Environment

#1122 Save the world, starting with bees

Pollinating the lupine in Rotary Marsh, Kelowna, British Columbia

Just when news of the day threatens to make optimism look like a fool’s errand, I learn about a 4-decade-old organization that connects scientists and citizens around an important goal: to protect invertebrates and their habitat. Since 1971 the Xerces…

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#1081 Have you heard your vegetables scream? These scientists have

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Big fat green caterpillar; photo by Richard Wellis Sinyem, via Flickr Creative Commons

Years ago someone told me Joseph Campbell had said, “A vegetarian is someone who has never heard a vegetable scream.” I can’t verify the real author of the quote, but before anyone protests, let me just say he (or she or whoever said that) was on the right track.

Yet another study has confirmed plants have a far richer sensory life than we usually attribute to them. Heidi Appel and Rex Cocroft, both researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia, published their research in the July 2014 issue of Oecologia. They did not claim to have heard plants scream, but they did discover plants respond to sound.

The scientists sent some acoustic energy plantward. What that means is that they recorded the sounds of a caterpillar chewing a leaf and then played it to plants with no caterpillar in sight. The plants responded with defensive chemicals that warned the enemy to bug off. So when they put caterpillars on the plants, the greenies were ready, and the caterpillars turned up their mandibles in disgust. What’s more, the plants could tell the difference between the sounds of caterpillar vibrations and those of wind or non-attacking insects.

The findings conjure images of sound equipment in farm fields, maybe even replacing some of the chemicals used in agriculture. Appel told the university’s news bureau, “This research also opens the window of plant behavior a little wider, showing that plants have many of the same responses to outside influences that animals do, even though the responses look different.”

It opens a lot of windows for me. If we internalize the notion, supported by science, that every morsel of food we eat is capable of a far richer inner life than we ever dreamed, maybe we will be filled with gratitude for the gift. And if we are filled with gratitude, we will be better stewards of the earth.

This gives me hope.

The first video will introduce you to the researchers. The second is a satirical song from the Arrogant Worms. Be sure your sense of humour is intact before you watch it.

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#1075 Organic vegetables and fresh fish from a backyard setup

Livingbox

Modules of the Livingbox system; graphic clip from video below

It makes sense that a home-aquaponics unit comes from innovators in a dry land, where both water and fertile soil are in short supply. Israel’s LivinGreen had developed the Livingbox. It can be constructed where water is at a premium and soon be providing fish and vegetables for the dinner table.

Times of Israel spoke with Nitzan Solan, the co-creator of Livingbox who called it:

…the perfect system, because it lets anyone anywhere grow vegetables without the need for fertile soil, or running water and electricity, and with minimal farming skills. It could help feed people in the developing world, providing them with access to fresh, nutritious food, while helping them maintain a clean environment.

With a $20,000 prize from the International Pears Foundation and Tel Aviv University, the start-up company is one step closer to making its modular system available commercially. With five square meters of space, a family of four or five can produce a lot of organic food in a self-sustaining, closed system. The modular system is also suitable for farmers, who can build larger arrays for commercial purposes.

The Times of Israel article and the video below are brief introductions to a system that holds considerable promise for expanding the food supply. Livingbox gives me hope.

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#1056 Skip the plastic; wrap mine in Abeego, please

Abeego

Abeego in action; from the company’s Facebook page

A Victoria, British Columbia woman has invented a product with the potential to put an end to those rolls of plastic that offer convenience and pollution all in one rectangular box. Toni Desrosiers came up with the idea of Abeego by looking back in time. She discovered pre-plastic storage options had two characteristics in common. They were natural and breathable.

On her “Our Story” page, Desrosiers describes the ground rules she set for herself in developing her storage wrap:

  • All ingredients used will be completely natural.
  • No chemical alteration will be needed for the material to be effective.
  • Each selected ingredient will have been used for preservation at some stage in human history.
  • All ingredients have natural characteristics suitable for keeping food fresh.
  • All ingredients are already approved by the FDA for food contact.

The sheets and bags she developed are made from hemp and impregnated with beeswax, tree resin and jojoba oil. I’m not giving away any trade secrets here. It is all laid out on the Web site.

Those little balls of crinkled-up, indestructible plastic wrap will be around for a long time. Abeego, on the other hand, has a usable life of roughly a year. Wrap your cheese, bread, greens and other food items in it. Expect longer storage than plastic can provide.

Eat the contents. Use a little mild soap and cold water to clean your Abeego. Use again. Gently clean again. Use again. And then pop it into your compost heap and watch it gradually crumble into soil.

A lot of retailers carry Abeego now. Not one of them is in my foodie-paradise of a home town. That has got to change. In the meantime, I can buy them from the Web site.

Congratulations to Abeego for being a finalist in the Business Development Bank of Canada’s 2014 Young Entrepreneur Awards. The 2nd-place spot won the company $25,000 in consulting services.

This is the kind of innovative, creative solution to a practical challenge and an environmental ill that gives me hope.

You can follow Abeego on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube

Jenny Lee wrote a good article about Abeego for the Vancouver Sun.

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