushing for better government and corporate policies related to energy, but we do need to increase our outreach to those who are on the front lines. Please do check in on groups in and near your area, maybe attend some gatherings or subscribe to newsletters, offer what you can offer to help support this important work. Even if it’s some fresh organic food, a nice place to hold a planning meeting, or an offer of shelter for participants from far flung places, we need to be part of the needed changes on as many levels as possible.

Who knows? There’s even a chance you could get to know some local/semi-locals who would love nothing better than to put in a little time on your project here and there, at planting or harvest time, maybe help with some very cool energy projects they could then use as inspiration to others along their travels and among their contacts. The real changes happen at home, not in D.C. Which seems always to be playing catch-up with what the people have already figured out for themselves. Changes that need a community’s commitment and support and labor are best done with the help of a community. So let’s get plugged in!

Wild Herbs Endangered By Poaching

wild_herbs[Slide show of poachers from Mountain Express]

My southern Appalachian homestead was originally purchased more than twenty years ago as the high country standard of “13 acres more or less, graded.” That means they took an overhead map (probably one from the USGS with elevation lines), put a 1-acre grid over the top of it, and counted the acres within the boundaries. The fact that it is so steeply graded means there’s a bunch of land that if flattened out, would add greatly to the total acreage. We have walked the land a lot, and the true number is nearly 25 acres, most in thick stands of third-growth temperate hardwood forest. There are a few scattered giants, trees that are at least two hundred years old, but the rest has been logged and/or burned more than once since white folks drove the Cherokee west.

There were large stands of wild ginseng and black cohosh growing on the rich tilth of well-shaded hillside when we got here, and I began the project of re-planting and managing (against invasives) of these valuable medicinal herbs. To a lesser degree we’ve got a smaller stand of introduced goldenseal in the bottomland of the smaller creek across the ridge, and we also occasionally tend collections of other marketable wilding herbs fancied by herb dealers and shop owners. September is the big month, when in my region the roots and herbs are gathered, dried and taken to one of the itinerant licensed herb dealers servicing the region.

As the herb season is in full swing in North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, an age-old problem has reared its ugly head as the price for ‘sang (and black cohosh, an at-risk medicinal) has skyrocketed. Poaching.

Last season wild-managed ginseng topped $800 a pound, definitely the “gold standard” among wildings in these parts. It takes a lot of roots to equal a pound dried, and they must be kept intact enough for the dealer to determine their age. Some years ago when wild American ginseng first made it to the endangered plants list, restrictions were imposed to the ability to sell your crop. Wild roots are not marketable at under 5 years or over 15 years. This was done in hopes of salvaging the truly wild stands from poachers, who aren’t shy of who’s land they’re stealing from.

Illegal harvesting of ginseng has become so rampant that the U.S. Forest Service cut the number of 3-pound national forest harvesting permits by 75%, but as much as 90% of diggers don’t bother with permits in the first place.

“Dramatic declines of wild ginseng populations over the past decade suggest previous harvest levels are no longer sustainable,” Forest Supervisor Kristin Bail explained in a June 20 press release announcing the changes. “It is in everyone’s best interest to further limit the amount of the harvest to help ensure the plant’s future sustainability.”

So it is increasingly falling to us rural landholders, if we have the ability and conditions, to preserve this plant to the best of our abilities. Both for our own income purposes as an annual cash crop with careful management, and as preservation of a valuable botanical in its native areas. There are definite plusses for committed homesteaders in putting even the wild areas of our ‘steads into some kind of production that can help support our lifestyles. A good overview of the project comes from NCSU, Cultivating Native Woodland Botanicals.

Of course, poaching ginseng on either private or public land is a crime (punishable by fine or prison time, or both). Alas, it is a crime that is seldom prosecuted. Robert Eidus, licensed ginseng dealer and owner of the North Carolina Ginseng & Goldenseal Company, puts it this way…

“I’m allowed to buy from people who steal from other people,” adds Eidus. “It’s the last illegal, sanctioned business in America.”

Ginseng can be – and is in many places – grown in artificially shaded plots and usually sold young. Wisconsin grows about 95% of the farmed ginseng in this country, a $70 million crop for the state. But this ‘sang usually sells for a mere $18 to $24 a pound – nothing close to the $800+ a pound wild ‘sang is earning. If correctly managed there is no discernible difference between forest-managed and truly wild ginseng, though well-managed beds chosen for their thick tilth of forest floor will return larger roots than wildings that may have rooted in shallow tilth or in beds choked with sizable rocks.

Good managers never harvest a root without planting a few small young roots or several seeds. It takes two years for the seeds to sprout, so it’s important to get them before the deer do when they ripen to bright red, and further to discourage deer from foraging where your ginseng is growing. But fear not – even if deer do eat your leaves and seeds one year, the plant will come back next year as long as the root is still in place.

Meanwhile, in my area the N.C. Ginseng Association is actively recruiting homesteaders and landowners for development of more forest managed ginseng crops. Other herb companies in areas where ginseng grows are organizing the same sort of thing, which might offer newcomers to the idea of forest farming some valuable knowledge and physical help to get started. You may end up having to police your own crops for poachers, though, so a little tidbit of wisdom I was taught back during my childhood by a wild ‘sang manager in eastern Kentucky should be kept in mind.

“Don’t tell people about your crop.” Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have a dog either. Good for keeping poachers, deer AND bears away! Do give it some thought, consider if your land is suitable for ginseng. And/or black cohosh, goldenseal, spikenard, elder or any other of the increasingly valuable botanicals marketable these days.

Useful Links:

Cultivating Native Woodland Botanicals
Botanical Bandits
WildGrown: NC State wildcrafting survey
Cultivation and Marketing of Woodland Medicinal Plants
NC Ginseng Dealers 2013/14 [PDF]