Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mid-Grid: Greening the City

Note:  This is an article about thoughtful and considerate government.  We are NOT working FOR the Greenville Zoo, nor is any part of this project set in stone.  This is merely about how the thoughtful staff at the Greenville Zoo are taking into account the community that surrounds them and the planet on which we live and working to make it better and how I am proud to be working with them to do whatever to make it happen.

I just got a house within sight of downtown Greenville, SC and I have no intention of moving from it any time soon.  Nor do any of my neighbors.  In fact, they are building a condo complex right across the street.  Over half of all people in the world live in cities and that number will increase to 75% in the next 15 years or so.  We have to admit that the average person is not going to pack everything up and move to the country.  This idea, on its face, is impractical.  So, what are we going to do?  Ask questions, that's what.

The city is not going and is, in fact, growing.  The means to solve ecological problems are not out of our reach, especially if we start now.  I found this out personally, yesterday.

I led a meeting with the staff at the Greenville Zoo and we talked about how to institute a composting program at the zoo.  Let me back up.  A couple of months ago, I wanted to start work on a garden system. It was July, the middle of the growing season, and my idea was to focus on fall and the following spring.  Thinking ahead, I thought it would be a good idea to locate fertilizer and begin to work on the soil so I contacted the zoo to get some manure.  I was told that was not something that they do.  I have to admit that I was rather bold at that point and asked if it was something that they would consider.  They connected me with the director of the zoo and the ball was set in motion.

We had a number of conversations, he and I, and there was a lot of discussions about the problems that come with manure.  At some point, it was just easier to toss it, though no one wanted to.  No one at all wanted to but there were many issues at stake and the zoo did not have the resources to get it going.  That was when we began to ask questions.  The first was "how?"

The Greenville Zoo has two elephants.  They are, by far, the largest producers of manure on the 14 acre property.  Yes...14 acres, that's it.  The staff of the zoo focuses very well on the health and well being of the animals and the experience of the guests of the zoo, with few exterior organizations to engage in such an endeavor.  That was another question:  What if someone outside of the zoo were willing to get in on it?

So we tackled each of the things that could hinder this project one by one.  Odor?  We use coffee grounds, popcorn, and other absorbent, fragrant refuse from businesses in the city to absorb the leachate (liquid run-off).  This imparts heat on the pile, getting it up to about 160-170 degrees (we hope 200 degrees!).  This kills off weed seeds if there are any and any harmful bacteria that may reside in the pile.  We keep the core of the pile at high temp, for three days, and when all is said and done, the pile smells like hot coffee.

Space?  With only 14 acres to deal with, space is at a premium, so the hunt for level ground began.  Also we took into account that there are only two elephants putting out about 700 pounds of waste each day (manure mixed with hay and the accompanying moisture of the leachate).  This is not as much as it seems and can be easily managed on a daily basis by one person or a few volunteers.

Cost?  The zoo is not a wealthy entity, no city entity is.  So how is this made viable?  If nothing else, it is profitable from the start because it makes use of waste and unused space.  The idea is to bring together a number of local entities to support this effort.  The manure is free, the coffee grounds are free, the labor is based on interested parties and volunteers and this means someone willing to go to the zoo, and toss compost.  Where there is a will, there is a way.

So we solved all of the problems. I led this meeting and answered questions, but at no point did anyone say this could not be done.  Everyone there did nothing but think about HOW it could be done. There are random permitting issues and paperwork, but there is nothing stopping this because it is so sublime in its simplicity.  A little thought, a little work and we save tons of carbon, generate revenue, and help everyone involved.

We do this because we believe in it, but we are not receiving any funding from the zoo for this work.  If you believe in this please make a contribution!

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